Evidence to the House of Commons Committee on the Education Bill

28 February 2011
Submitted by Professor Margaret Maden, County Education Officer, Warwickshire (1989-95) and Dr.Eric Wood, County Education Officer, Warwickshire (1995-2006)


We are concerned that the Education Bill fails to secure the optimal means of achieving effective oversight and management of educational provision at the local level.

Whilst we deplore the absence of local democratic mediation and judgement throughout the Bill, we restrict our observations to the following principal criteria:

• Value for money; and

• The efficient management of area-wide services which neither an individual educational institution nor DfE – can discharge as effectively as a local authority.

Two examples of this concern are (a) planning school and college places and (b) the provision of specialist services which are vital to children’s and young persons’ educational success.

Planning school and college places

Opening and closing schools and colleges, managing increasing or shrinking pupil rolls and monitoring the supply side of 14-19 provision (across schools, colleges and work-based training schemes) is best managed at local level. This needs to be considered in at least two ways; technical and in terms of governance and authority.

Changes to supply side provision need to be identified 4-5 years ahead of parental or student choice. If the Bill succeeds in diversifying decisions about new schools/Academies, and the enlargement of pupil rolls at school level, then it is especially important that local intelligence (Birth registration data, housing and economic developments, transport facilities, etc) is properly integrated and assessed in relation to proposals – or lack thereof – from individual schools and other potential providers of new schools. This is most efficiently conducted and mediated at local level. Without this, there could be serious under or over-provision of school places, the latter resulting in considerable wastage of public money. The Audit Commission estimated an annual saving of £50m.from local authority school places’ planning 15 years ago.

Section 14 (1996 Education Act) remains and requires local authorities to secure sufficient schools for all children of statutory school age in their area. It is difficult to see how this duty is efficiently discharged with (i) the proposed fragmentation of means whereby new schools are proposed and (ii) closed only when/if they are under special measures or ‘requiring significant improvement’. A related matter is the reduced powers of local authorities to direct a school which is an Academy to admit a child who is not enrolled elsewhere or who is ‘vulnerable’ or has been excluded from a particular school.

We urge the Bill Committee to look closely at clauses 36, 43, and 57 in the light of the need to have proper local oversight in the provision of sufficient (neither too many nor too few)school places.

In 16-19 provision, there are no means proposed whereby the local authority is able to influence or bring about a sufficient supply of places across colleges and other providers. The excising of local authority knowledge and insight about its area, socially and economically, is a lost opportunity and is underlined by the removal of the requirement on the part of colleges to ‘promote the economic and social well being of their area’. Likewise, we urge the Bill Committee to look closely at clauses 48, 65, and 66 in the light of the need to have proper local oversight in the provision of 14-19 provision

Specialist provision in the local area


The proposed abolition of the YPLA and related requirements to optimise local connections between key agencies concerned with children’s well being, including the role of families in this, is of great concern. It is clear that schools exercise an informed and active role in ensuring that family and community support for children’s progress and development is encouraged and valued. We recall the words of an esteemed former Director of Education in 1930s Cambridgeshire when he firmly linked good local governance with good education, “…the community expressing itself through the instrument of self-government so that in local communities education would not merely be a consequence of good government, but good government a consequence of education.”

However, at a more instrumental and practical level, there is a limit to what any school or college can do unaided.

In more complex special educational needs (SEN) provision, the assessment and diagnosis is expensive as is the treatment subsequently recommended. Whilst the Green Paper on SEN is awaited, it is important that the substitution of local authority SEN specialists by a range of private and charitable providers is resisted, especially with regard to assessment and diagnostic services which have to be entirely impartial and reliably available. No ‘mainstream’ school – whether Community, VA, Academy – can hope to carry out these functions effectively or efficiently.

Local educational provision is much greater than the contribution of individual educational institu-tions. An example is the benefit of ‘critical mass’ is in sports and arts provision. In this, the cultivation of emerging, special talent depends on larger scale and higher level tuition than is available in the individual school, whether it is in a mainstream team sport, a non-mainstream athletics skill, instrumental playing, singing at individual level especially, or acting beyond that which is normally provided in school. The organisation or brokerage by the local authority in association with local foundations, independent schools, etc. is vital. The ‘extended’ education day or week, including youth provision more generally are further examples. None of this will happen without the local authority being required or empowered to ensure that such local provision is in place. Again, we urge the Bill Committee to look closely at clauses 30 and 31 and the need to have effective local educational provision.

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1 The Henry Morris Collection, pp.84-87. Ed.Harry Ree , CUP 1984.

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