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Shephard invites CEOs in from cold

Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, has extended an olive branch to chief education officers with a promise that central government intends in future to consult with professionals in the service, writes Geraldine Hackett.

In her speech to the standing conference of chief education officers last weekend, she made clear she was seeking effective working relationships between all partners in the education service.

Keith Anderson, chief education officer in Gloucestershire and chairman of the standing conference, acknowledges that strains and tensions have existed. "The limitations evident in certain policies could have been avoided had there been proper consultation before implementation," he said.

Signs of the changes are discussions taking place over the extent to which local authorities have the power to intervene in schools that are not failing, but require assistance.

In her speech, Mrs Shephard said: "I very much hope that you would want to give high priority to helping weaker schools. These are the schools which most need your support; we must catch them before the serious weaknesses lead on to a downward spiral and failure."

The Education Secretary has also asked local authorities to help monitor the new code of practice for special educational needs.

Mr Anderson said: "We know there may be times when we will not agree with a government's policies. What is important is that we are in a position to debate and influence those policies."

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