The move comes after news that Labour pressure group the New Local Government Network is working with ministers, Ofsted and private firms on proposals for 'the end of LEAs' (LGC, 11 February).
The LGA group, to be set up over the next month, will argue that the vision of an education service divorced from local government is absurd. It will produce a long-term strategy looking to the shape of education in 2020. Ideas such as the community school, the role of social services and health in raising standards, and councils' strategic leadership role will be considered.
LGA education head Neil Fletcher said talk of abolishing LEAs came from people with a vested interest or who were seeking to make a name for themselves.
'In terms of actually running and managing and employing teachers there's nobody who can stand in place of the LEA.'
He stressed that education secretary David Blunkett had told the north of England education conference last month: 'If LEAs didn't exist we'd have to invent them, but we would invent them for the 21st century.'
LGA education chair Graham Lane said: 'The reason the government gave education to the state was because [the independent sector] failed to deliver the same standard of education to all.'
He agreed education was changing rapidly but said: 'Only local government is thinking it through.'
LGA education policy officer Daniel Burke said: 'There is a role for councils in trying to foster a new type of educational environment. Private companies would still see it as important to have a state role for the local authority. What we need to look at here is where do we draw the line?'
NLGN executive director John Williams welcomed the LGA's move: '[This] will be an extremely positive development. We need the space to have some constructive and medium-term thinking about the role of local government in education. This is an important and very substantial part of that process.'
The creation of an LGA group to defend LEAs has been agreed by the association's executive and, in principle, by the Department for Education and Employment. The LGA will invite local and central government 'creative thinkers' and academics to take part, and hopes to announce the line-up by 16 March when its education and lifelong learning forum meets.