The Cast Of Culprits: Part 4. The BureaucratsFebruary 20, 2007
Unlike students, teachers and school managers, I don’t meet the functionaries of the education bureaucracy on a regular basis and so my comments reflect only those that affect the day to day work of classroom teachers. In particular it is the LEAs (Local Education Authorities) that have the most direct impact, not the Department For Education and Skills who appear to exist mainly to produce paperwork and make school funding more complicated.
The most regular interference in ordinary teaching life is from LEA consultants. Consultants are former teachers (usually at the middle management level) who come into schools to provide training, conduct observations, give advice, and similar help. Some are good, experienced teachers who can tell you useful things. However, the most noticeable things about them are:
- They get paid a lot.
- They don’t seem to have to work as hard as teachers.
- A large part of the training they give is simply the latest gimmicks: thinking skills, AfL, etc.
- They are notoriously unreliable and are always turning up late or cancelling meetings.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they do a bad job. However one wonders what would happen if the money paid to consultants went straight to schools. How many schools would pay private companies for similar services? How many schools would find more useful things to spend the money on?
The next big influence from LEAs regards inclusion and exclusions. Although some of the rot comes from above, LEAs are responsible for special education. They also have a strong influence over permanent exclusions in schools. They have a dilemma, they can support schools by having large units for students with behaviour problems and help schools exclude the worst students. Alternatively they can obstruct efforts to deal with behaviour in order to make the statistics look good. The DFES publish figures for permanent exclusions also for the number of students enrolled in Pupil Referral Units A quick look at the figures reveals some LEAs are intent on letting the behaviour situation go unchallenged. For example take a look at the figures for Coventry, 4 permanent exclusions from secondary schools and “less than 3” students enrolled in PRUs for the whole City.
Finally, and most importantly, LEAs are responsible for the opening, closing and merging of schools. It is here where they do the most damage. Major changes of this sort are usually disastrous, with merged schools, and new schools particularly prone to failing discipline. Moreover school closures are particularly unpopular politically and so elected councillors would prefer to avoid them. For these, fairly sensible reasons, LEAs wish to avoid closing schools. If demographics mean there are fewer children in an area this can be difficult and it becomes vital that all schools remain the first choice of a good number of parents. The event most likely to deter parents from enrolling at one school is a vast improvement and high(er) results in another school. Any school that performs incredibly well (this tends to happen where a school has good discipline and high expectations) is a threat to the neighbouring schools. If it’s a Church school and can therefore be chosen by children from miles around, it’s a potential threat to all the other schools. As a result LEAs will often act to stop the success of improving schools. Funding will be withdrawn from school improvement, admissions policies will change to send more challenging students to that school, successful schools will be encouraged not to grow. In short, the LEA will be an obstacle to any individual school improving, an implacable opponent of excellence in education.
Having a local authority in charge of school transport, overseeing admissions and protecting the rights of parents makes sense. Having an education authority in charge of school standards, education provision and providing many services that schools don’t actually want makes no sense at all. A change in the structure of education is needed. LEAs should be responsible for representing parents and students, and finding them schools to attend and getting them there, but they should no longer be responsible for the provision of education services. It is a conflict of interest. You can’t have the same institution identifying students with Special Needs (statementing) and paying for the Special Needs provision (unless you want to deter the writing of statements). You can’t have the same institution setting the policy on exclusions but also in charge of provision for excluded pupils. You can’t have the same institution in charge of ensuring parental choice in education, but also in charge of the running of the schools no parents want to choose. Without a change in where responsibilities lie LEAs will continue to be the fervent defenders of educational mediocrity.
Before anyone points it out, I do know that officially we now have Local Authorities responsible for schools not LEAs. However until I hear an actual teacher talk about “LAs” I thought I’d better stick with the familiar terminology.