Reforms to the English education system under the UK's coalition government are building on the so-called 'schools revolution' that previous Labour governments began through legislation increasing both schools' autonomy from local authorities and the system's diversity. Growing numbers of state-funded schools have converted to academies outside local authority control, particularly since the Academies Act 2010, while opportunities have emerged for 'free schools' to be established by various interest groups. The right to establish a school has normative human rights underpinnings, yet the government's policy as a whole is particularly controversial due to the increased risk of social division, instability of local schooling arrangements and significantly reduced local democratic accountability for state funded education. This article questions whether, against a background of three decades of centralising educational reform and a concomitant decline in the role of local (education) authorities, the local public interest in education is being adequately safeguarded. © 2012 The Modern Law Review Limited.