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‘From Better to Best’ , the Report of the Mayor of Liverpool’s Education Commission, came out last week. The Commission was chaired by Estelle Morris. Perhaps it will have some relevance to the Strategic Board proposed by our own Scrutiny committee at Birmingham City Council.

However, there is one section of the report which BCASE hopes Birmingham will not be attracted by. Liverpool has set up the Liverpool Learning Partnership, which is very similar to Birmingham’s newly agreed Education Partnership. Both are designed to bring together all the headteachers in the city in a new partnership with the local authority but which is clearly controlled by the headteachers. In neither are there representatives of parents, governors or local communities, or teachers and schoolstudents.

The first Recommendation of the Liverpool report is that ‘Liverpool Learning Partnership should be acknowledged as the lead agency in the development of the strategic vision for education in the city.’ (p51). This raises a fundamental question of education policy at the local level. In the new partnerships the local authority may be able to exercise influence but power lies almost entirely with the headteachers not with the local authority – not just at individual school level, which has long been the case, but, and this is new, explicitly at authority-wide level as well, exercised collectively by the corps of headteachers. The question is, why should the  development of the strategic vision for education in a city such as Liverpool or Birmingham be the responsibility almost exclusively of headteachers? What should be the legitimate role of elected local government, and of parents and other stakeholders in the community in policy decision-making in the local school system, even if it is in effect only in an advisory capacity at this stage?

What is at stake here is the relationship between representative democracy and participatory democracy, and specifically fundamental and contested issues of democratic rights in local education policy-making at the city-wide level, revolving around issues of the politics of voice and the politics of knowledge: whose voices, whose knowledge and what kinds of knowledge count in educational governance.

 While BCASE appreciates that the Birmingham Education Partnership is at a very early stage and the priority at this point is to get all the headteachers on board without imposing conditions, we do hope that in the future there will be moves to enable wider participation in it.

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