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Pennine councils forge improving partnership

THE first formal twinning agreement between councils has been developed to help turn round a failing education authority.

Blackburn with Darwen council is being brought in as a consultant to help Rochdale tackle serious weaknesses identified in a damning report from the Office for Standards in Education.

The two Lancashire Pennine authorities have similar catchment areas. Blackburn, declared one of four "beacons" last December for its work in raising standard, will act as a consultant for 12 to 18 months. Its officers will advise on three key areas of weakness in Rochdale - school improvement, special educational needs and data analysis.

The arrangement will include exchange visits, staff pairing and mentoring. Details are still being finalised, and Blackburn is negotiating a fee for its services.

Rochdale was described as "failing to deliver effective support for some of its most vulnerable children" in its May inspection. Education managers were accused of failing to control scool budgets and of allowing standards to slip.

Along with other heavily criticised councils, Waltham Forest, in north-east London, and Bradford, it was asked to draw up an action plan for improvements.

The option of pairing with another council was one suggested in a report by Government-appointed consultants KPMG.

Ministers are promoting the partnership, which fits in with the Government's drive for spreading good practice - a keystone of the existing specialist and beacon schools programmes.

Councils have also welcomed it as a less drastic solution than private-sector intervention - another of the favoured solutions for struggling authorities.

"This embodies our view of local education authorities as a family, working together to spread good practice," said Neil Fletcher, policy officer at the Local Government Association.

However, Rochdale is also bidding for a longer-term deal and a private company may still be brought in as a consultant at a later stage.

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