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Lack of authority

Why did it not surprise me to hear that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Gillian Shephard, in her speech to the North of England Conference did not mention local education authorities among those directly involved in school improvement?

On the same day as the conference, I was reading two documents - our draft response as a local education authority to the Office for Standards in Education's consultation document entitled LEA Support for School Improvement, and the OFSTED report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate on a Somerset school recently taken off special measures.

It may be worthwhile to quote from the school OFSTED report: "The LEA has provided good support to the school; this has been an important factor in improving the quality of education. The provision of training for teachers and the guidance of the advisory staff have been influential in the development of the school since the 1994 inspection."

The main players in school improvement are, of course, the schools themselves and their governing bodies.

I suspect, however, that LEAs are without doubt the biggest supporters of the school improvement initiative.

Their role was even recognised, albeit somewhat grudgingly, in last year's White Paper. Despite all that, here we are again with efforts either to ignore our role or belittle it. Improvement comes about when people and agencies work together.

The constant sniping at LEAs that have largely welcomed the opportunity to have their contribution to school improvement externally validated is petty, perverse in discouraging effective involvement and contributes nothing whatsoever in raising educational standards.

DAVID HEATH Chairman Education Committee County Councillor for Frome North County Hall Taunton Somerset

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