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Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 12:54 GMT
Schools 'not helped' by their councils
council education committee
There is praise for some education authorities
Education and spending watchdogs have said that "excessive" changes in government initiatives mean some education authorities in England are more of a hindrance than a help in raising school standards.

They said poor political leadership by councillors, as well as "inept" management by officials, was often to blame for authorities' failings.


The report provides little comfort for those who argue for abolition and it provides little comfort for those who make exaggerated claims for local authorities

Mike Tomlinson
The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the Audit Commission were reporting on the findings of inspections of 91 of the 150 English local education authorities and re-inspections of 10 of them.

The inspections had revealed little correlation between what LEAs did and the standards achieved by their schools.

"Overall, the variability in the quality of LEA support for schools and the apparent slightness of evidence for its effectiveness in raising standards are disappointing findings, although they remain at this stage tentative," said the report.

'Not positive'

"The success or otherwise of LEAs is, however, most likely to be judged by their effectiveness in raising expectations and overcoming the effects of socio-economic disadvantage.

"The evidence as it stands does not suggest a positive overall conclusion."

LEAs 'named and shamed' in the report
Bradford
Leeds
Leicester
Bristol
Liverpool
Walsall
Rotherham
Rochdale
Hackney
Islington
Haringey
Southwark
Waltham Forest
Sandwell
The chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, made it clear the findings were not a gift to the Conservative party, which has pledged to scrap local education authorities under a "free schools policy".

"I have said it provides little comfort for those who argue for abolition and it provides little comfort for those who make exaggerated claims for local authorities," Mr Tomlinson said at a news conference at Ofsted's headquarters in London.

The report, LEA Support for School Improvement, found that most LEAs perform the majority of their functions adequately.

Some were "impressive" organisations, and some of those which had been inspected more than once had made "startling" progress.

But rather more were performing unsatisfactorily - impeded not only by incompetence, but by the uncertainty and poor performance arising from excessive changes in government initiatives over a number of years.

Not making a difference

Among nine recommendations, the report said LEAs had to work out whether they were the best providers of particular services or whether those duties should be contracted out, perhaps to the private sector.

mike tomlinson
Ofsted's chief, Mike Tomlinson: "Evidence-based report"
Ofsted's chief inspector, Mike Tomlinson, said: "This report gives little comfort to those who believe LEAs should be abolished, but it also disposes of some of the exaggerated claims that are made for them.

"There are some unpalatable messages here, but the report is an attempt to bring evidence, and reason, to an area of debate dominated by ideology.

"I hope it is read carefully and in a positive spirit by all who have the interests of schools at heart."

Progress

The Audit Commission's director of LEA inspection, Jane Wreford, said: "LEAs had to deal with the challenge of new government requirements such as delegated budgets, asset management plans and school organisational plans.

"We are glad to see that generally progress has been good in these areas of LEA management, but the hard work must continue if the benefits are to be fully realised."

LEAs praised in the report
Corporation of London
Coventry
Kensington & Chelsea
Warwickshire
Lewisham
Birmingham
Oxfordshire
Hammersmith & Fulham
Hartlepool
Newham
Wandsworth
Barking & Dagenham
City of York
North Yorkshire
Solihull
Hertfordshire
Camden
Bury
The School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, was present at the publication of the report.

"I'm unhappy but not surprised about the difference between local authorities," she said.

But she insisted that LEAs were a necessary part of the education system.

"We wouldn't be celebrating the literacy and numeracy results we have got now had we not had local authorities to support schools in what they are doing," she said.

"There are a significant number of authorities where the spur of Ofsted inspections has effected real improvements and we want that process to continue."

The Local Government Association said Ofsted had taken acknowledged the pressure put on councils to implement the government's education policies.

Education chairman Graham Lane said the report showed the new chief inspector had seen the "excellent work in some LEAs while recognising other authorities had difficulty implementing the wide range of government initiatives".

See also:

31 Jan 01 | Education
Helping schools to improve
27 Jun 00 | Education
Call for education authority overhaul
17 May 00 | Education
More firms to run education services
13 Dec 00 | Hot Topics
Under scrutiny
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