LAs are not "in charge" of their schools. Somebody tell politicians and the media to stop spreading the myth that they are.

Janet Downs's picture
"We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority running all  the schools – they will not be  in charge.’

Tristram Hunt, shadow Education Secretary, Daily Mail, 12 October 2013

Tristram Hunt is a historian  He should, therefore, respect facts.  But unfortunately he appears not to know that LAs haven't run schools since Local Management of Schools was introduced over 20 years ago.  And even in the days when LAs were allegedly "in charge", they did not impose a centralised curriculum on to their schools.  That role was taken by successive governments, Conservative and Labour.  When I began teaching in the late 70s the only "control" imposed on me, even as a probationer, was the subject I was expected to teach, the group on the receiving end and any required exam syllabus (in those faraway days, many CSE exams were home-grown - teachers could devise their own exams and submit them to CSE boards for approval).

But the myth carries on - helped along by remarks from the Conservative front bench, relentless media commentary and organisations such as the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools Association.

So, is there any truth in the allegation that LAs control their maintained schools?

The answer is No:  LA responsibility is limited to:

1 Back-room services (eg administration, legal requirements).

2 Co-ordinating admissions to all state schools in the area including free schools and academies.

3 Responsibility for children with special educational needs (SEN) and education welfare services.

4 The legal duty to manage the supply of school places.

LAs retain a small part of the budget of their maintained schools to pay for these services. Academies and free schools receive this small part directly but are still expected to purchase the administration and legal services they need.

LAs do not tell schools how to spend their budget.

LAs do not tell schools what and how to teach.

LAs have no say in who is recruited by a school (with the exception of the head). Teachers are employed by the LA but not recruited – who is appointed and what job s/he does is the responsibility of the school’s governing body. An LA adviser may be present at job interviews to give legal advice but has no say in who is offered the job.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found the UK was among only four countries which gave schools a large amount of autonomy. The Academies Commission (2013) confirmed this: LA maintained schools can do most things an academy can do and the extra “freedoms” available to academies aren’t very great. The Academies Commission received evidence from some heads in academies linked to academy chains that they had less autonomy now they were in a chain than they had when maintained by their local authorities.

So, when politicians and large sections of the media push propaganda that non-academies are "controlled" by the iron hand of local bureaucracy and the only way to escape this intolerable burden is to claim academy "freedom", they are misleading the electorate.

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