Secondaries tire of council dominion

28th January 2000 at 00:00
But less self-reliant primaries want to maintain the status quo. Jon Slater reports on the findings of a TES survey.

SECONDARIES provide the grassroots backing for the Government's privatisation plans, according to a TES survey.

The confidential poll of 337 schools reveals a deep divide between the attitudes of primary and secondary heads. It found that large numbers of secondaries are disillusioned with local education authorities but primaries value their support.

The difference in attitudes reflects secondary schools' greater management experience and resources. Local management of schools was introduced earlier for secondaries, more of them became grant-maintained and their greater size means management responsibility can be shared by several senior staff.

By contrast, in small primaries, the headteacher often spends time teaching and leans heavily on the local authority for management support.

Two-thirds of secondaries are in favour of some privatisation of local authority services. Nearly four in 10 secondary heads believe that underperforming LEAs should be privatised. A further one in 10 secondaries would like to see LEAs abolished and another 16 per cent believe the majority of their services should be managed by the private sector. Only a third believe local authorities are generally doing a good job and should be left to get on with it.

Support for privatisation appears to be led by the ex-GM sector, who have just returned to local authority control. None of the heads in the new foundation school sector - which replaced GM schools - was happy to let LEAs get on with the job.

Secondaries' complaints were summed up by a head in Lincolnshire. "Too many forms, too many staff, too much top-

slicing, poor-quality advisers and too many ineffective meetings" was the verdict.

However, primary heads paint a different picture. Six in seven say that, overall, they were happy with the services provided by their local authority. And more than half believe LEAs are "generally doing a good job and should be left to get on with it". Only a quarter favour privatising one or more of their local authority's functions, although more than a third back privatising failing LEAs.

"My LEA provides me with some good-quality services - the inspector for my patch is very good," said one eastern counties primary head. "However, the services can only ever be adequate because of the chronic underfunding Cambridgeshire suffers. I am opposed to privatisation but would welcome support and control for LEAs, as they are better placed to understand school needs."

More than half of primary schools rate admissions, inspection and advisory and administration and payroll services as good. However, there was concern over special needs and funding. One in five think their LEA was poor at providing SEN support and a quarter criticised allocation of the schools budget.

A third of secondaries agree that SEN provision is poor (compared to just 23 per cent who say it is good) and 36 per cent say allocation of funds is also poor. Only one in two secondaries described administration and payroll services as good.

Admissions and payroll and SEN services are those secondary heads would most like to see privatised - with about a third in favour in each case. But there is scant support for contracting out of admissions, with only one in 10 saying this service should be privatised.

Additional research by Tracey Thomas

The survey was conducted by The TES in January. Questionnaires were sent to 1,000 schools, 337 responded - 184 primaries and 153 secondaries

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