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Coolness hampers progress

Education strategies in a South Wales Valleys' education authority have been praised - despite communication problems between council officers and heads.

Torfaen LEA is performing well overall, according to a recently published report from inspection agency Estyn. But the prospects for further improvement were described as "uncertain" because relationships between the LEA and heads were not effective enough and the pace of work was too slow in some areas.

Although primary school heads reported they were well supported and well consulted on education issues, Estyn said that secondary school leaders did not feel as involved in the process.

"They feel that their views are not always sought in the most appropriate way and that enough weight is not always given to the results of consultation." Inspectors said that this was a potential barrier to delivering improvements.

Mike de Val, Torfaen's education director, said the authority had now put in place a partnership agreement with secondary heads to ensure a new way of working. "The new arrangement effectively makes heads co-managers of the service and we hope this will lead to improved relationships between the LEA and secondary schools," he said.

Estyn inspectors also found that some councillors lacked understanding of key issues such as the rising numbers of surplus primary school places and the poor state of school buildings. The LEA was also criticised for its ineffective medium and long-term financial planning.

Despite the criticisms, Torfaen's overall strategic performance was considered good. A high proportion of the council's overall budget goes on education and it delegates an above-average proportion of spending to schools. Also praised were:

* a well-thought out strategy to align school development plans with the education strategic plan;

* consultation with a wide range of stakeholders;

* commitment to making improvements.

About 17,500 pupils attend maintained schools in the Torfaen LEA area.

Spending per head of population on all education activities was the highest in Wales last year, about 10 per cent above the national average.

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