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Call for sentimental Blunkett to scrap rusty old authorities

TERRY Creissen likens local authorities to his old Morris Minor: a relic from the distant past which has outlived its purpose but to which the owner - David Blunkett - feels absurdly attached. Time to send them to the scrapyard, he says.

It's hardly surprising the principal of a former grant-maintained school, Colne community in Brightlingsea, Essex, should feel that way. But his staff echo the sentiment. And, as the balance of power shifts between councils, heads and governors, they welcome any move in their direction.

"There's still too much bureaucracy," says head of science Jonathan Norgate. "The extra level (between school and Government) in itself costs more. We've got more people organising something that could be done on a smaller scale."

The school enjoys a good relationship with its governors. Year 8 manager Colin Holroyd believes they have a better feel for what is happening in the school and are better placed to make decisions than council officials.

"That's where the LEA loses out. They don't come in and see what's going on," he says. "Governors have the opportuntity to do that."

But staff are cautious about too much being devolved to school level, particularly pay and conditions. They counsel against the Eucation Secretary's suggestion of local pay agreements for successful schools. "It would have to be seen to be a fair and open system," warns English teacher Barbara Labram.

"There is a confidence here in the governors and head," says Mr Holroyd. "There are schools where that confidence isn't there. They would not want to get involved in localised pay and conditions."

"It's going to create conflict and tension that don't need to be there," says Mr Norgate.

Mr Creissen isn't keen to take on pay issues either. "You'd end up with heads and governors having to agree pay issues every year. It's not an effective use of our time. It's complex enough trying to keep everybody happy."

But the feeling remains that many things done by the local authority could either be done by the school or bought in more cheaply elsewhere.

A good example is the council's pupil-referral unit, which teachers feel they don't need and have difficulty getting children into.

"Some schools use the services because they feel they've paid for them, not because they want them," says vice-principal Zoe King.

"It's a waste, while there are other services we desperately need which are stretched because everybody has a little slice of it."

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