Deloitte: Study Suggests Local Authorities Can Help Free Schools Succeed
There are opportunities for local authorities under school reforms
But many authorities see just threats
With the first of the Government’s flagship Free Schools now opened, and with quite a few in the pipeline, local authorities could have an important role to play in their success according to a new study by Deloitte ‘Local authority national impact – The role for local authorities in the Free Schools and Academies policy.’ The survey is based on interviews with Directors of Children’s Services (DCSs) within local authorities. Deloitte’s education strategy team found that while concerns remain among DCSs about monitoring performance and making early interventions in failing schools, 83% of DCSs have no proactive plans to assist the delivery of Academies and Free Schools in their areas by taking responsibility for commissioning, and 33% want to be more confident that schools have the capability to take on their new roles. Free Schools are semi-independent state schools set up by parents, teachers, faith groups and other organizations. Julie Mercer, partner and head of education at Deloitte, said: “Local authorities should look at how they can bring sponsors and providers together, share best practice and co-ordinate across the region.”
Deloitte’s recommendations for local authorities include:
Being the voice of the community to ensure an education opportunity for all children including the most disadvantaged.
Playing a central role to the creation of autonomous schools in the area such as encouraging new schools to open and assisting existing schools to convert.
Spreading best practice among local schools in the area.
Taking a leading role in tackling underperformance issues.
“The assumption is that there is no role for local authorities in the Free Schools and Academies policy, but there clearly can be. To continue to play a part in the English education system, local authorities must look at how they can provide proactive support to academies and free schools,” said Mercer.
The problem, of course, is that some local authorities only see negatives on the balance sheet when it comes to Free schools and Academies, as their status removes them from Local authority control. Independence from local authority control is seen as a defining principle of the reforms. Local authorities don’t, of course, run schools but they have provided an administrative and strategic support infrastructure as well as some accountability. The autonomy though, of these independent state schools, is often sold as a means of ensuring their freedom from the dead hand of bureaucrats both at central and local government level .
However, some authorities have taken the initiative and are actively, for example, commissioning Academies and indeed have expressed some enthusiasm for commissioning more Academies(and free schools) in the future. Some are also establishing school improvement consortia to sell services to Academies or forming networks to support underperforming schools. But the clear message from this is that rather too many local authorities have their heads buried in the sand. By the end of this Parliament it is likely that most secondary schools will be Academies, which could provide local authorities with new opportunities, but still a significant number can only see threats. This reports message for local authorities is look again-although some may need persuading.