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What role should Councils have in the school system?

The Localis think tank always come up with interesting stuff. Their latest paperis on what role (if any) local councils should have in the school system. Cllr Andrew Povey, the leader of Surrey County Council, makes the point that often when we talk of "choice" within the current system we mean "preference." Parents can express a preference for their child to go to a good school - but if it is full up then tough.

Cllr Povey says that if Councils switched to a commissioning role rather than a providing role they "would become champions for the consumer of education thus providing an essential energy to drive up performance without the current conflict of interest of also being the main provider of education." He offers the example of Britain's first privatised school. This was a failing comprehensive school in Guildford called King's Manor that was half empty it is now called Kings College for the Arts and Technology and doing rather better.

Cllr Povey says:

Surrey County Council was the first authority to create an aided school sponsored by a private company and with payments tied to a performance based contract. This included, for example, a limit to the number of exclusions, no adverse OFSTED report and the requirement to meet the Surrey average % A-Cs at GCSE level. This was a radical step that has great potential for the future.

You can argue about the details. (Often the shock and awe of mass exclusions, however temporary, are vital to turning round a failing school where discipline has collapsed. What matters is the GCSE results for English and Maths - not GCSE for Film Studies, Media Studies, Sociology, Citizenship, Leisure, etc.) But the basic idea is sound. Perhaps I was wrong to regard Cllr Povey as a closet socialist.

Another contributor is Rachel Wolf, Director of the New Schools Network, an exciting project set up to help new parents wishing to start up new schools so they can hit the ground running with the impending Gove Revolution. She also supports more City Academies and suggest that Councils should lose their effective veto. In other countries this does not apply yet for us:

"the Government controls when and where academies are set up and local authorities have an increasing say in whether this happens. This means a pool of potential providers - teachers, charities and international organisations, often in partnership with parents - are shut out from the process.

It also creates geographical bias. If a local authority does not approve of academies then - no matter how great the school might be, and how needy the children in the borough are - no academy will be set up. The pupils in one local authority are no less deserving than another, yet they can not access the same opportunities. This is unjust to those who need the most help - those who cannot afford to move elsewhere to acess the schools they want."

This will be part of an argument about localism - which will sometimes mean taking power away from Town Halls to allow schools and parents more independence.


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