Council wins over the doubters

27th April 2001 at 01:00
They said it would never work, but the new Telford and Wrekin Council has this week received a glowing report from OFSTED. Warwick Mansell reports

A COUNCIL which faced deep scepticism from headteachers at its inception only three years ago has managed to win them over because of the effectiveness of its services, inspectors have concluded.

Telford and Wrekin, in the west Midlands, was formed against the wishes of heads when it broke from Shropshire council under local authority reorganisation in 1998.

But the Office for Standards in Education this week effectively pronounced the split a success, releasing positive reports on both authorities. Inspectors this week also praised London's largest authority, Croydon.

The Midlands reorganisation created two very different neighbours - the Labour-controlled new town of Telford, with its pockets of deprivation, existing alongside prosperous, rural Shropshire, where the Conservatives are the largest party.

Yet the inspectors found the two councils had found ways to work together, to the benefit of schools. Special educational needs and inspection and advisory services are among those now provided jointly by the two authorities.

Inspectors said Telford had many strengths and few weaknesses, despite spending less per pupil than similar councils. It had ambitious plans for pupil improvement, strong political leadership and a team of "very capable and committed" senior officers.

An pound;11.4 million investment in computer technology for its 82 schools also won praise. The council, however, was less than effective in identifying and supporting underperforming schools which had not been listed as such by OFSTED.

In Shropshire, England's smallest county, strengths also far outweighed weaknesses. Inspectors said the fact that none of the county's 168 schools had ever been judged to have weaknesses was an "excellent" record.

Although pupils entering primary school performed below national averages, they consistently out-performed national norms once in school.

The authority was well-led, had the capacity to improve and was performing almost all of its school improvement functions well.

However, inspectors said the county's efforts to combat racism in schools were moving too slowly, while its provision for children with behavioural difficulties was condemned as "inadequate".

Shropshire has no pupil referral unit and most secondary-age pupils educated outside of schools were receiving less than half the schooling to which they were entitled.

Croydon was credited with making "considerable progress" in recent years, especially in supporting schools in difficulty.

The authority had good relationships with its 130 schools, none of which were under special measures. Councillors and officials provided good leadership.

The authority's advisory service, which was well-led and highly-regrded, was a particular strength.

Inspectors said, however, that the council was taking too long to produce special educational needs statements and could be providing better buildings maintenance advice.

However, inspectors said Croydon, though performing well, still faced "very considerable challenges", particulary in improving pupils' test and exam results, which needed to improve substantially if tough targets for next year were to be met.

Standards for some schools were too low - the proportion of pupils gaining five top GCSEs varied from 20 to 80 per cent in Croydon's secondaries. And some groups of pupils, notably black Caribbean and African students, were underachieving.

Difficulties in recruiting and retaining teachers were also putting at risk the council's ability to raise pupils' results, said inspectors, though they concluded Croydon had the capacity to continue its progress.

Finally, inspectors have promised to return to Ealing, west London, after concluding that they could not be sure that recent improvements to the service would continue.

OFSTED found that Ealing had had serious problems as recently as 1997, when current director Alan Parker arrived. Since then, he had provided good leadership.

The council was now working well in some areas and providing very good support for schools causing concern.

However, it still had a number of significant weaknesses. Councillors were not scrutinising the performance of schools closely enough. Recruitment was a problem, not just for the schools, but for the education department itself.

The agency said Ealing had achieved a great deal in recent years, but promised to return within two years to check that the improvement had been sustained.

SHROPSHIRE

Strengths:

Schools' use of performance data.

Literacy strategy.

Numeracy strategy.

Support for schools causing concern.

School management support.

Weaknesses:

Schools' use of computers in curriculum.

Education for excluded pupils

CROYDON

Strengths:

Relationship with schools.

Support for schools causing concern.

Use of pupil performance data.

Support for governors.

Budget advice to schools.

Weaknesses:

Personnel and payroll services.

Special educational needs statements.

EALING

strengths:

Support for schools causing concern.

Provision for excluded pupils.

Support for young people in care.

WEAKNESSES

Evaluation of corporate plans.

Property services.

Combating racism.

TELFORD amp; WREKIN

Strengths:

Political and professional leadership.

Partnership with headteachers.

Finance and personnel services.

Management of school places.

Target-setting and use of data.

Weaknesses:

Support for schools causing concern.

Education for excluded pupils.


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