New report seeks to highlight benefits of council support in schools

Councils are currently not allowed to help struggling academies and free schools – a report by the Local Government Association seeks to change the government’s mind on this

The Local Government Association has released a new report – Improving schools: Moving the conversation on – which outlines what it believes is required to ensure every child is afforded a good school place.

The report discusses the fact that councils have an excellent track record in maintaining high education standards, yet by law they are not allowed to help academies and free schools improve. One aim of this paper is for councils to be recognised as an effective resource.

The report says: “Councils and councillors know that a good education is key to improving the life chances of children and young people and have been given a democratic mandate to make sure every child gets that opportunity. It’s time they were acknowledged by government as strategic local leaders of education and as education improvement partners who can help deliver the outcomes our young people deserve.

“Councils are champions of school autonomy and do not ‘run’ schools themselves, but as local leaders, play a key role in supporting school improvement and holding schools to account for their performance. Not only are 91% of council-maintained schools now good and outstanding but evidence shows that underperforming schools are more likely to improve when supported by their local council than by an academy sponsor.

“In all areas of the country, maintained schools outperform academies. Councils also make sure there are enough school places in an area and have responded to sharply increasing demand, with the creation of over 800,000 new places since 2010.3 However, although councils have a duty to make sure all children and young people receive a good education, they do not have sufficient powers to fulfil this role effectively. They are barred by government policy from creating their own multi academy trusts, even in cases where struggling schools cannot find a good sponsor, despite their excellent track record.”

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The report goes on to suggest some ways in which the government can make schools better, stating that:

To improve standards in all schools, the government must:

  • Recognise the strong track record of councils in school improvement and allow them to help all local schools to improve.
  • Allow maintained schools to sponsor failing academies without having to become academies themselves.
  • End the ban on high-performing councils creating MATs to support failing schools.

To make sure there’s a school place for every child, the government must:

  • Replace the existing highly fragmented school capital funding system with a single local funding pot, bringing together existing programmes to create additional places, and rebuild, maintain and repair schools.
  • Give councils the power to open new maintained schools where that is the local preference.
  • Give councils back the responsibility for making decisions about opening new schools.
  • Give councils the same powers to direct free schools and academies to expand that they currently hold for maintained schools.

To make sure every school is adequately funded, the government must:

  • Provide greater certainty over future funding by introducing three-year budgets, and ensure that the overall level is sufficient for all schools.
  • Retain local flexibility allowed under the ‘soft’ national funding formula for schools.

To make sure all children and young people with SEND can get the help they need, the government must:

  • Provide additional funding to meet the increasing demand from children for SEND support so councils can meet all aspects of their statutory duties.
  • Restore flexibility for councils, with the agreement of schools, to move money between schools and high needs budgets.

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