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By Suzanne Simmons-Lewis ...
By Suzanne Simmons-Lewis

The effectiveness of the Local Government Association's education department has been questioned by directors concerned at the loss of expertise in the new system.

Representatives from the Association of Chief Education Officers met with LGA chief executive Brian Briscoe and head of education Neil Fletcher to voice concerns that the disappearance of specialist posts will sour relations as the association fails to deliver the expertise directors rely on.

The LGA's education and lifelong learning executive has voiced similar concerns. It has called a meeting with head of the division John Ransford to seek assurances.

Concern centres around the diminishing number of education specialists in the association's new education and social policy division and the new project-based way of working. Directors are worried a lack of front-line experience means the division will be unable to support them with policy advice or form long-term links with the Department for Education & Skills.

The number of education specialists in the department has been halved in the restructure (LGC, 18 January).

Graham Lane (Lab), chair of the education executive, said: 'We are not convinced this new system is going to give us the people we need. Although we have been told project work is only part of what the department will do, there is all the routine run-of-the-mill stuff like education finance and teachers' pay and conditions [which] can't be done in projects. The one officer who has been working on the Education Bill is no longer in the department.'

At the Society of Education Officers winter conference education directors said strained relations may deteriorate further.

A number of directors said they believed the Society of Education Officers had already begun to bypass the association.

'I don't think directors look to the LGA for advice and support anymore,' said a senior SEO member. 'The LGA is a member-led organisation, so officers are realising this isn't going to be an effective body.'

Another member said: 'To some extent, as the society increases its activity it will by default become the main route to which the professional voice of education will be fed to the DfES. Although we are not trying to destroy the LGA, if it doesn't engage officers the DfES will come straight to us.'

Mr Ransford said the old and new systems of working were not directly comparable, and the education department would be adequately resourced.

'Two of our priorities are the Education Bill, which is going through Parliament, and the six-term year. These projects and others will be sufficiently resourced.

'There is always a difficult transitional period. But we are already beginning to see some of the gains.'

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