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Perceived wisdom differs;Briefing;Document of the week

Huge differences in the way local education authorities are perceived to be performing have been identified by researchers at Roehampton Institute, writes Jeremy Sutcliffe.

The researchers asked school heads, governors and teachers in 19 LEAs, as well as councillors and education officers, to rate local education services on a scale ranging from excellent to poor.

Combined ratings for "competent" and "excellent" ranged from just 19 per cent in one authority to 87 per cent in another. Ratings for "excellent" alone range from zero to 19 per cent. (see below).

The findings, to be published later this year, come at a time when LEAs are being closely scrutinised, with ministers challenging them to improve their effectiveness, or risk being sidelined.

However, both users and providers are more positive when it comes to future performance. Between 65 and 86 per cent of heads, governors and teachers believe that their LEA will perform better, or much better, in future. Councillors and education officers are even more optimistic, with between 74 and 100 per cent expecting improvement.

The study identifies five specific services most strongly associated with an effective LEA. These are:

* support for school improvement;

* advisory support for curriculum development;

* support for teaching children with special educational needs;

* monitoring school standards;

* opportunities for teachers' professional development.

More generally, well-run LEAs were considered to be those which gave value for money, consulted effectively with teachers, supported heads and teachers and took account of the educational needs of the whole community.

The most effective LEAs were characterised as having a well- defined partnership with their schools and a clear partnership between education officers and councillors. Heads saw these relationships as one of the greatest assets of LEA "membership".

The best authorities had "a climate of momentum, enthusiasm and trust, sustained by clear professional leadership about what can be achieved and how", says the study. "We found little evidence of 'heroic' leadership and much evidence of shared leadership."

Highly-rated LEAs provided efficient monitoring and evaluation schemes for schools and gave support and advice on issues ranging from pupil behaviour and truancy to the curriculum, staffing and finance.

The research was carried out by Professor Kathryn Riley, director of the centre for education management at the RoehamptonInstitute, London, with senior research fellows Dr Jim Docking and David Rowles.

Details of the study will be in 'Leadership on a Wider Stage: New Actors, New Roles', edited by Kathryn Riley and Karen Seahore Louis (Falmer Press) due out this autumn

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