Councils played a crucial role in education during the pandemic – the Government must recognise their importance.
After many years of campaigning by the LGA, the Government has announced it will be giving councils powers to set up and lead their own multi-academy trusts (MATs).
The long-standing LGA ask was confirmed in the first schools White Paper in six years. It pledges to provide an excellent teacher for every child, delivering high standards of curriculum, behaviour and attendance, targeted support for every child that needs it, and a stronger and fairer school system.
The LGA has said the ability for councils to open MATs should be on offer in every area where that is the preference of schools and parents.
As we have emphasised all along, councils have a crucial role to play in education, from ensuring every child has a school place to turning around struggling schools. This was demonstrated, in particular, during the pandemic, with councils providing vital support at such a hugely critical and challenging time.
It is only right that councils are seen as the effective education partner they are by government.
Councils have an excellent track record in providing a high-quality education for pupils, with 92 per cent of maintained schools rated by Ofsted as outstanding or good – a higher proportion than any other type of school – and this will continue in a fully academised system.
We have called on the Department for Education (DfE) to use this expertise while the White Paper proposals are implemented, and allow councils to support ‘orphan’ schools where regional schools commissioners are struggling to find a strong MAT to take them on. We are also pleased that councils will be given powers to direct all schools, including academies, to admit pupils that are out of school and make sure they are back in the classroom as quickly as possible.
The White Paper reiterated the Government’s intention to introduce a duty on parents to register home-schooled children with their local council. This is also something that the LGA has lobbied on for some time, and it is good that government has acted on our members’ concerns around the increasing number of children receiving an education outside the classroom. While home schooling is often a positive choice for families, this register will enable councils to ensure children are receiving their education in a safe environment.
We support the White Paper’s aspiration of helping all children to thrive, with the right support at the right time. This is especially important as we emerge from the pandemic. We have said that the DfE’s education recovery package must be kept under review to ensure every child gets the support they need.
Of course, it is absolutely vital that any education package supports children with special educational needs and disabilities, and it is good the Government has also set out how it plans to do this in a Green Paper, which we explore in further detail opposite.
As we have made clear already, councils are a key education partner of government. With the right powers and funding, councils are ideally placed to act as the ‘middle tier’ between central government and schools, thanks to their place-based leadership, existing duty to promote the wellbeing of children, and their links to other critical areas, including safeguarding, public health, criminal justice, employment and skills.