A COUNCIL has been praised by inspectors for investing in schools as it seeks to help its region recover from industrial decline, writes Warwick Mansell.
The Office for Standards in Education described Gateshead council as a well-managed authority which had made education a key priority with much success.
Unemployment in Gateshead is well above the national average, at 5.7 per cent, following the decline of heavy manufacturing and mining.
But, despite this, schools were doing well - partly because they were well-funded.
The Labour-controlled authority consistently spent above the amount the Government stipulated for education, allocating pound;2,546 per pupil last year, above- average for city authorities.
The council also won regeneration funding to help reduce social exclusion in schools.
At the ages of seven and 11, children's achievements were in line with national averages in all three key subjects. At GCSE, they were below the national average - 41.7 per cent gaining five or more top grades - but improving and better than pupils from other areas with similar disadvantages.
Crucially, the authority was improving attendance and behaviour in secondaries, laying the foundations for exa success.
A number of "significant" weaknesses - including data support for schools and provision for children with no school place - were listed. But these were outweighed by strengths.
Meanwhile, Buckinghamshire has emerged fairly well from an OFSTED re-inspection.
On their previous visit in early 1999, inspectors found that the Tory-controlled authority was struggling to sustain its former positive relationship with schools. This had followed a cut in funding and a re-organisation which set up Milton Keynes as a unitary authority. Inspectors criticised support for schools as "less effective than it should have been".
But, on re-visiting, they said the council had worked "vigorously" to address its weaknesses. Significant progress had been made in all key areas.
However, although standards of achievement were high, some schools were still being diagnosed as weak, and the LEA had "much more to do" to promote consistent improvement, particularly in areas of social disadvantage.
Support for governors
Planning of school places
ICT teaching support