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SKIDMORE CHRISChris Skidmore is Member of Parliament for Kingswood and a member of the Education Select Committee. Follow Chris on Twitter.

Over the past three years, Michael Gove’s
tenure at the Department for Education has produced nothing short of a
revolution in education, with no sign of slowing down: the introduction of free
schools, controversial changes to the national curriculum, the extension of
the academies programme – and now further changes to make GCSEs more robust
qualifications have meant that the Department’s programme for reform has been
one of the benchmarks of the coalition’s success. With so much already being
achieved, this should not mean that we should let our foot slip off the accelerator
of reform, but to constantly ask ourselves the question: where next?

One of the most pressing problems we should be
turning our attention towards is the large inequalities in performance between
Local Authorities. Ofsted’s report last year picked up on the huge variations
across the country in the chances a child has of attending a primary school
ranked good or outstanding. While nine out of ten children in Camden and Barnet
will get to attend such a school for those in Derby and Coventry that figure
drops to just four out of ten, leaving the majority in schools in need of
improvement.

These variations exist at least in part
because, unfortunately, there are a significant number of local authorities that are simply failing to make use of the tools they have been given to
improve schools. The Ofsted report revealed that of the three authorities with
the greatest proportion of schools found to be inadequate between 2007 and
2011 – Leicester, Bournemouth, and North East Lincolnshire – two hadn’t issued a
single warning notice. Looking at the 17 authorities where ten per cent or more of
schools were found to be inadequate, it was found that only ten had issued any
such notices. A similarly poor usage of Interim Executive Boards was
discovered, with almost half of authorities having not used even one, despite having
the kind of weak schools which IEBs were introduced to help quickly turn
around.


A similar story can be told about the use of
academies by authorities. Data I obtained last week from the Department
for Education shows that the academies programme, which frees schools from local authority control, is often not reaching these failing authorities
where it has the potential to transform the education of pupils locked into
failing schools. Out of the ten authorities with the lowest percentage of
pupils achieving the English Baccalaureate in 2010, eight had less than the
average proportion of secondary schools with academy status in 2013, which
stands at 50 per cent. For five of these the proportion with academy status was
less than half the average, with Barking and Dagenham, where there are no
academies and just four per cent of pupils achieve the EBacc, standing out as the
most shocking.

These failing Local Authorities aren’t ceding
control of schools fast enough. The next step in the education revolution
should be to see more authorities that are consistently failing pupils
and acting as a barrier to young people achieving their aspirations being
replaced by Learning Trusts. This has worked wonders for Hackney, where in 2002
the local authority was replaced by a private, not-for-profit company after
years of poor performance. The Trust has transformed education in Hackney. In
2010, 15 per cent of pupils achieved the EBacc, more than three times as many as
in failing Barking and Dagenham. The Trust is also serving its most
disadvantaged pupils well. Out of the 150 Local Authorities it had the 11th lowest attainment gap in 2012 between students on free school meals and those
not who achieved level 2 Maths and English, one of the key basic achievements
of a secondary education.

As more information is being obtained it is
becoming increasingly clear that some Local Authorities are simply not up to
scratch. As Ofsted have very rightly concluded ‘the quality of intervention and
support provided by Local Authorities is too variable’.

With the boundless energy shown by the
Department for Education there is a real opportunity to start making a
difference by removing those authorities that are failing and continue to
fail to provide their pupils with a good education out of the education system
altogether. Instead, by replacing them with Learning Trusts that can be solely
focussed on raising standards for pupils, especially in areas of deprivation
where problems are often more acute would help tackle an arbitrary system where
the politics of local authority control of education is having a detrimental
impact on the quality of education available to children. If we are happy to
stand up to failing schools, then we should also do so for failing local
authorities. The removal of their control over pupils’ education would be a
worthy next step for the education revolution. 

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