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Northumberland wins report praise

ENGLAND's most sparsely populated local authority - Northumberland - has a "sizeable core of very good schools", according to an Office for Standards in Education report.

But it is trailing when it comes to managing budgets and information and communication technology.

Inspectors found that standards largely mirrored the national average. "Most schools make good use of low levels of funding; very few give rise to serious concern," it said.

Overall, Northumberland's strengths were found to outweigh its weaknesses.

The two-stage inspection involved assessing data from the LEA, including discussions with its staff, and visits to a range of the county's schools, to gather views from governors, headteachers and other staff.

It found that "there were few signs of complacency even in the most effective schools ... school environments and buildings, compared with those nationally, are spacious and of good quality".

The authority, whose director of education Chris Tipple retires this week after 34 years in local government, was praised for having "responded to the Government's agenda for school improvement in some ways better than most".

But OFSTED found fault with the centre which provides management support to schools.

"These services have not provided a clear specification of what schools can expect," it said. With the exception of personnel, said OFSTED, the services "have weaknesses in their management and organisation which the lack of competition and poor management information systems have not helped to put right".

OFSTED's report recommended, among other things, that the LEA reassessed its staffing, reviewed IT and took urgent steps to remove surplus places.

The authority described OFSTED's findings as very positive. Ted Weekes, a councillor heading Children's Services, said the report showed that "with few resources, we have got our priorities right".

The LEA said it was currently investing in its IT and was "sharpening up" its corporate approach.

Bibi Berki

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