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Schools given special exemption from checks

Karen Thornton examines how plans to shake up councils will affect schools

SCHOOLS have been excluded - for the present - from the rolling programme of performance review and improvement expected to hit other council services.

But headteachers and governors have been reminded that local people have a right to know they are making the most of the millions of pounds delegated to them.

White Paper proposals for electoral reform, executive-style political decision-making, a new ethical framework, beacon councils (mirroring beacon schools), and improved financial accountability are outlined in Modern Local Government: In Touch With The People.

Councils are given responsibility for obtaining "best value" by subjecting all services to continual review, public consultation and improvement.

Schools are excluded from this duty "at the present time" - partly because they are already developing a framework of regulation which includes school target setting, Office for Standards in Education inspections, and local authority education development plans.

But the door is left open. The White Paper warns that local people have the right to know schools are obtaining best value, and says the Government will be looking at strengthening the focus on efficiency in OFSTED inspections.

The 100-page document also talks of specialist inspectorates, such as OFSTED, getting more involved in best value work. The White Paper suggests that the specialist inspectorates - and new best value inspectorate - will have to adapt their inspection procedures to authorities' differing performance levels .

Local government minister Hilary Armstrong said: "We are asking governors to do so much, and this (best value) is a hugely complex regime. We want to make sure it works."

She did not rule out the possibility of a convergence between best value and the current regulatory framework of target setting and inspection.

The Local Government Association has praised the White Paper for giving councils greater discretion over local services - except education and social services. Chief executive Brian Briscoe said it would press for schools to be included in best value.

That would be resisted by headteachers, who want more, not less, central direction, and have argued for a national funding formula for schools.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The Government will do virtually nothing to remedy the iniquities in the current system by which money is distributed to local authorities and thence to schools. A national funding formula which recognises that every school in the country should be funded in accordance with a common basic need is as far off as ever."

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