Did the PM see this one coming?

Ofsted put a secondary school in the Prime Minister’s constituency into special measures this week. This was the second secondary school in Oxfordshire to go into special measures in less than a year. Between the two schools they garnered a score of seven out of eight possible Grade 4s, with a clean sweep only being prevented by the Grade 2 in the pupil behaviour and safety category awarded to the latest school to enter special measures . The fact that the latest school to be put into special measures was graded ‘outstanding’ last time Ofsted came to call in 2010 must also be matter for some concern.

In the same week Tory MP Nick Boles said he wanted more freedom for head teachers to employ who they want, and not be told by the State who can teach, so presumably he would not agree with the ban imposed by Ofsted on both these schools employing newly qualified teachers. But that is a sideline to the big question of who is responsible for allowing these two schools in middle England to deteriorate to a point where they are judged inadequate? As I know from personal experience, the lack of a middle tier overseeing schools has proved a problem. Last year, a Report suggested the creation of Education Commissioners along the lines of the Police and Crime Commissioners elected last November across most of England. Rumours in the press now suggest that Michael Gove’s officials are considering going further with the idea of unelected officials to oversee the running, and presumably the improvement, of schools. Apparently, this would be a job for former head teachers. On the basis that each ‘controller’ was responsible for 100 schools, that might require around 200 new appointments, with no doubt nine seniors across the regions, and a chief ‘controller’ of schools.

For such a scheme to work, local authorities would need to lose their remaining powers over education, as it would be nonsensical to have two competing bodies trying to achieve the same end. As I have said in the past, such a move would effectively be the completion of the process of the nationalisation of schools started by Mrs Thatcher’s government with grant maintained schools that would bring schooling in line with health as a Westminster function. I don’t see why local councillors should have to wrestle with thorny issues such as paying for school transport and policing absence among pupils, as well as deciding how schools admit pupils, if they have no effective powers to manage the system to best effect when balancing education and costs.

Local authorities could, under such a national system, act more effectively in their role as parents, and challenge school ‘controllers when they felt that schools were not being successful. How ‘controllers’ would respond to challenges from either councils or parents if they were unelected appointees is an interesting question. But, it is not one that has ever seemed to bother the health service, or indeed further education in the twenty years since it was divested from local authority oversight. How much freedom would be allowed to the faith groups and others that now operate schools would be an interesting question that no doubt officials are considering at the present time.

For the Prime Minister, the issue is more parochial, will a school going into special measures cost more votes if it is a national school or will it be better if he can still blame the local authority for the shortcomings?

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