Back from the dead: A new ILEA to give all kids the same opportunities

London comprehensive schools in the 1970s and 1980s weren’t the happiest places on earth. I should know, I went to one. The teaching was often crap; bullies reigned supreme; and the mullet was fast gaining ground as an acceptable hairstyle. But the one positive was that schools in London back then were underpinned by a political desire for equality of opportunity.

Schools need a body that can oversee the whole system 

The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) ran the schools of the 12 Inner London boroughs and the City from 1965 until its abolition in 1990. The ILEA aimed to bring equality to education, overseeing the move to a fully comprehensive education system. And it stopped teachers hitting kids — something many resident school psychos had been enjoying for decades. Despite the many improvements in London’s schools in the last few decades, the ILEA’s noble aim of giving every child the same opportunities has been steadily eroded despite the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988.

One reason for this is the plethora of different types of schools. When I was at school, the divide was between state and private. Today the state sector is being atomised and includes council-run schools, academies, religious schools, University Technical Colleges and free schools, with varied philosophies and resources. Free schools are often set up by parents who are keen to fix its ethos. Like academies and private schools, they do not have to follow the National Curriculum.

As a result, it looks likely that parts of the country could end up with lots of notional curricula rather than a National Curriculum. Another factor in the erosion of equality in education is that this hotchpotch of school structures has been matched – and perhaps encouraged by - varying expectations of the purpose of education and what schools are for. Parents increasingly expect schools to adapt to them or their children rather than the other way around – from incorporating religious ideology in the classroom to adapting school dinner menus to suit a range of diets. I have recently seen a convert to Islam insist that the school change its teaching so that his daughter does not read or write fiction, listen to music, draw or paint pictures of animate objects, go swimming or go on school trips. I’ve seen another mum berate the school for not doing more to mark St George’s Day and other patriotic events.

Although these demands have been resisted, it is becoming harder for free schools and academies have fewer resources than council education authorities to resist parents’ whimsical demands. The result is an erosion of the equality of opportunity that has remained one of the central tenets of the eduction system.

Schools need a body that can oversee the whole system and ensure that council, free and academy schools all respond in a similar way to the demands and needs of pupils. Something like that used to exist with the ILEA.

Having a body running London’s schools again would bring stability and consistency

The ILEA had many faults and was both bureaucratic and political — but its board was directly elected and was able to pool the world-class resources London has to offer. It pioneered teaching computer skills and adult education, which were emulated by others around the UK.

We need a similar London-wide authority, based within the Greater London Authority to do the same again today in all 36 boroughs. It could become a court of appeal for parents and headteachers to resolve conflicts, and apply the rulings uniformly across the city and between different types of schools. With time, it could also become a source of knowledge that would be invaluable for schools.

Having a general body running London’s schools again would bring a degree of stability and consistency to the classroom, helping teachers to focus on teaching rather than management. By having a uniformity of management across London, our kids might again have some kind of equality in education — whatever type of school they go to.

The writer is a governor at an inner city London primary school 

More about the author

About the author

Penelope Trunchbull is a pseudonym for a governor at two state schools in North London. She has a long and varied career in education but sadly she cannot reveal where.

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