THE once-politically volatile borough of Brent, north London, spends less on education than recommended by the Government, but runs an effective service, according to inspectors.
The borough, now Labour-controlled, became famous in the mid-1990s for the fluctuations in political control as key councillors switched parties.
According to an Office For Standards in Education inspection report, published this week, services were overhauled in the early 1990s after the council was accused of incompetence.
During that period, Brent ran a minimalist service, contracting work out to the private sector and encouraging schools to become grant-maintained.
As a result, Brent now directs most of its attention and expertise towards primary schools, maintaining only two secondaries.
According to inspectors, support for the secondaries has not been good. The 11 grant-maintained schools in the borough are better funded, and both secondaries are running large budget deficits.
But school standards are improving faster than in most areas. Levels of achievement on entry to school are poor compared to the country as a whole, but by the ages of seven and 11 they equal the national average.
Brent has a 41.5 per cent black and Asian population, and 10 per cent Irish. In January it was estimated that 3,000 of the borough's pupils were refugees.
With spending already low for London, this year Brent expects to spend 3.3 per cent below the level recommended by the Government in 19989.
The report applauds the work done over the past two years and says that the education service is more highly valued by the schools than that of any other authority surveyed so far (26 local authorities have been inspected.) It suggests, however, that the authority consult secondary schools about how it can develop its service to them as the grant-maintained schools can provide expertise.
The Brent report is only the second to commend the education services of a London council. Newham received a glowing appraisal, but reports on Southwark, Hackney and Tower Hamlets have been critical of levels of attainment in schools.