LGA response to the Department for Education’s consultation on reforming how local authorities’ school improvement functions are funded

Councils retain the majority of their legal obligations to promote high educational standards in their areas and the Department for Education (DfE) should therefore continue to provide funding to ensure these obligations can be met. It is wrong to ask schools, who have their own budgetary pressures, to fund councils for their school improvement functions.


About the Local Government Association

The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We work with councils to support, promote and improve local government.

We are a politically-led, cross party organisation which works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. We aim to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils so they are able to deliver local solutions to national problems. The LGA covers every part of England and Wales, supporting local government as the most efficient and accountable part of the public sector.

Key points

  • Councils retain the majority of their legal obligations to promote high educational standards in their areas and the Department for Education (DfE) should therefore continue to provide funding to ensure these obligations can be met. It is wrong to ask schools, who have their own budgetary pressures, to fund councils for their school improvement functions. We note that the Department is not proposing an uplift in school funding to meet any additional costs should the Grant be removed. Additional costs will fall on schools and savings will go to the Department.
  • The rationale for removing the Grant appears to be that it is spent on improvement activity that goes beyond council’s core school improvement functions. Given councils retain the majority of their school improvement duties it would instead make more sense for the Department to clarify that the Grant can be spent on the “continuum of wider improvement activity that councils may choose to undertake.”, rather than removing it completely.
  • Evidence (Better connected: How local education and children’s services in England have responded to the coronavirus pandemic) shows that close and productive working between councils and all local schools has been essential in keeping schools open for the most vulnerable and children of key workers throughout the pandemic and in managing a safe return for all pupils and it is unfortunate that the consultation paper does not acknowledge this. 

Consultation questions

Proposal 1: Removing the Grant

We are opposed to the proposed removal of the Grant, which we believe will have a negative impact on the ability of councils to continue to meet their school improvement duties. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that despite the Government allocating an extra £7.1 billion for schools in England in 2022-23, spending will be no higher in real terms than in 2009-10 (2020 annual report on education spending in England). Given the pressure on school budgets and given the important of education recovery following the pandemic, it is wrong that the Department is seeking to ask schools to fund council duties that were previously funded by central government.

Monitoring of school performance and working with them to enable improvement are core functions of a maintaining council. We are concerned that the proposed changes set out in the consultation will reduce council flexibility to work with local maintained schools and that this would likely weaken both the ability of councils to support maintained schools with performance issues quickly and effectively, while also damaging maintained schools’ understanding of the council/school relationship, and wider stakeholders understanding of the council role in school improvement. 

Councils are supportive of the Department’s drive for a school-led education system, including school improvement. While councils take a variety of approaches to fulfilling their school improvement duties, they are in many cases acting as facilitators in bringing schools together to support each other in local school-led improvement systems.

If the Department presses ahead with the proposals set out in the consultation it is right that these changes are introduced gradually, with a 50 per cent reduction in funding for 2022-23 to give councils and maintained schools time to adjust to these new arrangements before the Grant is removed entirely in 2023-24.

Proposal 2: Including provisions in the School and Early Years Finance (England) Regulations to enable councils to fund all core improvement activities via de-delegation

As mentioned previously, we do not believe that schools, that are facing their own budgetary pressures, should be asked to pay for support out of their existing budgets that was previously paid to councils by the Department for Education. If the Department believes that there is continued value in a council role in school improvement, this should be funded by central government.

Contact

Clive Harris, Senior Adviser – Children and Young People

Email: [email protected]