Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'Shell-Shocked' LAs about to Get Another Surprise: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'Shell-Shocked' LAs about to Get Another Surprise: News

Article excerpt

Study says they should 'mediate' between academies and DfE.

The academies revolution sweeping England has left many local authorities "shell-shocked", feeling that they no longer have a role in school improvement, according to a new report.

But town halls left "on the back foot" by the coalition's reforms are missing a trick by failing to recognise the opportunities they present, the study commissioned by the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) argues.

"It is in local authorities' hands whether or not they want to play a lead role in the improvement of all their schools," consultant Jonathan Crossley-Holland writes in The Missing Link: the evolving role of the local authority in school improvement. "In some ways, both local authorities and schools are being given more room than they have been given for a number of years, albeit with far fewer resources, and are being given greater freedom to determine what they do."

A separate ADCS-commissioned report, Schools Causing Concern: a research project, concludes that the growth in chains of schools and school-to- school support does not have the capacity to take over from local authorities (LAs).

Author Debbie Pritchard admits that not all councils have a good record in supporting weak schools. She quotes an anonymous academy chain head, who claims that some authorities are "complicit in disguising poor standards in order to pass inspections, but with no sustainable plan to raise standards".

But, she argues, the best authorities do everything in their power to improve all schools, including academies, and should continue with that work. "The Department for Education cannot manage all schools centrally," her report says. "A mediating layer is needed."

The idea that some kind of "middle tier" is required as more schools become academies is now widely accepted - Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw and even schools minister Nick Gibb have noted the gap. But given that the idea of academies was to bring state schools out of LA control, the notion that LAs should end up filling that gap may seem strange.

Mr Crossley-Holland acknowledges that ministers see town halls as "part of the problem". But he points to the commitment in the government's 2010 schools White Paper to giving LAs a "strong strategic role" that includes developing "their own school improvement strategies to support local schools".

Ms Pritchard agrees, saying: "There is every reason that effective local authorities continue to work with, monitor and challenge all schools . …

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