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Laissez faire led to city 'crisis'

Josephine Gardiner reports on an Audit Commission guide that aims to restore planning to the school system

Education in Leicester is in crisis, according to the new Labour unitary authority which took over managing city schools from Leicestershire County Council in April.

Seven of the city's schools have been condemned as failing by the Office for Standards in Education. A further 10 have "serious weaknesses".

Two primaries have been failing for just under two years, and may have narrowly escaped inclusion on the Government's 18-school list of shame. About half the city's schools still await inspection. There are also 3,500 surplus places in the city.

At the Audit Commission's conference on planning school places last week, education chair Peter Soulsby criticised the county council's performance. He said: "They have been laissez faire to the point of gross irresponsibility. The legacy they have bequeathed to us is one that demands dramatic action."

The council recently announced that all 21 secondary schools are to be urgently reviewed. They will be followed by primary schools.

Mr Soulsby said: "Our original intention was to focus on a cluster of failing schools as part of a rolling programme of reform but we decided that a big-bang approach would be more appropriate."

The situation is sensitive because Leicester has a large Asian population. Some schools are almost 100 per cent Asian while others are 90 per cent white. The authority is keen to be seen to be dealing even-handedly with all schools.

Closures and school mergers seem inevitable because of the many surplus places. Mr Soulsby claims the situation has been worsened by Pounds 17 million of cuts which have been made to all services.

But John Sinnott, county council chief executive, denied that the county had neglected city schools. He said their performance was similar to those in comparable cities.

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