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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 07:25 GMT
Heads back local authorities
pupils boarding school bus
Heads do not want to organise transport
Most of England's head teachers want education authorities to keep their main functions but to do them better, a poll suggests.

They thought the authorities were best placed to support schools in difficulties, make arrangements for excluded pupils, organise school transport and plan for the supply of school places.

There was a split between primary schools and secondaries - with almost two thirds of the secondary heads wanting greater delegation of money and responsibilities.

The poll of 1,000 primary, secondary and special school head teachers was carried out by Mori for the Department for Education.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, plans to use the findings in a speech on Tuesday to the Adam Smith Institute think tank.

'Ideological preconceptions'

He is expected to say they show the need for a balance between central government intervention and local autonomy in reforming education.

"The right balance is not impossible," he will say - giving as an example the national literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools.

"Our balanced approach may challenge old ideological preconceptions about the role of government - but it is working and we are determined to continue to change the culture of our education system so that it can be truly world class."

The findings take on a political significance in view of the Conservative "free schools" policy, which would give head teachers far more control over what they do.

When the pollsters asked who should carry out functions such as school transport, special needs and excluded pupils, between 68% and 86% thought local education authorities (LEAs) should - rather than schools themselves or, for example, the education department.

More delegation

One of the options was "Groups of schools". The shadow education secretary, Theresa May, has spoken of "clusters" of schools coming together to buy services under a Conservative government.

This option typically found favour with only a few per cent of the head teachers.

But 41% wanted to see greater delegation of funding and responsibilities from their LEA - although there was a marked split between primary schools (37%) and secondaries (61%).

Premises and liability insurance were functions they wanted control over - definitely not the maintenance of grounds and buildings.

Just over half wanted to take on responsibility for special educational needs statementing, which specifies the provision the pupil should have and the type of school they should attend.

Responding to the survey, Theresa May said Conservatives wanted to free schools from the bureaucratic controls of central and local government.

"We are convinced by the experience of grant-maintained schools and from speaking to many head teachers all over the country that devolving power for them to spend money as they see fit is the way forward," she said.

Local authorities would still have a role to play, for example in the statementing of children with special educational needs, but it would be significantly reduced.

Direct funding

One in five heads wanted "other" things - not specified in the survey - to be delegated.

More than four fifths said they liked the recent trend towards delegating more central funding direct to their schools.

They were using the money for everything from employing teachers and non-teaching staff to buying equipment and repairing buildings.

Asked what they thought the future role of LEAs should be, a quarter opted for "remain as they are", 27% "improve, with greater delegation" and 44% "improve (but not necessarily with greater delegation)".

Five per cent wanted to see them abolished.

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12 Feb 01 | Education
Comprehensives set for overhaul
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