Small means popular in Hartlepool
A study by the Audit Commission suggests its schools are more impressed by their LEA than those anywhere else in Britain.
Hartlepool has existed as a council since 1996 and has just six secondaries, which together gain below-average GCSE results.
The town has not always taken its council so seriously: In 2002 voters elected H'Angus the Monkey, a Hartlepool United mascot, as mayor, on a campaign pledge of free bananas for pupils.
Jeremy Fitt, Hartlepool director of education, said the reason for the authority's popularity was that "small is beautiful". That view was shared by Ken Jones, head of High Tunstall school. "Because it's small it is easier for headteachers to meet regularly and see the education director."
More than 8,400 schools in England and Wales took part in the survey, rating 76 aspects of their authorities' work, from the quality of financial support to their effectiveness in tackling racism.
The results show that the most popular authorities are not necessarily those where schools have done well in exams or inspections.
Hartlepool outshone all other competitors by appearing in the top 10 in 55 of the categories. Areas where it was not listed among the best 10 included Welsh language learning.
The Audit Commission said the survey was produced at local authorities'
Kath Bays, a project officer with the Audit Commission's education unit, said researchers had been surprised at the authorities rated highest and would be finding the reasons why.
"Authorities in Wales tended to very well as did small authorities in England," she said. "It may be because schools feel protective about their authorities. This could be the case if there is an upcoming LEA inspection, but we don't know yet if that has any effect."
The survey results are not comprehensive. While all 22 authorities in Wales took part only 128 of 150 in England did and at 65 of these the response rate was too low to draw conclusions The commission hopes to gain a fuller picture from its 2004 survey.
Favourite five LEAs
Five most popular local authorities and number of times they appeared in a top 10 for each of 76 categories.
1) Hartlepool (55)
2) Conwy (54)
3) Kensington amp; Chelsea (43)
4) Pembrokeshire (35)
5) Merthyr Tydfil (32)