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LEA chiefs urged to defy red-tape orders

But call to refuse extra tasks is met by warnings against hindering Labour's ability to deliver election pledges, reports Clare Dean

CHIEF education officers were last week urged to take courage and refuse to carry out bureaucratic government tasks.

Christine Gilbert, the new chair of the Association of Chief Education Officers, warned councils against being too compliant.

"It is important that we reaffirm our role, values and spirit," she told the ACEO meeting at Warwick University. "Being compliant and obedient is not helpful for the agenda of standards and change. We have to take hold of what is going on and mould it to what we believe in."

But Elizabeth Wylie, head of the Government's LEA support division, warned the councils against doing anything to hinder Labour's chances of meeting its manifesto pledges on education.

"If local authorities appear to stand in the way of delivering those pledges there is a strong group of thinkers who will say the councils are impeding the delivery and need to be got out of the way." She said it was important for councils to use their local knowledge, but added: "There is a balance to be struck."

Ms Gilbert said she was not opposed to the Government's agenda on education - but was concerned about the tasks councils were expected to perform, such as producing 100-page development plans.

She was worried that councils were spending so long preparing for inspection that they were narrowing the agenda.

For example, the similarities between education development plans drawn up by councils for ministers were "amazing" despite wide differences in their make up, said Ms Gilbert, who is education director of Tower Hamlets, east London.

"We have to be careful of being too cautious. I want us to have greater courage to refuse to do things that divert us from what we think are greater priorities."

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