Cabinet-style executives with elected mayors, leaders or council managers must be in place in all English councils by next June. The aim is to streamline decision-making and clarify local responsibility for policies.
But it means the demise of the traditional education committee, often containing co-opted representatives of the teacher associations and churches, which they say gives them a chance to express their views and influence decisions affecting their members and schools.
The TES spoke to National Association of Head Teachers' branch secretaries in 18 council areas, and found many felt that consultation, discussion and accountability had declined. David Evans, NAHT branch member for North Yorkshire, said: "Basically, the education committee has been scrapped and now there's just one person holding the education portfolio."
Under the new structures, decisions are taken by a small group of councillors in closed sessions, and then subjected to review by "scrutiny" committees of other councillors.
Around 6 or more education authorities have already changed their constitutions, or are piloting new arrangements.
Roger Hewins, NAHT council member for the East Midlands, said: "It's certainly a quicker process, but in terms of consultation and democratic decision-making, the big education committee debates about the budget don't take place any longer. Cabinet-style is anti-democratic."
Of the NAHT representatives contacted, 10 were sceptical about the new arrangements and seven thought it was too early to judge either way, although many of them had early reservations about the set-up.
Bill Hall, NAHT member for Bedfordshire, said: "Most of the heads that I know think it's not as good as it used to be. The power is invested in fewer people. So those councillors who aren't on the executive committee feel that they are just cannon fodder with little effective responsibility."
Only one head thought the council was working well on education matters. Helen Gatenby said: "Calderdale has been working very satisfactorily so far. We feel that we are being listened to but that does not mean that every council is operating like this one."
Jo Hurst and Karen Thornton