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FRONT LINE FIRST - EDUCATION

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The education departments Ofsted thinks are failing almost always have one thing in common. ...
The education departments Ofsted thinks are failing almost always have one thing in common.

Councillors, for various reasons, are not addressing the strategic issues, and the councils have failed to attract or retain enough decent officers or provide them with clear policies. Outsourcing the services may deal with some of the symptoms, but it cannot solve the problems (LGC, 11 January).

The Local Government Association advocates the setting up of public/private partnerships to deal with the political issues. The association did this in Liverpool and Leicester City Councils and progress was made very quickly.

Just as the government has recognised the importance of twinning schools to help those in difficulty, so the LGA does with education departments.

Struggling Doncaster MBC was twinned with Warwickshire CC, which had just had a very successful Ofsted report. Doncaster quickly addressed the issues, but both education departments said how much they benefited from working with one another. There was a similar arrangement between Rochdale MBC and Blackburn with Darwen BC.

In comparison, some councils forced into outsourcing by the then Department for Education & Employment (LGC, 17 December 1999) found it took years to get a contract. In the meantime, experienced staff left. In such circumstances it is difficult for councils to make progress.

The DfEE preferred to work with a private company without the associaton's involvement. Councils need to be given the opportunity to continue working instead of moving towards outsourcing. Outsourcing is a flawed approach because it isolates education departments.

Education is publicly funded and in a democracy parents and local people have a right to influence policy. By removing that right, democracy is seriously undermined. Decisions on matters such as school planning, admissions, and raising standards are then either not made properly or made by private companies. In such circumstances, those decisions will always be significantly less influenced by the interests of the community and decision makers would avoid accountability.

The association is still trying to persuade ministers that a different approach to failing education departments is needed. Initially, there needs to be an independent analysis of the causes of the problem, looking at how councillors make decisions - particularly strategically. Twinning a high-performing council with one in difficulty can lead to fast solutions. The private sector's can also help with the delivery of certain services.

However, outsourcing does not deal with issues such as employability or creating a learning environment. These matters need a more strategic approach involving different parts of local government, local employers and other partners.

The Education Act will give local government more freedom to innovate in this area. The association can only intervene if a council invites us to, but it is my view the twinning process means success is much quicker andmore likely than through outsourcing to a private contractor. The evidence to support that is there for all to see.

Graham Lane (Lab)

Chairman, Education & Lifelong Learning Executive, Local Government Association

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