I was a Deputy Head when the system was implemented, taking on my headship in 1990, so this was at the early stages of the system. There were occasional teething problems, but these were often to do with the IT system, rather than decision making.
With a fourteen year career in schools ahead of the change, I had been used to the situation where staffing and school running costs were covered by the County, while the school had a budget of around £3000 that covered the stationery needs for the year, ordered through County Supplies.
Decisions were relatively simple. Staff (teachers and office) were needed and appointed, without regard to cost, utilities were a central cost, school meal money went in and out and we (usually) had the basic equipment that we needed. Mind you, for “extras”, we relied on the PTA coffee and cake morning or the jumble sales, donations or charity shop visits. Sticky backed plastic covered washing powder or cereal boxes as filing boxes, while painted tobacco tins or washed vegetable tins housed rubbers and pencils. We “made do and mended”. February and March were often major spend months, as any unspent budget went back into the central pot, rather than carry forward. It was the season of the “white elephant” purchases; shelf fillers that played little part in the classrooms.
However, with a newly delegated budget of around £400k, it was clear that there was money available to enhance the staffing and to undertake some significant improvements across the school. I know that I am an inherently cautious person, deriving from a childhood that may not have been poor, but was not particularly well off. I hate being in debt. The budget was apportioned according to priority decisions and, running this for the year, with purchasing decisions that enabled additional savings, created a small surplus at the year end, to carry forward into the next year.
Staffing changes within the first few years of headship enabled strategic decisions that also enabled the employment of more classroom assistance, to the advantage of the teachers. Proper subject budgets were created, with subject managers creating an annual plan for purchase, based on a simple replacement / improvement model. In that way, stock could be maintained, but the “nice to have’s” at subject or whole school level, could be explored through discussion, for benefit to learning across the school.
A regularly rising roll also helped to increase the available funding. Success bred a good reputation, which recruited and retained both children and staff.
Time was spent making plans and overall decisions. Once done, the budget ran with minor tweaks to circumstance and, for the 16 years of my headship, we never went into deficit. Occasionally, temporary solutions from one year allowed the resolution of the following year’s potential issues.
We were able to appoint specialist support TA staff for practical science and technology, so this went from strength to strength, as did art, PE and music, with teacher expertise and expectation rising with the higher quality outcomes.
It was an important part of my headship that I had the ability to make the strategic decisions that would affect me and the school over time, if I was to create an environment where the teachers could just get on with the job of working with the children in their classes. “Have we got…?” or “Can we have….?” With immediate need, doesn’t support uninterrupted teaching.
And now, LMS is under threat.
The freedoms of the past 28 years could be lost over the next six years as schools are expected to move into an Academy structure. I can see how, in the early days of academisation, the first Academies effectively became stand-alone businesses, with the benefits of LMS, but operating with autonomy. Stand alone business make their own decisions, much like a LMS school, but without Local Authority as a reference point, unless services are bought back.
The new view of academisation is of schools being a part of a multi-academy trust, (MAT), just part of a collective. It appears to be the case that the MAT holds the purse strings and makes, to a large extent, the decisions across the MAT. Staff are employed by the MAT, rather than the school, so could, should the MAT decide, move the staff to need, or employ staff across the MAT on a daily basis. This can imply an economy of scale, especially in a shortage subject, but could also be a potential negative.
The management structure of a MAT can make it seem like a small Local or Unitary Authority, with CEO and back office needs “top slicing” MAT funding, to address common needs, HR, H&S, Legal, Finance…
Executive Heads oversee Heads of School. I can see an element of deference possible within the relationship, with the Head of School possibly less able to make the day to day decisions that I was able to make.
Academisation has the potential to turn the clock back to before 1988. Without geographical localism, coordination will become more difficult. Expertise from one area may not transfer easily into a very different context. There are no guarantees that such a significant change in the system will have the impact expected.
Local schools have local issues, created by geography, demographics, educational opportunity and employment prospects. Each of these will impact on local valuing of education, the ability to recruit high quality staff, local housing costs (rental and bought), school budget ability to enhance opportunity, richness of local learning opportunities.
Local issues need local solutions, which can derive from case studies from similar areas, but which need to be adjusted to the specific needs of the locality. The “had to improve” school equates to the “hard to reach” parent issue. Both need reflective analysis, good communication and relationships, shared understanding of the issues and then a shared plan for resolution, supported by local and wider expertise. It may need a short term injection of additional money for specific elements of the project.
Just to academise the schools will not support the resolution of the problem. In fact, it could make it worse, with centralised funds incapable of being diverted to the specific needs of the challenging school, whereas a local council may be able to address this need.
Don’t let LMS disappear; a locality demands local solutions.
Local Management of Schools is a necessary element of whole system improvement. Just focus on the schools with identifiable issues, for the sake of the whole system.
I'd deploy HMI to take a significant lead in this specific area of school improvement, to:-
Share good practice, in writing, through blogging, through video or through supported visits.
Get teachers talking together, not just within their chain; to avoid “group-think”.
Make sure the available money works to enhance learning and teaching, not to support the management layers of multi-academy trusts.
Education benefits from economy of scale. Ensure the benefits are used to benefit education.
Simplify to amplify. If most schools are good, focus on the schools in greatest need.