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Praise after the struggle

Despite fierce opposition, the re-integration of GM schools in Hampshire has been a success. Warwick Mansell reports.

INSPECTORS this week praised one of the country's largest local authorities, which has been struggling to justify its worth in the face of scepticism from headteachers of its former grant-maintained schools.

The Office for Standards in Education said the re-integration of the 21 former GM schools in Conservative-controlled Hampshire had been "difficult". Many heads of such schools had been sceptical about whether the council had been providing value for money. They had even been attempting to persuade colleagues in other schools of this point of view.

But in an overwhelmingly positive report on the authority, inspectors said that the disgruntled heads had been "singularly unsuccessful" in winning over their peers.

It was true that the council was monitoring its successful schools too frequently. But inspectors said the heads had been "overly critical" of other council services. They also praised the authority for fully involving former GM heads in new initiatives.

Overall, inspectors said Hampshire, which has 551 schools, was a good and improving authority, well-led and performing most of its functions well. Inspectors listed only three weaknesses, including the council's education development plan and its management of the national literacy strategy. These were described as "important".

Meanwhile, three Labour-controlled authorities emerged with fairly glowing reports this week as inspectors concluded they were doing good jobs supporting schools facing often quite severe levels of deprivation.

Slough, on London's western fringe, is situated in one of the largest commercial development areas in Europe, said inspectors, but many of those working there live outside the town. Slough is ethnically diverse, and the council inherited low funding levels when it was established as a unitary authority three years ago.

Against this backdrop, said inspectors, Slough had made good progress, building relationships with its schools and helping pupils' results improve steadily from 1998.

Schools were confident about the future, said inspectors, adding there was "a shared energy for innovation and improvement that is often turned into effective action for pupils".

Inspectors said good consultation with schools was one of the hallmarks of the council. It was also delivering effective support for children in public care and for its growing numbers of ethnic minority pupils. Among a list of only three weaknesses were included arrangements for supporting school finance.

St Helens, Lancashire, also serves an area of deprivation following the ecline of glass and coal-mining industries. But inspectors said the council had made education a priority in its regeneration plans, funded it accordingly, and was reaping the benefits.

Primary school results were now above the national average and schools' GCSE performance had improved faster than nationally in recent years. Inspectors said the authority had made a significant contribution to these gains.

St Helens had good leadership, and functions which had once been considered as weak - such as support for schools causing concern - were now a strength. It had made significant progress in promoting social inclusion. It had also reduced the number of permanent exclusions from its schools by more than half since 1995. Only three weaknesses were listed.

Finally, inspectors concluded that "very high-quality leadership" had helped North Tyneside council tackle numerous problems.

Three to four years ago, said the report, the council had been struggling in the face of "damaging" numbers of surplus school places and excessively high school budget deficits. But the authority was now addressing these issues through a revision of its three-tier system of schooling to a two-tier arrangement of primary and secondary schools.

North Tyneside was given beacon status last year for its school improvement work, and has only ever had one school on special measures. Inspectors said it carried out most of its functions satisfactorily or better, though much remained to be done if recent improvements were to continue. In particular, the authority had to raise standards at key stage 3 and GCSE.



Support for national numeracy strategy.

ICT in schools.

Support for schools in special measures.

Governor support.

Financial management.

Personnel management.


National literacy strategy.

Support for attendance.



Use of performance data.

Computers in admin and the curriculum.

School improvement support.

Special educational needs.

Links with community groups, business.


Support for school governors.



Senior officers' leadership.

Work with partners.

School improvement.

Support for school management.

Use of performance data.


Schools' use of computer technology.

Provision for excluded pupils.



School improvement support.

Support for literacy.

Support for numeracy.

Help for schools causing concern.

Early years.

Support for governors.

WEAKNESSES: Computer use in the curriculum

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