Local authorities make a comeback - The Head's view

12th December 2008 at 00:00

It's been tough for local authorities for as long as I can remember. But I think we are witnessing something approaching their renaissance, which I find ironic given the policies successive governments have designed to sideline them for the past 20 years.

These have included the Education Reform Act, which centralised the curriculum; Ofsted for inspecting school effectiveness; stronger powers for governors; and local management of schools.

There are many advantages to school leadership in some of these measures - in particular, local management of schools, which has given me a degree of independence I wouldn't have experienced when the spending power was with councils. But the independence granted to schools has led to a change in their relationships with local authorities - and not always for the better.

If a school has been inspected successfully by Ofsted, and so evaluated as "light touch", there doesn't need to be much contact between heads and local authorities, unless the heads want it. Without the opportunity to work closely with teachers, authorities have had the unenviable job of monitoring schools' performance without a corresponding power to maintain their local knowledge of them.

However, I believe that the Government is now presiding over another change in the relationships between heads and local authorities. Our school's engagement with the local authority has increased considerably over the past three years. We are now involved with consultancy in other schools and we are members of a strategic group for succession planning in partnership with the authority and the National College for School Leadership. In addition, there is more multi-agency liaison between school and local authority due to the establishment of a children's centre on our site.

Far from reducing the influence of local authorities in the management of schools, it has been enhanced by recent government policy, and in particular the use of system leaders. While Ofsted can determine what stage vulnerable schools are at through inspection, they aren't a school improvement service. So the Government has introduced opportunities for school improvement through funding system leaders such as national leaders of education, consultant leaders and school improvement partners to schools. Their services have to be brokered, and the only effective way to do this is via local authorities.

In brokering the services of system leaders, authorities are creating a new role for themselves and reawakening relationships with heads. So I raise a toast to local authorities - the comeback kids of education.

Sue Robinson, Headteacher, Cherry Orchard Primary School, Birmingham.

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