The increasing independence of schools as they move to academy status is just the latest stage in the journey of school autonomy which can trace its origins back many years through foundation schools, grant maintained schools, and local management of schools.
As more schools take advantage of increased autonomy and freedom from local government, inevitably, the relationship between schools and local authorities has to be redeﬁned. Whilst politicians and local authority education ofﬁcers are staking their claim to a place in the new world order, the voice of schools themselves seems often to be overlooked.
To explore the views of headteachers and chairs of governors, Tamarind Chambers carried out a survey by email questionnaire sent to of a range of secondary schools across England between October 2011 and February 2012.
The survey shows that schools value their increased autonomy and freedoms but recognise that, within clearly deﬁned parameters, the local authority still has a role to play.
Two areas stood out as matters that schools did not see as a role for the local authority.
First, schools were clear on their wish to have control of the curriculum. The vast majority of Chairs and Headteachers said that local authorities should not have any control over the curriculum in schools, with just one respondent saying that the local authority should actually determine the curriculum.
The second highest ‘no’ vote was on the governing body – with over a third of respondents saying that the local authority should have no role in removing or replacing a governing body and nearly half saying that they should only be able to do so under certain conditions.
There was general agreement across schools on the local authority’s role in the provision for children with special educational needs. In their responses, most Chairs and Headteachers said that local authorities should continue to be responsible for assessing the special educational needs of individual pupils and for providing appropriate education to meet those assessed needs and controlling the funding.
The responses to some questions revealed contradictory views. For example whilst most respondents said that local authorities should have a role in planning and co-ordinating school places, there was less support for local authorities having speciﬁc powers to make changes to the size of a school or alter a school’s admissions decisions.
A clear majority of Chairs and Headteachers were against local authorities having the power to enter and inspect schools as they chose. However, a large proportion did think the local authority should be able to intervene in a failing school, albeit under certain conditions.
There was general agreement that local authorities should collect and report on data about schools in their area, and provide advice and support on school standards.
Whilst schools wish to guard their independence and ability to deliver education in the way they feel best for them, they also want someone to act as a ‘policeman’ or arbitrator to protect them from potentially damaging actions by another school.
The full data from the responses to the survey has been published in our report ‘The role of the local authority in education: Views of Headteachers and Chairs of Governors’, that can be found here.