Freedom drive alarms education directors

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Education directors say government plans to give schools more independence have left them feeling like "scientists with leaky test tubes".

Members of Confed, the education directors association, said that they feared that the Government's drive to improve services for children and young people was in conflict with its five-year education strategy. The strategy will allow schools to gain foundation status more easily and increase the number of independent academies.

Education officials are concerned that schools may refuse to co-operate on issues such as sharing excluded pupils. A legal amendment which would have compelled schools to work with other local services to promote children's welfare was blocked by the Government last year.

Cynthia Welbourn, outgoing Confed president, told the association's winter conference in London last week that education directors felt like scientists with faulty equipment.

"We had been growing a chromosome called children's services," she said.

"We thought we were getting on well with that and then the five-year strategy came along. Now the scientists are working with leaky test tubes."

The education directors urged David Bell, the chief inspector, to rate schools for their co-operation with others on issues such as admitting excluded pupils.

Tony Dessent, director of lifelong learning for Luton, said surveys of schools should not be part of Office for Standards in Education local authority inspections because heads often saw them as an opportunity to criticise.

Mr Bell said he agreed that Ofsted would need to rethink school surveys as local authority inspections were expanding to cover other services which work with children.

But he said the watchdog did not plan to check up on schools' willingness to co-operate with others.

"If you think there are concerns about the contribution that a school is making it should be raised in the children's services self-assessment," he said.

Tom Jeffrey, director general for children, young people and families at the Department for Education and Skills, insisted there was no conflict between the five-year strategy and the children's agenda.

He applauded the education directors for their work helping to create the new joined-up children's services and acknowledged they might be feeling overloaded with demands for data. "We need to think about how we can handle the flow of documents a good deal better," he said.

Diary 21

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