Education Bill: Local authorities given a year to improve quality

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The Independent Online
Failing schools are to be tackled by a three-fold strategy involving the inspectors of the Office for Standards in Education, local authorities and new 'education associations' which the Secretary of State will set up if he is not satisfied with progress.

This system, proposed in the White Paper, is extended to church (voluntary) schools by the Bill.

A registered inspector will submit a written report and summary after visiting a school. This will state whether he or she thinks special measures are required and whether HM Chief Inspector, who heads Ofsted, agrees that action is needed or not. Copies will go to the local authority and governing body and will be made public.

Follow-up inspections to monitor progress may be ordered by the Secretary of State. A local education authority may also appoint any number of governors it sees fit and take back the school's delegated budget.

The White Paper proposed that the governors and local authority would have an academic year to improve performance. If they were unsuccessful the Secretary of State would step in and appoint an educational association.

The Bill sets out the powers of an educational association which would either close a school or turn it round by dealing with the deficiencies highlighted by the inspectors. The association would then guide it to grant-maintained status. In such cases schools will not return to council control.

Education associations, which the White Paper envisaged as small bodies with a chairman and, typically, five part-time members, will have wide powers to acquire and dispose of property. Their salaries and allowances will be determined by the Secretary of State.

Chris Adamson, chairman of the Association of London Authorities' education committee, said the introduction of education associations would result in bureaucratic confusion.

'We are happy that the Government is looking at failing schools but we would want it done in partnership with local authorities. Give authorities these powers over finance and staffing which will enable them to turn a school round in partnership with Ofsted,' he said.

'It is a lengthy process and local education authorities have been doing it year after year. It is nonsense for non-elected whizz-kids to come in and hope to do it.'

If grant-maintained schools fail, they can either wind themselves up or be closed by the Secretary of State if he judges the governing body has been guilty of 'substantial or persistent failure to comply with' the Act's requirements.