Minister rules out 'licence to meddle'

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Local authorities face restrictions on access to their schools, reports Clare Dean.

Local authorities will be barred from their own schools unless they have evidence of serious problems or are invited in.

Spot checks by advisers will be vetoed under a strict new regime set down by the Government designed to protect schools from feeling vulnerable and exposed.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, has halted attempts by chief education officers to get unlimited, unconditional access to schools, claiming such a move would send out the wrong signals.

"It is no part of an LEA's role to interfere," he said. "There will be no licence to meddle."

The Government surprised many by giving councils a key role in its campaign to raise standards - and this has been one of the biggest criticisms of its White Paper which forms the basis of the schools Bill due out next week.

Ministers have insisted that intervention should be in inverse proportion to success and that the council's job is to support schools as they progress and apply pressure where they do not.

The new regime will form part of a code of practice covering the relationship between LEAs and schools which is being developed by the Department for Education and Employment.

"We are going to make sure there is no abuse which allows individual authorities to interfere in the day-to-day running of a school," said Mr Byers.

"LEAs won't get access to schools. They will not be given automatic legal right of access into schools which is what they have been asking for.

"Advisers will not be able to just go in and look around unless that have proof, for example, that science is a disaster area or that the school is not meeting its targets."

The 1996 school inspections Act enables an LEA to inspect a maintained school where it requires information to do its job.

Mr Byers said councils would have to rely on performance data and if there was evidence of problems an LEA would have a legal right of entry. This would also apply to foundation schools.

Anxious governors will be able to bypass headteachers and call in the LEA.

Chief education officers claimed it was difficult to judge a school solely by its results.

Roy Jobson, chair of the Association of Chief Education Officers, said: "You can't do it all by paper and standards. There are things to do with behaviour and ethos.

"We don't want to go back to appointing caretakers and some of the things we used to. We simply want to be guardians of standards."

Chris Tipple, Northumberland's education director, added: "No one is talking about heavy-handed interference. It's just a backstop because sometimes the only way to find out is for people to go into schools.

"The Government's drive on standards is likely to be less effective and less successful if authorities are not allowed to do this."

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