Schools Out?

There’s been lots of media coverage recently about the government’s reform of the education system. Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, has been far from slow in driving forward his desire to give schools more freedom and independence. But what’s the situation in Warwickshire? Councillors are about to embark on a focused review to find out…

Following legislation in 2011, we are seeing more and more maintained schools converting to “Academies”, which receive their funding directly from central government – rather than via the Local Authority.

These Academies are free to manage all sorts of things in their own way:

  • The way they offer places to pupils (their “admissions” procedure)
  • How they deliver the curriculum
  • Management of the school, including who sits on their governing body and who they employ
  • School term dates and the length of the school day

The government has also made it far easier for parents and interested groups to set up their own “Free Schools”, which are essentially brand-new schools that have all the same freedoms of an Academy.

Posing questions

But what does this mean for the Local Authority? Until now, we’ve played a central role in the school system, with responsibility for all sorts of things, such as:

  • Distributing funding to schools, and monitoring how it is spent
  • Co-ordinating admissions and the number of places available at each school
  • Employing and advising school staff
  • Managing school facilities and sites

Traditionally, the Local Authority has also provided a range of services that schools “buy back” from us, such as catering, admissions appeals, school transport, maintenance and cleaning. What’s the future for these services in Gove’s new world?

As you’d imagine, there are many questions and unknowns for Local Authorities at this time regarding their relationship with schools. It’s one of the hottest topics across all of local government.

Seeking answers

A small group of our Councillors in Warwickshire are about to start work on exploring these questions in real detail. They’ll be meeting regularly over the coming months to examine evidence, interview witnesses, probe experts and review policy.

What will this achieve? Well, they will be aiming to put forward some useful and practical ideas for the Council to put into action. Perhaps around the type of information that parents have access to when considering a school; or maybe a protocol for how Academies could work with the Local Authority to maintain community engagement.

There is certainly lots to look at. And we’ll be reporting back here with updates from the review as it progresses.

If you have any views or suggestions for what the Councillors should consider, then do let me know via richardmaybey@warwickshire.gov.uk

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