There has been quite a bit of discussion in the press recently about Academy status, and its effectiveness as a tool for improving school performance. Recently questions have been raised about how the Department for Education will cope with the role of monitoring school performance for a huge number of schools as the number converting to academies continues to grow.
Last week, the LGA released a statement in response to the Government’s statement on Academies Funding. Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, expressed concern about loss of Council oversight: “Councils, with their local knowledge and democratic mandate, are better placed than civil servants in Whitehall to keep an eye on these schools and to spot the early signs of declining performance.”
On the other side of the argument, Mr Gove is unwavering in his view that the academies programme gives schools freedom from local authority interference and bureaucracy, and that those who stand in the way of the programme are blocking school improvement.
The voices on all sides might give you the impression that the role of the local authority has been one of simply overseeing and maintaining performance and standards, effectively or ineffectually depending on your viewpoint.
That’s a narrow perspective on a relationship which is more complex, by virtue of the local authority’s role as a lead agency responsible for child safeguarding, as a corporate parent, and as the agency responsible for ensuring children in need of protection receive the required services.
Safeguarding children is a multi-agency responsibility and the duties on academies in this respect are no less than those for non-academies.
However, one of the benefits for any school (and their students) in being closely linked with their local authority is the authority’s role in supporting vulnerable pupils and families. To achieve the best for these children and families, the relationship between schools and councils must be hand in glove.
Speak to a teacher in a struggling inner-city school about the challenges they face and they are likely to rank working with children from troubled families more highly than local authority bureaucracy. Teachers working with vulnerable children can only go so far; after all, they are educators, not social workers. That’s why in order to really tackle school performance, schools need to be closely linked to a range of other public agencies. This is where the local authority’s leading and co-ordinating role comes into its own.
I’d like to see the debate around academies shift from a narrow focus on how performance of these schools will be monitored, to how the academy programme will help to ensure that academy schools are closely linked to other services, and ensure effective multi-agency early intervention support for children and their families within these schools.