Create a London Commissioner for Schools and Young People
by Ben Rogers
In selecting these, we have identified policies that are:
- Significant ideas that would make a substantial contribution to tackling London’s challenges;
- Practical – could be introduced over the next four years, before the next election;
- Cost-neutral – could be introduced without significant increased spending
- Innovative – new ideas that have yet to be widely proposed;
- Broadly devolutionary – in keeping with our belief that Parliament should continue to devolve more responsibility to the GLA and downwards to local government.
PROPOSAL #6 CREATE A LONDON COMMISSIONER FOR SCHOOLS AND YOUNG PEOPLE
London’s schools have a good story to tell. The city has gone from having one of the worst performing schools system of any region in the UK to one of the best – on some measures the best. But London can’t afford to be complacent. The city is growing fast, necessitating the creation of a generation of new schools. As London becomes an ever more expensive place to live, this will effect teachers’ decisions about whether to teach in London. And it’s still the case that around half of London children leave school without the basic qualifications of 5 GCSEs including English and Maths. Too many London school leavers join the ranks of the unemployed or, even worse, get involved in crime. Finally, and most fundamentally, the way London’s schools are governed is no longer fit for purpose.
London is unusual among large cities in that the city authority, in the form of the Mayor and Greater London Assembly, has virtually no statutory responsibility for the city’s schools. Instead with the abolition of the ILEA quarter of a century ago, responsibility has been shared between the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) – in London, the 32 boroughs – which run the schools and other children’s services, and the Department of Education (DfE). That has now changed. The present government is seeking to encourage schools to break away from local authorities through promoting academies, and other non-LEA run schools. There are some good arguments for this – giving schools greater independence and encouraging competition between them can encourage innovation and drive improvement. But the policy is inevitably weakening the middle tier of school governance – the tier between the school and central government – and creating a very substantial increase in the power of DfE.
Yet we argue that the DfE is simply too centralised and distant an organisation to run London education. After all, the issues facing the capital schools are quite different from those facing schools elsewhere. London needs a strong middle tier able to support and challenge all schools (DfE interventions are aimed largely at the worst performing schools), manage capital investment, design and police admissions policy, oversee teacher recruitment and development, and promote cross-cutting initiatives and programmes.
We are not arguing that the Mayor should get directly involved in sponsoring or running schools – we don’t want a return of the ILEA. But we do believe that the Mayor should be empowered to appoint a London schools Commissioner, to sit alongside the existing Transport and Policing and Crime Commissioners, and the London Assembly should be responsible for scrutinsing the performance of London schools. The boroughs would still be responsible for running remaining LEA schools and other children’s services, including, vitally, social services. But the mayor should gain many of the powers currently exercised by the remote DfE, or not even exercised at all.