Filling the Gap: The Championing Role of English Councils in Education – SOLACE Call to Action

The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) has formally entered the debate around the future role of Councils in education. Filling the Gap is a call to action issued primarily to Chief Executives and Senior Managers within local government with two key aspirations:

  • Firstly, to ensure that through strong local government leadership, Councils remain committed to the pursuit of educational excellence to secure the best outcomes for communities; and
  • Secondly, to encourage Councils’ visible and proactive leadership in shaping the policy and implementation landscapes.

Through the paper, SOLACE seeks to contribute to the clarification of Councils’ championing role by proposing that:

  • Championing the vulnerable means enabling the voice of the child and young person to be heard, and complementing this with Council’s own local brand of vigorous and proactive advocacy, speaking up for those who would otherwise not be heard.
  • Championing parents and families means empowering them to support and challenge their school to improve continuously.
  • Championing educational excellence means creating the environment for others to succeed.

The Paper explores a range of ideas and opportunities for Councils to fulfil these overarching championing roles but insists that it remains up to individual Councils, in partnership with their schools and communities, to work out this call to action within their local areas.

Despite this localist thrust, SOLACE acknowledges that in some specific areas local-national collaboration is necessary to prevent school autonomy unintentionally resulting in fragmentation, and to achieve consistency and sustainability in the pursuit and achievement of excellence. Filling the Gap, therefore, also calls on the Government to:

  • Agree that there should be voluntary, local “cooperation and intervention” protocols between all schools and their Councils;
  • Work with SOLACE, Academy Sponsors and relevant others to progress a national agreement between Government and Councils about the process of intervention in underperforming or failing schools, including Free Schools and Academies;
  • Work with SOLACE to explore the feasibility of establishing a formal system for developing Governing Body Clerks as competent and recognised professional advisors.

SOLACE invites you to engage with the ideas presented in Filing the Gap and calls on Councils to promote and pursue the key elements that make most sense in their local areas.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Filling the Gap: The Championing Role of English Councils in Education – SOLACE Call to Action

  1. Abdool Kara

    Excellent paper from Mark I thought. If I have a critique it is that, like Simon, I believe that it underplays the potential role of district councils. Understandably the focus of the paper is on the changing role of authorities with statutory duties towards schools, but if the brave new world is about championing improvement and achievement then surely district councils, at least those with undeperforming schools, have a responsibility and may also be a potential resource in furthering this agenda, even, or perhaps especially, in these times of austerity.
    And that goes much wider than possibly being an Academy sponsor – it is about how we help to convene agencies and build relationships, for example via whatever ‘local strategic partnership’ arrangements remain in place. In Swale the Sheppey Academy, as our single largest education supplier in the borough, is a key partner at our Public Services Board. We fully partcipate in the local Children’s Trust, and we are also supporting the county (Kent) in four ‘Team Around the School’ projects to support improvement in outcomes at four local primary schools – we can help improve eductaional attainment where contextual matters play a strong part, eg by resolving housing and benefits issues for parents. And district councillors are often schools governors as well, so not only can they provide useful intelligence, but they have powerful positions of influence in ther own right. We also bring o the table our wider roles, indeed strengths, around health and wellbeing, crime and anti-social behaviour, culture, leisure and sports, and don’t forget we too have statutry safeguarding responsibilities as well.
    I wonder whether someone like the District Councils Network could be persuaded to pull together a ‘district focussed’ addendum to the paper, otherwise there are not far short of 200 authorities who could be contributing in this important arena.

    • Interesting idea on a district focused addendum. Could be something we pursue. What do others think????

      • I am sure we would support such an idea. Daventry DC has been heavily involved in seeking to up our local educational offer for some years, most recently helping secure a UTC. There are also key linkages with the ‘Local Plan’ process, as spatial planning is about outcomes for the area, rather than simply plotting development sites on a plan.

  2. John Freeman

    This is a fascinating document and gives some real purchase on the notion of championing. But it seriously underplays council’s statutory roles in (for example) securing school places and securing fair admissions – the latter role in particular having been substantially strengthened by the 2012 Admissions Code. The points about the championing of relationships are well made, particularly with autonomous schools, but it is vitally important that these relationships are not just loose, warm and woolly, but have a core of statutory purpose. So, just for one example, it is important that councils work with autonomous schools in a good and productive relationship to ensure that all the admissions arrangements in an area work to the benefit of children and families. But there is an important backstop – councils are required by law to inform the Schools Adjudicator if they know or suspect that an admissions authority is acting unlawfully.

  3. Derek Myers

    At the heart of this Call to Action is SOLACE’s conviction that Councils have an indispensible role to play in making sure that the whole system works to support all children to reach their maximum potential and go make a positive contribution to society. Councils should be encouraging and enabling communities to shape education provision locally, whether that be through establishing an Academy or Free School or providing peer-support and challenge to drive school improvement. We need to be using our existing functions, such as Scrutiny, more effectively to provide support and challenge to schools and to listen to the views of parents and children. We also need to be supporting and strengthening school governance through professionalising Governing Body Clerks. We will need to do things differently in the future and this will involve learning new skills (particularly commercial skills); yet, we can be confident that our experience in partnership working and relationship building are the foundations for our success.

  4. Time to lead? Absolutely!

    And also an opportunity to approach this agenda differently – and secure one of those fabled paradigm shifts if you like. Why? Because one of more significant consequences of the present reforms is that we (Councils) are being liberated from role of “buck stop” to that of champion and advocate: in a truly autonomous system, it is schools that are held to account for their effectiveness – and this frees Councils to become accountable for securing wellbeing (including educational wellbeing) by enabling children, young people and parents/carers to support and challenge their schools and hold them to account directly.

    But enough of what I think. Filling the Gap is everyone’s responsibility – so what do you think?

  5. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services commented:

    “Chief Executives and Directors of Children’s Services are clearly of one mind in identifying the risks of fragmentation in a system of autonomous schools and the role that local authorities can play in mitigating those risks. Whether it is challenging school leaders to improve or providing a voice to parents and to the vulnerable in the way that schools are run, local authorities have the skills to build strong partnerships between schools, communities and democratically elected councilors to everyone’s benefit. As a key provider of social work support, provision for those with special educational needs and of support in the early years, local authorities clearly retain an interest in working with schools to make those services most effective in supporting children’s learning and wider wellbeing. Our own research provides examples of the way some local authorities are pressing ahead with such partnerships as part of their commitment to the children and young people in their communities.”

    (First appeared in the LGC, 26 April 2012)

  6. Responding to the release of the SOLACE report on the future role of councils in education Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

    “This report makes a clear case in favour of local authorities continuing to act as the parents’ champion in promoting high standards of education and holding all local schools to account, including academies. Councils sit at the intersection between parents, schools and children’s services making them uniquely well placed to ensure all young people are given the opportunity to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions. They also offer a vital element of democratic accountability to the oversight of schools which should not be lost. This report makes an important contribution to the debate about what role councils should play in future in promoting high education standards.”

    -Ends-

    • The paper sets out some valuable thoughts, which will hopefully influence the emerging local education system. One issue which it did not address, but which usefully can be thought about, is the role of non-LEA local authorities in promoting good education locally. The legislation and rules (e.g. standard Academy articles and memoranda) are designed to require separation of LEAs ‘regulatory’ roles from actual running of schools. However, they currently fail to recognise that there is no danger of, say, a district council being involved in an Academy – precisely because it is not an LEA. Such councils are effectively in the same position as private or voluntary sector sponsors, although with a particular drive to support the well-being of their area.

      It would be relatively simple for Government to amend the regulatory framework to allow non-LEA councils to fully participate in school promotion as sponsors and the like, and doing so is likely to release additional energy into the vital task of driving up educational standards.

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