INSPECTORS this week exposed weaknesses in the education development plan drawn up by the London borough of Hillingdon, where all but three of the secondary schools had opted out of council control.
They were particularly concerned about the lack of commitment on the part of schools to the plan, the main vehicle for pushing through improvement, warning that heads were unclear about its status.
There have clearly been difficulties between the authority, which has frequently changed political control, and the former grant-maintained schools.
Twenty-two schools in the west London borough, which includes part of Heathrow Airport, now have foundation status. There are also 11 private schools in Hillingdon.
Inspectors said relationships with secondaries, including those that had returned from the grant-maintained sector, had improved but were weaker than with primaries.
The team from the Office for Standards in Education said strengths marginally outweighed weaknesses and that Hillingdon, now a hung authority with a minority Conservative administration, was improving.
Philip O'Hear, appointed education director last July, had a clear vision, councillors provided satisfactory leadership and intervention in the weakest schools had been more robust.
A year ago though there was a week-long spending freeze and a review of all departments after a major overspending of education and social services budgets.
Inspectors voiced concerns that Hillingdon's special needs strategy was unclear and value for money was not assured. Last year it spent almost pound;15 million on special needs, excluding transport.
And they warned that poor teacher recruitmentand retention were now undermining the efforts of the council and schools to raise standards.
Those concerns were echoed in Hounslow, another outer London borough which is close to Heathrow Airport.
"As elsewhere, recruitment and retention of teachers and headteachers is a problem that poses an increasing threat to development," said inspectors. Nevertheless, they said considerable progress had been made in the Labour-controlled borough in the past three years.
Tough issues, such as the removal of senior managers, teachers and officers who could not fulfil the role required of them, had been tackled with resolve.
The borough, which like Hillingdon has growing numbers of refugees, performs almost all of its functions at least satisfactorily and many of them well.
Schools had forged good relationships with education department staff, but inspectors warned: "This has also led to a familiarity within which communication is not always as sharp as it might be."
VERDICT ON HILLINGDON
* early years and primaryliteracy and numeracy
* support from personnel and for newly-qualifiedteachers
* support for travellers, refugees and asylum-seekers
* education development plan
* special educational needs
* provision for pupils with no school place
* combating racism
* capital investment in schools
VERDICT ON HOUNSLOW Strengths
* support for schools with serious weaknesses
* raising standards inliteracy and numeracy
* the work of the pupilreferral unit
* support for pupils withEnglish as an additional language
* asset managementplanning and propertyservices