Headlines: July 8th, 2004

The Prime Minister and the Education Secretary have been challenged to explain their reported view that local councils restrict the freedom and funding of schools. The challenge has come from the new chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, ahead of today’s expected announcement of the government’s five-year strategy for education.Head teachers, meanwhile have welcomed the idea that Local Education Authorities could in future have less control over the way schools spend their money. David Hart, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed what he called “the Prime Minister’s vision for education.”

Sir Sandy strongly criticised reports suggesting the government was planning further centralisation of school funding and questioned the view that it was local authorities which were restricting schools’ freedom. On the contrary, he said, local government had a long list of ways in which government controlled schools and teachers from Whitehall.

He also criticised the government’s failure to consult local government on the five-year plan – expected to be unveiled today – in spite of the fact that councils were the key partners in education delivery. Ministers, he said, had undermined the Central Local Partnership, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, by not bringing the emerging 5-year strategy to the table.

Following Sir Sandy’s remarks the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked if the plan would be launched without consultation and said simply that the government was constantly in consultation with LEAs, schools, teachers’ groups and parents.

David Hart said his union, the NAHT, strongly supported more freedom for head teachers to run their schools free from local control. The idea of three-year budgets, with no money siphoned off to fund ‘needless bureaucracy’ would be music to the ears of heads who wanted to plan the future of their schools on a firmer basis than at present. “I back the Prime Minister’s vision for the Education Service of the future. It stands a much better chance of raising standards for all pupils than the half-baked plans for parental choice and selection, which are pedalled by those who want to see the return of an elite system, that will be so damaging to the very pupils and parents it seeks to benefit, ” he said.