LIBERAL Democrat-controlled Devon County Council has had only partial success in embracing the national agenda for educational improvement, inspectors revealed this week.
Their report shows that the large and mostly rural authority has more strengths than weaknesses but highlights a lack of clarity on major strategic matters.
It paints what the Office for Standards in Education calls a "mixed picture" with difficulties but some important achievements.
Inspectors say council plans for education are insufficiently detailed, making it hard to monitor progress.
They say the authority is not yet effectively challenging its schools and that critical support services have not been consistently good enough.
In contrast, inspectors praise Devon's financial decision-making and say that councillors have shown good resolve in maintaining the real value of individual school budgets.
They add that the support for the national literacy and numeracy strategies has been good as has the work on ensuring ethnic-minority pupils, including traveller children, have access to schools.
The report notes the considerable difficulties the authority faced in the wake of local goernment reorganisation three years ago.
Its budget was cut by a third in 1998, the population served by the council fell by 40 per cent yet the area of land covered by the local authority dropped by just 3 per cent.
The new council, which lost key personnel to Torbay and Plymouth, inherited schools that were diverse, widely spread and, in the case of primary schools, often small.
A third of its primaries have fewer than 100 pupils and one in six has fewer than 50. Secondary schools are larger than average, a third with more than 1,200 pupils.
Schools perform in line with those in similar local authorities and nationally and attainment at key stage 2 is rising faster than the national rate.
* literacy and numeracy strategies
* financial management
* advice to governing bodies
* provision of school places and management of admissions appeals
* ensuring the health and safety of staff and pupils
* combating social exclusion
* monitoring, challenging, intervention and some aspects of support for schools
* identifying and securing timely improvement in schools in difficulties * special needs