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SIPs accused of putting local authority 'eyes and ears' at risk

Ministers' desire for local authorities to intervene more in under-performing schools contradicts their insistence that school improvement officers (SIPs) must be the only link councils have with schools, local education officers have warned.

A new Government paper says that local authorities (LAs) must abide by the "single conversation" principle and end the "duplicatory practice" of maintaining their school link advisers alongside SIPs.

But Aspect, which represents LA education professionals, says this will deprive some authorities of their "eyes and ears" when it comes to meeting their legal obligation to closely monitor school performance.

The Department for Children Schools and Families paper, on the school-improvement role expected of LAs from September, says the councils should "stay close to schools in their area so they can spot any early signs of declining performance and intervene quickly".

Aspect says some authorities will not be able to rely on their SIP teams to provide them with the flow of intelligence they need to fulfil this duty because they will be too dispersed.

John Chowcat, the union's general secretary, said: "In some cases, particularly with secondary schools, authorities have just gone for a few self employed SIPs who may also be SIPs in other authority areas.

"They are not cohesive teams in the way you have with a team of employed people. That networking and informal contact that is crucial for school improvement can go missing."

Mr Chowcat also fears the DCSF paper signals the fact that there will be "substantially less money" for school improvement in the future, with its warnings of the end of many centrally funded grants.

Any school improvement money that is available will go directly into school budgets, where Aspect fears it will be swallowed up by short-term needs.

The Labour party was unavailable for comment.

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