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Call for early intervention package

Officials are calling for an educational rescue code, a once-ailing school breathes again and evidence mounts that discipline problems begin young. Meanwhile, opinion is divided over how to tackle problem children.

Education officials this week demanded new powers from the Government to enable them to step in and help schools in difficulty.

The Society of Education Officers urged the Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard to introduce a national code for supporting schools in trouble as part of an early intervention package.

Andrew Collier, general secretary, said: "We are now seeing the fruits of a policy of survival of the fittest and letting the weakest schools go to the wall.

"There must be proper local arrangements, with statutory backing, for the local education authority to intervene to try to prevent major disasters before they reach the proportions we have seen recently."

At the moment local authorities have extremely limited powers of intervention short of withdrawal of delegation.

In Nottinghamshire, education chairman Fred Riddell said Conservative legislation meant that the local authority did not have a role in the row at Manton Junior School in Worksop over Matthew Wilson, 10.

Mr Collier said: "Over the past eight years, the powers and duties of LEAs have been whittled away to a few blunderbuss, last resort actions of withdrawal of delegation and emergency school closure."

The SEO urged Mrs Shephardto use the Education Bill to give councils back their general powers of access to schools as well as inspection. It asked her to establish a role for LEAs complementary to the national inspection framework for early intervention when schools are in difficulty.

Mr Collier told Mrs Shephard: "The topsy-turvy arrangements for school inspection whereby national government have limited powers of last resort mean that inspection can come too little, too late."

The SEO claimed the circumstances in which delegation should be withdrawn were ill-defined and demanded detailed guidance on when councils should consider doing so. It also wanted Mrs Shephard to make it a duty for LEAs to manage up to 1 per cent of the total schools' funding on improvement, quality development and support for those institutions in difficulty.

Mr Collier said: "It is abundantly evident that when problems arise, parents, the public and indeed schools look to the LEA to provide answers. There is an expectation that not only will the LEA have the power to do something, but it will have the means to act as well.

"As often as possible schools must be left to get on with the job as they think best. However, the education of children is far too important to be left entirely to the philosophy of the survival of the fittest."

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