The golden era for Local Education Authorities (LEAs) in England and Wales was between the end of the Second World War and the 1974 reorganization of local government, when their position in a national system of education locally administered seemed assured. Reorganization ushered in a more corporate style of management and curbed the autonomy of Education Committees. LEAs now occupy a more ambiguous position in the education system, and are sometimes perceived within local government as a cuckoo in the nest, arousing envy and suspicion alike over the size of their budgets and their apparent need to do things differently from the rest of local government because of the nature of their clientele. Much of the ambiguity about their role and purpose stems from a stream of legislation that devolved a number of their responsibilities to schools, and also transferred greater powers to central government. Government policy has veered between a preference for abolition and a recognition that LEAs were needed at least to carry out those responsibilities that private providers would find unattractive, most notably provision for children with special education needs. In the past ten years, LEAs have lost a number of responsibilities; for example, their role in both further and higher education and their pre-eminent position as a provider of adult education have been steadily eroded.
   LEAs have also had to adjust to the reality of working with other organizations, including a variety of quangos, and to bidding for funds in order to secure services for their local population. The creation of grant-maintained schools (see schools system) was a halfway measure that was intended to lead to their demise; much other legislation has been destabilizing as it has left LEAs with responsibilities but with limited power to act. However, antipathy towards LEAs transcends party political lines and there is a perception, at least amongst some MPs, of bureaucracy, unresponsiveness and ineffectiveness at tackling underachievement. In recent years there have been major changes in the way LEAs operate and, in a period of postelection consensus building, their position seems secure provided they can demonstrate effectiveness in delivering the government’s agenda of raising achievement in schools. The inspection of LEAs will be an influence in this, but over the past ten years LEAs have become more diverse and it is not clear that they will have the resources with which to monitor, evaluate, advise and intervene effectively. While the cosy corporatism that once existed between officers, elected members and teacher unions has largely disappeared, amongst the challenges LEAs will face in the future is how to communicate their purpose to a wider public and how to become an effective advocate on behalf of parents while at the same time maintaining an overview of the needs of the whole local system. It is these kinds of pragmatic issues that will decide their fate, rather than an appeal for survival based on the preservation of local democracy.
   In Scotland, the culture of governance has been different from England and Wales and the principle of Scottish Local Authorities (SLAs) working in partnership with the Scottish Office is one of the cornerstones of the education system that has been preserved. Many of the changes that have been introduced in England and Wales have been introduced in only a diluted form in Scotland without a substantial impact on the role of the SLAs. There was little or no interest in schools opting out of the SLA system, and devolved school management has been a much more limited initiative compared with the local management of schools in England and Wales. School boards in Scotland have few of the managerial responsibilities of their counterpart governing bodies south of the border. Much more significant has been the reorganization of local government, which broke up some very large authorities to create thirty-two smaller unitary authorities that have and will find difficulty in maintaining the level of service that schools have become used to.
   The reforms in Northern Ireland have more closely followed those in England and Wales, including a similar approach to local management with devolved responsibilities given to school boards and a Northern Ireland national curriculum. The five Education and Libraries Boards (ELBs) are wholly responsible for the schools under their management, including the provision of a curriculum and advice service, but they have no powers to inspect the quality of education in their schools. Until the 1997 general election intervened, there were proposals to completely reorganize the ELBs and greatly reduce their responsibilities.
   See also: schools system
   Further reading
    MacMahon, A. (1990) A Handbook for LEAs, London: Chapman.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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