Councils 'failing' vulnerable children

26th May 2000 at 01:00
Six reports on inspections of local authorities were published this week by the Office for Standards in Education, and only one was favourable - that for Kensington and Chelsea. Three councils were slated and two emerged with good points acknowledged

LOCAL authorities serving some of England's most deprived areas were this week castigated by the Office for Standards in Education for letting down some of their most vulnerable children.

Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools, said an "ingrained culture of failure and hopelessness" had developed in Bradford, Waltham Forest, in north-east London, and Rochdale.

He said: "These children and parents deserve the best possible support from their LEAs and it is depressing to report this is not what they receive."

All three authorities are now likely to have some or all of their services put out to tender after the weaknesses were uncovered in damning OFSTED reports.

Some 15 of the 75 authorities inspected so far have been judged so weak they need external assistance. Mr Woodhead said it was surprising that so many failures were being uncovered more than two years after inspections began.

He said the verdict on Bradford - put mainly down to poor political and professional leadership - ranked with the worst of any of the authorities so far inspected: Islington, Hackney and Leeds.

The west Yorkshire authority was providing a "very poor service" to its 220 schools, 81 of which reported a budget deficit last year, leaving some of its upper schools "barely viable".

Mr Woodhead said the authority had been keener to preserve jobs in its own department than improve school budgets.

"The report will be a salutary reminder to the LEA that it exists to serve the people of Bradford and not its own employees," said Mr Woodhead.

The current re-organisation of Bradford schools would not in itself do enough to alleviate its difficulties, said inspectors.

Most worryingly, the LEA was failing to meet its statutory duties for children with special educational needs and emotional and behavioural difficulties, particularly in running three units, which are not registered as schools or pupil referral units.

David Ward, Bradford's education spokesman, said: "The report says there are a lot of good things happening in Bradford but not enough and not in enough areas. There is a lot of work to be done. Clearly we need external help."

In Waltham Forest, inspectors found that "no agreed vision and strategy for education exists". Its major flaw was that the authority had lost track of the whereabouts of some of its excluded children.

In Rochdale, greater Manchester, 90 per cent of pupils who were excluded or chronic non-attenders were being provided with less than five hous' education a week.

It was failing in its statutory duties to special needs pupils, was not doing enough to raise sluggish exam results and had allowed one school to build up a pound;730,000 budget deficit.

School standards minister Estelle Morris said the Government would continue to act to ensure that "never again do we see schools in some of our most disadvantaged areas striving to raise standards in the face of a lack of support from their local authorities."

Private consultants are to be appointed to advise on the future of all three authorities in the next two weeks. However, Ms Morris said ministers had already decided that all or most of Bradford's services are to be put out to tender - replacing a scheme the authority had proposed.

In Waltham Forest, new consultants are to advise on implementing management change, in addition to the work of PPI group, who were brought in by the council before the report's publication.

Three education services run by Rotherham council, south Yorkshire, are likely to be put out to tender following a report by the Office for Public Management, a firm of consultants. The report recommends the outsourcing of information and communications technology services, school maintenance and financial support services and the establishment of a "brokerage" scheme to help schools get value for money.

OPM were called in after OFSTED criticised Rotherham for spending less on education than any other metropolitan authority and having an ineffective education department.

WALTHAM FOREST

Strengths

schools' general advisers

governor support

support for literacy and schools in special measures

Weaknesses

administration and financial control

raising standards in secondaries

special needs

admissions

arrangements for children out of school

relationships between primaries and secondaries

ROCHDALE

Strengths

help for schools in special measures or with serious weaknesses

work on improving attendance rates and standards in numeracy

support for governors

Weaknesses

strategic management and planning

formulation of an education development plan

identification of schools causing concern

improving behaviourreducing exclusions

monitoring, challenging, supporting and intervening

special needs

BRADFORD

Strengths

early years

admissions

child protection

support for numeracy and for governors

Weaknesses

implementation of the education development plan

school funding special needs

speed and openness of decision-making

support for looked-after children

measures to combat racism

Full reports can be viewed on www.ofsted.gov.ukpubslea.htm


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