– 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.”