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Reforms may spark a council jobs boom

Local education authorities want to reverse years of decline by taking on new staff to cope with Government demands - despite warnings from ministers that they should devolve more cash to schools.

One authority is considering appointing up to 30 extra officers in the next two years at a cost of close to Pounds 1 million so it can implement Government programmes including the School Standards and Framework Bill.

The Bill will place new duties on local authorities, including target-driven education development plans to raise standards, financial schemes and admissions panels to plan school places.

Those duties will also include grant-maintained schools which, under the Bill, will become foundation or voluntary schools - part of the local authority family but with more independence.

Education authorities say they are willing partners. But many have slashed their education departments during years of austerity under the Conservatives. Authorities such as Essex, Kent and Hillingdon in London which saw an exodus to the GM sector have been cut the most.

Philip Hunter, president of the Society of Education Officers and director of education in Staffordshire, said his authority, like many others, had already begun taking on new people.

"If we are going to discuss targets and development plans with every school, each one is going to take an afternoon of somebody's time. And it needs people to deal with that. But a lot of us aren't in a position to do that because we've got rid of all our people," he said.

Essex, one of England's largest education authorities, was hit harder than most by opting out. In six years it has shed more than 560 posts, including 36 senior managers, saving Pounds 10 million from its central budget.

But when GM status is abolished it will have 128 new schools to work with - 27 per cent extra. Its roster of secondary schools will treble.

Paul Lincoln, director of learning services, wants six people to start working now with GM schools on standards, five to collect and analyse performance data and feed it through to schools to help them set targets, and the equivalent of 9.5 staff to work with GM schools on places, admissions and building programmes.

In addition, he wants another eight staff to work with children with special needs and implement an early-years plan - both in line with recent Government pronouncements. This will cost Pounds 865,000 a year.

He told councillors this week that without the staff they would be unable to deliver the Government's programme and would lose credibility - something the whole local government sector fears. It is acutely aware that emasculation or abolition of education authorities has not left the agenda, despite the change at Westminster.

The Local Government Association warns that even authorities which have not suffered mass opt-outs could have their work cut out. Head of education David Whitbread said: "If you are going to expect authorities to do things and be accountable for them, resources are needed."

But that underlines the dilemma education authorities face. Ministers have made it clear they want them to delegate more cash directly to schools.

Some cash should be freed by the abolition of the Funding Agency for Schools, but not before April 1999.

Mr Whitbread admitted: "We are torn between wanting to argue for adequate funding to do our jobs properly and not stopping money going into schools - because at the end of the day there is no point having a Rolls-Royce machine if schools are running as Austin 7s."

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