Schools face “unprecedented pressure” because of the Government’s policies, says a report by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS
). Heads and teachers are “becoming increasingly alienated” at a time when the Government expects them to deliver higher standards. The factors contributing to what one Assistant Director of Children’s Services in a large county authority described as a “perfect storm” are:
1 Increased floor targets;
2 Tougher Ofsted which threatens the current rating of the majority of schools;
3 Reduced flexibility in 14-16 qualifications;
4 A tight funding regime made worse by the new funding formula which will results in many losers;
5 The question about whether to become an academy or not;
6 The new National Curriculum;
7 Inadequate capital funding to meet the increased demand for primary school places;
8 The possibility of regional pay for teachers.
All the Department for Education was offering of any significance to help schools cope with the “unprecedented changes” was adopting academy status (stand-alone or as part of a chain), National College programmes, free market providers and “rather grudgingly” local authorities with much reduced resources, says the report.
It’s noticeable that the ADCS has recognised that Government strategy includes “free market providers”, handing schools over to be run by for-profit organisations – something that Nick Clegg has ruled out
and many Tory supporters are at pains to deny
despite many other Conservatives supporting
it. It’s clear, however, that the ADCS sees this development as being on the Government’s agenda.
The ADCS report says that local authorities are needed now more than ever: “There is no doubt that the local authority can be a very effective middle tier, and this is confirmed by international experience.” ADCS identified qualities demonstrated by effective LAs. These include: local knowledge, access to relevant data, convening regular meetings with schools, encouraging partnerships, handling parental complaints, intervening early when necessary and often before Ofsted, working closely with all partners including Unions and keeping schools informed of key developments locally and nationally.
The report concludes: “Local authorities, when they perform well, have demonstrated that they can be that necessary middle tier. Academy chains and to a lesser extent, the National College programmes, can meet some of the requirements but they cannot meet the whole range of functions …and their capacity is strictly limited. It is, therefore, perverse not to see local authorities as key, for the next five years, as one of the central providers of this effective middle tier. It is important that these arguments are properly understood as the future role of local authorities is considered by government later this year.”
Let’s hope that the Government recognises that local authorities can be the middle tier that both the Secretary of State and the Chief Inspector of Schools recognise is necessary. And let’s hope that the Government realise that if they keep on their present course they are steering into a “perfect storm”.