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Ministers marvel at rebirth

George Wright reports on a remarkable turnaround in Liverpool

Five years ago, Liverpool's education service was facing the threat of privatisation following a damning inspection. This week, in what the Education Secretary has described as a remarkable turnaround, the education authority has been praised as a "model of good practice" by inspectors.

The Office for Standards in Education awarded the LEA a "good" rating (the second highest grade) and lauded the progress made since 1999, when inspectors branded it "very poor" (the lowest grade).

The findings, unveiled a month after the Audit Commission named Liverpool the most improved LEA in the country, confirm a dramatic reversal.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, said: "The turnaround in Liverpool's education service has been remarkable. Not so long ago, the service was failing the city's children.

"Now, the people of Liverpool can be really proud of the progress that has been made in improving education in the city.

"The transformation is a tribute to everyone involved, not least the teachers, staff, governors, parents and pupils. It gives me real pleasure to see education improving so dramatically in Liverpool after one of the first interventions by the Department for Education and Skills in a failing LEA."

The 1999 Ofsted report found that in most respects the LEA was providing very poor support to its schools and doing too little to overcome "educational disadvantage".

But the latest inspection, carried out in September, concluded that the LEA is now an "effective organisation", offering outstanding support for children in care and "clear, comprehensive and appropriate policies" for ethnic minority and traveller children.

Improvements within the authority, which oversees 4,000 teachers and 80,000 schoolchildren in more than 200 schools, have been driven by the "determination and leadership (of) senior officers and elected members".

Ofsted commended the LEA for robustly tackling long-standing issues such as surplus places, expenditure on special educational needs and low attainment, saying: "Difficult decisions are being taken that are not popular with all schools but which are essential to bring about the necessary improvements."

The inspectors pointed to the improvement in results as evidence of progress. Since 1999, the attainment of pupils has risen at a rate above, and sometimes well above, the national average. Also, while five years ago the LEA had 16 schools in special measures, it now has none. This was a remarkable achievement, said Ofsted.

Colin Hilton, executive director for education, said: "Naturally I'm delighted that Ofsted recognise the high quality of the education service in Liverpool today.

"The report will be warmly welcomed by every Liverpool parent and the verdict will also act as a positive encouragement to those seeking to come and live in the city or establish businesses here.

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