Schools plan means more parental power

SHEFFIELD schools are facing a devolution revolution - as they take charge of services previously controlled by the city council.

New localised 'families of schools' will take responsibility for educational standards in the area and involve parents in identifying spending priorities.

Schools will be supported by a new city-wide partnership body run by representatives of headteachers, governors, parents, young people and the council.

It will take over the commissioning of essential support services that cannot be tackled at a local level - such as provision for children with special needs.

The changes are being introduced as a result of Government plans to give schools greater control over their funding and cut unnecessary bureaucracy.

Heads and other educational professionals attended a summit in October to decide how Sheffield schools would respond to the proposals.

They decided against an 'every man for himself' policy, opting to keep in place the city's existing 'family of schools' approach.

The new devolved system will have to cope with reduced funding - with cash for nurseries and children's centres set to be slashed by 10 per cent in 2011-12 on top of previous cuts.

The hope is the new groups of schools will be able to respond more effectively and efficiently to local needs, with parents able to influence more directly how and what services are provided.

The council's new role will be to oversee the quality of provision for pupils and parents, putting on pressure where standards fall without any conflict of interest.

But it will be less able to provide essential city-wide services due to schools controlling the lion's share of the funding.

Schools instead will 'buy back' services from the council - such as payroll administration or legal help - or commission them from different providers such as the voluntary sector.

A report to be studied by councillors next week forecasts that more Sheffield schools are likely to convert into independent Academies, with four currently considering their position.

Ministers are also threatening to directly intervene and turn schools with GCSE pass rates of under 35 per cent into Academies - with Chaucer, City and Hinde House currently failing to make that grade.

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