Coventry: What happens when a Local Authority is prevented from opening and running new schools

Allan Beavis's picture
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.
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Toby Young's picture
Tue, 16/10/2012 - 23:57

Excuse my ignorance of this case Allan, but when you say "tax payers money is being diverted away from local accountability and into the hands of central government and for-profit making companies" what "for-profit making companies" (by which I assume you mean "profit making companies") will be involved in this case?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 00:48

Are you not up to date?

No doubt the ones that will take full advantage when Michael Gove pretends he has to capitulate to the sound advice published today by the Policy Exchange, a thinktank he himself chaired.

It argues that chains of profit-making academies ("Education Management Organisations (EMOs) – both for-profit and not-for-profit companies, including the best chain providers") would be best to run failing schools. The author is one James O'Shaughnessy, until recently David Cameron’s head of policy and now Head of Group Strategy at Wellington College, his alma mater. His job there is apparently to run a scheme creating chains of 'happy academies'.

This suggests that O'Shaughnessy might just have a vested interest in expanding this policy, one that would benefit his employers as well as the Tory government he has so diligently served? He seems to be doing everything just short of lobbying the government on behalf of his new employer. Are SPADs allowed to do this?

Just where has the private sector, when replacing the public sector, done a better job for the taxpayer? Not when the tax payer had to bail out the banks for their incompetence and greed. Not when fuel bills have rocketed in the hands of private companies, not when the care of the elderly has been shockingly abusive in the hands of proft making companies. Not when the army had to be brought in to oversee security at the Olympics. Not when the Swedish government has had to halt the progress of free schools because putting profits before educating actually harmed their system.

As soon as Academies and Free Schools started to change the educational landscape, the accusation that they would open the doors to full privatisation has always been denied by their supporters and founders. Like the NHS, this has been politically taboo, but since Gove, conveniently, won’t be able to fund his expansion out of state coffers, he will no doubt have to tell the electorate that the only way he can save the nation and reverse the “Race to the Bottom” is to hand over schools to profit-making companies.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 09:07

It seems strange that the council were unaware that new schools were no longer to be under the supervision of local authorities...

I should say. They must be totally asleep at the wheel.

Not, therefore, the kind of people you'd want to trust with anything important like....... the education of children.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 09:24

I think we'd rather have the council. At least they are trying to expand primary places. Gove on the other hand is doing his utmost best to put up as many barriers as he can to opening new schools where there is demand. The chaos he has unleashed on a whole genearation of young people makes him unfit to hold any responsibility over the care and duty of children. Given his lack of transparency and attempts to conceal his correspondence from public scrutiny, there can be no doubt that he is not to be trusted.

Toby Young's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 09:43

So let me get this straight Allan. Your evidence that "for-profit making companies" will be brought in to run primaries in Coventry is that James O'Shaughnessy has just written a paper for a think tank in which he suggests that *at some point in the future* the government should consider allowing *either* for-profit or non-for-profit EMOs to be awarded fixed-term contracts to turn around failing academies? That's weak, even by your standards.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 10:09

I don't think I specifically evidenced that profit making companies were being brought into Coventry to run schools. You're as guilty as Chairman Gove in misrepresenting and distorting. This new paper is actually nothing. There have been a series of them (including one from the ASI) "advising" the government to privatize. All cosily convenient for Gove of course as can position himself as having no option. The truth is he did have options and these were to improve all schools without taking a hammer to them all. But that would have meant not being able to privatize yet another public service. Free Schools and privatization haven't transformed American education. Instead it has brought chaos, cheating and corruption. So if the end game here isn't privatization, then it most certainly isn't a calculated and low risk strategy to increase attainment here across the board.

Toby Young's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 10:13

You really are too much, Allan. I suggest you re-read your original blog post (above) where you baldly state "tax payers money is being diverted away from local accountability and into the hands of central government and for-profit making companies". Not "might be", but "is". So no distortion on my part.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 11:59

Toby – Allan may have been a little premature in writing that taxpayers’ money “is” being siphoned off to firms who wish to profit from the provision of education in English schools. However, it is becoming increasingly likely that this will happen soon. IES, the Swedish firm which won the contract to run the free school in Breckland, has just been taken over by private equity firm, TA Associates. It’s unlikely that a private equity firm would be interested in IES if there were no profit to be made. It could be that the English branch of IES may be a non-profit-making subsidiary although IES has said it wants a return after about two years on its English investment. If however, it makes no profit for investors, then will the English subsidiary be dumped? If so, who will step in to keep the school running?

Bertil Ostberg, State Secretary for Education in Sweden, a pioneer of Sweden’s free schools, told BBC Radio 4’s “The Report” that Sweden is setting up an enquiry into the motivation of the for-profit firms which run the majority of Sweden’s free schools. The Swedish Government wanted assurances that these firms were in the education business for the long-term and not short-term gains. Ostberg said bringing in the profit motive resulted in conflicting interests – those of the child versus the needs of shareholders for a financial return.

So, Sweden is beginning to have doubts about profit-making providers while England seems to be moving towards profit-making provision of education in English schools.

agov's picture
Fri, 19/10/2012 - 10:35

Indeed, in fact the question is why would firms not be plotting to syphon off profit from the taxpayer when that is so obviously the real intention. After all, there is already this:

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 19/10/2012 - 11:54

agov - on Newsnight, James O'Shaughnessy, the author of the Policy Exchange report, "Competition Meets Collaboration", said profit-making firms are already running special schools. This, he claims, means there's no reason why private firms shouldn't run maintstream schools for profit. He implied that these profit-making firms were doing as good a job, probably better, of providing special education than can be provided by maintained special schools.

According to O'Shaughnessy, any school deemed "satisfactory" will be judged to be failing:

"But as the new Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said ‘satisfactory’ is anything but, and his new inspection regime will mean that unless schools are ‘good’ then they will be viewed as underperforming."

So, here we have Ascot College (aka Serco College), the independent secondary school in Derby offering special education, being judged by the Independent Schools Inspectorate as "satisfactory". Following O'Shaughnessy's logic, this school should be "viewed as underperforming" and regarded as providing an "unacceptedly mediocre" education. It should, therefore, be forced to convert into an academy and if that doesn't work it should be handed over to a profit-making education provider.

Except, in this case, the school is already being run by a profit-making education provider: Serco. Perhaps it should be returned to being maintained by the local authority.

Unless, of course, "satisfactory" means something different in the independent sector - satisfying the criteria, perhaps?

agov's picture
Fri, 19/10/2012 - 14:40

Presumably 'satisfactory' in the independent sector must mean at least managing to exploit children for the benefit of private bank accounts (possibly located in the Caymans).

James Blythe's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 18:49

' seems doubtful if the UK as a country can any longer afford to fund and sustain
an overly complex architecture of services provision.....

the future will in all probability require far more extensive and more radically
thought-through changes, in particular focusing squarely on achieving in the public
sector some of the positive ‘disintermediation’ experiences of digital-era changes
in the private sector.....

The digital-era governance argument predicts that the direction of travel will be towards more reintegration, more needs-based holism and co-production with citizens and civil society, and towards radically digitalised modes of citizen-government contacting and ways of organising internal government sector processes.

So far the digital wave has only lapped against some of the roughest edges of public services. It has a great deal of momentum still to run in helping to simplify the landscape of public services in which citizens and businesses operate, and in which government officials and politicians themselves try to understand and positively shape societal development.'

david sidwell's picture
Fri, 23/11/2012 - 11:04

As a Coventry counciltax payer I have two comments to make, if Michael Gove want these schools built and run as Acadamies, he should pay for them. Second, Coventry city council used rate payers money and land to procure the building of these schools. Why should they then be run by central government ? I support the expansion of existing schools as a way to keep Gove's meddling out of this City's education system. Locally, 800 council workers will lose their jobs because of central government policies over the next year, so why should we as rate payers support anything this unmandated government proposes ?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 23/11/2012 - 11:11

if Michael Gove want these schools built and run as Acadamies, he should pay for them

If they are academies, he will pay for them. Academies are funded directly by DfE.

this unmandated government

Last time I looked, Coventry was in England. The Conservative party decisively won the general election in England. Add in the Lib Dems and the mandate is for Coalition policies is rock solid. Michael Gove's education policies apply to England only. The fact Labour held onto a lot of parliamentary seats in Scotland and Wales doesn't dilute Gove's clear mandate from the English people.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 23/11/2012 - 19:52

Sorry to be a pedant, but the Conservatives did not won the last election. They haven't won since Thatcher decades ago. And new governments who attempt to introduce policies that they did not make public during an election campaign are said to not have a legitimate mandate to implement them.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 23/11/2012 - 22:02

Sorry to be a pedant, but the Conservatives did not won the last election. They haven’t won since Thatcher decades ago.

Allan, if you want to play the pedant, it helps to know what you're talking about. John Major secured 52% of the popular vote. That's a mandate in anyone's book. By contrast, Gordon Brown's government sneaked in on the coattails of Blair's 2005 victory, in which Labour won a mere 35% of the popular vote.If anyone didn't have a mandate, it was Brown/Balls.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 23/11/2012 - 22:27

Labour won. The Tories didn't. The facts speak for themselves. Thatcher was the last, decades ago. Obviously when it comes to being A Pedant, "Ricky Tarr" has full ownership, with or without full disclosure.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 24/11/2012 - 08:01

Ricky - you are correct about John Major securing the greatest number of popular votes than any other premier before or since. Surprising, then, that he should have received so much poisonous vitriol from the right-wing (Murodch) press.

This is the conclusion about Major by the Guardian, hardly a Tory rag:

"No one is ever going to call Major a great man or a great premier. But apart form the fact that all sports fans should be grateful to him, he did his best in impossible circumstances, and behaved decently on the whole. His successors at Downing Street could have learned from that."

These "successors" include Tony Blair - Major described Blair as being more "right wing" than Major was.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Conservatives had insufficient votes at the last election to form a government without forming a coalition.

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