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Three ways to improve quality assurance

INSPECTION. Ofsted to inspect LEAs'work in monitoring and supporting schools

Proposals for the inspection of local authorities and their role in school improvement have received a broad welcome.

The White Paper says the LEA role in quality assurance needs to be specified so that it complements but does not overlap what is being done in schools and by the Office for Standards in Education.

It suggests three main roles: direct intervention where a school has major problems which it is unlikely to resolve alone, helping to set targets for improvement, and providing services to help schools to carry out improvement plans.

Direct intervention might take place not only if a school was found to be failing or seriously weak, but also if there appeared to be a serious problem in financial controls, management or conduct.

"The best form of intervention will vary . . . there may also be a case for LEAs to be able to issue formal warning to schools, setting out the problem and the action needed to address it.

"If the school did not then take effective action, that could provide grounds for withdrawing delegation or asking OFSTED or [the chief inspector's department] to carry out a full inspection," says the White Paper.

In addition, it outlines plans to inspect local authority monitoring and support of schools, with legislation expected this autumn. OFSTED is developing arrangements for pilot reviews, each of which will tackle a number of themes and involve school visits, discussions with school staff, governors and LEA employees, and possibly questionnaires.

Although OFSTED's proposed new powers would enable it to inspect authorities without their agreement, the agency stresses that it wishes to work with LEAs.

Alan Parker, education officer of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said sections on the LEA role in quality assurance bore a striking similarity to a report the association published last autumn entitled Partnership, Quality and Accountability.

"It is a victory for common sense over ideology," he said.

He also welcomed the wording of the section on the assessment and improvement of local authority performance, which stressed that the development of "robust" mechanisms would take place over time.

Meanwhile, pilot schemes for OFSTED to inspect local authorities for their work in monitoring and supporting schools are already well advanced.

The earliest inspection, carried out in Staffordshire, has been completed and a report is likely to be published in October.

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