Middle tier in schooling needs democratic input

Shock horror: local councils are back in favour to play a part in education. After around 30 years when local education authorities have been increasingly both emasculated and marginalised in the running of education in their local areas the Schools’ Minister, David Laws, seems to be calling a halt to this sidelining of democratically elected local councils in a speech to the CentreForum think tank later this morning. According to the Local Government Information Unit press summary:

Minister plans to hand back power to councils

Proposals by schools minister David Laws would see councils given more powers to intervene in struggling academy schools, reversing the trend of increasing autonomy. The Liberal Democrat minister is expected to argue in a speech today that the system of school governance introduced by Michael Gove has abandoned schools that converted from local authority control to standalone academy status, leaving them without the resources or support they need to improve. Mr Laws wants responsibility for improvements to be passed from the DfE to a “middle tier” of local authorities and academy chains, backed by successful schools and head teachers. This middle tier would also potentially assist any schools in need of improvement, not just academies. More than 4,000 primary and secondary schools out of 19,000 mainstream schools in England are currently rated as “requires improvement” or “inadequate”. “I think in a good and realistic scenario, where we had an effective middle tier, we would have 2,000 fewer schools in the ‘lowest’ categories of requiring improvement or special measures,” Mr Laws will say.

Personally, I hope there is also something about both admissions and the creation of new schools. It is daft that academies with spare capacity can deny that space to local councils potentially forcing them to bus pupils elsewhere at public expense. Councils also need more control over who runs news schools and if they select a school or group approved by the DfE then Regional Commissioners should no longer have the power of veto unless there was something at fault with the selection process.

There is an earlier post on this blog outlining in details why I think these issues matter, especially for the primary school sector. Such schools are deeply rooted in their communities and breaking up that link with local authorities, which has generally worked well, has made no sense at all.

The real issue is whether there will be time to implement any of the changes suggested by David Laws before the election; or is it just an attempt to put some distance between the Lib Dems, a Party I represent as a county councillor in Oxfordshire, and the Tory Party ahead of the most interesting general election probably since 1906 and the rise of the Labour vote.

The design of a sensible middle tier is the key issue in education. Academy chains haven’t worked; Regional Commissioners have as much cache as Police and Crime Commissioners and are even less democratic, being appointed; and local authorities have been withering on the vine. I am off to listen to the speech in detail and will report back later about whether the substance was materially different from the press reports.

Today is also ITT census day, so hopefully a post on that topic this afternoon.

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