Comment: Peter Mortimore

Local education authorities are in crisis. It's time to change the way educational services are managed

From the Balfour Act of 1902 until the Baker Act of 1988, the main engine of the education system was the local education authority. The LEA was responsible for the planning, building, opening and closing of schools and for most other educational services.

From the Balfour Act of 1902 until the Baker Act of 1988, the main engine of the education system was the local education authority. The LEA was responsible for the planning, building, opening and closing of schools and for most other educational services.

The situation today is very different: LEAs are hanging on by their fingertips. The previous Conservative government set in motion the creation of a set of extremely small authorities, carved out of large County Councils. Making such small LEAs cost effective will test the skills and ingenuity of even the best education officers. Now the present Government is busy establishing a set of Education Action Zones with powers that, confusingly, cut across those of the LEAs and muddle the responsibilities of elected local councillors.

Ofsted inspectors - acting on behalf of central government - are inspecting LEAs and declaring a number of them unsuitable to run their own educational services. The situation whereby one tier of a democratic government uses public money to investigate the efficacy of another tier (also democratically elected) and, if it does not like what it finds, has power to recommend the privatisation of its services is worthy of Kafka. The outcome for local citizens, however, is far from fictional: local electors and council payers will no longer have a direct relationship with the schools in their area and schools may be run by profit-making companies with few or no local connections.

I am not opposed - in principle - to using commercial companies to run educational services. But I am worried that the profit motive may prove incompatible with quality and may distort the service that is offered to citizens. Educational needs will have to compete with those of the shareholders seeking a financial return on their investment. Furthermore, I am concerned that the democratic link between local representation and local services is being lost.

Ironically, I suspect that the commercial organisations - far from introducing new blood untainted by local government - will headhunt current or former LEA officers. Certainly this appears to be the case with those who have been identified as holding new "privatised" roles in Islington (two of them were outstanding education officers when I worked for the Inner London Education Authority).

I accept that the Government is committed to modernisation and I want to suggest an alternative approach before the country moves too far down what we know, from the recent history of the railways, will be a one way track. Why not think about transferring the responsibility for education from the local authorities to the new regional authorities?

Giving responsibility for education to the regions would continue the ethos of public service and would keep out the profit motive while, at the same time, encouraging an innovative approach to all aspects of educational administration. It would also enable the administration of schools to be linked with the provision of other regional services. The size of the regions would militate against the authorities interfering inappropriately in day-to-day management, but they could provide a planning platform, a funding mechanism and a safety net.

The new regional authorities would carry no baggage from the past and they would be in a position to create new ways of working including, if it is still deemed appropriate, collaboration with Education Action Zones in their region. But, most importantly, such a move would keep our schools within some form of democratic structure.

I accept that the 1902 ways of doing things need to be changed. But I also believe that LEAs deserve fairer treatment than they are getting. Their role in the creation of the public education system was historically important. Rather than destroying this legacy, my proposal offers a way of building on, within a brand new structure, the best practice of those LEAs which have adapted to change while, at the same time, encouraging new ways of working more in tune with authority being delegated to schools. The past few weeks have shown the Government's determination to preserve the character of our National Health Service - despite the expense. Let it now show that it will do the same for its top priority - education.

The writer is the Director of the Institute of Education, University of London

News
i100
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Sport
Neil Warnock
football'New' manager for Crystal Palace
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Qualified Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: This independent Nursery is looking fo...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN TAWe are looking to recrui...

SEN (Visual Impairement) Tutor

£120 - £180 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are looki...

School Receptionist

£70 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: School Receptionist - Part ...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis