LAs will be told to join forces

4th March 2011 at 00:00
Minister's taskforce set to recommend radical cost-saving measure in bid to get more cash to front line

Local authorities will be forced to work together to deliver education under radical proposals to save millions of pounds and ensure more money makes it to the front line.

A taskforce commissioned by the Assembly government to investigate the structure of education is also set to criticise the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS) for its poor record on policy implementation, TES Cymru understands.

The so-called "task and finish group" was set up by education minister Leighton Andrews last October after a report found that almost one-third of the annual pound;4.5 billion spent on education in Wales does not make it to schools.

In a wide-ranging report due to be presented to Mr Andrews next week, the group will conclude that four lead directors of education should be appointed, one in each regional consortium, to supervise the work of the local authorities.

Existing directors of education would report directly to the new chiefs, who would be responsible for ensuring their region is working to the government's priorities.

The four would be expected to take a tough approach to tackling falling roles and surplus places, which account for up to 4 per cent of education expenditure in some authorities.

The report will also highlight serious communication problems between and within the education departments of Wales's 22 local authorities, and recommend that they are "streamlined" by merging back-office functions.

Education services, including payroll, human resources and school support and advisory services, should be shared between councils in an effort to move more money to the front line, it will say.

It is estimated that this could help save up to 5 per cent each year for at least the next five years.

The report will stress that the new system should not be seen as an extra tier of bureaucracy, but as local authorities working together for the common good. Over time, it will suggest, more services should become integrated until eventually only seven or eight local education authorities exist.

It will also criticise DCELLS for its poor record on policy implementation, saying that the department has grown too big in recent years - it currently employs more than 700 full-time staff plus paid secondees and temporary advisers - and recommending it should be streamlined to make it more effective.

ATL Cymru director Philip Dixon said: "If this is true, much of it is to be welcomed. We have long said there have been far too many players in the education world. Any effective reduction in the number of local authorities will really make a difference and will enable more strategic planning and action."

The task and finish group comprises four experts and is chaired by Vivian Thomas, a retired headteacher and former director of education for Neath Port Talbot.

Its report will be presented to the education minister towards the end of next week, who will review it before taking it to cabinet the following week. The reforms could require legislation and will not be taken forward until after the National Assembly elections in May.

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