Bid to stave off hit squad invasion

7th August 1998 at 01:00
Specialists are being recruited at Calderdale after it was given a six-week deadline to produce an action plan. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

A TEAM of specialists is being enlisted to save a Yorkshire education authority from losing power to a Government-backed hit squad.

Top names are being approached to help turn around the authority, after the latest Office for Standards in Education report found management was ineffective. The Government has given it six weeks to come up with an acceptable action plan.

Calderdale has failed to address five out of 10 recommendations made by inspectors more than a year ago, after an initial inspection returned a damning report. Progress on three was deemed satisfactory. Only two were good.

A policy and resources committee meeting this week asked the chief executive, Paul Sheehan, to put together a panel of experts to "show us how it should be done".

Mr Sheehan said: "Certain names are being suggested to us and we will choose from those available. They will be people who are significant in their field and who can bring to us the relevant expertise in those areas where outstanding action needs to be taken by the authority."

Mr Sheehan thought Calderdale's problems were best solved locally. " We understand the situation and we will address it," he added.

Calderdale was put under the ministerial microscope after The Ridings, in Halifax, was temporarily closed down in a blaze of publicity about discipline problems.

The latest OFSTED report on the authority, published last week, found poor senior management and that officials had failed to address weaknesses. Education committee chairman, Helen Rivron, said she did not expect sackings.

"There is an awful lot that is going right in Calderdale. Our results are good, behaviour is good. This is a snapshot in time taken since previous reports," she said. However, the standards minister, Estelle Morris, said she would "not allow any LEA to fail in its duty to raise educational standards for the children in its charge".

"It is clear that efforts to improve standards across Calderdale are being undermined by an ineffective senior management team. I am therefore asking Calderdale to report to me by September 14 on how they plan to remedy the failings identified by OFSTED, including what specific action they will take."

If Calderdale fails to satisfy ministerial demands, it could become the first authority to succumb to new legislation which allows the Government to appoint an agent to run its schools.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, the LGA chairman said: "We will prove to the Government and the DFEE that when an LEA is having difficulties the best way to raise standards and deliver a first-class education system for pupils and parents is to allow local government to put its own house in order without a too heavy-handed approach from Government officials."


In January 1997, OFSTED drew up 10 recommendations to be implemented by Calderdale. In July 1998, inspectors judged the authority had failed to deliver five.

Recommendation 1

To establish a database to ensure that policies and practice are based on full and accurate information.

1998: a database has been set up but its strategic significance and detail of its use have not been established.

Recommendation 2

To analyse and distribute relevant comparative information to enable the authority's schools to measure their (progress) against that of others.

1998: the authority has distributed relevant comparative data, but makes little use of its own analyses to identify weakness across the schools, or to formulate policy.

Recommendation 3

To review and revise the powers delegated to the authority's officers to receive a more effective use of professional staff and to avoid education committee members being unnecessarily involved in administrative detail.

1998: insufficient action has been taken to ensure appropriate and consistent roles for education committee members and officers.

Recommendation 4

To review its sub-committees to ensure the committee structure is effective, economic and appropriate to its statutory functions.

1998: action taken , but sub-committees still meet too frequently and work at a high level of detail.

Recommendation 5

To ensure that the reasons for decisions made by the committee are known to those whom they affect and take due account of the schools' needs and priorities so as to achieve a better understanding between the committee members and schools.

1998: the authority now ensures that its schools are better informed but has made no progress in dispelling the mistrust which is evident in schools.

Recommendation 6

To define with greater precision the extent of the schools' entitlement to services and the means by which the use of these services is to be evaluated.

1998: schools' entitlement to services is better defined and some services have improved. There is, however, no consistent approach to evaluation.

Recommendation 7

To re-examine and re-order the way in which support is provided to schools to ensure co-ordinated action following OFSTED inspections and better focused support for individual schools.

1998: the curriculum support team (CST) has made progress in targeting resources on the schools with greatest needs.

Recommendation 8

To examine alternative ways of providing additional primary expertise within the CST and then make this available.

1998: the CST has provided additional primary expertise within the team, but the benefits may not be sustained.

Recommendation 9

To devise with governors, heads and parents measures designed to raise educational standards in schools in central Halifax, to respond to their specific and pressing needs .

1998: a great deal of activity has been undertaken but it remains uncoordinated. Major targets in the action plan for the development of a school improvement project and a review of the structure of secondary school provision in Halifax have not been addressed.

Recommendation 10

To devise and implement a comprehensive strategy for supporting pupils with behavioural difficulties.

1998: little progress has been made on this issue. Developments are partial, fragmented and slow.

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