Schools in Wales are happier with local authorities' services than the English are. Dave Simmonds reports.
Schools in Wales still love their local education authorities more than English schools do - especially the small ones, says a new report.
The Audit Commission's latest survey of more than 8,500 schools in England and Wales shows that Welsh schools rate their LEAs more positively than their English counterparts in every section, just as they did last year.
And while the National Union of Teachers Cymru has called for fewer, larger authorities or regional working groups in Wales to improve efficiency (TES Cymru, November 12), the survey shows the most positive support coming for small authorities.
Merthyr Tydfil, the smallest Welsh authority, ranks third in Wales and seventh overall. Vernon Morgan, its director of children's services, felt that that the survey results made union charges of inefficiency difficult to justify. "The role of LEAs is to service and support our schools, and the suggestion that we aren't able to do that because of our size simply isn't borne out by the evidence," he said.
"We're one of the few authorities which has had its services rated as excellent in an inspection report. In partnership with Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Bridgend, we've set up the schools advisory service ESIS, and that's been held up as an exemplar by the Welsh Assembly."
Before the 1996 local government reorganisation there were eight education authorities in Wales; now there are 22. NUT Cymru confirmed it still believes that co-operation between authorities is the way forward.
"We applaud the success of Merthyr Tydfil, but it has only got five secondary schools," said Rhys Williams, the union's communications director. "Clearly it doesn't make sense, in terms of efficient delivery, if LEAs are all working in isolation."
Schools taking part in the Audit Commission survey were asked to rank their satisfaction with a range of LEA services, from school improvement to special educational needs. Schools in Wales were additionally asked about Welsh-medium provision.
Wales has three authorities in the overall top 10 - Pembrokeshire (third), Neath Port Talbot (fourth) and Merthyr.
The best-performing authorities overall were York, which was ranked among the top 10 authorities in 54 of the 70 questions, and Hartlepool, which had 50 top 10 rankings. Pembrokeshire had 44.
At the bottom of the Welsh table was Cardiff with one top 10 place, but seven of the 21 participating Welsh LEAs did not feature in the rankings as their response rates were below the national average.
Conwy, the top-rated Welsh authority last year, was the only one not to take part in this year's survey. Elwyn Williams, director of lifelong learning, said: "We had such a good response from the schools last year that we decided not to put the burden on them again. We feel this should be done every two or three years, and our schools felt that too."
There were falls in the numbers of "satisfactory or better" ratings on Welsh-medium education, but 97 per cent of schools still rated their LEAs as satisfactory or better in this area.
Among the few specific areas where the English schools gave more positive responses than Wales were support for raising attainment in key stage 3, and support for gifted and talented pupils - both areas for which there is no formal strategy in Wales.
But throughout England and Wales, schools rate their LEA support as at least satisfactory in most areas.