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Identity crisis

THIS week's "red tape" tables of local education authorities are good news for the Government. Ministers can point to the increase in funds delegated to schools as proof that their tough approach to LEAs is working.

But David Blunkett's success in calling authorities to heel begs a crucial question: what are education authorities for?

The LEA now appears to be little more than the local enforcement arm of the Department for Education and Employment. Councils' action plans are scrutinised by ministers, they have to meet exam and exclusion targets and even teir freedom to decide where money is spent has been eroded by political pressure to pass funds to schools.

Local politicians could be forgiven for thinking that their only job is to carry the can when something goes wrong. After a decade in which council powers have been steadily eroded, it is time for the Government to give a clear lead. If ministers believe that there is no role for local democracy in education, they should say so.

At the moment they seem to want the best of both worlds - to wield power without shouldering the responsibility.

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