Councils’ role in education has changed, says Ofsted

Sir Michael Wilshaw says local government leaders must ensure schools are allowed to get on with job of raising standards

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has urged local government leaders to overcome opposition to schools becoming academies, saying their role has shifted from being a supplier of education to “championing its consumers”.

“If you are in a council where there is opposition to academies and greater autonomy for schools, you need to use your influence to let political leaders know that the time for opposition has gone,” Wilshaw told local authority chief executives at a conference in York. He said they should not “cling on to a role that belongs to yesteryear”.

“The nature of the relationship between schools and local authorities has fundamentally changed. Your job now is to ensure schools, including academies and free schools, are allowed to get on with the job of raising standards – without interference unless things start to go wrong and standards slip.”

Wilshaw’s statement was a characteristically blunt venture into political territory over the role of local government and education, with many fearing that the role of councils has been eroded with their loss of control over academies and free schools, which are funded and supervised directly from Whitehall.

But Wilshaw dismissed the idea that councils had a vanishing role, telling senior executives at Solace, the society of local authority chief executives and senior managers, that they still had effective oversight of schools in their region, despite the different legal status of academies and free schools.

“I know that many councils find their lack of formal powers to intervene in academies and free schools frustrating. But I simply do not accept that this prevents local government from having an effective oversight of the quality of provision in their area,” Wilshaw said.

“For example, although academies are outside your jurisdiction, they would be foolish to ignore the legitimate concerns of the local council. You still have more than enough influence to praise success and expose weakness in a way which has a profound effect on a school’s reputation.”

Wilshaw’s remarks run counter to government statements about freeing schools from bureaucratic restrictions, allowing headteachers control over budgets and spending.

“I know, as a past headteacher of an academy, I would have been absolutely mortified to receive a letter from the local authority expressing concerns about standards in my school. I certainly would not have run to the Department for Education complaining that my cherished independence had been breached – but I certainly would have taken much more urgent action to deal with underperformance,” he said.

Wilshaw said Ofsted was indifferent between types of schools. “At Ofsted we are entirely neutral on school structures. Anyone who has any doubt about this – or my position on this – should look at some of the critical reports we have published on academies and free schools. It makes no difference to us what banner a school flies,” he said. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds