Westminster's legacy of years of neglect

26th May 2000 at 01:00
Six reports on inspections of local authorities were published this week by the Office for Standards in Education, and only one was favourable - that for Kensington and Chelsea. Three councils were slated and two emerged with good points acknowledged

WESTMINSTER may well be the heart of one of the world's great cities - the borough contains Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament - but its education service lags years behind other similar London boroughs.

The Conservative-run authority is paying the price of a decision seven years ago to cut its education department to an absolute minimum and is now running to catch up.

Progress has been gradual, accelerating last year with the re-establishment of an education department headed by director, John Harris.

Nevertheless, weaknesses outnumber strengths two to one and years of neglect are reflected in poor attendance and an unacceptably high number of exclusions. The neglect has particularly affected secondary schools.

Inspectors said the authority, which also covers areas around Paddington Station - full of bed and breakfast hotels and hostels for homeless families and refugees - is improving.

What it needed now, they said, was the unequivocal support of the officers and councillors to become fully effective in promoting school improvement.

That is something Simon Milton, council leader and former education chairman, is ready as the borough prepares for re-inspection. He said: "The commitment is there. Education is one of my three key priorities for the borough."

It was a similartale in Luton, which regained responsibility for education three years ago after a break of 23 years.

Inspectors admitted the town had inherited a number of difficulties on becoming a unitary authority in 1997, following the break from Bedfordshire.

But again the borough's weaknesses outweighed its strengths though it had six services that performed effectively.

Overall, inspectors found the effectiveness of support provided was uneven, and in some cases, insufficient. Support for primary schools was balanced.

For Luton's 12 secondaries, however, support was poor.

Inspectors said the authority had done well to establish itself and accept responsibility for a difficult legacy but there was "considerable scope for improvement".

WESTMINSTER

Strengths

special needs

education other than at school

governor support

personnel

school meals

school improvement team

Weaknesses

looked-after children

education development plan

behaviour and exclusions

combating racism

payroll and property services

support for headteachers

arrangements for dealing with schools with deficits

education welfare

LUTON

Strengths

financial and personnel advice

support for looked-after children

Travellers education

early years

support for governors

Weaknesses

ICT

provision of education out of school

support for secondary improvement, literacy, school management, capital projects and maintenance

use of data to support target setting


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