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FRONT LINE FIRST - EDUCATION

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With the extra£12.8bn for education in the spending review came a raft of targets for improving exam results. Meet...
With the extra£12.8bn for education in the spending review came a raft of targets for improving exam results. Meeting them will put the performance of education departments in the spotlight as never before.

The results of individual councils are likely to come under as much scrutiny as those of individual schools when the annual league tables are published.

And so they should. After all, councils like Tower Hamlets LBC and Birmingham City have shown that an effective local strategy can make a real difference to results. Without published results, it is unlikely those improvements would have occurred.

The publication of detailed data about how education cash is spent locally has driven up levels of delegation to 87.3% this year, up from just under 80% when Labour came to power.

But publication by itself is not enough. There has to be follow-up action. Without intervention, 800 failing schools would not have been turned around, or a further 150 closed.

Similarly, despite the controversies surrounding their introduction, companies like WS Atkins in Southwark LBC or the council-created Education Leeds have helped deliver many of the improvements.

There are at least four different ways councils are measured - and there must be room for some simplification so that parents, students and tax payers can hold education departments to account.

What is not needed is the legal requirement that the Conservatives introduced to accompany publication of Audit Commission indicators, too often leading to turgidly prescriptive supplements in council newspapers.

But the Department for Education & Skills should consider publishing an annual audit of education department performance, financial data and Ofsted's latest findings. Instead of burying data, as ministers did with the financial tables at the end of June, they should make it part of the communications cycle.

Local newspapers should be given ample time to use the data and education departments plenty of opportunity to prepare their responses.

There need to be refinements - the new council finance system is an excellent opportunity to introduce more clarity into the financial data.

And just as schools are compared on a value-added basis, it is time to emphasise the same measures with key stage test results and GCSE scores.

Some will argue that a high-profile publication focusing solely on education departments will lead to naming and shaming. But there is no longer the pressure for scrapping education departments that existed in Labour's first term - all the more reason for successes to be celebrated and shortcomings publicly acknowledged.

Conor Ryan

Special adviser (1997-2002) to former education secretary David Blunkett

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