Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Fair Crack of the Whip to Fulfil Role: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Fair Crack of the Whip to Fulfil Role: Comment

Article excerpt

Local authorities lack power, says Jonathan Carr-West.

Whatever you think about academies, it seems that they are here to stay. Forty per cent of secondary schools have converted, or are in the process of converting to, academy status and, although the rate of conversion has slowed, there is little reason to suppose that this number will not continue to grow. Indeed, recent research by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) showed that a majority of council lead members and directors for children's services thought that more than half the schools in their area would have academy status by the end of 2013.

I should declare an interest. In a previous role, I was involved in setting up an academy and I believe that school (the RSA Academy in Tipton) is a shining example of progressive educational practice and of what can be achieved by an enlightened academy sponsor.

There's also a strong localist argument for academies. We know that successful innovation rarely comes from centralised plans rolled out in a standardised form. Innovation happens when practitioners on the ground are given the freedom to experiment, to respond to localised conditions and to learn quickly from their successes and, even more importantly, their failures.

So if we want to drive real innovation, we need to devolve power down to the lowest possible level - in this case, the school. True localists should therefore at least be open to the idea of academies. At the same time, we know that for innovation and improvement to flourish they also need to be transmitted across broader networks so that others can learn from and adapt them. We also know that there are strategic needs in education that cannot be met by individual schools acting alone. Someone needs to monitor quality, ensure accountability, guarantee that all children get a place and attend school, and provide additional assistance such as school improvement support and services for children with special educational needs.

Local authorities (and local authorities alone) have the capacity and the democratic accountability to perform what government has described as a strategic role, and Michael Gove has said that "in a more autonomous schools system, local authorities have a crucial role to play" in "championing . …

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