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Inspectors praise councils

In this week's LEA inspection reports bouquets exceed brickbats, write Warwick Mansell and Clare Dean

ONE of the country's largest local authorities this week received one of the best reports in the three-year history of council inspections.

West Sussex, which serves a largely prosperous, rural county, was lauded by the Office for Standards in Education, which was unable to find any major areas of weakness. In many aspects of its work, inspectors said the authority, the 10th largest in England, was outstanding.

OFSTED listed 22 services which West Sussex was providing very well, and said that the Tory-controlled council had made education its key priority and was backing this with effective support by both councillors and officers. Dick Bunker, its director of education, provided very good leadership.

Inspectors lavished praise on the council's key function, school improvement. Support for the small number of schools causing concern, only five of the county's 312 schools have been "failed" by inspectors since 1993, was "excellent". The authority's work with headteachers was highly rated, providing excellent support for new heads and "empowering" intervention where management was weak.

Among a few minor weaknesses, inspectors listed aspects of the information and communications technology strategy, and a recent decision to end hot meals in primary schools.

OFSTED also returned a positive verdict on Warrington, the Merseyside unitary authority, which is only three years old. Despite being one of the lowest-funded authorities - only five councils in England are allocated less for educaion by the Government - Warrington was providing good support for its schools.

Like West Sussex, Labour-controlled Warrington had made education its top priority, and was doing all it could to supplement its schools' funding. Resources were targeted very effectively on priorities.

The area missed out on Government grants because overall it was relatively prosperous. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, pupils' exam and test results were consistently above national norms. OFSTED said school improvement work was good. Relationships with schools, where morale was high, were very good. Headteachers had a high regard for director of education Malcolm Roxburgh, who was well supported by a small team of high-quality officials.

Weaknesses included support for schools' use of computers in the curriculum and aspects of the authority's work with gifted pupils.

VERDICT on WEST SUSSEX

STRENGTHS:

* the education development plan

* targeting resources on priorities

* inspection and advisoryservices

* performance data andtarget setting

* support for schools causing concern * ethnic minoritytraveller children support

* gifted and talented children support

VERDICT ON WARRINGTON

STRENGTHS:

* targeting resources on priorities

* consultation with schools

* use of performance data

* school admissions

* combating social exclusion

WEAKNESSES:

* schools' use of computers in the curriculum

* aspects of provision for excluded pupils

Source: www.ofsted.gov.uk

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