Do small councils spell bad news for education?

10th August 2007 at 01:00
PLANS TO create six new local authorities in England are likely to mean a worse deal for schools, education leaders have said.

The Government has given a provisional go-ahead for two new authorities in Cheshire, two in Bedfordshire and unitary councils serving Ipswich and Exeter by 2009.

Ministers and the authorities argue the plan will make local government more efficient and responsive.

But Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said small councils found it difficult to provide support for schools. Smaller budgets meant they could not afford the salaries former heads demanded as secondary advisers.

Heads working in existing unitaries agree, and Philip Hunter, the chief schools adjudicator, said councils need to be large enough to recruit high quality staff. Last month he counselled against reorganisation. "There does not seem to be any plan or pattern to it," he said. "This is not the kind of change we need."

The authorities gaining extra power point to the success of existing small unitary authorities such as Telford and Wrekin and Hartlepool. Bedford borough council said it would be taking over responsibilities from a poorer performing authority. It plans to bring education and children and adult social services under a single director.

The council has pledged to review the town's three-tier school system and to form an alliance with the other unitary authority planned for Bedfordshire, which may include joint education services.

Ipswich borough council says its schools will benefit because they are currently financially disadvantaged by their status as urban schools within a largely rural county.

Chester city council, which led the proposal for two new unitaries in Cheshire, says it will improve ICT support for schools and improve them as community facilities.

Exeter city council said it intended to buy in some services and that it was "utter nonsense" to suggest services would suffer.

Torbay, 20 miles down the road, has been a small unitary authority since 1998.

Mike Stewart, head of Westlands science and technology college in Torquay, said that, on balance, the reorganisation had been negative and had increased workloads.

"We don't get the variety of information we were receiving under Devon," he said. He added that now there was only one full time secondary adviser.

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