Local Authorities will be required by law to rescue failing schools

Ed Balls, Secretary of Schools
Ed Balls, Secretary of Schools

Niall Lennon

Proposals in the Queen’s speech today confirmed that local authorities will be required by law to rescue poor performing schools and intervene before standards reach critical levels.

This legislation has been widely anticipated prompted by an announcement by Schools Secretary Ed Balls back in June. Ed Balls declared that unless 638 low achieving schools improved their exam results they would either face closure or be turned into academies.

The responsibility to overlook the raising in school standards was then handed to local authorities. Ed Balls plan came as part of a £400m initiative to raise exam results after statistics revealed that fewer than 30% of pupils scored five Cs in their GCSEs.

The Schools Secretary said: “This Bill underlines our commitment to revolutionising the education system so that it delivers for all young people, whatever their interests or abilities. Local authorities will play a key role in making this happen as they are best placed to respond to the needs of young people locally.”

“These reforms will mean that delivery of learning and skills provision and other support to children and their families is locally owned, locally integrated and also accountable and responsive to individuals’ needs and choices. I am confident the new streamlined Young People’s Learning Agency will support local authorities as they make these reforms a reality.”

The Queen also confirmed other plans to reform the school system. England and Wales’ high achieving schools will face less Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) inspections, allowing them to continue in their efforts without close scrutiny.

Ofqual will become the new exams regulator for maintaining standards and regulating the qualifications market, taking over from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is also to be replaced by the Young People’s Learning Agency, which will support local authorities to carry out their responsibilities for 16-19 year olds.

Not every one agrees however with the new proposals. Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Promoting excellence in all schools is an aim we fully endorse. Who wouldn’t? However, this will not be achieved by the draconian measures that are taken to tackle schools that fall short of inconsistent standards the Government decides makes a failing school.”

Also skeptical about the changes Liberal Democrat children’s spokesman David Laws described the bill as a ‘missed opportunity’. “This Bill is a hotch-potch of disconnected proposals thrown together to create an impression of momentum and direction which simply doesn’t exist” he remarked.