How much democratic control over schools should there be? In the past week one academy chain has announced plans to do away with local governing bodies for its schools and the House of Commons Education Select Committee has produced a report into the role of Regional School Commissioners.
Historically, after the passing of the 1902 Education Act, local authorities took over control of schooling, although for quite a while some schools remained as direct-grants schools funded from Westminster. Between 1944 and the 1990s local government, albeit in some cases partly funded by central government funding through support for local rates and taxes, was responsible for schooling with some oversight through legislation by parliament at Westminster.
The Tories started the breakdown of this arrangement with the creation of grant maintained schools in the 1990s, to be followed by Labour’s academy model of centrally funded schools. And so the slippery slope towards a national school service began to be built. Even before grant maintained schools took hold, the further education sector and public higher education were removed from local control and effectively placed under national direction.
With the drive towards academisation seemingly having stalled, it surely cannot be long before all remaining schools are required to become an academy whether coasting, failing or successful. At that point the role of unelected regional School Commissioners and their supporting headteacher boards become vital the management and leadership of our school service.
It was therefore worrying to read in the Select Committee report last week that:
We welcome the Government’s plans to increase the amount of information provided in Headteacher Board minutes, but there is currently confusion about the role of the Board itself, and this must be addressed. Without attention to these issues, the RSC system will be seen as undemocratic and opaque, and the Government must ensure that such concerns are acted on.
How much involvement should local people and their locally elected representatives have in the running of our school system in a twenty-first century democracy? No doubt this is one question the Select Committee will hopefully tackle in their next inquiry into the Purpose and quality of education in England. For it is difficult to discuss the purpose without understanding who is and should be in control.
The purpose of education must be more than just creating all schools as academies. The Select Committee also said of School Commissioners that:
The impact of RSCs should be measured in terms of improvements in outcomes for young people, rather than merely the volume of activity. We welcome the Government’s intention to review the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the RSCs. This should be done to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are eliminated, and to provide assurance that RSC decisions are made in the interests of school improvement rather than to fulfil specific targets for the number of academies.
At the present time one purpose not being fully met is the provision of teachers able to meet the challenge of helping every child achieve their maximum performance at school. That must be a goal for government.