The newly published LGiU report, ‘Should we shed the middle tier?’ was launched at an LGiU/NUT fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat Conference on 25 September 2012.
The report, based on interviews with a selection of leading politicians, researchers and policy makers, showed general agreement that there needs to be something between schools and Westminster – which everyone is calling a third tier. There was no agreement, however, on is what the role of that third tier should be.
There was consensus that accountability and ensuring compliance with the code on admissions were functions that could not be carried out by schools or central government. There was also general agreement that local authorities already existed and were in a good place to carry out these roles – so there is no need to create a new body.
Most contributors agreed that school improvement was best delivered by schools working with other schools, not by a ‘third tier’. They emphasised, however, that strategic oversight and direction of local education should be independent of local schools.
One contributor, Jon Coles (Chief Executive Officer, United Learning Trust), argued that councils could only be a real provider of an independent accountability function once, as in housing, they no longer had a significant provision role. Interestingly enough, at a fringe meeting at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference, a similar view was expressed by David Laws (recently appointed Minister of State for Schools).
Will local authorities only step up to the mark and properly fulfil their role as the focus for democratic accountability and as the champions of their local community, if their responsibility as a provider of education is taken away from them?