THE Government's drive to delegate most of the education budget to schools may hamper local authority efforts to raise standards, the inspection of two large counties suggests.
In Buckinghamshire, which is Conservative-controlled, inspectors say the county no longer has a budget to monitor or evaluate the progress of schools.
The decision by councillors to delegate funds allocated for advice and support direct to schools means that the local authority's contribution to raising standards has been less effective than it should have been.
The report says: "The ability of the advisory service to advise, support, monitor and evaluate all schools... has been seriously affected by the policy decision to delegate their budget to secondary and special schools and to devolve it to some primaries, without retaining any for these purposes."
In contrast, Office for Standards in Education inspectors found that Durham has below-average delegation of funds to schools, but concluded that most of the county's education services are effective and provide "satisfactory" or "good" value for money.
While the report notes that the county will have to delegate more money to schools as a result of the Government's Fair Funding proposals, it says there is little evidence that schools want a fundamental change in this balance.
Overall, Durham is judged to be well-managed and inspectors found it enjoys "enviable relationships" with its schools.
Its support services are of good quality and well managed, says the report.
Children in Buckinghamshire, which has one of the few remaining selective systems, achieve results above the national average. However, schools suggested to the inspectors that the quality of services had deteriorated. Heads complained that the relatively low levels of funding per pupil imposed constraints on their ability to raise standards.
The county's problems have been compounded by a major reorganisation of schools. Buckinghamshire has changed the age of transfer to secondary schools from 12 to 11 and from first to middle schools from eight to seven.
The report says: "This has contributed to schools' negative feelings about the local authority". It has also proved expensive to provide the extra places in secondary schools and to fund the increase in premature retirements.
Schools told inspectors that councillors and officers had not fully considered the implications of the changes and did not provide sufficient support.
The report notes that the admissions system costs the county pound;740,000, which is four times the average cost per pupil in county councils.