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COMMENT - LGA TREADS A PERILOUS PATH AROUND EDUCATION

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Challenging times await the Local Government Association's education department. ...
Challenging times await the Local Government Association's education department.

No sooner has the association responded to public criticism by its own staff about its restructure (LGC, 18 January), than a quarrel threatens to overshadow its plan for a new strategic way of working in its education division.

Genuine concern from education directors about the loss of specialist posts and the new project-based system means the already strained relationship between them and the association may disintegrate completely.

Rumblings from members of the association's education executive may compound the problem if fervent assurances are not given by the head of the education and social policy division, John Ransford.

But in effect, Mr Ransford's hands are tied. Chief executive Brian Briscoe and his management team have staked their credibility on the success of the association's new structure. They cannot make concessions to education directors and members before the new structure has had a chance to bed in, or they will be criticised for not believing in their own modernisation programme.

No one would intelligently argue the association's education department is not due for an overhaul. It is widely accepted a more dynamic department is desperately needed if it is to influence policy.

With Mr Ransford at the helm, the new division, which aims to be more flexible and faster on its feet, appeals to many, especially as Mr Ransford has a successful record with the association's former department of social affairs, health and housing.

The association has to balance the need for an efficient organisation with the requirement to meet the needs of all its members.

If the concerns of education directors are not considered the association is in danger of being usurped as the voice of local government education services.

A major threat comes from the Confederation of Education Officers which, once formed, will develop its own links with the Department for Education & Skills.

But the education establishment must take a significant share of the blame for local government's failure to take the lead on education policy. Whatever the problems, the association's new education and social policy division has the potential to be powerful and influential. And it is bound to be an improvement on the old, failed regime.

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