Education bodies get a health check

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The Independent Online
A dozen education authorities will be inspected from January next year as part of the Government's crusade to raise standards, the education standards watchdog announced yesterday.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, believes that efficient local education authorities have a crucial part to play and the education Bill to be introduced this autumn will give them more power.

But Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, said that inspections might show that local authorities had no impact on school standards. A recent inspection of Barking and Dagenham had revealed that while the schools performed badly, the authority functioned well.

Yesterday's list includes six authorities from among those with the lowest- performing primary and secondary schools, three from among those with the best and three which are in the middle. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), which picked the councils, divided them into three groups, London, metropolitan and shire counties. Schools were judged on 11-year-old national test results and GCSE results.

In London, the worst are Southwark and Tower Hamlets. Kingston-upon-Thames is the best and Brent the median. Among metropolitan authorities, Manchester and Sandwell, West Midlands, are worst, Bury best and Sunderland the median. Among shire counties, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire are worst, Surrey best and Kent the median.

Unlike schools, authorities will not be graded. Mr Blunkett has said that he will take new powers to take over failing authorities, but at present no legal definition of a failing authority exists. Teams of inspectors from the standards office will visit each authority and question schools at the services the council provides.

Mr Woodhead said: "We think that it is important for all aspects of the education service to be subject to rigorous external scrutiny. We are shining a spotlight very sharply on what an authority is doing to raise standards in schools."

Mr Blunkett said: "The programme of inspections and published reports will allow comparisons of performance to be made ... If an authority does not meet the required standard, I will not hesitate to intervene." Inspectors will also examine the role of elected councillors in raising standards.

Ofsted has already carried out pilot reviews of some authorities at their invitation. A report on the London Borough of Hackney, inspected at the request of the Secretary of State, is due out next week.

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