This post continues from my last – discussing the themes and news from the Capita LA Conference. I know this will come as a surprise to some, who will have been expecting more “geeky” System Centre or HyperV stuff – but my community work will also form my blogs too!
The Key Note speech at the event was made by Tony Travers. Tony Travers is Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, a research centre at the London School of Economics. He is also a Visiting Professor in the LSE’s Government Department; whos research interests include local and regional government and public service reform. He is currently an advisor to the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Select Committee and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. He has published a number of books on cities and government, including Failure in British Government, The Politics of the Poll Tax (with David Butler and Andrew Adonis), Paying for Health, Education and Housing: How does the Centre Pull the Purse Strings (with Howard Glennerster and John Hills) and The Politics of London: Governing the Ungovernable City.
Here though – he talked to us about the way in which management and support of Schools has changed.
Looking back, Schools started and were maintained locally by bodies often formed by churches. After 1945 onwards, e state stepped in, with LEAs. Were schools then a local service or a national service, really a mix of the two.
From 1976 onwards, there was greater Government involvement – increasing to the general “tinkering” which every successive power has felt the need to do.
The national curriculum was introduced, followed by endless fiddling with curriculums and exams – which continues to this day. You only have to look at the news lately to see a new ICT Curriculum (now this one I do agree with); changes to the GCSE system, changes to numeracy and literacy expectations from Primary and more.
All of this “tinkering” has had a purpose though. The new models have been designed to drive improvement, but how much of is a remodelling of the past, academies and free schools are similar to and an evolution of the old grant maintained schools. We now have a mixture of types of school, giving choice to parents. League tables and inspections allow that to be an informed choice, and to enforce performance. The pupil premium drives improvement by competition between schools. More students equals greater funding. Has this led to a reduced role for local government?
What is the role?
Admissions, centrally provided services and ensuring capital investment by ensuring places are available.
Little power to close failing academies, or plan the system of local schools. Loss of fiscal power too.
However, the growth area has been that Councils can also provide ancillary services… Free School Meals, insurance, supply, under achieving pupils, insurance, information services, economies of scale services are just some examples of this.
The long and short of it is that LAs have moved from being providers and controllers, to more limited role. Instead, new and strengthened central bodies from Whitehall – Ofsted, Education Funding Agency, DfE.
So, what does the future hold, and what issues could it present?
The economy is the obvious first point. The constant drive to cut costs brings the challenge of weak growth and likelyhood of school funding being held at below inflation levels. There is bound to be the continuation of new policies – the move to introduce more Academies and the growth of Free Schools. Only in the news in the past few weeks were the announcements to push failing Primaries into Academy Status. To gain a perceived better control of costs, there is also likely to be a further centralisation of funding.
Where does all of this leave LAs? It all looks bleak for them, indeed many thought the LA IT role would all but disappear. Instead, a new LA role has grown – to be the invisible guiding role. There to be supporting, able to give guidance; and taking an active interest locally – which central powers cannot do.
They are also in a position to be delivering value for money though economies of scale projects and services – on a local level, coordinating the needs of their cluster. Despite the fears to the contrary, they are plenty of examples where LAs continue handling finance for central capital projects as well.
Why does the role of the LA matter anyway – and what could explain this “phoenix from the flames”?
- Greater trust of local councillors rather than MPs
- Balanced local ear to the ground abilities
- Emergency support via local secured and invested funds
- Responsibility for other key services such as social care, public health, planning, crime and disorder
And why is this important? Well these relate to education because of the wider impact of the environment out children grow up in. They change the way people feel – change their perception and confidence in a way that Central Government cannot achieve.
So, in conclusion – although there has been a move away from Local Government responsibility over the last 50 years, there is still a major role for it.
Still a need for the efficiency and scale that Local Government has, despite the press coverage. It is a surprising statistic some may say, but Local Government is more efficient than Central and any small organisation (such as a school on its own).