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The jury is still out on the issue of whether the actions of ...
The jury is still out on the issue of whether the actions of

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.

The paper, which draws principally on the evidence from inspections

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

weaknesses identified

- 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


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