Devolving powers to improve school standards is good for children, parents and local authorities
David Blunkett’s wide-ranging review on the devolution of power to local areas to tackle underperformance and ensure proper oversight of schools is a radical proposal to tackle the ills of the Govian system of education, where thousands of schools are accountable only to the secretary of state, leaving underperformance in schools to go unchallenged. This unsustainable approach is damaging children’s futures and failing pupils. Just look at what we’ve seen in recent weeks and months with failures at schools such as the now closed Discovery Free School and the troubling operation ‘Trojan horse’ allegations in Birmingham.
Labour’s plans for a ‘director of school standards’ to challenge and support schools that require improvement will devolve power to the local level. Importantly it will give a voice to local communities in the commissioning of new schools, delivering good school places to the areas that really need them.
But more than that, Blunkett’s report also builds upon the successful school improvement strategies of the last Labour government. The Greater Manchester Challenge, modelled on our successful London Challenge programme, was introduced by Labour in 2008 and sought to improve education for young people across the whole of Greater Manchester by bringing schools and local leaders together in a network of partnership, collaboration and challenge. Its legacy is a thriving school-to-school support network that continues to raise standards – 77 per cent of Manchester’s children are now taught in good or outstanding schools and that figure is rising year on year. Therefore, it is absolutely right that we should seek to spread the London and Greater Manchester challenge model across the whole of England, replicating the high-quality leadership, collaboration and dedicated focus on school improvement in every area.
However, this philosophy is in complete contrast to the central control we have seen from David Cameron and Michael Gove. Their attempt to run thousands of schools from Whitehall is failing pupils, parents and local communities. Shockingly, we are seeing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better off peers beginning to increase and £2bn has been overspent on free schools and academies. Over 1.5 million children are languishing in schools that require improvement – Labour’s plans will turn them around.
What is more, Manchester, like many other areas, is facing a school places crisis as the population and popularity of the city grows. However, when it comes to dealing with this situation local hands are tied; it is Gove who decides which schools can open where, based on ideology and politics rather than local need. As a result the local community does not get a say, scarce capital resources are allocated to areas with surplus school places and school standards are put at risk. As Blunkett says, standards must be our guiding principle when it comes to opening new schools and we should welcome all high quality providers, whether they are academies, parent-led academies or local authorities setting up new community schools.
Labour’s plans for giving parents and local areas more power over education are hugely welcome and chime with Ed Miliband’s vision for people-powered public services. But most important of all they will improve our children’s education, giving them the best possible chance to enjoy a brighter future.
Lucy Powell MP is shadow minister for childcare and children
Photo: John Kelly
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