Councils call for powers over troubled schools

Park View school The LGA asked for more power after the Trojan Horse inquiry in Birmingham

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Powers to intervene in troubled schools should be returned to local authorities or public confidence in the education system may be at risk, councils say.

The authorities felt "powerless" under the current responsibility split between ministers and councils, said the Local Government Association (LGA).

The LGA said it wanted to be able to scrutinise budgets, and intervene at an early stage without Whitehall's say.

But the government said checks already existed outside council control.

Councillor David Simmonds, from the LGA: "We need to be able to intervene quickly"

In 2010, the coalition called for all schools in England to become academies, publicly funded schools outside local authority control.

Parents were encouraged to set up free schools, too, which were also run outside local-authority control, and funded directly from central government.

'First port of call'

The LGA hit out at this structure in the wake of the Trojan Horse inquiry, where Ofsted published 21 reports into schools allegedly targeted as part of a hardline Muslim takeover.

It called for the power to trigger Ofsted inspections and challenge governors.

Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said Whitehall "lacks capacity" and knowledge to oversee more than 3,500 academies and free schools in England.

A sign on school gate

"Parents deserve a local organisation to act as a first port of call if they are not satisfied with the response from their child's school or its governing body," he said.

He added parents were "increasingly frustrated" when their council was unable to intervene after being asked for help.

'Remove barriers'

Mr Simmonds said it was "not acceptable" that poor exam results or an Ofsted inspection were the only triggers to investigate a school's performance.

"We shouldn't have to wait until somebody blows the whistle to find out that something could have gone wrong," he said.

He said that rather than creating new bodies for oversight, the "barriers to council intervention should be removed immediately" so councils can use their "vast experience" to improve the system and intervene early.

"Councils are held to account by local people, and would provide children and parents with a streamlined system that allows high education standards and improvement across the board," Mr Simmonds added.

In a statement, the Department of Education said: "Since 2010 we have taken 900 schools which were failing under council control and turned them into academies with the support of a strong sponsor.

"We have consistently shown that we are tough on failure. We are strengthening the failure regime for academies through the new Regional Schools Commissioners and Head Teacher Boards.

"This will ensure swift action is taken in the small number of cases where academies are struggling.

"It is thanks to this government's reforms that the number of pupils being taught in failing secondary schools has fallen by 250,000 since 2010."

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