What is the future role of the local authority in education?

The 2010 Schools White Paper made it clear that we expect local authorities (LAs) to continue to have a strong strategic role in relation to education. However, we recognise that the very rapid development of the academy programme since the last election raises a number of questions about how that role will be fulfilled.

The department is currently working in partnership with the Local Government Association (LGA), ADCS and others to deliver an action research project to research how local authorities and schools are adapting to this increasingly diverse and autonomous schools system.

The aims of the project are:

  • to understand better how LAs are thinking about, responding to and managing these changed circumstances; and
  • to develop and test alternative and innovative approaches in this area.

Initial findings will be available early in 2012, with a full report on the project due to be provided to ministers by the summer.

 How will you address the financial implications for local authorities of having increased numbers of academies?

It is essential that academies receive fair levels of funding to recognise the responsibilities they take on from local authorities (LAs) and the services they provide to pupils. LA funding must also be adjusted accordingly, to avoid double-funding them for services they no longer need to provide.

The Department consulted in the summer of 2011 on the academies funding transfer for 2011-12 and 2012-13. On 8 December 2011, the Secretary of State published a further consultation, which set out his “minded to” decision on changes to be made from April 2012 to the methodology that was used for calculation of this transfer. Further consultation, with LAs, the Local Government Association and London Councils, ended in January 2012.

Further discussions will be held over the funding arrangements to be put in place from 2013-14 onwards. 

 What support is available for local authorities to cover their costs linked to academy conversions?

There is no direct source of funding specifically for this work.  

 Will schools which continue to be maintained by local authorities be disadvantaged compared to academies, particularly with regard to funding?

Ministers’ intention is that the funding of academies should be broadly comparable with that of maintained schools, taking into account their different responsibilities. While converting to academy status will give schools additional freedoms, those schools which stay within local authority (LA) control should not be financially disadvantaged.

 What can LAs do to support academies?

Local authorities (LAs) have a considerable pool of expertise available to help academies to drive up standards. They can also play an important facilitating role to support schools (of all kinds) which want to work together to share their own expertise and to promote the spread of effective innovation, both within and between LA areas.

LAs also have wide-ranging experience in commissioning services and working collaboratively with the voluntary sector and other partners to provide them. Academies have the freedom and flexibility to buy back some services from the LA, should they choose to, where they find them to be of high quality and suitable to meet their needs.

 What form of relationship do you see existing between the local authority and newly opened/converted academies?

This is largely for the individual academies to determine. There is no statutory requirement for any formal relationship between local authorities (LAs) and academies beyond that which is required for the delivery of LA statutory duties, such as the making and reviewing of SEN statements, securing sufficient education in an area and provision of home-to-school transport for eligible children.

However, LAs will continue to play a key strategic role locally and there will be significant advantages for both academies and LAs in constructive partnership working; for example around planning, 14-19 provision or sharing good practice locally. Many academies will choose to keep existing LA representatives on their governing body.

 What role will the local authority have in future in planning pupil places?

Local authorities (LAs) have an important role in ensuring that every child has fair access to all schools and the highest standards of teaching.

The Sufficiency and Fair Access Task and Finish Group is a small working group which includes LA representatives and reports to the Secretary of State’s Ministerial Advisory Group on the role of the LA. That group is already working on the mechanics of how LA duties for ensuring sufficiency of schools will be met in a world where Free Schools and academies are the norm, not the exception. 

The work of the task and finish group will inform, and be informed by, the approaches that will be tested through the LA Action Research project, looking at how local authorities and schools are adapting to an increasingly diverse and autonomous schools system. Initial findings from that project will be available early in 2012, with a full report due to be provided to ministers by the summer.  

 What powers will the local authority have in relation to monitoring school standards across its area?

The local authority (LA) will retain full responsibility for overseeing the performance and financial arrangements of its maintained schools. Revised guidance to help LAs to perform effectively in this role, and in particular to address schools that are causing concern, is currently being developed in consultation with the sector. It will be issued for public consultation during 2012.

An LA does not have any such direct responsibilities for the performance of successful academies. In terms of standards in academies (and holding sponsors to account for this), the lead responsibility sits with the Department and the Schools Commissioner. Despite this, local authorities retain a legal responsibility for performance in the area as a whole, under the 1996 Education Act. They also have a considerable pool of expertise available that can help academies to drive up standards. 

Therefore, if there is a local academy which is struggling to achieve the expected level of performance, the local authority may wish to offer its support to help raise standards. Although there is no requirement for the academy to work with the local authority, it should consider carefully whether or not to accept any such offer of support.

 Will local authorities get any support for conducting land transfer activity?

We expect that many local authorities (LAs) will have the necessary experience and expertise to offer advice on these processes and will play a coordinating role, working with schools, lawyers and others. 

Guidance, model documents and forms for schools (and their lawyers) which they will need to use when planning to convert to an academy are available on the Department's website at the link below.

 What are the local authority’s responsibilities when school staff transfer to academies under TUPE regulations? What help is available?

Once the school has informed the local authority (LA) of its intention to convert, where the LA is the employer it has a duty under the Transfer of Undertaking (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) to notify the academy of the employee liability information of any person employed by them and subject to transfer. 

Full details on the LA's responsibilities in transfer cases can be found in the 2006 TUPE regulations. Additional advice and guidance can also be found on the ACAS website at the link below.

 What happens to schools forums in a local area as academies develop?

The regulations which govern the establishment of schools forums clearly set out that where a local authority (LA) has academies within its boundaries, these should be represented on the schools forum. Typically we expect there to be at least one member representing all the academies locally, rather than a representative of each.

Guidance on schools forums was issued in December 2010 and can be found on the Department’s website (link below).