Councillors urged to exercise stronger oversight of local schools

15 Sep 15

Councillors should use their “unique role” to help hold schools to account as they convert to academies, the Centre for Public Scrutiny has said.

In a report published today, the CfPS said many elected members do not have a close connection with schools in their ward, but that increased awareness was a key means of maintaining local oversight.

The current drive for maintained schools to become academies would leave councils with virtually no formal levers of accountability, the Your School, Your Community report stated. Town halls therefore need to find other ways of providing oversight of education within their area, as councils still have a number of statutory duties associated with education and child welfare.

This means the relationship between councillors and schools is critical and councillors must do more to understand the complexity of the education system, and the changes affecting it.

As part of a checklist, the CfPS said councillors should be aware of government policies, plans, requirements, priorities and local funding allocations, and understand safeguarding issues and child protection. They should also use insight from local schools to develop a deeper understanding of local issues such as regeneration plans and council improvement strategies.

Whilst individual councillors may not have a direct role in decision-making in relation to local schools, they have a broad duty to provide community leadership, Su Turner, head of the CfPS’s children and young people programme, said.

This needs them to be aware of the different organisations, resources and facilities that impact on residents of all ages, and to work with other providers to promote the wellbeing of their place.

However, she was always surprised by the lack of regular contact between councillors and schools. 

“As a chair of governors for over four years not once did my local councillor get in touch to find out about the school and how we could work together to improve outcomes for children,” Turner added.

“This is a missed opportunity and one that CfPS wanted to try and put right. We hope this report will help schools and councillors to develop closer more productive relationships in the future which will also assist councils to better fulfil their statutory duties.”

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