Westminster's legacy of years of neglect
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".
education other than at school
school improvement team
education development plan
behaviour and exclusions
payroll and property services
support for headteachers
arrangements for dealing with schools with deficits
financial and personnel advice
support for looked-after children
support for governors
provision of education out of school
support for secondary improvement, literacy, school management, capital projects and maintenance
use of data to support target setting