Barnsley is castigated by inspectors for its "confused and fragmented" education service. Geraldine Hackett reports
SCHOOLS in the heart of the old South Yorkshire coalfield have been getting a seriously inadequate service from Labour-controlled Barnsley, according to inspectors.
While basic functions have been kept going, the education service has failed to grasp the need to help schools raise standards, says the report from the Office for Standards in Education.
The report bears comparison with that of the London borough of Islington - which was ordered last week to hand over its services to the private sector.
Inspectors says Barnsley has no strategy for school improvement and no system to evaluate or monitor the services it provides.
The council is criticised for its complex and inefficient management structure. The fact that two committees deal with education has, say the inspectors, been of "little or no benefit to the conduct of school business".
The report notes that although there have been improvements since the appointment of Jean Potter as chief education officer last August, problems remain.
Mrs Potter is only third in the chain of command: there is also a programme area director and a head of policy development.
The inspectors says: "This is a recipe for confusion and fragmentation - and confused and fragmented it proves."
The economy of Barnsley has historically been based on coal and since pit closures its unemployment rate has been double the national average. Standards in schools are low and little has been done to raise achievement, according to the inspectors.
In January last year more than 40 per cent of primary pupils were in classes of more than 30.
Schools have not been well-funded. Spending by the council has been below government guidelines since 19967 and Barnsley holds back a higher proportion of its education budget than comparable areas. Primaries in particular have the lowest per-pupil funding of any metropolitan district.
The report concludes that the inspection and advisory service has neither the staff nor the expertise to support or challenge schools; the improvement programme is incoherently managed and there is lack of specific plans to improve behaviour support.
Mrs Potter acknowledged the report highlights the weaknesses of the service. "We were very honest and the report makes clear we are putting the systems in place to deal with those shortcomings," she said.
* FACTS AND FIGURES
English scores for 11-year-olds in Barnsley are almost 10 points below the national average and remain so up to age 14.
In secondaries, only 30 per cent of 16-year-olds gain five or more good GCSEs, compared with the national average of 44 per cent.