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Councils to act as service back-up

LOCAL EDUCATION AUTHORITIES. The role of local education authorities: The Government sees a significant continuing role for local education authorities.

Their role should be to provide those services and undertake those functions which schools cannot carry out for themselves and which no other agency is better placed to carry out.

The Government considers that the main functions which LEAs should, or may, undertake are: * Organising forms of education which take place outside schools * Planning the supply of school places, handling complaints and other regulation * Allocation and monitoring of school budgets * Organising services to support individual pupils * Supplying support services for schools to buy if they wish * Promoting quality in schools, complementing the responsibility of schools for their own performance and the responsibility of the national inspectorates for inspecting and reporting on that performance.

Co-ordinating school networks and developing good practice; particularly in carrying out national initiatives.

The education authority role in quality assurance needs to be specified so that it complements, without duplicating or undermining, the responsibilities of schools and the Office for Standards in Educationthe Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.

The Government considers that the LEA role involves three main functions.

The first is direct intervention where a school is found to have major problems which it is unlikely to resolve quickly by itself. The second quality-assurance function of LEAs is to work with their schools in setting targets for improvement. The third quality-assurance function for LEAs is to provide services to help schools carry out their own plans for improvement.

The three functions described above do not require LEAs to carry out their own programme of regular monitoring inspections.

OFSTEDOHMCI inspections and published information for parents mean that the effectiveness of schools can now be assessed.

Better ways of assessing and comparing LEA performance are needed. Some important initiatives are already at hand: The Government intends to extend OFSTED's and OHMCI's powers to inspect LEAs' work in monitoring and supporting schools. It expects to bring the necessary legislation before Parliament later this year.

OFSTED is developing arrangements for pilot reviews of LEAs, focused on their support for school improvement. Each review will select a number of themes, and will gather evidence through school visits, discussions with school staff, governors and LEA personnel, and possibly questionnaires. The first review is under way in Staffordshire, and one is planned for Cornwall.

The Standing Conference of Chief Education Officers, with the Society of Education Officers, is developing a framework for all LEAs to use in reviewing their performance.

* A stronger voice for schools: local education authorities already have a wide range of mechanisms for keeping in touch with schools. But the Government believes that it may be helpful to reinforce these so as to give schools a stronger say in how the LEA carries out its functions.

One option would be to encourage or require local consultative groups, bringing together representatives of the LEA and schools (governors and staff, including from GM schools) to discuss how LEA support services are delivered.

Another possibility is to review the way schools' views are represented on local authority education committees.

* More self-government for schools in Wales: In Wales, LEAs are required to delegate 90 per cent of the potential schools budget to schools, and a number already exceed that level. It is therefore possible to increase the level to 95 per cent as soon as possible.

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