Annal Nayyar blogs on report that DfE rejects centralisation of schools

The Department for Education (DfE) has rejected claims it has taken steps to centralise the education system by setting up a ‘middle tier’ of civil servants to supervise attainment levels in academy and non academy schools.

According to a leaked internal newsletter sent to the DfE’s Infrastructure and Funding Division, the department is to assume responsibility for school intervention work – a role traditionally undertaken by local authorities.

To this end the DfE last month set up a network of officials and consultants to scrutinise the performance of academy and maintained schools across nine English regions. This has been engineered to allow cross-collaboration with Ofsted’s newly established regional inspectorate to intervene in ‘failing schools’.

‘These changes help the academies group align itself with the new regional structures in Ofsted and the (Education Funding Agency), ensuring a more coherent view of local issues with better intelligence about schools and sponsors,’ the newsletter states.

Separate functions within the DfE, such as the Office of the Schools Commissioner and the Academies Delivery Group are to be merged into a single academies group with three main divisions covering the north, centre and south of England.

A Public Accounts Committee report last month into the academies expansion programme warned the DfE’s oversight of academies has had to play catch-up with the rapid growth in numbers – with the number of civil servants monitoring the finances of academies doubling, compared with a massive tenfold increase in schools removed from local authority control.

Council chiefs have also warned the watchdog’s findings reinforce the point that it’s impossible for government to manage thousands of schools from Whitehall when the DfE is planning radical cuts to its own headcount.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers told SecEd, the specialist secondary education news website: ‘I think we need a middle tier, but this looks like a middle tier without all the benefits, such as detailed local knowledge and routes into the community, which the best local authorities have provided.’

A DfE spokesman said: ‘Our reorganisation will allow us to work with underperforming schools on the ground to bring them up to the standards of the best.

‘By splitting into regional teams we can help both council-run schools and academies in each part of the country in a more efficient and effective way. This is not a “middle tier”. This is about helping to improve all schools that are underperforming

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