NOTE: This document appears to have been removed from the DfE’s web site shortly after this post appeared. There may, of course, be no connection between the two events.
A report on research priorities and questions published today by the DfE under the title ‘Accountability and governance’ makes it clear that there is no role in the new national schooling world for local authorities. The document can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/288118/Accountability_and_governance_research_priorities_and_questions.pdf and within it the government makes clear that:
Our vision is for an accountability system which is challenging, fair and transparent – one in which school level governance and national arrangements hold autonomous schools and colleges to account for the education they provide.
So there is seemingly no role there for local authorities.
The document also states that:
where children are at risk of being failed through poor providers, central government will intervene swiftly – primarily through Ofsted. High-quality Ofsted inspection will challenge all schools and Colleges to strive for excellence in achievement, leadership, teaching and behaviour (schools only). (sic)
Local authorities risk being relegated to little more than educational trading standards watchdogs, having to report concerns to big sibling in Whitehall or their regional Commissioner Representative. For the document concludes that:
There are now many types of governance structures, including standalone and federations of maintained schools, single academy trusts, sponsored academies, multi-academy trusts and umbrella trusts. We want to understand the factors that lead to the most robust governance arrangements and hence the most effective school-level accountability, particularly for education standards.
Again there is no mention of any local accountability other than through governing bodies since multi-academy trusts are not required to have a geographical coherence, although many do in reality.
The absence of mentions of diocesan responsibility might provide the faith communities with pause for thought were it not for the fact that they have seen a local elected body replaced by one at Westminster that is far more remote to most of them. The challenge will come when Ofsted, having obtained powers to inspect academy chains, as it surely will, then asks to inspect diocesan education arrangements where faith schools are under-performing, and some undoubtedly are not doing as well as they might as schools.
Startling for its absence from the document is any mention of teachers, their training and employment. Who is concerned about the governance of that process, so vital for any achievement by schools? I have expressed concern before about the lack of supervision of the National College now that its Board has been abolished. Presumably, it is good enough that the DfE Board can monitor its performance;: but who sets standards for success and failure in say, recruitment into the profession, and what are the sanctions?
The 2015 general election will mark the passing of local education services, whatever the polite fiction that is maintained. Sadly, none of the main political parties were prepared to stand-up and fight for local political involvement in education. It may be self-seeking, since I am an elected county councillor in Oxfordshire, but I regard the change as likely to be detrimental for our education system.