Sarah Cassidy and Nicolas Barnard report on the latest assessment of England's education authorities
LOCAL authorities have a long way to go if they are to reach ambitious Government targets for cutting class sizes and increasing the number of nursery places for four-year-olds.
The huge disparity between the best and worst performing councils was revealed in this week's education performance indicators.
In the shires only 47 per cent of three and four-year-olds had a place in a council-run nursery in 199798. In Wiltshire, Leicestershire and Gloucestershire fewer than three out of ten under-fives had a place.
However, the Government target is for all four-year-olds to have a nursery place by 2002. Like its Tory predecessor, the Labour Government wants a mix of provision. The Audit Commission data include only council-run services.
Nationally, there were council places for 61 per cent of pre-school children, an increase of 3 per cent on the previous year.
The cost of educating pre-school children also varies, from pound;1,200 to more than pound;3,000 per child. It is highest in inner-city areas where many children speak little or no English.
The Audit Commission reports that, nationally, one in four primary children was taught in a class of more than 30 in 199798, an increase of 1 per cent. The Government target is to have no five to seven-year-olds in a class of more than 30 by 2001.
Unitary and metropolitan councils have the furthest to go with authorities such as Rutland, Portsmouth, Gateshead and Birmingham having more than 80 per cent of primary pupils in classes of more than 30.