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No punches pulled in standards war

Changing Places, the Audit Commission's discussion paper on the role of education authorities, contains an explicit bid for dominance in the burgeoning field of local government inspection.

Warning of the risks of inspection overload, it argues: "It would make sense for the external audit function to have the lead role in assessing and reporting on the implementation of all recommendations and changes - including those flowing from the OFSTEDcommission inspections."

The document pulls no punches in its analysis of where education authorities stand in the battle to raise standards. Effective management and use of information is still "in its infancy", while target-setting skills are "thin on the ground" both in authorities and schools.

Changing Places makes criticisms of central government as well when it comes to education authority effectiveness. It suggests current bidding exercises might hinder as much as help their efficiency, citing the plethora of literacy initiatives for which funding is available from central government.

And it challenges the quality of data currently held on authority budgets - specifically rubbishing the figures used by Stephen Byers, the education standards minister, to highlight the differing amounts held back by authorities to cover central management and administration costs.

National definitions and data collection methods are "defective and in need of urgent improvement", it says, and "cannot form the basis of meaningful comparison or targets".

Local authorities generally want a more substantial inspection role for the Audit Commission.

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