Discussion papers about the future role of councils in education appear to be like buses: you wait for ages for one to come along, and three turn up all at once.
More from: Time to colonise the leadership space
Following two recent reports by others in the sector, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace) is now formally entering into the debate by publishing its own, distinctive call to action - a set of propositions entitled “Filling The Gap” that advocate the championing role of English councils in education.
In coming forward now, the society is giving two clear messages: that chief executives’ personal leadership in this agenda is central to demonstrating and securing the on-going commitment of councils to the pursuit of educational excellence; and that councils should seize this “storming and forming” moment to lead visibly and pro-actively in shaping the policy and implementation landscapes – before the vacuum is filled for them, or their interest is deemed to have waned. Hence, “Filling The Gap” has been conceived, primarily, to encourage chief executives to colonise the leadership space.
Whilst naturally seeking to avoid prescription (we’ve had far too much of that from successive governments already), the paper looks to the future and posits four key functions that it considers councils are the best placed to fulfil. Three of them build directly on, but develop further, the championing roles set out in 2010’s white paper, The Importance of Teaching, asking local government’s leadership to ensure:
- that the voice of the child is heard directly, and acted on, by local decision-makers;
- that parents and carers are empowered and organised to support and challenge schools to improve; and
- that councils themselves operate as enablers of the system, creating an environment in which others succeed.
Additionally, the paper builds on an earlier recommendation that councils act as the local champion of relationships. To use an old education phrase, local government should seek both “continuity and progression” in relationship-building by nurturing strong, positive and trusting engagement between elected members, officers, communities and representatives of all types of school to secure a shared ambition of educational success for every child and young person.
Whilst there is, fundamentally, a localist thrust to the paper, Solace does call on government to play its part. The society believes that local-national collaboration is essential if system diversity is not to lead to (admittedly unintended) fragmentation, and if consistency and sustainability in the pursuit and achievement of excellence are to be achieved. So, the secretary of state is asked to give support to:
- the introduction of voluntary local “cooperation and intervention” protocols between all schools and their councils;
- the development of a national agreement between government and councils about the process of intervention in under-performing or failing schools, including free schools and academies; and
- exploring the feasibility of establishing (with Solace) a formal system for developing governing body clerks as “competent and recognised” professionals.
So, “Filling The Gap” is a call to action – from within and to local government, first and foremost, but also to government. Collaboration at local and national levels will be neither easy, nor comfortable – but it will be worth it if we truly share the ambition that every child’s education matters.
Mark Rogers, Chair of the Solace Children’s and Education Policy Network
- To download ‘Filling the Gap’, please click here