NUT Cymru calls for fewer local councils - or more collaboration between the 22 authorities. Karen Thornton reports
Education authorities should take over school inspections from private contractors in Wales, according to a key policy statement published today by the National Union of Teachers.
The statement comes as Gethin Lewis, secretary of NUT Cymru, calls for a reduction in the number of local education authorities in Wales - or for them to work together more. Some of Wales's 22 LEAs are too small to provide schools with the full range of services they need to raise standards, he said.
Both proposals are expected to be discussed at NUTCymru's annual meeting tomorrow in Cardiff.
"Bringing Down the Barriers", a 30-page document, proposes the abolition of the six-yearly inspection cycle in Wales. It also recommends getting rid of Estyn-registered private inspectors and contractors.
Instead, individual LEAs would continue to advise, monitor and support their schools. Teams of LEAs would evaluate schools' performance "in a neutral and unbiased way". Her Majesty's Inspectors would monitor the authorities' inspection and advice work, and the money saved could be spent directly on schools.
In England, the NUT is proposing that HMI would inspect schools directly, using schools' own evaluations of how well they are doing.
Mr Lewis said the English model of privatised school inspections did not fit well with the co-operative model of public services championed in Wales by first minister Rhodri Morgan.
He wants to see a smaller number of LEAs offering better services - including inspection and advisory services - to all schools. And short of wholesale reorganisation of local government, the 22 councils should work together more in regional groups.
He added: "If schools are judged on the educational standards they provide for children, then LEAs must be judged on the support they are able to give to schools to help with those standards. Many authorities - because of their size -are not able to provide that support. They are too small.
"Just as we are expected to work as families of schools and not have competition between schools, it's surely wrong to have competition between local authorities as well.
"We want strong local authorities to support their schools. Nobody wants specialist schools or academies in Wales, but we do want the money to support education standards."
Mr Lewis was backed up by John Atkins, a funding expert who has been analysing spending on schools in Wales and will present his findings at tomorrow's NUT Cymru meeting.
"If the five smallest authorities got together, they would be the size of Cardiff and could between them employ behaviour support staff, advisers and central support comparable to Cardiff's," he said.
"It's difficult to argue that an authority with 50,000 pupils is the same thing as one with 10,000.
"Ideally, you want a total population of around 250,000 for a reasonable level of service. Much bigger and you start needing area offices. Much smaller and it's difficult to afford enough people in county hall - or everyone has 10 jobs. If authorities are small, they should collaborate.
Then you could have good services everywhere."
The 22 unitary LEAs in Wales were created in 1996, and replaced the previous mix of district and county councils. They range in size from Merthyr Tydfil, with a population of 59,300 and only five secondary schools, to Cardiff, which serves more than 320,000 people and has 20 secondaries.
But big is not always beautiful in education terms. Ceredigion, one of the smallest authorities in Wales, has consistently funded its schools at higher levels than other Welsh councils, while tiny Merthyr has been praised for its work on reducing truancy (TES Cymru, November 5).
Mr Atkins is expected to tell NUT Cymru members that the Welsh Assembly's publication of its funding allocations for each LEA for education has helped to clear the funding fog, but that the system remains complex.
He believes that the allocations to LEAs are "as fair as they can be". But whether the total cash available to them is enough is "a different matter" and differences in spending on schools arise at the LEA level as councils can decide which local services to prioritise, he said.