16 critical functions of our education system - if not delivered by the local authority then who?

By John Freeman

| 16 March 2016

Later today, the Chancellor will announce the largest shift in education since the creation of local authorities early in the last century, before the First World War. The wholesale privatisation of the schools system will be encouraged, if that is the right word, by some significant ‘smoke and mirrors’ funding which will be less than the already-planned cuts to education. And of course the process of academisation itself has already proved catastrophically expensive.

If you then add to the mix that, as predicted widely in 2010 when Michael Gove started the process, academisation does not result in the massive, or even significant, improvements in standards that were promised, the whole business seems like a red herring.

If you then add to the mix that the DfE has failed to come up with any stable school system for the future, the whole process is in disarray. We have had academy chains – some of which have failed, or gone out of business – academy trusts of many sorts, academy converters, and the most recent jargon is ‘MATisation’.  

If you then add in to the mix that over the next few years the process of academisation will itself absorb time and energy – and huge amounts of money, at a time of continued government-imposed austerity – the  whole exercise seems beyond pointless.

The evidence seems to be that professionals agree – teacher recruitment is at an all time low, and headteacher recruitment is little better. And we have the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development saying that our maths curriculum is an inch deep and a mile wide … so the whole education edifice set up by the Coalition government is failing.

How, in all this chaos, do we protect services to the public and to the most vulnerable?

There are a number of functions that need to be carried out above the level of the school or the MAT to make sure that every child gets a decent education. They could be (have been) carried out by local authorities and national independent agencies such as Ofsted. But in a fully MATised system, the need is greater than ever.

I have identified the following functions that operate above the level of the school to be sure that they are operated fairly and well. I would argue that most are in the proper realm of the local authority, as a democratically accountable body, but whether the government agree or not, these functions are required, and if it is not the local authority, then we all need to know who has those functions. (And we need rather more clarity than at present, with the Education Funding Agency, Ofsted, regional schools commissioners, and local authorities all having overlapping roles.)

  1. School planning – where should schools be built to meet the needs of the local population? If not the local authority, who?
  2. Disaster management and recovery – if there is a disaster – fire or flood – who takes rapid action to ensure continuity of service? If not the local authority, who?
  3. School funding – while funding should be fair overall, who should take proper account of local circumstances? If not the local authority, who?
  4. School quality assurance – who, locally, is going to make sure that every school is doing a decent job? If not the local authority, who?
  5. School improvement – who is going to make sure that every school gets the support and challenge it needs to improve? If not the local authority, who?
  6. School admissions – who is going to make sure that school admissions are fair for all? If not the local authority, who?
  7. School exclusions – who is going to make sure schools exclude children on proper and not spurious grounds? If not the local authority, who?
  8. School attendance – who is going to make sure that every child actually attends school? If not the local authority, who?
  9. Careers advice – who is going to give children clear and unbiased advice in their best interested? If not the local authority, who?
  10. School transport – who is going to make sure that school transport is effective and cost-efficient? If not the local authority, who?
  11. Additional needs – who is going to make sure that children with additional needs – minor or major – get a fair deal? If not the local authority, who?
  12. Children in care / children in need – who is going to make sure that children in the care of the state get the best possible deal? If not the local authority, who?
  13. Safeguarding – who is going to make sure that schools ensure that every child is safe? If not the local authority, who?
  14. Vulnerable children including ‘radicalisation’ and child sexual exploitation – who is going to make sure that vulnerable children get a fair deal, and that schools operate properly? If not the local authority, who?
  15. Local complaints – who is going to deal with local complaints that the school has not dealt with? If not the local authority, who?
  16. Home education – who is going to make sure that every child is properly educated? If not the local authority, who?

John Freeman CBE is a former director of children’s services and is now a freelance consultant

Read his blog at cypnow.co.uk/freemansthinking

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