Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for “local co-ordination” of schools, criticising education secretary Michael Gove for “trying to run 1,500 academies from central government.”
In an interview with the New Statesman, Mr Miliband said Mr Gove was a “great centraliser.” However, he said, it would not be right for councils to take back all of the powers that had been given to academies.
“The Labour response should not be simply to say that all academies’ powers should be sucked back to local authorities,” he is quoted as saying. “I want to devolve more power to all schools – about the curriculum, about the way they work, but at the same time we’ve got to have some local co-ordination.”
In the interview Mr Miliband also criticised the government’s free schools programme. “The Tories and Gove don’t seem to see schools as an instrument of the local community, but it’s just let’s have schools popping up all over like supermarkets and through this competitive alchemy it will make the school system better. I just don’t buy that argument,” he said.
Mr Miliband’s comments about local co-ordination echo those made by Labour’s shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg in February. In a speech to the New Labour pressure group Progress, Mr Twigg called for a “middle tier” between schools and the Department for Education. However, he said, councils would not necessarily carry out this role, adding that he was “interested in how we can promote models such as local schools’ commissioners.”
The nature of the role local authorities should play in an education system characterised by much greater school autonomy has been a lacuna in Mr Gove’s reforms. An action research project commissioned by the DfE and the LGA was published in the summer which found that the expansion of academies and the creation of free schools was threatening the viability of successful schools or those that meet specific local needs.
LGC understands the findings of the report will not be discussed by the department’s ministerial advisory group - which consists of ministers, civil servants, council chief executives and members - until November.
Meanwhile, the LGA has proposed that in areas where more than half of secondary schools are academies, councils should take over the functions of the Education Funding Agency, becoming responsible for funding, financial assurance and intervening in underperforming schools. Under the proposal, councils could exercise these powers in relation to all schools, including academies.
The idea is outlined in papers prepared for the LGA Children and Young People board’s latest meeting, which was held on Wednesday. However, LGC understands that when the LGA made the proposal, the DfE was not receptive to the idea.