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Inspectors praise Tory trailblazer

Two education authorities, both under 10 years old, have been applauded by OFSTED. Warwick Mansell and Clare Dean report

A LEADING Conservative authority has been praised by inspectors for its introduction of many of the reforms which are now embraced by New Labour.

Wandsworth, south London, has emerged with a glowing report from the Office for Standards in Education, whose inspectors concluded that most of its services were well-run.

They also commended it for pioneering strategies, such as the use of baseline assessment for four-year-olds, which have become pillars of the Government's standards agenda.

The report will be seized upon by the Conservatives, following poor inspections for the northern Labour strongholds of Leeds and Rotherham, though inner-city Labour Camden had a glowing report last month.

Wandsworth, which has been Conservative-controlled since its inception in 1990, had developed a laudably "modern" relationship with its schools, said inspectors.

Having delegated much of its budget to governing bodies in advance of the Government's Fair Funding reforms, all schools were set challenging targets.

Intervention was focused o poor performers, with a "light-touch" regime for others.

"(The authority) makes no attempt to run the schools but provides them with the management information they need to run themselves ... This is an eminently realistic role for an authority to play," said the report.

The "diversity" of schools in Wandsworth - where six of the nine secondaries are specialist colleges - also won praise.

But the borough's complex local admissions arrangements were listed as among its few weaknesses. Earlier this year, two Wandsworth schools won a High Court fight to continue selecting half their pupils by ability. Inspectors, however, said the authority's admissions system was expensive and caused some anxiety for parents and pupils.

WANDSWORTH Strengths

challenging its headteachers and senior managers to improve

school monitoring

special needs strategy

coping with disruptive pupils

social inclusion given a high priority

Weaknesses

lack of places in secondaries and demand for popular schools limits parental choice

support for information and communications technology, and pupil attendance, is "less than satisfactory"

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