One aspect of the debate about the role of local authorities in education is where the responsibility will lie for tackling failing schools, once all schools have become academies.
Currently, for maintained schools – those that have not become academies or free schools – the local authority can intervene when a school is under-performing and a headteacher appears unable to turn it round. What a local authority can do is provide management support for the school or, in extreme cases, remove the headteacher. However, for academies, the local authority does not have these powers.
For an academy, an Ofsted report could be the first public sign that there is a problem. However, by this stage, children’s education could have suffered – Ofsted inspections could be some years apart.
A school would benefit from having support that is timely, discreet, flexible and relevant to help it overcome a temporary difficulty. The question then arises, should this be provided on a national or local basis?
We would argue that this important education function is best provided by an organisation that is local and accountable rather than a remote central-government quango.
One model could be a school peer group network, where a group of schools provide academic monitoring and support to each other. Another could be that this function is provided by the local authority as part of their new ‘strategic role’.
The experience of local authorities having responsibility for performance in schools is not all good. However local authorities do have an important role in providing local accountability and scrutiny on behalf of their local community.
This is an opportunity to engage local authorities and schools, elected representatives and professionals, and the wider community, in the development of new and innovative ways to improve education for all.