The Conservative government has lost no time in taking another duty with regard to education away from local government. In his letter of the 15th June to the directors of children’s services, Lord Nash, the Minister, gave local authorities just 15 days’ notice that they would no longer has responsibility for choosing the sponsor for a new school. Many years ago the Blair government started the process that has led to this letter by mandating that all new secondary schools should be academies. This was later extended to all new schools. Local authorities retained the responsibility to run the beauty competition to decide the sponsor to suggest to the DfE. That appears now to have been handed to the unelected regional school commissioners. So much for localism.
As far as I can see there has been no explanation for this decision and no clarification as to whether it applies only to new competitions or also to those already under discussion and not finalised by the 1st July. It may be that the DfE was irritated at some of the choices made by local authorities: it certainly made Oxfordshire re-run the process for selecting the operator for a new primary school as it didn’t like the outcome, this despite the sponsor selected being on the DfE approved list. The fact that the re-run process produced the same outcome may have led to this draconian and precipitous change in the selection process.
For those councils that don’t like the academy process the letter can probably be ignored since they can seemingly continue to expand existing maintained primary schools by adding on extra classes. Whether it might now tempt some Conservative local authorities that care about their local schools, but have supported academies in the past, to do the same would be an interesting outcome.
Certainly, counties with lots of new house building, and I suppose there aren’t many of them given how few houses are being built nationally, now face the possibility of having to deal with academy chains located a long way from county hall and possibly with little local knowledge. Even worse, the academy can fix its size and if new houses are added to the development can refuse to expand: seemingly at present with neither the regional commissioner nor the DfE being able to do anything about such a situation. That it could increase council spend on home to school transport unnecessarily doesn’t seem to matter. After all, the local authority could always close another library or children’s centre to pay for the buses.
Schooling is now firmly a national service, as I explained earlier today to someone taking the local authority to task because the school where they are a governor wasn’t funded as well as other local schools. I pointed out that the School Forum set the formula and no councillor had a vote unless they were elected as a governor. There is still a widespread belief local authorities run schools. They don’t, and it is now the DfE and their un-elected officials that take the decisions.