The Local Government Association (LGA) reacted positively to the speech given by Secretary of State for Education and Skills Ruth Kelly MP at their conference in which she called for closer cooperation between central and local government.

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) are the department responsible for the national education frameworks, for the strategies that must be implemented to achieve a state that the Government sees as in the long term best interests of the people and the economy. But there seems to be a growing recognition that this can only be achieved with the cooperation of local councils rather than over their heads.

Two Heads are Better Than One

Ruth Kelly spoke at some length of the challenges facing the Education sector, covering such subjects as Foundation Schools, Skills Academies, the Youth Green Paper and the new 14 "“ 19 Skills white paper. And she welcomed the "Champions of Local Learning" document launched by the conference, saying: "I hear echoes of all these themes in "Champions of Local Learning" the LGA consultation paper on this subject that you"ve published recently."

She recognised that both central and local government would need to change to bring this coordinated effort about. In the case of central government, she supports "Local Area Agreements, the reduction in ring fencing, fewer required plans and the move to much lighter touch inspection." However, she also calls for local councils to "do more to give strong leadership, raise standards and empower citizens."

Unlike some voices that emerge from the Whitehall jungle, Ruth Kelly does not believe that the only way to push forward the national agenda successfully is to bypass local government. She calls for local government to work with the DfES in determining "how"¦we help young people in your area achieve higher standards and greater equity?" And, in conclusion, she made it clear that rather than this representing a compromise forced on central government, she sees this as "an unprecedented opportunity for local government to take the lead in securing, for the next generation, the best possible start in life."

The LGA Respond and Focus on the Learner

This proposed engagement was welcomed by the LGA. Councillor James Kempton, the Vice Chair for the LGA Children and Young People, said: "A strong local authority acting as the champion for learners and for parents is essential if increased choice and diversity of provision are to be harnessed in a way that enables each learner to fulfil their potential"¦ We will gladly take up the Minister's offer to hear about what tools we need to play this role even more effectively."

However, he did insert a note of caution following Ruth Kelly's statement regarding the proposed closure of any school failing after one year. He commented: "School closure cannot be an end in itself. It can be effective only if it leads to greater choice and ensures that all children receive the education they deserve. Elected councils lead local education strategies to serve all and the real priority is ensuring every child receives a quality education."

He called for local councils to have the support needed for this proposal: "As champion of child and parent, councils cannot tolerate schools that fail their children and therefore the community. We would support any measure that strengthens our hand in tackling failure and supporting improvement." The most important note, as he said, was the impact that a local authority can have on improving the lot of all learners: "councils are making a real difference to attainment through championing the learner, and through forging partnerships focused on the needs of the learner, not the provider."

Jethro Marsh

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