I wrote a tweet this week that read,
‘I am becoming of the opinion that it’s not schools that need that extra funding – it is local authorities. How have we let this happen?’
This statement was based on recent experiences as a head teacher trying to get systems and support in to place within my own school as well as observations, conversations and meetings with colleagues in schools and from the Local Authority I work in. Austerity politics have driven us to breaking point. As schools we are fighting for funding… but deep down I believe that the fight should start with a central authority that is effective in organising and holding to account services for our most vulnerable.
I have had a mixed relationship with LA’s over the years. On one level I have always seen them as moral guardians who see the ‘bigger picture’ across a county or area but on the other hand – as one person put it to me in a DM this morning I have concerns:
‘Your comment on LAs… as well as being a SENCO in school, I work for two LAs and have previously worked for two others, one in London, one large Shire authority. They waste taxpayers’ money on a scale that is hard to believe. I watch people chatting to family on the phone, at their desks; every returner to work from illness or maternity spends a few days wandering around the building catching up with friends. LAs have mediocre people in key posts, who appoint other mediocre people on the basis that they’ll so grateful for the job that they will never criticise what’s going on. They are generally so incompetent that it’s a wonder they can find their way out of the building at 5pm (Make that 4pm, a bit of flexi…) Honestly, it makes me so cross that I couldn’t let your tweet pass. Best wishes.’
OK, my concerns aren’t at this level but I have worked alongside people who seem to turn up and not give any real thought about impact or longer term strategy. I have sat in meeting after meeting with LA people where ‘nothing’ is decided. I have seen terrible decisions made and then I have seen those same decisions twisted when the pressure is on. I have seen a lack of vision and I have seen a system slowly die and become even less effective. The problem with LAs is they became Goliaths and when the central vision (money) went they became directionless Goliaths fighting for survival over many competing ‘priorities’. They have effectively pummelled themselves to death. Their infighting for survival such that it would seem that many lost their strongest asset – a moral purpose. For me, the biggest loss within a dying LA is the voice of the most vulnerable – The loss of an influential and powerful voice for children with SEND. When LAs have spent 100 million fighting parents over SEND decisions in court (Losing 9 times out of 10) we see how bad things have got – Page 12 The Times 17/11/2018. When almost double the spend on SEND to mainstream schools goes out to private and independent providers educating a few hundred children we know that something is NOT right.
But, there was also a time when I saw an LA turn education around in Tower Hamlets and in Bristol. I saw amazing colleagues standing up and being counted for side by side. I saw change happen and I saw it make a difference. I saw an LA make us believe we could do our job better and galvanise a city. I felt the positive buzz of being part of this change. It felt amazing! There was a saying from a chief LA official in Bristol many years ago and we bought in to it.
‘My Child -Your Child – Our Children’
This was not some hippy throw away statement. This was a strategy and heads were held to account for it. The vast majority of us felt bound to it. It wasn’t perfect… but it was SO much better than what we see today. I worry that as the LAs have been ‘gutted’ that central ideology has bleed from our system. I don’t see any replacement for a collective responsibility any more. The only system that holds schools to account to that level would be a large MAT – But deep down they are only accountable to themselves… not the education system as a whole and they have their own issues to resolve. MATs were seen as the answer to ineffective LAs but the MAT system is just as isolated and I believe weaker for a reduced LA provision because guess what? They need those services as well. They need PRUs, behaviour support, mental health support, OTs, Speech and Language therapists, support for Early Help Assessments, Schools to help them spread out their lack of capacity… We are all in this together and therefore:
We see exclusions rise and continue to rise.
We see parents making legal claims about a lack of SEND provision and winning.
We hear head teachers desperately shouting that they are drowning is social issues that we can directly link to ‘austerity’ such as children and families living in poverty.
The ‘great misery’ we live in is based on political choice. On one level we are the 5th largest economy in the world… on another we accept homelessness, a lack of services for the most vulnerable and children not being safe.
With no LAs able to deal with this at a local level, with no funding going out to regions – it is hard not to see the death of the LA as social engineering of the highest order – all done under the shadow of more important matters – eg Brexit – Nothing like a crisis to hide a crisis.
I believe that it may be too late. As our government tears itself apart I don’t know what a change in attitude/ government could do to make things better. It feels it may just be too late for the LA. A few years ago it was bad but you saw the disbelief in the eyes of LA officials. Now, there is clarity about what is needed. The tune is – Here’s the money that is over spent on SEND by the Local Authority… Here it is schools. Now you sort it out! There is a strong submission that the LA cannot do it. There is no capacity, there is no money and therefore schools have to come together, under one roof and work it out. What someone failed to tell the Austerity Policy makers is when you smash something to pieces we need a good understanding of how it worked in the first place… there is no joined up thinking in local education for most schools now – especially in rural areas. There is no US in education. There’s just a shattered glass window of schools all trying to work out how to survive; never mind working out how to put us together again.