Predictably, the Government is having to face the question of what to place in the yawning managerial gap between thousands of Academies and the Department for Education. Recent examples of Academies getting into financial trouble, or the school in Haringey refusing to ‘Academise’, highlight the vacuum left by the effective abolition of local education authorities.
There is talk of setting sub-regional schools commissioners as the new middle tier. But as someone who was the sole critical governor of a failing school for two years, I know only too well that under-performing schools often have strong support from pupils, parents and the wider community. In the face of such an alliance a Whitehall appointed civil servant would face major problems of legitimacy.
This is why there has also been talk of elected schools commissioners. This idea has its own problems. We will see what happens in the autumn with elected police commissioners, but given that the commissioners would be mere regulators not actual policy makers there is an obvious danger of weak candidates and low turnouts. More fundamentally, while the police protect us all, isn’t it rather odd having a vote among all electors for a post which is focussed on the concerns of that minority of adults with children in school?
Which brings us back to the council: Michael Gove is apparently dead set against local government having a role in school management, believing that councils failed when they did have this power. But what can the Secretary of State do about the legitimacy deficit?
As the number of Academies that require intervention rises, as it undoubtedly will, the pressure will grow for a departmental answer to this problem. As is often the case when logic meets ideology I predict a compromise. How about school commissioners appointed by Whitehall (so Mr Gove isn’t seen to give control ‘back’ to local authorities) but answerable for ensuring effective oversight of school management both to Whitehall and to local councillors (thus providing local legitimacy).
To some – particularly those who bemoan the abolition of LEAs - such a compromise will seem messy and opaque. Others – and I think I include myself – might come see it as a reasonable way of balancing national strategy, school freedom, and local democratic accountability.
There we are, only 380 words. I have rediscovered the blogger's greatest virtue; brevity.
Every few weeks on this page I wallow in doubt and self-pity: just enough to elicit some kind words of encouragement from a loyal old friend, a random on-line altruist or my solicitous mother adopting an internet nom de plume. It’s another one of those days
Yesterday I posted the last in a series of pieces on entitlement and obligation. I am a blogger not a scholar, an amateur commentator not a proper intellectual, but roaming across the history of the welfare state, issues in political philosophy and current policy challenges, I thought perhaps I would break new ground.
By yesterday evening the concluding post had received less feedback than any others in the series. Seen now through the piercing eyes of rejection, it seems neither compelling nor original. My intellectual journey was meant to emerge into a newly discovered clearing in a remote jungle, instead I found myself in the local park having walked in contorted circles round a small copse next to the toddlers’ paddling pool.
So - for the time being at least - no more long, involved, multiple post discussions. People are busy, if I can't get to the point in 500 words I should think of another subject.
Fabian Wallace-Stephens (Foresight Lead)
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