Meddling that led to chaos

4th February 2000 at 00:00
EDUCATION minister Estelle Morris insisted this week that the Government had confidence in local education authorities, des- pite the news that Leeds was likely to lose control of its education service to the private sector.

As well as the damning report on Leeds, the Office for Standards in Education said urgent action was needed to deal with poor services in Sheffield and Labour-controlled Rotherham.

According to Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools, there are 23 local authorities where OFSTED has serious concerns. So far 59 of the country's 150 education services have been inspected. Leeds is the largest city to be condemned as failing

However, Ms Morris said education authorities have a role to play and it would be "bizarre" to change what is done by those that are effective.

Consultants are to be sent in to Sheffield and Rotherham to advise on improvements, but Ms Morris said she expected that at least some of the services in Leeds to be taken over by private firms.

The chief inspector said the hopes and aspirations of the 117,000 children in Leeds' schools had been betrayed by the failures identified by his inspectors.

The inspection report accuses councillors of interfering in the running of the service. It points out they can influence spending on schools because they control the distribuion of some funds in their own wards.

It also cites the views of head- teachers that the meddling of

leading councillors and other local politicians in the operation of the education department led to confusion in the roles of councillors and officers.

Inspectors found some improvement in services in Sheffield since the appointment two years ago of a new director, Jonathan Crossley-Holland.

However, the report says the authority still has a weak education development plan; has not developed a strategy to deal with high levels of truancy and there are failings in the services for children with special needs.

The report says: "As recently as two to three years ago, the local authority was in disarray. Financial difficulties and poor budget planning regularly led to the unpredictable and sudden need to freeze or cut expenditure."

In neighbouring Rotherham, school buildings are in a poor state and the council spends less on education than any other metropolitan authority.

Inspectors found a thinly staffed education department struggling to come terms with the national agenda.

Schools have to put up with poor resources, often inadequate buildings and an inffective education department.

However, standards in schools in Rotherham are in line with similar local education authorities.

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