Who and what is in the middle tier?

Fiona Millar & Henry Stewart's picture
Debate the election issues with LSN

With the local and European polls out of the way, the way is clear now for 11 months of electioneering and policy wrangling until the General Election next May.

The recent “Trojan Horse” story has raised a number of questions about the way schools and governors are currently held to account locally and nationally. Michael Gove has appointed regional schools commissioners to manage academies and free schools but has little to say about the future local authority role, which is still (in legal terms) substantial and includes provision of school places, admissions, the requirement to intervene in schools causing concern and to provide for children with SEN.

Ofsted has also appointed regional directors and last month a Labour Party review into the local authority role, carried out by former Education Secretary David Blunkett, proposed the creation of a new Independent Director of School Standards , possibly to work across local authority boundaries, brokering collaboration, commissioning school places and holding schools to account.

The LSN founders, and contributors, don’t always agree on the fine points of these policy proposals so decided to start a debate about the whole question of “local oversight” here…

FIONA MILLAR: "Overall I think the Blunkett proposals are an inevitable tentative first step to resolving the chaos that Michael Gove will leave behind. As I explained in my Guardian Education column last month Gove will leave such a mess behind him that a clean solution will be hard to devise overnight. To understand the extent of the fragmentation and atomisation read the article by David Wolfe QC in the Education Law Journal last year. In it the London barrister spells out the legal minefield created by thousands of schools accountable only to the DFE via a multitude of subtly different funding agreements, depending on how and when each school was established.

That a new order must arise from this chaos seems to me inevitable, preferably one that creates strong, collaborative local systems that embrace ALL schools, whether free, maintained or academy. Given that so many schools now lie outside the LA framework, it may be necessary to create a new all encompassing layer".

HENRY STEWART:"Surely the simplest response would be to make all state schools – whatever their structure – accountable to the local authority? If it wasn’t for that strong Westminster prejudice against local government, that would surely be the proposal.

The distrust of national politicians for local government is a peculiarly British disease, in probably the most centralised system of government in the developed world, and one which has caused considerable damage to our society.The chaos over school places is a direct result of Michael Gove’s refusal to let councils plan and build new schools to meet the local need.

And his intense distrust of local authorities (which he apparently sees as part of his much disdained “blob”) means that now almost any group can put together a business plan to run chains of academies. The fact many have precious little educational experience seems to have been an advantage in his book.

I have described elsewhere the result of this. Of 151 local authorities only two (1.3%) have an average GCSE benchmark, without equivalents, of 35% or below. Of the seven largest chains, four of them (57%) have an average GCSE benchmark of 35% or below.

Compare those two statistics. What this means is that the personal ideological dislike of the Secretary of State for local educational authorities has led directly – in the schools in these under-performing chains – to lower achievement for thousands of our young people."

FIONA MILLAR: "I can understand the reaction of people who are disappointed that councils can’t take over all these functions again. I have sympathy with that view. Some local authorities have successfully nurtured and maintained their families of schools against the tide of national policy, and done so more effectively than many academy chains. We shouldn’t forget that.

But in other parts of the country local authorities haven’t been as successful as the ones you and I are involved with and in many areas the infrastructure is disintegrating; local authorities either don’t want, or haven’t got the capacity, to do what is needed

The Blunkett proposal for a new director post, appointed by one or more local authorities and responsible for intervention and brokering collaboration, possibly across borough boundaries as in the case of the hugely successful London Challenge, is more sensible than Gove’s regional commissioners who are only responsible for academies and free schools, or the idea of Ofsted running both an inspectorate and a school improvement service."

HENRY STEWART: "I can understand the reason behind Blunkett’s proposal. It is likely that if he had recommended a greater role for local authorities, his report would have been sidelined by national politicians with a deep distrust of the local, enhanced in Hunt’s case by the apparent poor performance of his constituency Stoke-on-Trent’s Council (though he did say in his Sunday Times interview of 25th May that it was improving).

The original academies programme too was a response to a perceived failure of local government or, arguably, to the failure of one council, Hackney. Key Labour educational players (Tony Blair, Andrew Adonis, Michael Barber and Charles Clarke) were involved in the politics of Hackney Council in the 80s and 90s. I have heard a description of how they would sit on the Downing Street sofa, scoffing at the absurdities of Hackney schools and determining a way of avoiding council involvement.

I was a governor in Hackney then and I do agree that the system was dysfunctional and letting down local children. At roughly this time Estelle Morris intervened to create the Learning Trust (an arms-length not-for-profit organization), under whose co-ordination Hackney’s education was transformed and is now arguably among the best in the country. It is true that the majority of Hackney secondaries are academies, most of which are newly built. However the local authority ensured there were no chains involved, that all schools were committed to working together and that admissions were co-ordinated by the local authority. And the transformation in primary schools in Hackney have taken place, up to this year, with no academy involvement.

But the important thing to note is the fundamentally different approach. Adonis and Blair invented a new type of school to get over the problems they had experienced in one council, which has led to the chaotic system that Blunkett so accurately describes. Estelle Morris provided a solution that fixed the problems in that local education authority and laid the basis for over a decade of improvement there.

You may be right, Fiona, that the educational capabilities of many local authorities have disintegrated over the last four years. But many are still performing strongly. You have yourself powerfully described the transformation enabled by Tower Hamlets Council in one of the most deprived areas in the country.

This is the decision that Tristram Hunt faces: Does he create a new and entirely unproven education layer or does he recognize the decades of experience and the large number of high-performing local authorities, and seek to sort out those that are under-performing."

FIONA MILLAR: "Unfortunately in politics it is always easier to go forward and create something new than it is to re-create the past so I think whatever our personal preferences, the pragmatic approach is to accept that , should Labour win the next election or even be the biggest party, there will be some sort of new model of local accountability ,involving central and local government together, which is effectively what the Learning Trust was in its day.

I suppose you could argue for a tailored approach applicable to the authorities which are seriously under performing, but I am more attracted by the idea of a systematic approach to this issue across the country so that children, regardless of the type of school they are in, or the area in which they live, can expect the same high standard of accountability.

I also don’t think we should overlook Blunkett’s other proposals that every school should be put on the same legal footing in terms of curriculum, admissions and so on. Under the Labour plan schools will actually be built where they are needed, rather than where they are not. Open competitions will be run by the IDSS to choose who should run them with no presumption that any one “type “ of school or provider is best. For the first time in almost a decade new schools won’t have to be academies. I consider this a huge sea change.

And I like the idea of commissioning places across borough boundaries. In an area like London, where a combination of parent choice and very small local authorities mean that children are frequently educated in different local authority areas to those in which they live, a regional approach to need and demand would be more efficient and effective."

HENRY STEWART: "Should one never re-create the past? A majority in opinion polls call for the railways to come back under public ownership and I certainly hope Labour will fulfill its promise to get rid of the bedroom tax.

There are many differences between the Learning Trust and the proposed DSS. The Learning Trust just worked in one local authority but took on the full responsibilities of a local education authority, and still fitted within local accountability.

In contrast the DSS proposal surely creates far more questions than it answers. It has been described to me, by a local government expert, as “the most muddled proposal I have ever seen”. Which powers and responsibilities lie with whom are unclear, as is who the DSS will be accountable to.

On the one hand the report suggests an increase in LEA powers, with all school funding coming through the local authority. On the other hand it is the DSS and not the LEA that will intervene and challenge when a school is perceived to be under-performing and in proposing that all schools join a federation seems to suggest that this is the body which provides the support and challenge that schools need.

Blunkett provides an accurate analysis of the problem our schools face, of an atomised system with schools working under hundreds of different funding agreements. He gives the example of a local authority that knows one of the academies in its area is under-performing but has no power over it and cannot get the DfE to take any action, which is a common problem in the current situation. And many of his proposals are good, giving all schools the same freedoms."

FIONA MILLAR: "I don’t think you can equate repealing the bedroom tax to rolling back the years to the early 90s, which was really when this experiment with independent state schools started. The fundamental problem remains that there are now thousands of schools contracted directly to the Secretary of State so it is impossible to just wave a magic wand and give them back to the local authority, as I explained here..

But you are right. There are still too many unanswered questions. Labour must explain clearly how the local authority and the independent directorate will relate to each other, how the statutory duties will be divided up and to go back to David Wolfe’s original piece, how will the jungle of different rules governing each academy and free school be streamlined and what legislation will be necessary to ensure all this happens seamlessly?

Parents probably don’t think much about who actually ensures the smooth operation of their local schools. But they do care when things go wrong, they care when they can’t get a place for their child, when they are not listened to and when they can’t get quick and easy redress. That is what these proposals are about.

One of the reasons some of us opposed the Labour academy model from the start was the fear of how schools, run directly by contract with the Secretary of State, might be used in the hands of a different party. Depending on who wins the General Election, there may be worse to come, which is probably why these proposals haven’t drawn forth any serious challenge. Everyone knows deep down that something must be done. The Blunkett review may just be a tentative first step, but it is an essential one."

HENRY STEWART:"Let’s face reality. Local authorities are always going to be part of the solution. The DSS appears to be little more than a one-person quango. It can alert people to problems in individual schools but it will not be the source of support and school improvement. Those will either be provided by a similar chaotic range of hundreds or thousands of chains, federations and others as at present or it will be provided by the 151 local education authorities – with a focus on making sure they are all effective.

You are right to conclude with the needs of parents. Where do they go when things go wrong? They don’t go to the DFE and I’m not sure they will go to the new DSS. They overwhelmingly go to their council and (even if they didn’t bother to vote) to their local councillor. Call me old-fashioned but that good old democratic accountability is something to support and enhance, not disregard in a new combination of centralisation and atomisation."




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christine blower's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 16:29

On behalf of myself and the NUT, I'm absolutely with Henry on this. I genuinely believe that the recreation/revitalistion/ re energusing of L(E)Aswould be a vote winner for Labour .

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 17:43

I agree with Christine. LA's need to be re-empowered for all sorts of purposes not just education. If not, what are they for, and why have local elections at all?.

I am an NHS Trust governor and our local Trust is engaged in radical plans to reconfigure healthcare involving partnership between FTs, Clinical Commissioning Groups and LAs to provide cost effective integrated care.

My local contribution, which is being strongly supported including at Trust Board Level, is the concept of genuinely evolutionary change. I posted about this here although there was little interest.


The idea is that a planned reform must accurately define and describe where it is now, and where it wants EVENTUALLY to get to. Then a large number of intermediate steps must be carefully designed. Then the vital evolutionary test must be applied to each step. This requires that each small step must of itself result in a real, significant and measurable improvement and produce an advantage for the institution or service concerned and its users. This is a big ask.

The current macho managerialist culture is based on 'you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs'. The assumption is that temporary negative outcomes are, 'a price worth paying'.

This is just callous laziness. The PROCESS of change has just not been thought about deeply enough.

What I am proposing is the way natural evolution by natural selection works. The great Dawininian idea has application for social planning.

The classic example is the evolution of the human eye. It was not designed in one go by God or anything else. It evolved in tiny steps from a patch of light sensitive skin to the mammalian eye. In fact it happened more than once. Dawkins explains the process brilliantly in, 'The blind watchmaker'. It only works if each small step advantages the organism.

We do not want more revolutionary change imposed by an arrogant god-like figure with a 'master plan'. We need the Titcombe test applied to every single necessary step in a planned process of change.

Each separate step must be an improvement.

Using this principle what Henry proposes can be brought about. Christine Blower is right that it would be a vote winner. Public confidence grows as the aggregated small improvements accumulate - win,win.

We are seeing the disaster of Gove's ideological revolutionary approach. Also as in IDS's welfare reforms. Neither come close to meeting the Titcombe test.

Ed and Co need to get working on Titcombe evolutionary planning to bring about the reforms needed.

Henry mentions the railways. Here the evolutionary Titcombe system of change is obvious. You return each privatised catastrophe to public ownership as the contracts expire.

Parallel approaches can be applied throughout our public services. It would be the biggest Labour vote winner since 1945.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 16:37

I don't see why we should accept the idea that LAs should be dispensed with because the Coalition's austerity offensive has left them severely disabled. Even as they are now many of them would certainly do a better job than many of the Academy chains and all of them have a good chance of being more effective than direct control by Gove's (or Hunt's) DfE.

A new government following different policies could find the money to strengthen LAs. I suspect that the best we can hope for from Labour is still 'Govelite' and this is extremely depressing.

Creating any other kind of middle tier, when a national one already exists (even though it has been severely weakened as a matter of policy) will merely complicate further what is already an unholy and undemocratic mess.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 16:45

What would you do about the local authorities that have really failed to deliver for their schools? There are some with quite a dismal record. In addition areas like London would benefit from an overarching authority for schools, which would of course then trump the local authority. Is that acceptable?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 17:51

Fiona - You would have the wholly benign equivalent of 'flying pickets' sent in by the DfE. For the worst cases, then 'Learning Trust' type solutions must be applied. The LT was never 'private enterprise cavalry riding to the rescue'. It was a public not for profit innovation that worked. It eventually evolved into the Hackney Learning Trust.

Exactly the same has to be done with failing hospital Trusts.

David Barry's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:07

Fiona remarked about how in politics it seems to be easier to move forward with a "novel" solution than to go back to an old way of doing things.

I have two immediate reactions to that, perhaps slightly contradictory:-

First, I agree that a simple "rewind" is impossible. Given the extent to which some LA's have withdrawn from supporting schools, and the level of financial cuts that have impacted all LAs anyway, any move to "reinstate" local authorities in their former position would actually amount to their recreation.

Second, no doubt a sign of increasing age, I note the way in which if you wait long enough the old ideas seem to reappear again. (Warning the rest of this is broadly London centric) I (just about) remember ILEA. I also note the way in which London Boroughs are too small for full scale strategic planning. I can see why, in London, there might be a role for a "London Education Authority" of some kind. This, in contradiction to my first point might well look like some kind of reinstatement of ILEA and its hugely influential Education Officer figure.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:06

The IDSS is not a private enterprise solution it is a post appointed jointly by local and national government, in line with the LT and in a sense it is evolutionary. There are other cases like Hackney now, though happily not in London.The Gove solutions aren't going to help them, but I am not sure that just hoping they will improve on their own is the solution either. To be clear I am not suggesting NO role for the LA, but that some new relationship between central and local government is inevitable and the pragmatic solution is to work with the grain, rather than against it. There is still the issue that the funding agreements ( thousands of them) are with the DFE. How does re-empowering LAs change that? I agree that some local authorities are excellent, but others aren't and it is naive to ignore that fact if we are going to help them evolve and get better external challenge and influence is inevitable.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 16:57

London seems to be doing very well as it is, doesn't it?

Any number of things could be done about LAs that are really failing to deliver. The fact that not all LAs are not as good as others is surely no argument for inventing some other complex, and almost certainly less democratic, system.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 17:19

But the Learning Trust was an innovative and different solution to a failing authority, which worked and was a combination of central government input and local accountability. IDSS could be that, especially in areas where LA's NOT interested. Several already indicated they want to hand over their schools to other providers. I don't think you can ignore the reality of the situation we are now in. Obviously if we were devising a system from the start, we wouldn't start from here, but we're not.This fragmentation goes back over a decade now. I would rather think about the situation an incoming government might inherit in 2015 and work out a solution for that time, not the 1980s.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 17:19

Incidentally some of the London authorities moved fastest to divest themselves of their schools - Westminster and Barnet for example.

David Barry's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:12

Fiona remarked about how in politics it seems to be easier to move forward with a "novel" solution than to go back to an old way of doing things.

I have two immediate reactions to that, perhaps slightly contradictory:-

First, I agree that a simple "rewind" is impossible. Given the extent to which some LA's have withdrawn from supporting schools, and the level of financial cuts that have impacted all LAs anyway, any move to "reinstate" local authorities in their former position would actually amount to their recreation.

Second, no doubt a sign of increasing age, I note the way in which if you wait long enough the old ideas seem to reappear again. (Warning the rest of this is broadly London centric) I (just about) remember ILEA. I also note the way in which London Boroughs are too small for full scale strategic planning. I can see why, in London, there might be a role for a "London Education Authority" of some kind. This, in contradiction to my first point might well look like some kind of reinstatement of ILEA and its hugely influential Education Officer figure.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 17:58

And look what the voters thought of them. The massive swings to Labour in the London local government elections would be just the start. If the new government tells the public that Conservative LAs are wasting their money and doing a crap job then the public will vote them out. Rarely a day goes by without some new revelation of a Conservative/New Labour privatisation scandal/disaster. The Tories have attacked Labour councils in this way for years and in too many cases they were right and the voters did get rid of them. The lessons are clear, as is the way forward.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:00

Sorry, I was talking about the London Challenge.

The reality of the situation that we are now in is impossible to ignore, I agree. It's all too obvious why castrated LAS would not wish to be held responsible for those schools which haven't jumped onto the Academy bandwagon (gravy train?).

The damage done by Gove, building on New Labour foundations, can and must be undone. Like Christine Blower, I think there is evidence of a popular appetite for de-privatisation, just as there is in health, and the utilities.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 03:52

ILEA can be reinstated in practice through inter - LA cooperation. It works now in a small way through pan-London admissions arrangements. That's the model - a step by step process.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:26

The key pt for me about the IDSS is it will at best identify schools that need support or challenge. It won't have the resources to support them. There is no hint of that in the Labour proposals.

Some body will have to be responsible for school improvement. And, unless we believe that academy chains are that answer, i find it hard to see an alternative to local authorities. And, yes, that will mean boosting and reinvigorating some that have given up on their role - and, as Blunkett pts out, they remain responsible for ensuring every child gets a decent education.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:33

Henry, thanks for reminding us that LAs continue to be responsible for ensuring every child gets a decent education. At the moment, it ridiculous to expect them to do this. This is just one of the illogicalities of the present (I was going to say system) mess. Clearly, there will have to be fundamental changes to allow them to fulfil this role in the future.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:52

There is a question about how best to make that fundamental change to allow LA's to fulfil that role. Re-negotiating all the funding agreements to give them to the LAs? That could be a massive time and energy trap at a time when there will be many more pressing priorities for schools. I predict that many of the sponsors will fiercely resist that course of action, which is another reason why I think Labour has gone for creating a new intermediate level responsible for all schools which wouldn't seem like "going back" for those that have opted for academy status. Of course the root cause of this was Labour's creation of the first academies, which gave Gove the potential to build on and misuse the model. But as you say, it is done now. Unpicking it will be complicated but would be more difficult politically I suspect by compelling schools to take what they might see as a retrograde step.
Another option would be to try and convert all existing community schools into maintained trust schools ( there is an inkling of that in the Blunkett plan). These would be more autonomous than community schools and similar to foundation and VA schools but still with funding via the LA and within the LA family. It might be easier to bring academies back into a structure like that, but the legislation is still framed to make return to the maintained sector,and thus the sort of direct LA intervention you want to see, very difficult.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:54

By the way here is a piece I wrote about all of this for the Guardian's Comment is Free this week.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 03:44

Fiona - Why should any school need a Funding Agreement? None of the excellent schools I worked in ever had one. Nobody focussed on developing the abilities, wisdom and talents of their pupils ever suggested such a thing.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 03:47

No need for any new complicated 'trust schools' or anything of the sort, just step by step regulation to put powers and accountabilities back into communities through democratic representation in a uniform national educational framework.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 10:36

Because that is the legal basis for the academies, of which there are thousands. We are talking about what currently exists not what we would dream up if we were not starting from here. That step by step regulation you talk of, has to be included in each funding agreement to apply to those schools. The contracts are negotiated with the sponsors so they would also have to agree.The politics of this is that you would have to talk them with you and I predict there will inevitably be compromises because some are such powerful lobbyists within governing.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:32

On London, I would say keep it as it is. School place planning and admissions need to be co-ordinated across boroughs but that already takes place (where the government allows it).

But one strength of London LEAs is that they are small and local, and therefore know their schools well. Let's keep it that way.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:41

If you have place planning and admissions taking place across boroughs that will automatically require another tier. I also think that over time, and the way school funding is going, responsibility for school improvement will devolve more to schools working together in partnership. I was in Wigan this week where this is already taking place very effectively in clusters of schools with minimal input from the LA. Is there any reason why those partnerships shouldn't take place across borough boundaries too? In which case there may be further justification for a middle tier working across borough boundaries to broker these arrangements, while the clusters are small and local. Two of my local schools take 50 % of their pupils from neighbouring boroughs because of their geographical positions. One is in a post 16 consortium relationship with schools in another borough. I think it is sensible to break up this idea that in London everything is divided up across LA lines which seems to me to limit potential, and innovation, rather than encourage it. I was educated in ILEA schools and the borough boundaries were irrelevant, we were all just part of ILEA.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 19:10

I think you'll find, Fiona, that many schools network with school outside their own LA area. The Challenges (London, Greater Manchester and the Black Country) encouraged this but schools were already doing it. This can happen quite independently from whatever organisation has oversight of the school.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:25

Children have always been able to take up places in other LA's. No new tier required at all.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 20:08

In a way you are making the case for school to school support and new ways of improvement that don't rely on the LA. In London I think this isn't really happening though, unless schools are in an academy chain like ARK or Harris.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 20:21

Sorry I meant to say it isn't happening across borough boundaries...

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:20

The illusion of improvement is the problem not the solution.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:23

But the LA in the form of the Learning Trust was an effective route to genuine improvement. The LT has morphed seamlessly into HLT so why should Hackney and other LA's not continue in the same vein?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:34

If the question were “Would returning schools back to local authority care be a vote winner for Labour?”, I would argue that it probably would not. In the public’s mind, where schools have failed it is the fault of dysfunctional local authorities and Michael Gove has succeeded in embedding this opinion further by tarnishing all LAs with the brush of failure by promoting the lie that independent state schools, free of local authority wickedness, fare better. This is going to be almost impossible to undo at a time when many voters are clinging on to the hope that salvation comes in the form of an LA-free school structure.

I feel that Blunkett has taken the first steps to address the legal, administrative and practical problems to reconcile the fragmented mess that this government has created. I live in Hackney and there is no doubt that education in the borough has been totally transformed and that the Learning Trust, in taking on the enormous task of revitalizing schools which Hackney Council had catastrophically failed, had the vision and commitment to do this.

One benefit of returning all schools (whether maintained, Academy or Free) to the LA is that other council departments which affect children (social services and housing for example) could co-ordinate and share information which would better ensure that vulnerable children are less likely to fall through the cracks. So many councils have been so overstretched and financially squeezed that inter-agency support and sharing has not always been as effective as it should have been. We would need to ensure that resources and sharing of information within the local authority were better managed and implemented.

I would like to see a semi-autonomous organization running schools. One funded by the local authority, with a clear brief, but structurally separate from the council. The best practice for this is the Learning Trust as it delivered a successful plan in Hackney on behalf of the Council. I believe that it was successful partly because it had the support of the local community who embraced a new enterprise which looked to the future, rather than being a reincarnation of something that had failed.

This “Schools Trust” , in each local authority or perhaps spread over several authorities or boundaries, would be accountable to the schools and community in its area as well as to the IDSS, whose role would be to ensure that the Trust complied with regulations and demonstrated effective stewardship of the schools under their care.

The Trust would share information with relevant departments of the local authority and their semi-independent state would reassure many parents that schools in their area were free from the suspicion of incompetent management by the local council as peddled by the present government and as sometimes did indeed happen in some areas. The combination of local Schools Trust and central government IDSS could be a vote winner.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:58

That is an interesting idea Allan - not dissimilar to my earlier comment about trust schools. I think you are right that it will need to be some sort of new model, not least to seem interesting and engage the public. And that is half the battle in politics though most politicians come up with too many new ideas, just to feed the media, when we only really need a handful of good ones and excellent implementation.
The co-operative trust model is an interesting one as it involves all sections of the community; parents, local people etc. Would be good to give back a sense of local ownership ( rather than control) if we are to move away from the sponsor model.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 18:59

This discussion seems rather London-centric or even Hackney-centric. It is as well to remember that in large areas of the country kids mostly go to local schools. Often they have little choice and parents seem quite unperturbed by this. It would make sense to them for their school to be overseen by a locally elected and accountable Local Authority.

If, incidentally, Blunkett is even part of the answer, there is something seriously wrong with the question.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 19:51

I didn't mean it to focus on London or Hackney, Phil. But the semi autonomous Trust model in Hackney worked and part of the enthusiasm for Learning Trust was that it was not subsumed within the local authority. A fresh new model based on a Trust model need not limit it's scope to one LA area. In rural communities where there are fewer schools, these Trusts could cross boundaries and manage schools within more than one authority. The important thing is that the new middle tier is effective and part of the future rather than a return to the past when not all local authorities were good and with a legal and structural problem where half of secondary schools cannot easily be returned to LAs.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 20:36

I wasn't criticising you Allan. I was talking about the whole discussion. It's assumed that London's problems and solutions are universally applicable.

I don't accept the 'legal and structural difficulties' argument. It was done very easily - people hardly seemed to realise it was happening before it was too late. I'm sure that there's a way to devise a U-turn which will be just as easy. And as has already been mentioned LAs still have an overall responsibility for all the children in their area - maybe it was an oversight and the vandals forgot to do anything about that.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:18

Rubbish - When the LT became the HLT the transition was seamless - same staff, same policies, same effectiveness.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 20:47

It was done easily and quickly (and in ways that made a return to the previous LA setup virtually impossible) and that it is the crux of the problem. It is going to be both very costly and time consuming to convert Academies (about half of secondary schools alone) back to a theoretical LA stewardship. As LAs were promoted as part of the problem of underachievement in schools, better to maintain some distance from them going forward. I would hope that, legally, it would be faster to legislate for a new middle tier "Trust" to bring back all schools within local ownership

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:36

The Learning Trust was always accountable to Hackney Council. Not to the DfE. This example is not the same as dismantling the legal process of Academies contracted to central government and returning them and their land back to local authorities. Not to mention divorcing them from their chains and sponsors.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:17

Rubbish - LAs are still responsible for providing school places and for safeguarding all of their children. I have set out a step by step approach for returning Academies to local democratic control. What is required is to give parents the right to a ballot to return their schools to public democratic control and ownership.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 03:40

Alan - The legal structures of Academies and their chains can be dismantled a bit at a time in step by step reforms based on popular local regulation.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 19:16

I go back to Christine's point at the beginning of the comments list:

"I genuinely believe that the recreation/revitalistion/ re energising of L(E)As would be a vote winner for Labour."

Every week it becomes clearer clear that the atomisation of the school system isn't working. And when parents are worried, as with some in Birmingham, it is the LA they turn to, not the DfE.

I think saying labour would bring schools back into local co-ordination, with the local authority that you know and can go to - and revitalised - would be seen by voters as a step forward.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 20:07

But the LA in the Birmingham situation didn't appear to have done a great job either did it?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 20:16

Labour's lead over the Conservatives is tenuous and will probably remain so right up until the election. I don't think we should underestimate the suspicion that many people still have of local authority "control" over education. For every parent who support who understands and supports the role of LAs, there are many more who don't understand it and have been influenced by the negative image of local authorities, either because they have been dysfunctional or because Michael Gove's demonisation of all of them, regardless of many individual success stories, has compounded the distrust.

I think the more likely vote winner is to offer something new. One that does not leave schools rudderless, divorced and unaccountable to its community and bound by contract to central government nor "controlled" by local authorities.

A Trust model has the advantage in a brave new education world which would go a long way to regain some distance from central AND local politics and, as Fiona says, return schools to community ownership. For Labour, revitalisation means a complete break from the past - from its own role in setting the Academy monster into motion whilst recognising that the landscape has changed, perhaps permanently. A model which performs many of the roles of a local authority and semi-autonomous of it would assure the voter that Labour policy is neither Gove-lite whilst dispelling the fear that the party will return to the dreaded Reds under the Bed Race to the Bottom ideology perpetuated by Gove. Sadly, the Birmingham LA does not appear to have dealt with the situation there competently...

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 20:20

Worth looking at the Ofsted report on the Birmingham schools to see what Sir Mike said about Birmingham City Council? It didn't respond to concerns. I believe the council leader has accepted the criticism as legitimate.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 03:37

Absolutely right Henry. It is also necessary for Labour to reconnect with parents and communities in this way. Such localism worked well for years for the Lib Dems. Labour should unashamedly learn from their past local success and adopt their local politics approaches now that Clegg has destroyed them.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:10

In the absence of a clear secular framework for the regulation of all schools the Birmingham LA had to respond to some degree to the wishes of its Muslim voters. Ofsted and the DfE performed much worse with less excuse. They provided no consistent guidance (in fact they encouraged faith school excesses). This is all explored at length on Fiona's last thread.

Unlike all other agencies proposed here for the running of schools, LA's have democratic legitimacy. It is for DfE and Ofsted to make the rules. How can the LA be effective when this responsibility is abdicated?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:13

Alan you are talking b------s. I can assure you that LA control of schools is treated with far less suspicion than anything that has replaced it. Up and down the country parents are united in opposition to forced Academisation and loony Free school impositions.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 03:30

Voters do indeed want something new. It is an end to constant changes of structures and accountabilities and ever escalating administrative expense in our London government centred system. LAs are truly local. Elected councillors are real people that are accessible and influential provided LAs have the powers that their democratic status demands.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 03:33

Another brave new educational world is the last thing parents and voters want. What they want is modest but sure footed step by step improvements for pupils and their teachers.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 21:30

I'm not convinced. I imagine it's easy for those of us who have supported LAs and opposed Academies and Free Schools to lose sight of the fact that many voters support Gove's reforms and have longed (however mistakenly) for schools to be taken away from LAs. A new model, and one that delivers to the local community, children and has an overview of all schools within it's boundaries, might appeal to those who want more local accountability and those who are happy with schools not returning to the direct control of LAs. A middle tier fit for purpose for the new landscape of state schools is needed. A return to the past is not appealing or reassuring enough.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 15/06/2014 - 10:46

But there are a lot of successful and popular academies which suggests that parents don't take as ideological position as you suggest, though I agree that forced academisation is very unpopular when it does conflict with local parents wishes. That process must be stopped at once and I believe Labour has said that it do this, while looking at more transparent and democratic ways of choosing who runs new schools if necessary. So that is a very welcome element of the Blunkett plan.


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