Schools say councils could do better

SCHOOLS rate the services they receive from their local education authorities as adequate at the very best, a confidential report by the Audit Commission reveals.

Not one of more than 1,500 schools surveyed by the public-spending watchdog felt that council services could be described as good and in some cases they were actually poor.

Headteachers were particularly concerned about the quality of inspection and advice, pupil services and even their council's knowledge and understanding of schools.

The report, obtained by The TES and still in draft form, raises serious questions for local education authorities and its findings pose a potential threat to their continued existence.

Councils are being forced to delegate an extra Pounds 1 billion to schools - in part from next April - enabling heads and governors to decide how to spend cash on areas such as buildings maintenance. Schools are unlikely to buy back into a council service with which they were previously unhappy.

Councils range from the small, such as Rutland with only 17 schools, to large authorities like Birmingham which has more than 440. Nearly Pounds 20bn of public money is spent by authorities - of which schools spend Pounds 15bn.

The report is based on the responses to a questionnaire on the performance of LEAs, detailed analysis of spending in 27 councils and in-depth fieldwork at nine councils.

Called Held In Trust: The LEA of the Future, it reveals a 30 per cent difference in the proportion of education budget delegated between councils. The figures ranged from more than 55 per cent to just under 90 per cent.

The commission says the survey shows that schools generally view LEAs as satisfactory but said: "Although not grounds for alarm it is a far from convincing performance ... there is plenty of room for improvement."

Clare Dean and Frances Rafferty

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