Headlines: May 16th, 2000

Local Education Authorities (LEAs) have been urged to modernise if they want to ensure their future. They must also recognise that their role must change, according to Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett.Councils have been concerned that they might lose control of schools budgets – easily the biggest item in the council budget – and their role in school management, to a mixture of central control and self-management by head teachers. So serious is the concern that the Local Government Association has launched a campaign to persuade the Government to maintain the status quo.

Speaking at an Education Network conference, Mr Blunkett said that the Government would continue its policy of intervening where LEAs were failing children.

But he said: “The question we have to ask ourselves is not whether an education authority should exist – I have said before that if we didn’t have authorities we would have to invent something similar. Rather it is in what form and for which century? What functions have to be carried out by the education authority itself?

“So I ask you to think the unthinkable. To work from the ‘bottom up’ in ways which challenge us. Innovation from within, celebration of what works, and the spreading of excellence.

He said there was already demonstration in authorities like Newham, Camden, Wolverhampton and Solihull that benchmarking and working together could deliver the goods. Further work was needed on making sense of the use of scarce expertise, and more analysis on the model for what role a good education authority could usefully play in today’s environment of a national curriculum, local management of schools, and beefed up inspection