The following are excerpts from “The Changing Education Environment in London – A Schools’ Perspective” which can be downloaded here
It is a powerful defence of the role of Local Councils in Education, particularly since it is compiled from research amongst Headteachers and Chairs of Governors.
It is also damning of ‘Free’ schools, “perceiving it as ill thought-out and undemocratic”.
Around one in four school leaders (28%) reported that they were an Academy, were becoming an Academy or were actively considering becoming an Academy. However two-thirds (66%) said that they have either considered and rejected the idea, or never considered it. The remainder (6%) were not sure.
This report sets out the key findings from research undertaken with school leaders across London’s 33 local authorities exploring highly topical issues such as school governance, funding and the role of the local authority. London Councils commissioned EdComs, an independent communications and research agency, to engage Headteachers and Chairs of Governors in the research process. Through a combination of qualitative and quantitative research involving 347 school leaders across London, this report provides insights into how the ongoing reforms of the education sector are being received by schools themselves.
Key findings from our analysis of school relationships with the local authority reveal:
Three-quarters of school leaders reported positive working relationships with their local authority; stability, fairness, commitment and trust were reported as being key elements of a positive working relationship.
Many school leaders were highly concerned at the anticipated decline in both the independent strategic oversight that local authorities provide and the range of support services, some of which are already disappearing.
Local authorities, as democratically elected and publically accountable bodies, were perceived as being important in helping schools understand and meet the wider needs of the local community, not just the immediate needs of pupils and their families. School leaders participating in this research were almost unanimous in highlighting a range of concerns at diminishing local authority roles in education. Of particular concern was the potential emergence of powerful ‘superheads’, chains and multi-academy trusts that could bypass these community concerns. Some chains of academies are already assuming functions formerly operated by the local authority (such as a central HR service) to achieve economies of scale. This is likely to increase as the number of academies begins to grow. As these chains could, theoretically, be quite geographically spread out – certainly more so than the present local governance structure in London – this would present implications for the extent to which centralised decision making will continue to reflect a ‘local’ context. This concerned several respondents, particularly in light of later findings suggesting a ‘tipping point’ of academy conversions where it would no longer be viable for a school to remain being maintained by the local authority.
The research also provides a wider insight into the present range of services that schools access from their local authority, many of which were highly valued, seen to offer good value for money and seen to sit most comfortably within a local authority-type body.
School leaders were very negative about the idea of free schools, perceiving it as ill thought-out and undemocratic. Relating to the quality and stability of educational provisions, concerns were raised about the commitment and motivations of those who were applying to run free schools and of the credentials of those teaching in these institutions.
A range of negative views were also voiced about the Free Schools programme, which many respondents did not feel would operate to the benefit of children, parents or local communities despite government rhetoric to the contrary. Some of these views may be informed by the perceived threat of new competition – nearly half of school leaders felt that the amount of revenue funding they receive would decrease if a free school opened in their local authority and there were similar competitive concerns over the potential effects on staff recruitment and demand for places.
School leaders also highlighted concerns about the effect that the Academies programme will have on the education sector as a whole, such as a perceived lack of equality and an expectation that increased competition will drive down co-operation between schools despite government’s stated intentions. School leaders had a clear sense of the benefits of working with other local schools, particularly in terms of sharing good practice.