Birmingham’s Labour education chief has been urged to listen to head teachers before ploughing ahead with plans to create a cooperative for the city’s newly formed academy schools.
The call came from the opposition Tory education spokesman James Bird, who said he feared the proposed cooperative trust will be an expensive flop.
The trust is being set up by Labour cabinet member for education Brigid Jones as the city council seeks to redefine its role as more schools opt out of local education authority (LEA) control under the academy and free school systems promoted by the Government.
Already, more than half of secondary schools and almost a quarter of primary schools have taken or are in the process of taking academy status under which they are funded directly by the Department for Education – rather than via the LEA.
As academies they are no longer committed to buying services, such as school dinners and catering, outdoor activities and even the admissions services from the city council.
Now the Labour-run council is drawing up the cooperative trust which it hopes to persuade head teachers to join and commit to buying support services from the city council. Such a move would enable the city council to maintain its education department.
But Coun Bird (Cons, Sutton New Hall) believes that such a move could backfire.
He said: “With so many schools going down the academy route and taking their services from other providers these council services will no longer be viable.
“The outdoor learning centres is an example, the head teachers I speak to do not want the council’s service. This puts a question mark over the council’s role going forward.”
It is a question which the council’s education scrutiny committee is currently attempting to answer.
Coun Bird said that he is concerned the new trust is being established for the good of the education department, with a concentration on pay and conditions of staff, and not for the schools or pupils.
“We should be asking head teachers and schools whether they are in favour of the model being put forward, because if they do not get involved it will fall apart.”
He added that the admissions service is an example of one which is successful and highly valued by heads.
But he warned: “We should not be looking to fund outdated learning services which will go on losing money. It doesn’t help the taxpayer.”
The shadow cabinet member said that the council does have a role to play, but it might be as the host of a schools forum rather than a rigid cooperative trust.
Coun Bird took over from former councillor Les Lawrence as the Tory education lead in Birmingham and the two have rather different opinions on academies.
As Birmingham’s Cabinet member for education and children’s services, Lawrence frequently clashed with successive government education secretaries Ed Balls and Michael Gove because of his resistance to academies.
Coun Bird, on the other hand, is fully behind the academy programme and backs Mr Gove’s pledge that all schools should become academies.
At the start of the summer Coun Jones began consultation over the new school’s co-operative trust and insists it was an idea which came out of talks with head teachers.
Discussions are ongoing over the proposals and nature of the trust.
She said: “This is about reinventing the LEA. The council does not have control of schools and has not had control for a few years now. The power very much lies with the head teachers, if they are not on board then it cannot go ahead. The council will facilitate, not control that cooperative.”
She said that many heads they had spoken to agreed that some sort of city wide framework for cooperation is needed.
The consultation is expected to conclude by the end of the year after which firm proposals will be put forward.