local education authorities (LEAs) can have a significant overall
impact on school improvement, according to a draft consultation paper
released by the Office for Standards in Education today.
by OFSTED and the Audit Commission of 44 LEAs up to autumn 1999, will
provide the focus for discussion at two conferences about the role of
LEAs organised by OFSTED. The first is held in London today and the second will be in Manchester on Monday 10 July 2000.
The objectives of the conferences are to:
- disseminate the main findings from OFSTED inspections of LEAs
- invite views of chief education officers on the discussion paper
and consider its recommendations
- consider ways forward in the light of both the good practice and
- invite views on the implications for future OFSTED inspections of
The paper says that there have been signs of improvement in LEA
performance as their role has become more sharply defined by
legislation. But the pattern of improvement suggests a growing
polarisation as the gap grows between the best-run LEAs and those
where weaknesses outweigh strengths.
'That the quality of support a local school receives should depend
to such an extent on the accident of location is no help in taking
forward a national agenda that requires standards to rise
everywhere,' the paper says.
'The least effective authorities do not promote school improvement.
Often, they retard it through a combination of poor political
leadership and inept management, leading to a waste of resources and
disillusionment in schools.'
The paper states that although the weakest authorities were mainly
found to be amongst those serving inner-urban areas, a number of
other inner-urban LEAs were found to be amongst the best.
The paper says that the core task of LEAs is to support the
autonomy of schools - a task that implies, among other things,
increasing delegation of funds and responsibility for
decision-making. But the paper notes that lip service to school
autonomy was found as often as rigorous thinking about how it might
best be supported.
Describing this as a 'nostalgia for control', the paper says this
attitude is not found in the best-run LEAs. Analysing the good
practice found during the inspections, the paper says well-run LEAs
have clear and minimalist definitions of monitoring, challenge,
intervention and support, are high delegators, consult well, and have
a strategy for enhancing a school's own capacity to sustain
improvement. The paper concludes with a number of recommendations,
aimed at improving LEA support to schools.
1. Local education authority support for school improvement is a
draft discussion paper that is being given limited circulation as a
conference paper. A final report, giving an overview of inspection
evidence from LEA inspections and revised in the light of discussions
at the two national conferences, will be published by OFSTED in the
2. The London conference, held today at the Commonwealth Conference
Centre in Kensington, will be attended by directors of education and
other senior officials from 77 LEAs in the southern part of England.
The Manchester conference will be attended by similar numbers
representing the Midlands and the North.
3. OFSTED is a non-ministerial government department established
under the Education (Schools) Act 1992 to take responsibility for the
inspection of all schools in England. Its staff includes Her
Majesty's Inspectors (HMI), who draw on inspection evidence to report
on good practice in schools and on a wide range of educational