The pace of educational change is set to accelerate and local education authorities will need to offer schools real help if lasting progress is to be achieved.
As "critical friends" of the school, LEA advisers, inspectors and consultants must use a range of negotiating skills, supported by up-to-date knowledge of local and national policies and the latest developments in educational practice.
Steps have therefore been taken to clarify their role and improve their professional development. Following talks with the National Association of Educational Inspectors Advisers and Consultants, the Department for Education and Skills has published the first set of national standards for school improvement professionals.
This positive move contrasts with the narrow view of some school managements, who still see their own schools as separate worlds. As the statutory code of practice on LEA-school relations points out: "School autonomy does not mean acting in isolation ... the most effective schools are those which are open both in sharing their own good practice and looking for best practice elsewhere."
The Education Act 2002 is also partly about encouraging collaborative networking between different types of schools. These linkages could help to reduce current fears of a slide towards greater inequality between secondary schools as wider diversity emerges. In sustaining these new inter-school networks, the skills of LEA advisers will become ever more important.
John Chowcat is general secretary of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants.