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Progress is easier said than done

It is clear that 2006-7 was not the best year for the performance of schools. But the chief inspector's report is not all doom and gloom. Schools, colleges and teachers can be proud of real improvements in many areas, despite a slowdown in standards.

The dire performance of some local authorities is more worrying for long-term improvement. Inspectors see little scope for improvement in two-thirds of the local authorities they inspected during 2006-7.

This does not auger well for the School Effectiveness Framework, also launched this week and aimed at narrowing the gap between the best- and worst-performing schools. Local authorities are seen as having a key role in its success, the lynch-pin that holds it all together. But as we also publish the findings of a survey revealing that schools' perceptions of education services are also in decline, tough questions have to be asked.

One educationist, who wished not to be named, said there was growing resentment among secondary schools that many newly appointed officers did not have an education background. He admitted there was a bit of a battle going on behind the scenes. There is no doubt that a lack of funding at the chalk face and ballooning workload has not helped to smooth relations between the Assembly government, local authorities and schools.

Professor David Reynolds perhaps goes a little over the top when he says local authorities in Wales "can't do anything".

There are indeed many cases of good practice by local authorities that are helping school improvement. But are the priorities right?

Good healthy eating and lifestyle schemes are all very well but they don't put bread on the table. The sad fact remains that as the public purse becomes tighter, the existence of 22 separate LEAs becomes less viable. How much longer can we carry on paying for all those directors of education? And is there enough money in the pot to restructure?

Dr Bill Maxwell has come to Wales with all guns blazing, saying schools and local authorities must collaborate to bring on school improvement. Is this straight-talking Scot facing an uphill battle in turning his tough words into action? Sadly, it appears so.

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