Local authorities told to hold schools to account

Neil Puffett
Thursday, April 12, 2012

Government must clarify local authority powers to intervene with failing maintained schools and academies to ensure standards are sustained, the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) has said.

Dunkley wants local authorities to use 'statutory powers and moral influence' to hold schools to account. Image: Phil Adams
Dunkley wants local authorities to use 'statutory powers and moral influence' to hold schools to account. Image: Phil Adams

Publishing two research reports into effective school improvement, the ADCS has called for every local authority to use both statutory powers and moral influence to hold schools to account when standards decline.

The two reports identify where local authorities have been successful in supporting school improvement in the past, and what they need to do to work with academies as well as maintained schools in the future. 

Both reports highlight concerns among headteachers, governors and local government officials that there are risks involved in increasing school autonomy whether through the academy programme or a reduced role for the local authority with maintained schools. 

These include an inability to spot decline before it damages the education of pupils; failure to cope with the impending “policy storm” of changes to curriculum, qualifications and league tables; and unclear processes for dealing with academies that perform poorly.

Authorities that successfully work in partnership with schools were identified as making strong use of performance data and soft intelligence about what is going on in.

They also act “early and robustly” where there is evidence of decline, and challenge heads and governors to explain and improve where performance is declining.

Matt Dunkley, former president of the ADCS, who initiated the research during his presidency, said: “We are calling for the strengthening and clarification of the powers of a local authority over schools that they continue to maintain and increased clarity from the Department for Education about what happens when an academy fails and how that decline will be identified before it affects pupils in those schools. 

“Local authorities will not shirk from using the information that they do have about academy performance to alert Ofsted when there are concerns, but we need some clarity about what will happen next. 

“If local authorities are to be called upon to provide additional governors, offer financial support or arrange school-to-school support locally, there should be recognition of that in the funding arrangements for schools and academies.”

The ADCS has also proposed the establishment a group of authorities that successfully work with schools in order to support others.

David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, stressed the importance of authorities holding schools to account.

“While expanding school choice for parents and pupils is something that councils endorse, they remain perfectly placed to work with their local schools to oversee a fair admissions process, drive up standards and encourage improvement across the board,” he said.

“Every parent quite rightly expects to have a choice of high quality schools for their child. 

“The council role of holding schools to account and in turn, being held to account by local people gives all parents the means to ensure schools allow their children to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions.”


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