Why We Need Great Advisers

Moving from Good to Great – Why We Need Great Advisers

We already know that advisers (with an e) are critical to the English education system. If you don’t know of Talleyrand, look him up, because he is one of my heroes. A skilled and influential diplomat who polarized opinion, he worked for the right and the left challenging the status quo.

And 300 years on from 18th Century revolutionary France, the challenging question he posed still rings critical to us now as school leaders: who is really advising you?

Schools have input, in fact stranglehold in many cases, from their advisers… but how impartial is their advice?

I strongly believe that SIPS should be commissioned by the boards of schools and governors – not the LA and not Heads. SIPS are the agents of the children, so they should be the voice of independence.  But many disagree. The battle in education can often be, like many wars, the battle between nationalists and the government…

Ideally, we need to have a standard of advisers that is free of any government or LA influence: independent and qualified. Consider how dangerous it is for a financial auditor for a school to have a political agenda: surely they must have in mind only the interest of the children.

Many school groups disagree. They feel they do not need commissioners and advisers. Perhaps this is the result of experience of having the wrong sort, the restricted and restrictive sort, or the biased sort. But the reality is, no successful business can be run without external experts.

SIPs, national challenge advisers, there has been a peculiar gap in the importance of the adviser. In fact, the DfE is the fastest-growing school advisory service. Although the risk of this is the we become too Ofsted focussed.  Corporate business leaders don’t get up every day and think, ‘I hope we don’t get inspected, let’s drive all our activity to mitigate the eventuality of an inspection…’ They start the day thinking customer, customer, customer.

External advisers can bring an objectivity and a professional independence which is particularly useful when dealing with issues which are hard to internally. Particularly when governors and leaders need to address deep-rooted and intractable issues.  How could a MAT address the problems of a school when the it is the leadership or the governance which is the issue?

We need a new generation of education advisers. They must be credible.

schools recieve advice from ofsted

School advisers bring considerable objective critical thought to your school.

They challenge existing performance and orthodoxies where these are failing to deliver or sustain high performance.

They assist with improvement – by providing well-grounded and insightful reports with thought leadership which delights governors and senior leaders. Not lists of problems, but innovative suggestions for improvement.

Les Walton – “Your own governors are a critical source of advice, but they need to know not only their specialism but also about governance itself. How effective can knowledge be without strategy to apply it?”

Who can you use?

Turn to your governors for a start. Then senior associates – for schools and trusts. They:

– Intervene in complex situations
– Advising on your organisational development strategy
– Quality management systems – how to maintain constant and quality improvement.

Les Walton – “MATs can be strategic. You can expect to see an increase in MATs’ use of independent and accredited advisers now in expectation of the MAT Ofsted inspections.”

There are around 6,000 operating today… These people are sent in to deal with complex situations. I strongly believe that they require accreditation. It is for this reason that the IoEA provides reliable and robust accreditation for your school’s advisers. Please contact us to find out how.


Author: Les Walton

Les is the CEO of the IoEA who raise the profile of school advisers and accredit school advisers.  You can reach him on

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