INSPECTORS say one of the smallest local authorities - in Peter Mandelson's constituency - has capitalised on its size to spur consistent improvements in exam results, writes Warwick Mansell.
Hartlepool council has helped its 40 schools improve their GCSE and national curriculum test results quicker than the national average since the authority's inception in 1996.
The Office for Standards in Education found that Hartlepool knew its schools very well.
The size of its senior management team - director of education Jeremy Fitt is supported by three assistant directors - was "the envy of many larger authorities", and its staff were capable and competent.
As a result, there was a high degree of mutual understanding between advisers and schools, where morale was good.
Only two schools had been placed in special measures since Hartlepool became a unitary authority four years ago, but where intensive support was needed, it was effective.
Inspectors praised the variety of strategies to promote improvment as "remarkable".
Hartlepool serves a disadvantaged area of north-east England, with pockets of severe poverty. Results at secondary level, where 27 per cent of pupils are on free schools meals, were below national averages, but in line with comparable authorities
Only two weaknesses were listed: the strategy for supporting information technology, and buildings and property maintenance.
The authority, which has been run by a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition since May, benefited from strong political leadership.
Its achievements were particularly impressive given that its schools were funded by the Government at lower-than average levels.
Mr Mandelson described the report as "deeply pleasing".
Education Development Plan
Supportchallenge for schools
Targeting of resources
Supply of school places
Support for school attendance
Information technology use in
curriculum and administration.
Buildings and property maintenance.