Research and evaluation

Action research into the evolving role of local authorities in education

“Isos’ understanding of the context of our work and existing knowledge of the sectors engaged in the study have been especially valuable...”


What did we do?

The Department for Education and the Local Government Association jointly commissioned Isos to undertake a nine month action research project exploring how the role of local authorities was evolving in response to the growing number of academies and Free Schools and the consequent changes to the education landscape. The research focused on three specific areas of local authority responsibility:

  • ensuring the supply of sufficient school places and provision of schools;

  • promoting high standards in education and tackling underperformance; and

  • supporting vulnerable children, including those with SEN and disabilities, excluded children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We selected eight local authorities which provided a broad and balanced sample in terms of geography, urban/rural context, and the distribution of academies, community schools and free schools. We then carried out initial fieldwork visits to all the local authorities during which we interviewed senior local authority officers, local members, and headteachers to establish a baseline for how the roles of the local authority and the relationships with their schools had evolved. We then grouped the participating local authorities into two action learning sets and worked with them over the course of four months to identify pressing and immediate barriers to the effective operation of a school-led self-improving education system and to generate practical solutions that could be implemented. The findings of the evidence gathering phase and the action research were written up in an authoritative report, which included detailed case studies of promising interventions to address some of the most pressing challenges being posed by the evolution to new ways of working.

What difference did we make?

The report was delivered to the Ministerial Advisory Group, chaired by the Secretary of State. It was welcomed by the Department for Education and the LGA, and helped to shape their future policy thinking. The outcomes of the research also gained real traction with a number of local authorities across the country who found the examples of innovative practice and the strategic conception of how the local authority role in education as a whole was evolving to be a helpful stimulus for their own strategic planning. Those authorities which participated in the action research found the opportunity to learn from and with their peers, and to jointly solve problems in real-time, a very valuable experience.

What did the client say about our work?

“We were very impressed with Isos’ efficient management of the project and with the way in which you adapted your work to fit with a demanding timetable. Not only have you delivered to time on each occasion, but the products have been of a consistently high standard. Your understanding of the context of our work and your existing knowledge of the sectors engaged in the study have been especially valuable in this project and are reflected in the thoughtful and balanced final report. We also appreciate the additional work that you have willingly taken on to assist us in the management of the research and engagement of our various stakeholders.”