The relationship between councils and schools is changing dramatically.
Regardless of whether they are converting to become academies, all schools are taking on more responsibility for purchasing the services they want, setting their own curriculum and retaining more of their own budget.
The Government’s policies are in danger of fragmenting the school system. The consequences of this could be more vulnerable children slipping through the net, dodgy admissions practices going unchallenged and the growing social segregation of the school system. There is already evidence of Academies, without Council support, getting procurement wrong and so being ripped off by unscrupulous vendors.
Council’s haven’t run schools for twenty years, and neither should they, but I believe local authorities are crucial to ensuring a school system that protects the needs of the most vulnerable, improves all provision and links schools to the other services for children in their area.
Councils that don’t listen to their schools and change with them will see mass academy conversions. So the challenge is to change Council’s relationship with schools in a way that protects the things that really matter to progressives while giving schools the control over their budgets that they want.
Islington Council is working with our schools to develop a community of schools. The aim is that our schools work together to continue the significant improvement’s we’ve seen in the borough over the last decade as well as share crucial services and plan school provision in the borough.
The Community of Schools will include the key institutions that make decisions about schooling in the borough. Some of these already exist, like Schools Forum, which makes financial decisions; the Admissions Forum, which ensures each school is operating a fair admissions system; and the Securing Education Board to ensure vulnerable children are fairly distributed among schools. But we are also creating new institutions to ensure the Community of Schools becomes a reality, for example by developing a School Improvement Steering Group with Head teachers as members that is responsible for setting local targets for school performance, putting together the package of support for schools failing to meet that target and monitor progress.
The School Improvement Steering Group will facilitate local schools sharing their expertise. For example, one particular Islington school gets outstanding GCSE results in part because it has a highly sophisticated pupil tracking system and is excellent at using this data to tailor an individual curriculum best suited to each child’s needs. Another has developed a partnership with local primary schools that has quadrupled applications to it within a couple of years. In fact all of our schools have particular strengths that can be shared with other schools in the borough to the benefit of all.
Finally, we will publish an Annual Report on the Islington school system that will show how we are performing and allow governors to quiz Heads about their own school’s performance fully armed with the knowledge about how well similar schools are doing.
The Community of Schools changes the Council’s relationship with schools in the borough so we become a partner, working to improve standards and broker support but doing so ‘with’ schools instead of ‘to’ them. I believe it provides a model for how progressive authorities can protect the interests of children from the Government’s ideologically driven attempts to ensure competition is the defining feature of our school system.
Cllr Richard Watts is Islington Council’s Executive member for Children and Families.
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