Burnham calls for a schools tsar for Greater Manchester

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham warns the voice of schools 'is not in the room' in devolved decision-making

John Roberts

Coronavirus: Now is the time for skills devolution, says Manchester mayor Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham wants the government to create a new schools tsar to restore local decision-making powers over education.

The mayor of Greater Manchester told school leaders today that education was “a missing piece of the jigsaw” in his region’s devolution deal.

Mr Burnham said the “splintering” of the school system meant that he found it difficult to get a voice from education “in the room”.

Background: Northern schools fight back

Devolution: Warning over skills gap worsening

Quick read:  Academies encouraged to listen to local communities 

And he said that the regional schools commissioner for the area “inhabited a different space” and was not involved Greater Manchester’s devolution agenda.

He told the NAHT school leaders' union's North West conference today that he would be asking the government to give Greater Manchester its own school commissioner responsible for schools with powers to intervene and oversee schools.

“Education has been splintered across all of the organisations that run our schools," he said. "You might say that’s a good thing, but I don’t. It makes it harder to bring education into that single conversation we want to have, not just about standards and exams but the whole child."

Local control of schools

He highlighted how his office was focused on school readiness across Greater Manchester, had a programme on pupils' mental health and was launching a Ucas-style service to make young people aware of available apprenticeships.

“We are dipping our toe in your world but we would be able to do so much more if we had a devolution settlement that brought our schools completely within it, so I will putting the argument forward to the government that we should have a Greater Manchester schools commissioner.

“I am not proposing  that this will be some person who will be there telling you what to do.  It will be the same approach we have with our health service, which is an empowerment role connecting you to the other public services."

Mr Burnham added: “A school can’t solve all of a child’s problems on its own. You can’t help a child be all that they can be without drawing in that wider support. “

He highlighted a fall in homelessness in Greater Manchester as a small example of the power of devolution bringing services together.

“And I have a jigsaw on the table with two massive holes on it. One is work and pensions and the other is education and skills. Please don’t fear devolution – I think it could bring a new energy to education policy and a new coherence to what you are trying to do," the mayor said.

Paul Whiteman, the union’s general secretary, said school leaders would want to work with Mr Burnham to bring together public services.

But he urged him not to describe any new role as a schools commissioner, as this would confuse people because of the existing regional schools commissioners employed by the Department for Education.

Speaking to Tes, Mr Burnham said: “Call it what you like but there needs to be someone for Greater Manchester, not the North West, who has step-in powers.

“So if something is going wrong at a certain level or there are concerns about exclusions there is an ability to step in and to possibly call in Ofsted.

“But the greater emphasis would be the empowerment in bringing together other public services to work with schools.”



Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

Latest stories