Education plans will ‘diminish local councils’ and undermine services

    The reform of children’s services could be undermined by the
    government’s five-year education strategy, the Local Government
    Association has warned.

    The strategy, launched last week by education secretary Charles
    Clarke, will see schools gaining more independence. They will also
    be funded by three-year budgets from 2006. Although funding will
    officially continue to be channelled through local authorities,
    councils will not be allowed to divert the dedicated schools budget
    to other services.

    Former LGA chair Sir Jeremy Beecham reacted angrily to the
    proposals, claiming that the association had not been
    consulted.

    Speaking at the LGA’s annual conference in Bournemouth last week,
    Beecham said: “Any attempt to diminish the role of local councils
    in education would serve to undermine the thrust of the new
    education and children’s agenda.

    “Removing responsibility for admissions policies, and weakening the
    connection between schools and other local services, would threaten
    the development of seamless children’s services.”

    Association of Directors of Social Services president Andrew Cozens
    added his concerns about the strategy, warning that further
    ring-fencing of schools’ budgets “must not be allowed to pose risks
    to children’s social services budgets”.

    He stressed that this was particularly important where “extra
    resources are required in order to implement the government’s new
    Children Bill”.

    Under the strategy, secondary schools will be entitled to own their
    own land and buildings, manage their assets, employ staff, improve
    their governing bodies, and forge partnerships with outside
    sponsors. By 2008, every secondary school that is up to standard
    should be a specialist school.

    All schools that are not yet foundation schools will be able to
    vote to become one, thereby gaining the right to take decisions
    without agreement from the local authority and to administer their
    own admissions practices.

    However, the “strict requirement” for fair admissions will remain
    in order to prevent any extension of selection by ability.

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