21st century role for councils

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
Clare Dean reports on the proposed shake-up of LEAs

Headteachers and school governors are to be involved in a grassroots campaign to draw up a new job description for local education authorities based on a commitment to raise standards.

Leaders of the Local Government Association will invite councils to a series of regional meetings this autumn to discuss the shape of the 21st century LEA, as David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, announced in The TES last week.

Department for Education and Employment officials are also expected to attend the day-long meetings in Bristol, Hertford, Doncaster, Durham and London.

Ministers want to give education authorities a new role and are expected to outline their plans in a White Paper, which is due to be published in the next two months. The White Paper will lay out the details of the Education Bill, which was unveiled in the Queen's Speech last week.

Mr Blunkett has told local authority leaders that he wants genuine consultation - but he has also said that LEAs need to undergo a "root and branch" evaluation.

He wants to clarify and regulate the basis of local management of schools and end the "funding fog" in an attempt to put all councils on the same financial footing.

The government has also said it will judge LEAs on their success - or failure - to raise standards in schools and it has warned them that where they are deemed to be failing, their powers may be suspended and an improvement team sent in.

The move towards widespread consultation was welcomed by Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, who said the regional meetings were a unique way to handle legislation. "We might get legislation that we can work with rather than legislation being pushed through Parliament, some of which doesn't always achieve what it is meant to."

Mr Lane backed the stress being placed by government on local authorities raising standards in schools, and pledged that councils would practise "zero tolerance" of underperformance. Officials of local authorities which have met Stephen Byers, the schools minister, have already urged him to legislate to make it a duty for them to raise standards - with penalties if they do not make the grade.

"We are confident that if we have the right powers and the ability to intervene at the right time, then we can raise standards," said Mr Lane.

"We have been trying to raise standards but, unfortunately, when you take away powers from LEAs and delegate everything to schools, how can you attempt to persuade them if the governing body and headteacher don't want you there?"

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