TROUBLESHOOTERS have been sent in to a council serving one of the country's most deprived areas after it was found to be failing to support its schools effectively.
Two teams of local-authority experts have been drafted in by ministers to provide emergency help to South Tyneside following serious criticisms in an inspection report.
Although inspectors found Labour-controlled South Tyneside runs some services well, they catalogued failings in key school improvement and monitoring functions.
Each of the authority's 79 schools were visited three times a year, irrespective of whether or not they needed support, said inspectors.
And while the authority's own information suggested school management was a weakness in South Tyneside, the help it had given to heads to improve was "inadequate".
On target-setting, the authority was "grossly inefficient", setting schools goals according to crude measures of their past performance and free-meals take-up, rather than using headteachers' own more accurate records of pupil performance.
The report implies that the authority has been slow to adapt to the Government's emphasis onincreasing school autonomy. It also attacks aspects of stategic management and financial planning.
South Tyneside schools were having some success in raising standards, said inspectors. And there was good work supporting the literacy hour and on social inclusion, including a dramatic reduction in the number of exclusions from its secondary schools.
But inspectors' conclusion that the authority could not address its failings without external help, prompted ministers to act. A team of local authority experts, headed by ex Newcastle education director Martin Davies, now at management consultants KPMG, has been assembled to drive forward improvements. Its work will be overseen by a second group, headed by London University academic Professor David Mallen, a former chief education officer for East Sussex. This group will include local heads.
* School attendance policies
* Support for children in public care
* Officer performance management
* Prioritising resources
* School improvement support
* Target setting
* Support for school management