“Tory councils warn of £600m black hole after demise of education bill”

“Conservative council leaders are warning they face a £600m black hole in budgets to improve struggling schools after the government last week pulled the plug on its education bill.

With council budgets already under severe pressure after years of austerity, some say they may need maintained schools to contribute from their own shrinking budgets, while others may be forced to cut support services they provide to local schools, leaving them vulnerable to decline.

The threat to school improvement services comes as Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, described England’s schools as “mediocre but getting better”, giving the education system a rating of “6.5 out of 10”.

Local authorities – including Conservative-run county councils in Kent, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire – say they have been left in limbo by the government’s axing of educational services grants worth £600m ahead of passing the bill that would have curtailed the role of local authorities in maintaining community schools in England.

But the demise, announced to parliament by education secretary Justine Greening last Thursday, of the education for all bill, means councils will still be legally required to run school improvement services next year and meet other costs, such as maternity cover for teachers, but without funding from central government.

Martin Tett, the Conservative leader of Buckinghamshire county council, condemned the government’s failure to coordinate its funding and support for the many state schools that have not become academies.

“What we now have is a situation where the grant is being removed but the responsibilities will remain, particularly the statutory responsibility with regard to school improvement. And councils at the moment – particularly upper-tier councils, like county councils – are very financially stretched,” Tett said.

“This is a massive issue for us, because we have an important role in school improvement – not only supporting schools that require improvement or are in special measures, but actually stopping schools from reaching that stage in first place, by intervening early in a preventative approach.That costs money and, at the moment, that money is disappearing.”

The cuts will affect the bulk of the more than 20,000 state schools in England which are still maintained by their local authorities, rather than the fewer than 5,000 academies which are funded directly by central government.

Research by the County Councils Network – representing 37 unitary authorities and county councils – has found that more than two-thirds of academies choose to purchase school improvement services from their local authority, meaning that academies also rely on council support in many places. …”