SUNDERLAND's education authority has deteriorated from satisfactory to unsatisfactory because the city's senior education officers have "taken their eyes off the ball".
That was the verdict of inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education, who reported that the authority had made poor progress since its last inspection in 1998 and now had more weaknesses than strengths.
Inspectors blamed poor strategic management by the city's education directorate. "Too many of its developments have been subject to delay, or have been born out of some confusion," they said. "Senior officers have sometimes taken their eyes off the ball. Too much has been unsystematic."
However, the inspectors said that changes in the past six months, including the appointment of Barbara Comiskey as education director, suggested that the LEA was starting to move forwards.
Inspectors were more enthusiastic about two other authorities. In Blackpool, Ofsted found that attainment and attendance remained below the national average and concluded that the transience of the seaside town's population was the main cause.
Since Blackpool's last inspection in 2000, pupil mobility has risen at all its schools, particularly those in deprived wards. In one secondary, more than half of the children who start at the school move to another before they are 16.
Inspectors said that, despite the problems, the education authority was highly satisfactory and had built up high levels of trust with its schools.
However, the most glowing report of the week went to Surrey, which inspectors described as a creative and innovative education authority with no weaknesses and staffed with senior officers who were "self-critical, honest and keen to learn".