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New authority 'offers poor value'

ONE of England's youngest local authorities this week faced charges from inspectors that it did not give value for money and had set itself unambitious targets, writes Clare Dean.

Plymouth, formed in April 1998, was also accused of inadequate planning. Its inspection came just 17 months after the council was set up, despite earlier pledges from the Government that new unitaries would not be inspected until they were at least two years old.

Inspectors found that significant weaknesses outweighed any strengths, and said that while council services were economically efficient, they were not effective. They warned that the "formidable" list of improvements would have to be tackled urgently.

"We know we can always do better," said education chairman Jack Jones. "But ... we are heading in the right direction."

Sohail Faruqi, director of lifelong learning, said the report was written as if the authority had been in existence for 17 years rather than 17 months.

"It does not fully reflect a remark made after the inspection by one senior inspector who told us that it was difficult to see how we coul have achieved more in the time available."

Plymouth, with 111 schools, has higher-than-average unemployment and is feeling the effects of the demise of the naval industry which once dominated the city.

Children's developmental level on entering primary school is lower than average and attainment at key stages 1 and 2 is below national standards and not improving quickly enough, according to the inspectors.

At key stage 2, results are in line with national averages, at key stage 4, higher. The authority has an education action zone, employment zone and health action zone.

PLYMOUTH

Strengths

national literacy and numeracy strategy introduced well

schools with serious weaknesses and

needing special measures effectively

supported

support for children with special needs,

ethnic minorities and travellers' children all good

governing bodies well supported Weaknesses

inadequate use of school-performance data

inadequate planning and support for ICT

inadequate medium and long-term planning

ineffective support for managers in schools

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