Stories + Views
Coventry: What happens when a Local Authority is prevented from opening and running new schools
The madness of divorcing local authorities from local schools is once again thrown into sharp relief by this report in The Guardian, which describes how Coventry City Council, having secured funding and land for two new primary schools, is now scrapping the plans after apparently discovering that new schools have to be opened as Academies or Free Schools and they would therefore have no say in how they are run.
The developers had agreed to pay the council £420,000 to help build the primaries, each with 350 pupils. Presumably the council took seriously its responsibility towards the community it serves by creating much needed 700 primary school places, so one can understand that they feel aggrieved that tax payers money is being diverted away from local accountability and into the hands of central government and for-profit making companies.
It seems strange that the council were unaware that new schools were no longer to be under the supervision of local authorities, so perhaps this does look like someone making a very public statement about the ludicrousness of cutting out the essential middle tier of local stewardship and accountability as well as the injustice of councils, faced with a shortage of primary school places and having to do something about it, see their efforts bearing fruit in the hands of an Academy chain.
No doubt the rightwing will paint this as left wing mischief making but since the council is now determined to spend the money on expanding 20 existing schools, they can’t be accused of turning their back on providing places. Coventry’s results put them a tad under the national average, but since anything below miraculous in Gove’s performance landscape is to be deemed a failure, Coventry can join the majority of the country in the flagellation corner.
If schools and local authorities can be routinely punished but those who run underperforming or failing academies escape the name and shame rota, then who punishes those whose policies wreak havoc on children’s education? It suits the government to trash local authorities but who picks up the pieces when children are managed moved way, or excluded, from Academies?
This example in Coventry begs the question – “Who’s responsibility is it to provide more schools places?”
If it’s the LA but they are prevented from doing so, then it must be central government. If it’s central government, then many areas in need of schools or increased places will never actually get new schools because Academy chains aren’t interested and no one is agitating for a free school. Cutting schools adrift from their local authority means that schools and communities are rudderless and dangerously adrift. It is irresponsible for this government to remain both aloof and confrontational at a time when they should be quickly and pragmatically addressing the solving the national crisis of lack of primary schools places. Free Schools certainly aren’t the solution – not when so many are undersubscribed. And when only 5% of primary schools are Academies. Utter ideological madness.