Since 2010, and the dawn of austerity, councils have been fighting valiantly on a number of fronts to maintain influence as well as services, but there is one area where we may have given up too easily, and that is education.
Central government has created a narrative where local accountability has been successfully demonised as ‘town hall interference’, a yoke from which schools need to be ‘freed’. In turn local government has collectively failed to make the case for its own continued role.
Hackney’s remarkable success story in education, on the surface, looks like a textbook case of why schools and councils don’t mix. Back in 1999, David Blunkett ordered that education should be removed from the control of the then-highly dysfunctional Hackney LBC, and in 2002 the Learning Trust was created, a not-for profit company to manage the borough’s schools.
Since then, Hackney’s schools have gone from being the worst in the country to amongst the best. Our results are outstanding, and that success is shared by pupils from all backgrounds. The Learning Trust story is widely known, but what is less so is the fundamental role played by the council in delivering that success; through the first academies, a successful Building Schools for the Future programme, and a relentless focus on school improvement. Since the service came back in-house in 2012, we’ve maintained that focus, alongside the concept of a mutually supportive family of Hackney schools – whether maintained, academies or free schools – that reflects the values of residents.
We’ve recently consulted locally on the future of education in Hackney. Three thousand responses later, it’s clear where the majority of Hackney residents stand; anti-selection, anti-forced academisation, and in favour of the council having a continued role, especially in ensuring fair admissions, special educational needs provision, and the provision of school places.
The 2017 Conservative manifesto promised that every child should be able to attend a good or outstanding school. In Hackney we’ve already achieved that. Currently, 98.6% of our primary students attend a good or outstanding school, and 100% of our secondary students. Hackney’s success is put at risk by this government’s dogmatic insistence that councils are bad for schools. If any of our schools fall behind, despite our outstanding track record in school improvement, they could be forced into the arms of an academy chain with no local connections, against the wishes of schools and parents. Combine that with a proposed funding formula that could devastate London schools, and it really is time to fight.
The days of the traditional local education authority are truly over, but local government needs to carve out a new role in relation to schools; based on leadership, local accountability and representing the values of the people we serve. We need to be the civic voice for education, and for our young people. This fight is too important to give up on.
Philip Glanville (Lab), elected mayor, Hackney LBC