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Needy people need school improvement

Jane Martin looks at why social problems are still a local authority weakness.

The paradox at the heart of the local governance of education was pointed up by David Bell in his annual report as chief inspector.

He says that local education authorities are getting better and the best are very good. They are performing consistently well in terms of school improvement.

But at the same time, support for children and families at the bottom of the educational pile is at best variable or at worst not happening. Too many LEAs do not appreciate that effective social inclusion and school improvement are complementary. Or that going the extra mile for school improvement probably depends on those strategies which will support social inclusion.

This issue can only be addressed collectively at the local level. It needs schools, through governing bodies, to work together and with local communities to reach out to socially-excluded families and children - whose education and welfare is their concern just as much as the performance of the school.

This will also mean working with other public-service providers who support families. Local authorities should be taking a lead in bringing people together and enabling initiative and improvement.

Authorities should be working closely with school governors as they form the bridge between their school, other schools and local people. The local governance of education should be regarded as a network and there are many ways governors should be involved.

The school organisation committee and the school admissions' forum are two important bodies taking a strategic overview of how admissions are best handled.

The schools' forum is the place for formal consultation on formula funding and budget setting. Your LEA may also use it as a more strategic body to discuss future policy.

The early-years and childcare partnership is the place for discussion about the under-fives - linking into Sure Start initiatives and often part of neighbourhood renewal projects.

Cross-cutting groups involving education and social services could be focusing on issues such as teenage pregnancies, and the local learning and skills council will be concerned with the further education and training of young people. The police will be working closely with schools on crime prevention.

The local authority will be part of a local strategic partnership to sort overarching issues and there are many ward-level committees to involve the public in discussion and debate of public services.

Many school governors who are also local councillors will be involved in these groups. But to tackle the big issues for the socially excluded, authorities and schools need to work together more effectively - and governors are the key.

Jane Martin formerly worked in LEA governor training and is now a principal consultant at the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government

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