Local authorities have a role to play in education

For several decades, successive Labour and tory governments lambasted local authorities for spending too much on central office costs and depriving schools of cash. There were even those in Mr Gove’s time in office that may have believed that all money not handed to schools was money wasted. Now I read in a new report from Ofsted on an Oxfordshire secondary school that:

‘Directors of the multi-academy company have failed to ensure that leaders had enough capacity during and since the subsequent restructuring to bring about necessary improvements at the school.’

Presumably they felt more money should have been spent on additional leadership capacity at the MAT because Ofsted went on to say

The principal of the school is now accountable for six primary schools in the MAT. In the autumn term, she provided interim leadership for one of the schools, following the departure of its headteacher, reducing leadership capacity at the secondary school further. Poor strategic leadership by the MAT has contributed to the decline in the overall effectiveness of the school.

This faces head-on the issue I have raised in this blog before. Can we afford these small MATs with expensive overheads when funding for schools is under pressure and salaries are being held down below inflation for all except those that it is still open to negotiate their own salary increases should they wish to.

Reading the Ofsted report on this secondary school in the MAT is like reading a review of the worst of the former inadequate local authorities. In this case, the worst of the diocesan behaviour also seems to have been present, since it the MAT is entirely comprised of church schools.

It must now be clear that MATs are no longer the guarantee of success that those who dreamed them up believed they would be. They can be costly drains on school resources with insufficient economies of scale and no democratic accountability.

Why did the parents at this school have to wait for Ofsted. In the past they could have lobbied their local councillor and no doubt kicked the councillor out if nothing had happened. I know that there were, and probably still are, ‘rotten boroughs’ where councillors are always certain of election if they belong to the right Party, but most in my experience do a good job for their residents even in those circumstances.

Can we afford to spend millions of pounds on ineffective MATs and some of the other new ideas of the past decade when funding for schools is under pressure? Readers will know of TeachVac, now probably offering more teacher vacancies on one site than any other job board or website, and for free. The success of TeachVac demonstrates what can be achieved in driving down costs to effectively fund teaching and learning. Diseconomies of scale have the opposite effect.

If local authorities retain the oversight of children’s safety, they should also retain the oversight of their education by the State within their local area and the next government should finally recognise that point. At present the system doesn’t work and, as this Ofsted report demonstrated, there are risks that it can even be harmful to children. Such a situation cannot be allowed to continue.





The end of the beginning

Next week this blog celebrates its third birthday. I would like to be more upbeat at this time, but many of the values that brought me into public service are now being eroded, seemingly faster than ever.

Yesterday I heard Sir Andrew Carter tell a conference on teacher recruitment that ‘all schools will become academies’. Later in the afternoon I had the same view that schools will be forcibly taken away from local authorities at some point in this parliament confirmed from two different sources: both said it was an open secret at Westminster. Such may be the consequence for the electorate of electing a Conservative government last year. We now await a White Paper on the future of schools that will precede a Bill, probably pencilled in for the autumn.

Whether schools become academies or some new form of organisation doesn’t really matter. What will be a consequence will be the ending the link between local government and the running of schools that has existed since 1902. I have written in the past that I can just about accept that for the secondary sector, but need to be convinced that a credible governance and planning structure, and reasonable funding model, has been devised for the primary sector and especially many of our small rural schools.

I am not sure what the consequences for the Tory party would be of any wholesale merger of village schools to save money, especially if the transport costs associated with busing pupils to the next village were left with the local authorities as part of a botched arrangement over who does what in the brave new world devised by Michael Gove and now implemented by Nick Gibb. Who will handle admissions if local authorities cannot force schools to take extra pupils and what is the future for pupils with special educational needs or children that are vulnerable in other ways?

The Church of England and, to a lesser extent, the Roman Catholic Church and other faiths responsible for schools will be under intense pressure if schooling is nationalised under the control of un-elected Regional Commissioners with no remit to support the historical pattern of primary education in England. There are no ‘voluntary’ academies as there are voluntary aided and controlled schools. Will the government allow single-faith multi-academy trusts in the new order along diocesan boundaries or compel different arrangements so that the faith schools will have to fight to retain their ethos?

I will be a real irony that the nationalisation of schools will take place under a Tory government in the name of, presumably, freedom.  But, such is the world in which we live these days. I also wonder whether the days of governing bodies are numbered after an academy chain announced it was going to dispense with such local governance. This from a Tory government whose predecessors were once exercised about the fact that infant and junior schools were served by a single governing body.

I suppose one outcome will be that there won’t be any need for a national teaching force because all teachers, like schools, will be part of the national service.