After four White Papers in five years, it is good to hear some different messages from government.
The White Paper today is going in the right direction: letting teachers teach rather than prescribing numeracy and literacy strategies, putting the money into schools rather than the beuracracy of the national strategies, a new emphasis on collaboration between schools rather than competition, more accountability to parents rather than government Inspectors.
The White Paper is still too centralist. Ed Balls should go further to cut all the strings from Whitehall that constrain schools, communities and councils from shaping the services that will meet local needs. For example, councils are still being railroaded into adopting particular models, such as Academies, to access funds for essential rebuilding and repair.
A big gap in the government’s proposals is around school governance and accountability. Over 300,000 people volunteer as school governors in Britain and all the results show that there is a link between good governance and school performance. New local arrangements such as federated schools, and with the emphasis on extended schools, will mean we need a 21st Century model of school governance, something the White Paper overlooks.
The key question for local councils and for schools themselves is around finance. Whilst it is only one ingredient for improving education, the delay in the spending review, combined with the commitment by both Labour and the Conservatives to protect NHS budgets, is causing considerable concern about the financial future for schools, something which the Secretary of State must do more to respond to.