In Defence of "Town Halls" I Oxford Open Learning

In Defence of “Town Halls”

512px-Town_Hall,_Brighton,_EnglandThere is an ‘itch’. A local government itch. It’s to do with town halls, shire halls and county halls and nobody knows what to do with it. It’s a policy problem, like so many others, and a lot of different people all think they know best. And keep tinkering.

Consider the old town hall, with its steps up, big doors, clerks doing paperwork and lots of seats. You’re going to have to wait, possibly for a long time. A bit like in a hospital but maybe, hopefully, not quite so serious. Rent arrears? Just take a seat please.

You can elect a local council which is keen, energetic, knowledgeable, and helpful; if they can’t help you with a local problem, they ‘know a man who can’. Or you can get the other type – the ones I’m most familiar with. In their case, they run local services like schools, because they are supposed to be locally accountable within a national framework. And the local body, probably these same county councils, have, as a direct result, attracted highly proficient professionals to help ensure their schools perform well according to all the correct criteria. And that children learn well and are safe in them.

So what’s the ‘itch’ all about? From time to time powerful forces decide “this isn’t good enough” and that local people don’t care enough. All they see is the ‘dead hand of the town hall’. So “there has to be a better way”. Indeed, in education, as you may have noticed, one of those times is now. We’re fast gaining experience of academies, with their different forms of governance and greater degrees of independence. The latest initiative is the creation of a “National Teaching Service” which will have the job of taking over “failing” schools. There are going to be 1500 Superteachers. And “commissioners” will be able to remove “failing” leadership if necessary.

Is all this a good idea? It certainly leads to confusion about the role of town and county halls and possibly local government generally if they are seen to be overridden like this. Again. Also, didn’t improvements happen before? Well, yes they did. Those professionals I mentioned have been doing their best, where possible, to help schools make that happen. Is it a bit harsh? If you want schools to improve reliably and fast, maybe not. Will it work? The traditional kind of schools support staff tended to have accumulated experience and expertise to help them with their task. So it rather depends on the quality of the “NTS”.

And don’t forget, teachers have been saying for some time that too many changes get in the way of their work.
So we shall see. But what do you think?

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I'm semi-retired after a successful and much enjoyed career in education. Funnily enough, my last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. I've had an interesting career, in schools, colleges, adult education, the Arts and a few other bits and bobs. At one stage I was also a local authority inspector. Now I'm a school governor, and am enjoying watching my young grandchildren go through their own first experiences of school. Through these articles I hope to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested!

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