SCHOOLS in the inner London borough of Lambeth have a much improved education service, while those in the affluent suburb of Bromley have been allowed to coast, according to the latest inspection reports from the Office for Standards in Education.
Inspectors say Lambeth's education department has changed beyond recognition since the mid 1990s. The director, Heather DuQuesnay, is praised for rescuing the service, but the report says financial systems need to be improved.
Concerns surfaced shortly after Lambeth took over the service from the Inner London Education Authority. It has had 14 schools identified as failing, though more than half have now been removed from the list.
The report says that when Ms DuQuesnay took over in March 1996 there were poor relationships between schools and the education authority, and a culture of failure and inefficiency existed.
Since then, there has been great progress and the local authority is effectively challenging schools. However, late and inaccurate information prevents schools from planning budgets effectively.
The report concludes that Lambeth still has some way to go, but councillors and officers are committed to reform.
In contrast, inspectors say Bromley has not dealt effectively with the underperformance and low expectations of some schools. The report also criticises the high-cost special needs services and the absence of a strategy for bringing grant-maintained schools back into the fold.
All but one of Bromley's 17 secondaries are grant-maintained and relations with them have dramatically deteriorated following changes to budgets.
According to the inspectors, most schools do well and are popular; buildings are in a reasonable condition.
However, inspectors says there is considerable scope for improvement. Schools have not been provided with detailed comparative data and too much reliance has been placed on schools carrying out self-evaluations.
In order to achieve better value for money, the report suggests Bromley target special needs funds more effectively; delegate more to schools and monitor the quality of special needs services.
The report says the authority has the professional skills and commitment to tackle weaknesses in the service.