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Authorities reassured about their 'crucial role'

Local education authorities are crucial to the Government's campaign to raise standards in schools, one of its top advisers has reassured education authority representatives.

Professor Michael Barber, head of the DFEE's standards and effectiveness unit, was speaking at an Audit Commission conference on the role of authorities.

He said four new mechanisms - education development plans, revised arrangements for local management of schools, the inspection framework, and code of practice - were designed to define an authority's role.

He emphasised the importance of ensuring consistency between the four documents - currently in various states of preparation and consultation - if they are to help authorities perform their part in raising standards.

But scepticism remained among some delegates about the Government's commitment to authorities, with one suggesting they could effectively become school boards.

There was warm applause for Hartlepool education chairman Ray Waller's claim that central government was giving undue weight to the views of the grant-maintained sector, particularly in respect of LMS.

Mr Waller said GM status had not been supported in ballots in his area, and that governors and most local headteachers did not want more money delegated to them.

Professor Barber said the Government was committed to increasing delegation to all schools "as far as possible" to GM levels, but said there was "absolutely no question" of ministers listening to just one sector.

"There is no doubt from all the texts we have published that LEAs have a crucial role in this whole standards agenda, through providing local leadership and working to improve failing or under-achieving schools," he said.

He also sought to reassure delegates over the Government's "zero tolerance of failure" message, saying it was a bid to counter the "mustn't grumble" British culture .

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