Headlines: January 23rd, 2004

Head teachers are calling for a public sector solution to Local Education Authority and school improvement. In a paper published today the Secondary Heads Association says the government has frequently looked to the private sector to turn round schools and LEAs but the expertise for which the private sector is being given credit comes from people whose experience has been gained in the public sector.The Association believes that LEA and school improvement could be carried out more effectively and efficiently within the public sector. It points to a number of successful interventions by Chief Education Officers from other LEAs. This it says contrasts with the over-hyped and expensive involvement of private companies, whose success rate has not been good. The SHA cites the example of Liverpool LEA, now highly rated, which, it says, was put on the right track four years ago through the secondment of Bob Clark, then Chief Education Officer in Wigan.

In some cases, the SHA says, authorities’ problems lie more with politicians than with the competence of their officers. In those circumstances it is recommending that a partnership board should be formed from all the major stakeholders. The Secretary of State would grant powers to the education board to administer the service.

The SHA believes the expertise on which a school support system should be built lies primarily in the schools themselves. It says there are many successful school leaders who can be identified to help schools with problems and that this has already happened in a number of instances. Far more schools, the SHA says, have been brought out of special measures by leaders from public sector schools than from involvement of the private sector.

Today’s report proposes the setting up of School Improvement Partnerships, each comprising around ten secondary schools so that when a school requires help with a particular subject department, it would be able to draw on the expertise of a subject head from another school in the partnership. Schools that needed to look beyond their partnership for support would be able to turn to leading edge practice in other schools.

The report calls on the Government to recognise the expertise in the public sector and use it more widely. The leader of the SHA, John Dunford, says it has no ideological objections to private sector involvement in some aspects of education, but the public sector model of LEA and school support is more effective.