Can local schools flourish as local authorities wither?

9 Dec

Local authorities (LAs) appear to be withering on the vine.   Schools, which have chosen to remain with them for different reasons, are in a dilemma because of the increasingly “hands-off” approach the LAs are taking to their institutions.  In the past, whatever the quality of service that an LA offered, the structure was there for schools in an area to link and work together.  This can no more be taken for granted for two reasons.

(i)            First, the much reduced finances of LAs make it very difficult to provide the number of services once offered schools.

(ii)           Second, schools have been forced to compete with one another – for the purposes of attracting pupils – because more pupils mean more money for the school and the better the quality of the pupils admitted means that there is more chance for the schools to climb up the league tables in examination results. 

However, schools are caught between a rock and a hard place, because if they don’t hang together, they will be hanged separately.  For starters they will lose out in securing best value for money by not linking with one another to purchase goods and services.   Suppliers are likely to reduce their prices if there is bulk purchasing.  With regard to quality education, when schools share their good practice and innovate together, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the part.   At the end of the day, schools need to move away from the temptation of demonstrating one-upmanship to enable their pupils to have the best possible start to their adult lives.

Several academies have come together in multi-academy trusts (MATs).  Maintained schools can beat a similar path through federating.   A strong federation will involve a formal process of having a common governing body with responsibility for two or more schools.   In this manner, both, strong and less strong schools can benefit from shared practices.   Loose federations may also be formed with governing bodies of different schools remaining separate but having joint committees.

Voluntary aided, voluntary controlled, foundation and community schools can join together in federations.  However, none of these can federate with an academy.  Schools in a federation continue as individual institutions keeping their existing characters – in some cases, religious.   They are inspected separately.   However, the shared governance of a hard federation is conducive to the schools working together efficiently and effectively to share resources, staff expertise and facilities with a view eventually to improving the quality of education and lifting standards.  The staff pay and terms of conditions continue to be directed by the national conditions of service.

Under Sections 24 and 25 of the Education Act 2002, two or more schools may federate.  More information on the School Governance (Federations)(England) Regulations 2007 can be found here.

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