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Still struggling to make grade

Two of the most lambasted education authorities have been re-visited by Ofsted. Michael Shaw reports

TWO heavily criticised education authorities remain unsatisfactory despite intervention by private companies, inspectors revealed this week.

The Office for Standards in Education said that Bradford and the London borough of Waltham Forest had made significant improvements since damning inspections in 2000 when the then chief inspector Chris Woodhead claimed they suffered from an "an ingrained culture of failure and hopelessness".

However, inspectors said that both authorities still had many unsatisfactory services, and that it was too early to measure the full impact of the privatisations. Bradford outsourced the majority of its functions in 2001 to Serco QAA in a pound;360 million 10-year-deal.

Inspectors praised this "fundamental and radical change", and said it had improved the authority's management in recent months.

But services, including provision for pupils without a school place, continue to be poor and the LEA's support for many schools deteriorated during the first six months of the contract.

David Ward, Bradford's executive councillor for education, said the authority recognised more work was needed, but was pleased with its transformation.

"It's been an incredibly traumatic time for schools and everyone in the education service," he said.

"Our primary results have improved at a faster rate than almost anywhere else nationally, and we are still going through a massive transition."

In Waltham Forest, Ofsted said that Nord Anglia had acted with "energy and enthusiasm" since it won the pound;15m-a-year contract to run services for the authority in 2001.

However, the LEA needed to work urgently on improving services for special educational needs pupils and establishing trust with headteachers.

More encouraging Ofsted reports were given to three other LEAs.

Richmond upon Thames raised its rating from "unsatisfactory" to "highly satisfactory".

Thurrock, which was rated as "poor" in 2000, was praised for improved test results and leadership. However, inspectors said that significant weaknesses remained in some areas including its management of excluded pupils.

Councillors in Plymouth were criticised for giving poor leadership in education. But Ofsted said that the LEA had made dramatic improvements in spite of this.

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