FUTURE ROLE OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Post Academies Act
Balls reveals line of attack
There are two very different views about what the Academies Act will mean for Local Authorities and their future role . Michael Gove quoted Tony Blair when questioned in the Commons second Reading of the Bill (19 July) about the future role of Local authorities. Tony Blair had said “The best local authorities already increasingly see their primary role as championing parents and pupils rather than being a direct provider of education. We need to see every local authority moving from provider to commissioner, so that the system acquires a local dynamism responsive to the needs of their communities and open to change and new forms of school provision. This will liberate local authorities from too often feeling the need to defend the status quo, so that instead they become the champions of innovation and diversity, and the partner of local parents in driving continuous improvement.” Gove added “ That was Tony Blair in October 2005-once again, an unimprovable argument.”
Ed Balls claims though that the Act entirely removes the local authority’s role in such commissioning. Balls, when Education Secretary ,shifted the goalposts to ensure that local authorities were more engaged in the Academies programme, including sponsoring Academies, not the original vision conceived by Lord Adonis.
He says that the Act deprives schools with the biggest behaviour and special educational needs challenges of local authority support for special needs provision, the funding for which will go to those with the fewest such challenges; it permits selective schools to convert to Academy status, which risks the unplanned expansion of selective education; it removes any proper requirement to consult local authorities or the community before the creation of an Academy and centralises power in the hands of the Secretary of State over the future of thousands of schools without adequate provision for local accountability. He believes that the role for the local authority in planning places, allocating capital or guaranteeing fairness or social cohesion is entirely removed. Balls believes that the Act does not extend Labours Academy scheme as the last Government ensured that academies were in the poorest communities and were turning around underperforming schools … the coalition Governments policy on the other hand is about outstanding schools supporting only other outstanding schools-schools that are disproportionately in higher income areas with fewer children with disabilities or special educational needs. The reality, he said in the Second Reading, is that this legislation l gives extra resources to higher-performing schools in more affluent areas while at the same time removing any obligation for consultation with parents, local authorities or external sponsors. Balls pointed out that the only obligation on governors was to consult with those whom they thought ‘ appropriate’ .
Balls is overstating the view that this will lead to the demise of local authorities role in education .
Authorities don’t of course run schools but there are grounds for assuming that they will continue to have a significant schools support role, if in much leaner form . You will find that most of the 20,000 Primary schools and a majority of Secondary schools will still rely heavily on LA support. 153 schools are thought to want to convert by September although the process will take longer ie from an order being made to signing a funding agreement. More generally there have been 1,900 expressions of interest, 862 have been from primary schools, and 529 of the 862 have been judged by Ofsted to be outstanding.
Academies and free schools will of course be free to shop around for support services and this allows scope for LAs to compete with other suppliers. The Government has made it clear that, as part of the agreement between an Academy Trust and the Secretary of State the school must show that it will co-operate and collaborate with other schools in the area . There are safeguards too in place to protect SEN provision so Academies cannot simply opt out of their obligations to SEN pupils. Academies are required to participate in their local fair access protocols. Indeed, as things stand, Academies take a significantly higher proportion of children with SEN, than other maintained schools .Clause 1(7) of the Bill, actually strengthens the position of children with SEN and imposes on new academies all the obligations on admissions and exclusions that apply to maintained schools.
On exclusions Nick Gibb claims that Academies are less likely to exclude than other schools although others dispute this. What seems to happen in practice is new Heads tend to exclude pupils when they take over a school but this settles down fairly quickly once they have imposed their new regime. The Government has also agreed to take into account how a new school impacts on other schools in the area, But Nick Gibb is sensitive to any attempts to obstruct the establishment of free schools and he quoted Lord Adonis “The idea that parents should not be able to access new or additional school places in areas where the schools are not providing good quality places simply because the provision of those places will cause detriment to other schools fundamentally ignores the interests of parents and their right to have a decent quality school to send their children to. If there is not such a decent quality school and someone is prepared to do something substantive about it, they should be applauded”.-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2010; Vol. 719, c. 1264.]
What is less clear, though is how the funding will work and the full implications to schools and LA funding. . Outstanding schools are being encouraged to become Academies and the best Local Authorities tend to have the most outstanding schools. Clearly if these schools opt out of LA control then the Local authority will lose significant funding. But the worst authorities , those with the fewest outstanding schools, will not lose nearly as much as the best authorities. That doesn’t seem to be very fair
Also, as one LA school improvement expert pointed out to me it appears that Academies will not be charged for the vast number of DfE staff devoted to support the Academies programmes costs in sustaining their infrastructure including pensions etc. If this is the case then surely the Academies leaving the respective LAs should now have to pay for the central Government overheads that directly benefit them.