Ofsted spreads confusion over LEAs

1 Feb 01
Ofsted chief inspector Mike Tomlinson adopted a new, conciliatory approach to local education authorities this week, despite the publication of a report that accuses LEAs of having little effect on school performance.

02 February 2001

In one of his first major press conferences since the departure of the controversial Chris Woodhead, Tomlinson said the report 'would give no comfort to those who believe LEAs serve no purpose'.

While Tomlinson acknowledged that performance across LEAs was unsatisfactory, with a third of all LEAs 'doing a terrible job', he said evidence from Ofsted did not support their abolition.

But the report, LEA support for school improvement, seemed to suggest otherwise. Reviewing the findings of 91 inspections of the 150 English education authorities, the report said authorities were impeded by incompetence and did not affect performance in schools: 'LEAs, irrespective of their quality, are not narrowing the gap between schools with high and low standards in their area,' it maintained.

Elsewhere, the report says: 'The relationship between LEA support and school standards is much less powerful than the inverse relationship which exists between disadvantage and school standards. The work of LEAs appears to do little to counteract this negative effect.' However, Tomlinson insisted his remarks did not contradict the report.

He said: 'There are striking examples of what can be achieved with good support. The best LEAs do a good job, have good use of management, consult well and ensure decisions do have the support of schools.'

Tomlinson said schools would lose out if LEAs were closed down: 'LEAs have an important role in strategic planning that could not be done by schools, particularly in relation to school places and transport.'

The government was singled out for criticism for overloading LEAs with administrative work.

Sitting alongside schools minister Estelle Morris, Tomlinson said successive government initiatives had left LEAs reeling with the huge amount of change.

He described the changes leaving authorities with 'something approaching turmoil'.

Backing the Ofsted report, Estelle Morris said she was unhappy but not surprised by the differences in performance. But she added the government would continue to intervene if performance did not improve.

She urged LEAs to look at how they could deliver Best Value. Even the highest achievers should consider whether they were best placed to provide particular services, Morris said.


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