Councils with poor schools face education inspections

17 Jan 13
Ofsted could soon inspect council education departments in areas where schools are under-performing, the chief inspector of schools has announced.
By Vivienne Russell | 17 January 2013

Ofsted could soon inspect council education departments in areas where schools are under-performing, the chief inspector of schools has announced.

In a keynote speech at the North of England education conference in Sheffield today, Sir Michael Wilshaw said: ‘It cannot be right that in local authorities with the same demographics, the same sort of population and the same levels of deprivation, parents have such widely varying opportunities of finding a good school.

‘In some it is over 90%, in others it is just over 40%. This cannot continue.’

A series of ‘focused and concentrated’ school inspections would seek to determine whether councils were really fulfilling their statutory duties to promote high educational standards.

‘Ofsted will inspect without fear or favour, and with no preconceived idea of what we will find,’ Wilshaw said.

‘If we find that the local authority is proactive in addressing the key issues, and standards are improving, that’s absolutely fine. But where we find evidence that the local authority is not demonstrating effective leadership, then we shall inspect it.’

The programme will begin in Derby, where only around 40% of primary and secondary pupils are in schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

Schools involved in the co-ordinated inspections will be asked about the effectiveness of the support they receive from their local authority. The same questions will be asked in a telephone survey of a further 10% of the area’s schools that are not being inspected.

Ofsted said that together this data would give a ‘powerful snapshot’ of the quality of support schools received from their local authority.

But councils said they needed more powers if they were going to be able to intervene in under-performing schools.

David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people’s board, said there had been ‘decades’ of reforms giving schools more independence, which hampered councils’ effectiveness.

‘It is unacceptable for any school to consistently underperform and Ofsted are right to recognise that local authorities can play a huge role in helping struggling schools become good ones. But, if councils are going to be given the job of helping struggling schools improve, we need to be given the tools to do it,’ he said.

‘We agree with Ofsted’s call for more to be done but, rather than extra inspections of councils, we believe pupils would benefit far more from government untying the hands of local authorities so they can get on with quickly and decisively helping the worst performing schools without first having to negotiate swathes of red tape and bureaucracy.’

The Association of School and College Leaders said it was 'difficult to understand' Ofsted's emphasis on local authorities' responsibilities when levels of school autonomy had increased.

General secretary Brian Lightman said current government policy on the role of local education authorities was 'very unclear'. He added: 'If local authorities are expected to take on a major school improvement role there needs to be a clear statement of what exactly they are supposed to be doing, how this is funded and how it would operate in areas with high numbers of academies.'

Ofsted will shortly begin a consultation on the new inspection framework for local authority school improvement functions. This will be piloted from April and full implementation is planned from June.


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