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Council interference in schools is minimised;Briefing;Document of the week

But local authorities feel they have also won some ground under a new Code of Practice. Frances Rafferty reports.

The crux of the Government's Code of Practice on the relationship between schools and local authorities is that schools should have maximum autonomy.

The code, introduced to the School Standards and Framework Bill, after lobbying from local authorities and headteachers, was formally announced in Parliament last week.

The guidance on the relationships between heads, governors and councils makes plain the Government's belief that more intervention makes for less successful schools - but it also recognises local authorities' statutory duty to raise standards. Local authorities believe they have won some concessions in the final draft of the code.

It says: "Many schools will wish to turn to the LEA as the obvious source of help and support. There may even be cases where a governing body and headteacher welcome intervention in the narrower sense. For example, where delegation has been suspended as a result of financial mismanagement or because the school has been found to need special measure or have serious weaknesses, that may give the school breathing space to focus on particular problems."

However, there will be checks on a local authority if it is intervening in more than 12 per cent of its schools. Nationally, 2 per cent of schools are deemed to be failing and 10 per cent have "serious weaknesses".

Local authorities have been given the power to intervene early on with a light touch, but where a school and council disagree an independent third party should be consulted.

The code says: "The use of an intervention power should never come as a surprise to the governing body." The school should be notified in writing and have a chance to respond. Church schools must keep the diocese or religious authority informed.

A clause insisting that a local authority must not be swayed by a school's previous status is intended to prevent intimidation of former opted-out schools.

LEAs will have to provide data and benchmarks on setting school targets. Once a governing body has fixed targets, it should tell the LEA. "But the fact the school chose to get advice from a source other than the LEA should not in itself be used as a reason for the LEA to dispute the targets ... The LEA has no legal power to oblige a governing body to set targets at particular level or change its targets."

Schools within education action zones should set more challenging targets. The local authority must liaise with the zone's education action forum.

Governing bodies should heed the Government's intention to reduce truancy by a third by 2002.

The code says that the national literacy and numeracy strategies are not statutory - but only schools with exemplary results can get away with not doing them. LEAs will give support and advice on implementing them.

While all governing bodies will appoint a clerk to organise their work, the LEA should not prevent a school appointing its own. Neither the chief education officer, nor other local authority staff, have the right to attend a governing body meeting. A county finance officer may only attend the relevant parts.

LEAs will help review the induction of newly-qualified teachers. The head will complete an assessment and the LEA will decide whether to accept the candidate.

Local authorities have 14 days to make representations about candidates to governing bodies appointing a new head if they are unhappy with the shortlist.

LEAS must give written reports to governing bodies if they have serious concerns about the head. The head must also be informed.

LEAs already have powers to appoint extra governors to a school and suspend its delegated budget. They may also intervene in extreme circumstances where discipline breaks down at a school.


School Standards and Framework Act * The code puts in place checks and balances intended to allow LEAs to fulfil their statutory duty to raise standards in schools without subjecting them to unnecessary intervention;

* Although there are no sanctions for breaching the code, the Secretary for State has powers to determine disputes between schools, governors and councils;

* Councils must only intervene when monitoring has determined weakness. A school's performance must be take into account value-added achievements;

* Heads and governing bodies must develop improvement strategies. They may seek support from the LEA, but must not look to it to answer all their problems;

* A council which intervenes in more than 12 per cent of its schools must show it has sufficient reason for its action;

* Governing bodies will be responsible for setting school targets. LEAs will give them benchmark information to help the decision.

* LEAs advisers should not undertake pre-Office for Standards in Education inspections;

* Schools must send the LEA shortlists for head appointments, so it can make representations against candidates it finds unsuitable;

* LEA officers must agree in advance with headteachers when they can visit. Chief education officers, and LEA staff, have no statutory right to attend governing body meetings, except when staff are being dismissed.

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