Opinion: We need to address the need for a re-balance in education localism

If we, as Lib Dems, have learnt anything from the march from complete local authority control, through self-management of schools and on to the drive for academies and free schools, it is that localism in education should not just be about empowering head teachers and governing bodies but must also raise standards across the board.  If this means bringing back some of those vital local authority-run ancillary services that allow heads to concentrate on the quality of teaching, so be it. Dogmatic opposition based on historic myth or anecdotal evidence has no place in education policy.

As we have witnessed over the last three years, the relentless approach of the Secretary of State to a continual reform agenda – a few good, many not so good, and some downright awful from our local government Lib Dem perspective – has meant that problems such as the provision of sufficient school places and the needs of vulnerable pupils haven’t had a proper look in. Whilst it is okay to notice OFSTED looking at regional structures in order to undertake improvement, as well as inspection, is it enough without the input of the localised knowledge only a Council can supply? I think not.

Whether academics, journalists or Eric Pickles like it or not, local authorities are part of localism.  As the originators of localism in action, we Lib Dems understand this.  We also know that some services are too important to devolve to the micro-level.  Councils, of all political persuasion, have so much they can contribute to the new education landscape beyond the morsel of being ‘children’s champions’. Responsibility without authority rarely works and, in the context of education, is a damaging missed opportunity; we need all levels to be working together, not carving out territories from which others are excluded.

It is with all this in mind, and a belief that disconnecting local elected Councils from the education improvement process will lead to more problems requiring extensive intervention later, that I propose my one priority recommendation to the Lib Dems: When looking at the future of localism in education we have to ensure a positive meaningful role for Councils. We need to be promoting the position that local authorities should have the powers and the ability to help all children, through working with and in schools, to maximise the value of their local education. Not only is that good education policy – it is effective, realistic localism in action.

This piece appears as part of a collection of essays on the future of local government collated by the New Local Government Network.

* Liz Green has been a Councillor in Kingston for 18 years and helps facilitate the LGA Leadership Academy, as well as being an accredited peer with the LGA.

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One Comment

  • Liz’s telling comment is that Lib Dems understand that local authorities (let’s call them councils, shall we?) are part of localism. I would go further – Councils are how we democratically express our “localism”. Lib Dems, and Liberals since “Community Politics” in the 70s, have championed election to councils to change things locally in response to local need and desires. Gove, Pickles etc are moving in the opposite direction. Taking powers away from councils is neither democratic, nor localist. Our party nationally has not properly come to grips with this in coalition with the amazing amount of leftover Thatcherite centralist thinking among top Tories.

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