Local authorities need to be brave, ready, quick – and think big

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The Independent Online

It's time for English local authorities to go talent spotting for staff who can transform schools. If they fail to develop staff from both inside and outside their own organisations they will miss unique opportunities to revitalise whole communities.

Schools can't make the best out of capital investment unless authorities are ready and up to speed. That is why the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) is increasing its support at local authority level to share good practice and help them build capacity.

Authorities such as Barnsley and Solihull have been able to incorporate school renewal into wider, more ambitious programmes to revitalise pressured local communities. What they are doing adds up to more than the sum of the individual parts. However, they have to take prompt steps because the pace of some of these capital projects can be very demanding. If it falls behind schedule a council could haemorrhage money.

The drive to rebuild and remodel English schools has generated radical new ways of collaborating and working. Building Schools for the Future alone is the biggest capital investment programme for 50 years.

The Primary Capital Programme that all local authorities will be involved in from April might not be on the same scale but it will bring dramatic transformations as long as schools and their communities are able to rise to the challenge. How will school leadership teams develop their expertise, imagination, communication and collaboration skills, and their capacity? How will they bring in their stakeholders and fire them up to play a full part so there are no blockages and hold-ups?

These are the issues that have become second nature to the BSF and PCP support teams at NCSL as they work with school leaders and local authorities. The College has even developed a new website to share detailed coverage of the opportunities and challenges being met by school leaders.

What were their greatest successes, and why? What were the worst obstacles and how did school leaders get beyond them? This is the information required by anyone going into BSF and PCP – and it is what the NCSL support team is sharing through its new website, Future. For people in a hurry and under pressure – and that neatly defines most school leaders – much of Future's online material is gold dust. It is also worth downloading the award-winning Ldr magazine from the NCSL's website, below.

A school's vision for learning is at the very heart of the process for both BSF and PCP. It has to be created with love and attention, be nurtured to maturity and then communicated and defended all through the design and building processes. School leaders should not be sidetracked by issues such as building design or technology until the vision for the learning has been created.

None of us can predict exactly what schools will look like in 20 years – but we are starting to get a good idea. And we can cherry-pick the examples of good practice starting to make an impact on learning – such as human-scale schools and a skills-based curriculum.

Local authority leadership, involvement and support is crucial. They really need to think big. BSF and PCP alone will affect the lives of 3.3 million young learners in the next 15 to 20 years. Be brave, be ready, be quick.

More information: future.ncsl.org.uk; www.ncsl.org.uk

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