It will assess the contribution of LEAs to the delivery and improvement of education amid government warnings that "the judge and jury of their performance will be the LEAs' contribution to raising standards".
The Commission has drawn up a draft study specification into the role of LEAs. It has also set up a 15-strong advisory team comprising education directors and officers, headteachers, five of its own members, an academic, Department for Education and Employment managers and HM inspectors.
Maurice Kogan, director of the Centre for Public Policy and Practice at Brunel, who has been at the forefront of the independent reviews of local authorities, is to act as consultant. He chaired the teams that inspected Staffordshire and Kirklees education authorities and has argued the job of inspecting LEAs should go to the Audit Commission, not the Office for Standards in Education. It is understood that Mr Blunkett will require OFSTED to work with the Commission.
Educational matters that have been investigated by the Commission include financial management, school governance, under-fives education, and primary and secondary education. Its last report warned school planning could be gridlocked by conflicts between education policies and the market-led approach.
The Commission has not studied the wider role of local authorities since 1989, when it published a paper called Losing an Empire, Finding a Role - and that role has changed hugely in the past eight years.
The previous Conservative government sought to weaken LEAs and made schools more autonomous while increasing its own power over education. The Commission's view is that LEAs are more than just education departments. They are also responsible for the youth service, adult education, educational welfare and student awards. It has identified three major issues relating to LEAs, the most important of which is planning of school places. The other two are variations in LEAs' approaches to education and the place of local democracy, - given that so much of the system is centrally prescribed.
The principal objectives of its study are to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of LEAs and their contribution to the delivery and improvement of education in their areas. It may also look at the impact of legislation on education authorities'roles and responsibilities in the light of value for money.
For all authorities it will: * check that LEAs comply with statutory duties; * assess how well LEAs determine priorities; * measure the effectiveness and efficiency with which each authority carries out its statutory and related obligations; * assess the effectiveness and efficiency with which it carries out its own objectives.
LEA leaders have said that councils have nothing to fear from inspection by either OFSTED or the Audit Commission.
MEMBERS OF THE AUDIT COMMISSION ADVISORY GROUP ON THE ROLE OF LEAS
David Bell, chief education officer, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Heather DuQuesnay, executive director of education services, Lambeth; Philip Hunter, education director, Staffordshire; Prof Margaret Maden, department of education, Keele University; Stephen Marston, divisional manager, DFEE; Mike Raleigh, HM Inspector, OFSTED; David Tully, education department, Hillingdon Council; Janet Warwick, head Rhyn Park secondary school, Oswestry; Pat Williams, head, Kitchener Road primary, Cardiff; Elizabeth Wylie, deputy county education officer, Warwickshire; Richard Arthur, Audit Commission member; John Foster, Audit Commission member; Peter Soulsby, Audit Commission member; Tony Travers, Audit Commission member; Sir Ronald Watson, Audit Commission member; Consultant: Prof Maurice Kogan, Brunel University.