Councils with ‘failing schools’ held by Labour

– Four of five councils labelled “ineffective” by Ofsted remain under Labour control
– Anti-academy campaigners suggest system of directly elected school commissioners

Politicians controlling local authorities branded as failing by Ofsted increased their hold after local elections last week.

Four of five councils labelled as ineffective after school improvement inspections by the education watchdog returned Labour councils in last week’s local elections. In Blackpool and Middlesbrough, the party increased its majority.

The findings cast doubt on arguments made by anti-academy campaigners who say local democracy holds to account those who are failing school children in schools overseen by the local authority.

James Croft, director at the Centre for the Study of Market Reform on Education, said: “Local elections should be something of a day of reckoning for authorities that have failed to improve the quality of the schools they maintain.

“Responsibility for education is splintered across multiple tiers of oversight and governance, and is but one of many varied responsibilities councillors may hold.

“These and other factors peculiar to local elections mean that a council is hardly likely to fail to get re-elected simply because of the low quality of schooling.”

Last year Ofsted found Middlesbrough Council’s arrangements for supporting school improvement to be “ineffective” with attainment levels well below national averages.

The watchdog said none of its secondary schools ensured pupils achieved well.

But Labour last week increased its majority in the borough from 25 seats in 2011 – a one-seat majority – to 33.

In February Ofsted told Blackpool Council that it still had “significant weaknesses”, despite being judged ineffective back in November 2013 with more than 2,500 children getting an inadequate education. Despite this, Labour councillors gained a seat last week.

Labour also held majorities in Wakefield and Doncaster, both judged ineffective.

However, the party lost its majority in Walsall. The council is still in limbo as no party was a clear winner last week. The other four councils listed on Ofsted’s website under improvement inspections did not have local elections this year.

Alasdair Smith, secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, said: “I don’t think you can say this means local democracy isn’t effective.

“With a local authority there is a route to raise issues, through your local councillor. This is much more effective compared with an academy.

“Where does a local parent go to raise concerns at an academy? The headteacher, the regional schools commissioner, the Education Funding Agency? It is not particularly clear.

“We are not necessarily committed to the local authority model, but it would be better than a company running a school.”

He suggested a system of directly elected commissioners, similar to the police and crime commissioners introduced in 2012.

Mr Croft added: “Does this mean that central government brokering of takeovers by sponsors is the answer? Well, no.”

Although research suggests a positive and sustained effect on attainment when failing schools are turned into academies, Mr Croft noted that performance between sponsors was highly variable.

“There is good evidence internationally to suggest that greater autonomy in the governance and management of local schools has beneficial effects, while central brokering leaves the system vulnerable to variable sponsor quality.”

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  1. Janet Downs

    Has James Croft actually looked at the type of schools in these ‘ineffective’ authorities? The majority of secondary schools in them are Academies. LAs are supposed to challenge ‘failing’ schools but their action is limited when schools are academies.

    Croft says research ‘suggests a positive and sustained effect on attainment when failing schools are turned into academies’. But research also shows non-academies in similar circumstances did just as well. The Education Select Committee said the Gov’t should stop exaggerating academy success. That applies to think tanks as well, especially those promoting ‘market reform’.

  2. Janet Downs

    The OECD backed up Croft’s statement about ‘greater autonomy’ being linked to success (in PISA tests). But he forgot to say the OECD also found the UK was among only four countries that allowed their schools significant autonomy in allocation of resources and spending budgets. That finding was based on the 2009 PISA tests which were taken before Gove became Education Secretary. Academy conversion, especially when linked with chains, means less autonomy not more.

  3. Yes Janet, that’s why I say the quality of sponsors is highly variable and that this points to a weakness in the brokering model of commissioning solutions.
    On your other point, I was referring to the (international) Academic literature on the impact of devolutionary reforms, which has been comprehensively explored in CMRE publications and on an ongoing basis in our monthly research digest. We don’t set much store by the PISA method, which makes too much of correlation.