THE education service in Hertfordshire is very good and improving rapidly, according to school inspectors.
Much of the credit for focusing the service on raising standards is credited to Ray Shostak, the county's director of education for the past two years.
According to the Office for Standards in Education, under the previous Tory government, the county had begun to lose touch with some schools, particularly grant-maintained secondaries. The council had concentrated on generating income from its services and had been shocked when schools failed their inspections.
Since Mr Shostak's appointment, a good authority has been made better and there have been significant improvements in short time, says the report.
School spending is at government-recommended levels and there is a high level of delegation to schools. However, one secondary school and five primaries remain on the list of failing schools. The county has created a school standards and curriculum division which monitors schools. Contact has been renewed with the third of secondaries that are former grant-maintained schools.
GM schools had created problems for parents because of different admission arrangements. A co-ordinated admission scheme was imposed last year, intended to ensure that children were offered a place by February.
The county has below-average unemployment and an above-average number of adults with higher education qualifications. Since last June, the Conservatives have controlled the council, taking over from a Labour-Lib Dem administration. Overall, the report judges the county to have a very good and improving service. Mr Shostak be-came director in 1997. He replaced Malcolm Instone, who was director and acting director from 1996 fllowing the departure of Heather du Quesnay for Lambeth.
Solihull schools have a high regard for the council, praising quick reaction to queries, the accessibility of officers and support in times of crisis, according to OFSTED.
Inspectors said Solihull, which has a socio-economic profile that is slightly better than the national average, is an effective authority with few weaknesses. Children's attainment on entry to school and at all key stages except in the sixth form is generally above average.
Just five schools out of the 86 in the borough have been in special measures. Two have since been removed from this category and only one is currently said to have serious weaknesses.
According to inspectors, both primary and secondary schools are well-led, the quality of teaching is usually "sound" or better, and pupils' attitudes to learning and relationships are good.
Where problems do arise is in how Solihull deals with the gap between affluence and deprivation. The proportion of children from higher social classes varies from 7.3 per cent in one ward to 78.5 per cent in another.
In one district in the north of the authority, just a fifth of pupils gain five or more top-grade GCSEs while the proportion gaining no passes is 10 times higher than for pupils in south Solihull schools.
Inspectors said the council must produce a strategy for social inclusion. It had previously identified social inclusion as a high priority and twice bid - unsuccessfully - to set up an education action zone.
Inspectors said: "There is some confusion and muddled thinking in Solihull schools about social deprivation issues, special educational needs and allocation of resources."
They also recommended action on the development of behavioural support, special needs, computers, and guidance on the use of performance data.