Posted by: iangilbert | October 24, 2011

The Academy Divide

Last week’s Full Council saw a long discussion about school funding, and how it is affected by the government’s plans for academies and free schools. The discussion was held in a confidential session, but the problems with funding are well-documented and in the public domain.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are allowing schools with good ratings to completely opt-out of local authority control. In practice the local authority does not exercise much day to day control over schools in any case. Head Teachers and governors run schools, in line with masses of national rules and guidance. However, there are a number of services that local authorities are supposed to provide for schools.

Schools will sometimes need access to advice and support of experts from outside. This is particularly true if the school is in difficulty or it suffers an unexpected shock, such as a Head Teacher leaving suddenly. It is not reasonable, or indeed economic, to expect the schools to retain all the types of expertise that they might need in-house. Therefore the local authority retains a small proportion of school funding to provide these services centrally.

When a school becomes an academy, that school is supposed to look after all it’s own needs, commissioning services from outside if required, and is given extra resources to do so. However, this means that the local authority will lose resources. It’s clear that in Southend and in other places around the country, the drop in resources is far greater than the reduction in our obligations.

Under the government’s regulations, the best schools are becoming academies, yet the schools in difficulty which need the most support that are remaining under local authority control. Our finances will be shrunk to the point where we simply won’t be able to provide the intensive support that these schools need to turn around. In Southend there is a divide in education between the grammar, faith schools and non-selectives, which means that the non-selective schools are always in a more challenging position than other schools. The government’s reckless education policies are a serious risk to the quality of education in Southend.

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