Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Chris McGovern: The empire strikes back. The dead hand of the town hall seeks to reclaim control over academies


Sir Michael Wishaw, the Chief Inspector, has been having a bash at local authorities for “actively colluding with those who have an interest in resisting change” in our schools and for failing to challenge underperformance.

He bemoans their “sluggish and half-hearted” approach to improving standards and suggests that local authorities are more concerned with maintaining the ‘status quo’ than with combatting a “complacent educational establishment”.

As the educational watchdog, Ofsted, of course, shares the blame for decades of failure in our schools. However, we should not simply dismiss the Chief Inspector’s comments as the pot calling the kettle black. The record of local authorities in managing education is lamentable.

Behind every child who has been let down by a maintained school is an educational authority. At their worst, they enforced trendy and ineffective teaching methodologies through their subject officers. Teachers were brought into line by the ‘Mr Men’ and ‘Ms Women’ from county hall. ‘Mr Modern Languages’ and ‘Little Miss Mathematics’ always knew best and woe betide the teacher who questioned their ‘diktat’ about how to teach.

With 60 per cent of secondary schools and 12 per cent of primary schools now self-governing academies, the power of local authorities is being reduced. However, they remain a formidable obstacle to progress; more so since they are planning a ‘comeback’.

The Local Government Association has set out a plan for all state schools, including academies and free schools, to be overseen by “education trusts…supported and held to account” by local councils. They want this transfer of power back to local authorities to begin within 100 days of the next general election. Should there be a Labour government, they are likely to get their way.

The local authority empire may be about to strike back! Should this happen, among other steps backward, it is likely that free speech and open debate about our education system will be further curtailed.

The record of local authorities is all about imposing conformity, uniformity and failure on our schools. Their great achievement is the ‘bog standard’ comprehensive. The proposed revival of their powers should be resisted. Current criticism of local authorities by the Chief Inspector is well-founded.


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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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