Fair dos and congratulations for most of the coalition’s policy and actions on localism. They mean it. Even my old mucker Eric Pickles is sticking to what he says. 90% of the Localism Bill is localist and supportable. 90% of the Police Reform Bill is localist and supportable. The vast majority of the direction (if not some of the detail) of the Health Bill is supportable but…… Michael Gove is swimming against the tide.
In education councils and communities can take it or lump it. We hear rumours today of more central direction. Already the 200 worst performing primary schools have become compulsory academies. Now we are told that there are 500 more on the list but only if they are in one of 9 authorities chosen by DoE officials. Another naughtiness from Michael! There is apparently one school from each Region – which is a banned word according to Tory high command.
Yet there is also some movement the other way in his own department. There is a possibility that councils will be given a greater control over the capital and revenue spend for schools in their area irrespective of whether or not they are maintained, academy or free school. Now there’s sense for you. The fact is that if councils control the spend then many of the concerns about who provides schools should disappear.
In essence I do not care whether the council is actually the provider of any service. I care about three things:
- Is the service provided one that meets the strategies and priorities set by the council with its local mandate?
- Is the provider a competent provider?
- Is the provider providing the service on terms which do not disadvantage stakeholders especially the staff who works for them?
In the context of education this would mean that the council was the strategic education authority imposing direction and discipline across a range of suppliers. A position analogous to the one in which councils are the strategic housing authority with a multiplicity of providers some generic and some specialist. That would mean real localism with the local mandate being used to correctly provide integrated programmes and activities.
In practice schools are already very difficult to deal with because of Local Management of Schools. In many areas they are acting well outside government direction on joining up local services. In my own ward some of the schools are closely integrated to local service delivery, they support events, pool budgets, share information and recognise that a good school, particularly a primary school, is at the heart of the neighbourhood.
But other schools do not do any of these things. They concentrate narrowly on the provision of education and the delivery of education targets in the narrow prism of what happens inside their school and with little support for the wider problems, especially home circumstances, which prevent good education taking root.
This means that services do not join up around the needs of the individuals and communities that need them most; it means that capital assets are not effectively used; it means a failure to join up revenue expenditure in a cost-effective way. Tellingly for ‘Big Society’ idealists it is not governors that usually make decisions like this. They merely rubber stamp what the Head Teacher tells them to.
So please Michael let out your inner Stalin. Join the rest of the cabinet by not only talking localism but delivering it. Let education play its part in a suite of services in dealing with complex children; complex families; and complex communities.
It’s what Dave wants; it’s what Nick wants; its what I want. If you need help there is a mentor at hand. Old Eric will toddle over from Pickles House to mentor, support and cajole you. Could you ask for more!?