Letter: Ridings School: silence from Shephard on local authority role

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The Independent Online
Sir: Judith Judd's report on the dispute between Secretary of State Gillian Shephard and the Calderdale local education authority makes sad reading ("Shephard ultimatum to Ridings authority", 21 November).

The tragic circumstances of the Ridings School call for a review by all parties of what might have been done to avoid the breakdown at the school. Punitive inspections of schools by Ofsted are not the answer. Still less is there any value in the inspection of LEAs when there is no national policy on what they are expected to do to support schools.

Since 1988 the powers and duties of LEAs have been drastically reduced. Their statutory power to inspect their own schools was virtually eliminated in 1992. Relentless pressure to delegate funds to schools has resulted in substantial reductions in advisory and inspection services. In the absence of any national guidance, the ability of individual LEAs to intervene when schools are in trouble varies greatly from area to area.

Gillian Shephard's White Paper Self-Government for Schools, published in June 1996, hinted for the first time in many years that there might be a positive role for LEAs in promoting quality in schools, complementing the responsibility of schools themselves and that of the national inspectorate. We still do not know what her view of that role might be.

At the beginning of November, the Society of Education Officers appealed to the Secretary of State to introduce a clear national framework for action by LEAs when schools may be in difficulty. We await her reply with interest. We urge her to tap the fund of professional and political support for good education that remains in local authorities.


General Secretary

Society of Education Officers