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Insiders attack local authorities

'Crisis of confidence' in councils means they should lose control of schools, say former chief education officers. Clare Dean reports

THREE prominent educationists, all present or former senior council staff, are calling for education to be taken away from local government.

They want the 150 English education authorities and the 47 new learning and skills councils to be re-organised into new regional organisations, covering education and training for all age-groups, outside universities.

The move would deprive councils of at least 50 per cent of their budgets, weakening their power and, leaving them with social services, housing and roads.

Local government is used to being criticised; but what is surprising this time is where the attack has come from: Philip Hunter, Staffordshire's education director and visiting professor of education at Keele University; Margaret Maden, professor of education at Keele and past chief education officer for Warwickshire; and David Mallen, visiting professor at the Institute of Education and former chief of the Inner London Education Authority and East Sussex education authority.

Both Dr Hunter and Professor Maden also worked for the now-defunct ILEA - a single-purpose authority for all age-groups, like the "learning and skills associations" they are now all promoting.

In a discussion paper, a shortened version of which ispublished in today's TES, they warn of a shortage of good councillors and officers and a crisis of confidence in local councils. They say there is no evidence that local authorities, which they describe as "a mess," are either trusted by ministers or valued by the public.

They add there is an "unhelpful and illogical" divide between authorities and the new learning and skills councils, which will oversee all post-16 education and training, outside schools and universities, from April.

Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, said: "This proposal is outrageous. Separating education off means a loss not only to democracy but to local government."

Chris Waterman, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, meanwhile called it "yesterday's solution for tomorrow's challenges - it is regressive and will not assist the inclusive agenda".

Martin Rogers, of The Education Network, a pro-council lobby group, said: "I don't know what provoked them to suggest this. It is ill-conceived, unhelpful and the solutions are irrelevant. I cannot believe it will happen."

Theresa May, Conservative education spokeswoman, said the proposal was an interesting contribution to the debate on the future of local authorities but that she believes in "devolving power to schools rather than setting up new bodies to run them".

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