Boris calls for London-wide education body

The London mayor has no statutory role in education

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London mayor Boris Johnson is calling for a city-wide body to deal strategically with education in the capital, with his office at its heart.

A report for the mayor calls for "a pan-London approach" to school places, free schools and raising standards.

With more schools opting out of local authority oversight and becoming academies there is a need for inter-school support, it says.

Currently the mayor has no statutory role in education.

At the present rate of change, all secondary schools in London will be academies by 2014 and all primaries by 2022.

As these schools are funded directly by central government and privately run, the role of local education authorities is shrinking.

'Brokerage'

The report, Going for Gold, says there is, however, a need for a strategic view of education in the capital, adding that "the mayor and the Greater London Authority can and should play more of a role".

"The context for education is changing across the whole of the UK as a result of government reforms," it says.

"It is clear that local authorities will continue to play a key role, but they will increasingly act as commissioners and provide brokerage, rather than directly managing schools.

"As schools move to academy status, they will be able to exercise new freedoms and be innovative, but they will also need to think strategically about what support they need and make connections beyond their borough boundaries.

"This is where a pan-London approach can be helpful."

It adds: "The GLA as the strategic authority for London can facilitate connections, share information, raise new funds and make a practical difference."

There is already a London-wide approach to school admissions, but since the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) in 1990, there has been no over-arching strategic overview of schools in the capital.

However, the report stresses the plan is not about "recreating" ILEA, or creating what it describes as "a bureaucratic middle tier."

'Publicly accountable'

In particular, the report authors suggest a joint approach with London boroughs and the Department for Education to tackle a predicted shortfall of 90,000 school places in London by 2016.

The mayor has also announced a new unit to identify sites for free school groups.

He wants to be able to use land and some of the GLA property portfolio for new schools.

The report argues that although London schools are performing well, with some of the best results in England, there is still room for improvement.

The report calls for more "excellent teaching" which "stretches all children, not only the brightest, but also those who struggle most, as well as those treading water in the middle".

Lead author Dr Tony Sewell said he had high ambitions for London pupils with more getting to top universities: "We want them to be winners not just medallists".

'Greater challenge'

Earlier this week, the leaders of London's 33 borough councils demanded a greater role in tackling the capital's school places crisis and called for powers to monitor and intervene in weak academies, voicing concerns that weaknesses in these schools might not be spotted in time to prevent them failing their pupils. They intend to explore "potential overlaps, common objectives and areas for joint action" with the mayor.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "I know the mayor is incredibly ambitious for London's children and wants to ensure all schools reach the high standards set by the best.

"I look forward to working with him to provide greater challenge and rigour, improve performance and generate innovative practice - and to seeing what lessons London can teach the country as a whole."

Steve Reed, London Councils' executive member for children and young People said: "This week the leaders of London's 32 boroughs signed up to a detailed set of proposals outlining how we can work closely with schools, parents and communities, as well as with the mayor, to ensure that London's schools continue to improve and that every child is able to find a good school place near to where they live.

"We are particularly concerned that academies and free schools must be open with parents about how they are performing so parents can make informed choices about which schools they trust to educate their children.

"These schools are funded with public money and they must be publicly accountable for it."

Karen Buck MP, Labour's Shadow Education Minister, said: "Michael Gove has been the most centralising education secretary ever - with thousands of schools now accountable to ministers in Whitehall. The government needs to do far more to give power to local communities, not just politicians.

"Labour are ambitious for London schools. With a Labour government, the London Challenge saw schools in the capital improve from being below average to above average. But with teacher numbers falling and huge cuts to budgets, there is a real risk that progress will stall or be reversed under the Tories.

"There is an urgent crisis in primary school places in London. The Tories are making this worse by wasting money on schools in areas that don't have a shortage of places, and by cutting capital budgets by 60%."

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