Education authorities which hit challenging new targets for improving pupil and school performance could win millions of pounds of extra funding, as well as greater freedom from central government.
So far, 20 pilot authorities have signed agreements committing themselves to around a dozen negotiated targets covering a wide range of public services, including education. The local public service agreement (PSA) programme is now being rolled out across England.
All the pilots have set education targets, mostly to do with increasing pupil performance over and above existing targets in national tests at 11, 14 and GCSEs. Middlesbrough (see picture) and Camden are focusing on raising the achievement of ethnic minority children. Kent is targeting two of its most deprived areas, Thanet and Shepway.
In exchange, most authorities have negotiated guaranteed levels of standards funding for the next three years and have been exempted from the requirement to update their education development plans.
The councils have received hundreds of thousands of pounds of "pump-priming" money, which they are spending on everything from laptops for looked-after children to pupil referral units, and family learning centres to advanced skills teachers. Coventry has won permission to pay a social inclusion allowance to teachers in specified schools, to aid recruitment and retention.
For every target they hit, they will earn between pound;290,000 (Richmond-upon-Thames) and pound;2.3 million (Birmingham) - up to a maximum of between pound;3.5 million and pound;27.8 million respectively. Councils will be free to spend the extra money however they want.
The 20 pilot authorities are: Birmingham, Blackburn with Darwen, Cambridgeshire, Camden, Coventry, Derbyshire, Kent, Lewisham, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Newham, Norfolk, Richmond-upon-Thames, Sheffield, Stockton-on-Tees, Sunderland, Surrey, Tameside, and Warwickshire.
Andy Burns, Warwickshire's PSA coordinator, said six of the county's 12 targets were to do with education. Speaking at the Local Government Association's education conference last week, he said officers decided to build its PSA on existing plans for developing education services, which helped secure the support of schools.
"In getting our schools on board with the PSA, the fact that the PSA targets were things the schools were trying to do anyway was really helpful," he said.
See www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.ukpropilotindex.htm for more details of local PSAs.