Leave good town halls alone, pleads Tory councillor

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Westminster schools boss attacks weakening of authority control

A senior member of a flagship Conservative council has attacked Michael Gove, claiming that the education secretary is guilty of "tarnishing all councils with the same brush" by wresting control of schools away from town halls.

Nickie Aiken, Westminster City Council cabinet member for children, young people and community protection, said schools in her local authority were some of the highest performing in the country, and that stripping power from council bosses would weaken the chance of further progress.

Writing in today's TES, Ms Aiken outlined the work Westminster had done to boost results in the borough, and called for Mr Gove to change course and allow high-performing councils to maintain control of their schools.

"The education secretary appears to have tarnished all councils with the same brush, even in cases like Westminster, where we have harnessed our local expertise and accountability to bring a change for the better in our local state schools," she wrote.

The council was one of the first to embrace the academies movement and has put in place interventions to improve GCSE results. In 2009, it set its schools the target of 75 per cent of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grades including English and maths. At the time, just 46 per cent of pupils gained five good GCSEs. Last month, the council learned that it had hit its target, but Ms Aiken believes future inroads will be less likely due to current government policy.

"Our achievements come at a time when the Department for Education is intent on stripping local authorities of much of their involvement in schools," she added. "The move away from council control of education might be justified in some cases, but I call on the government to take a more common-sense approach in boroughs where the local authority has made a very positive contribution."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said local authorities' involvement in schools needed to be improved rather than abolished. "There are some very good local authorities and some appalling ones," he said. "The fact that there are bad ones doesn't mean they should be bypassed altogether, but rather that they should be improved."

Mr Gove has repeatedly resisted calls to introduce a so-called "middle tier" between the Department and schools, describing it as an "added layer of bureaucracy".

A DfE spokeswoman said: "Through the expansion of academies and the introduction of free schools, we are increasing the number of good school places and offering parents genuine choice and higher standards. Academies have greater freedoms than local authorities to run schools, giving teachers the power to make decisions that are right for local children."

See Comment, pages 44-45.

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