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Call to strengthen councils' education role

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London’s boroughs are set to propose wide-ranging changes significantly strengthening local authorities’ role in education, including allowing councils to receive data about academies’ performance and investigate their finances.

The proposals, set out in a report discussed by London Councils’ executive board on Tuesday, include a call for academies to share with councils the data that they send to the Department for Education.

Authorities should also be able to carry out a financial investigation into any state school in their area, the report argues.

It proposes an agreement in which councils would help free schools to find sites, on the condition that the DfE would share “early information” with councils about free school applicants.   

Meanwhile, every state-funded school, including academies, should have at least one governor appointed by the council “on behalf of the wider community.” Local fair access panels, made up of council officers and school representatives, should be able to order academies to admit “hard to place” pupils in the same way they can with maintained schools, the report says.

The proposals come at a time of government silence on what the role of councils should be in a system marked by increased school autonomy.

The subject is due to be discussed at all three main party conferences and the Labour Party will close its consultation on the issue on 20 September, after which it is expected to make public its view on the so-called ‘middle tier’ between schools and the department. At the Liberal Democrat party conference, the LGiU is due to publish a report warning that councils are “sleepwalking” into the centralisation of the education system.

LGC understands a group of children’s services directors met the new children’s minister Ed Timpson (Con) last week and raised concerns about councils’ inability to intervene in underperforming academies.

The directors also warned about pressure on pupil place planning and said councils’ role in safeguarding children was becoming difficult in some cases because of academies’ unwillingness to share data about their pupils.

However, with the minister new to the role, it is unlikely that any progress will be made without the engagement of children’s secretary Michael Gove or senior civil servants.

In June a report commissioned by the DfE set out a range of stumbling-blocks created by the rise in academies and free schools, including a warning that the schools could threaten the viability of local schools that were successful or met specific local needs.

The DfE’s ministerial advisory group, made up of local authority members and officers as well as representatives from schools, is not due to discuss the report until November after a June meeting on the issue was cancelled.

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