Welsh inspection increase

WELSH local authorities are likely to face more frequent but more restricted inspections than their English counterparts, writes Biddy Passmore.

They may be inspected every two years - compared with every five years in England - and the Welsh inspectorate may confine itself to one or two themes per local authority. It might choose one apparent weakness and one apparent strength, based on evidence provided by the authority. Some themes, such as school transport or meals, might have nothing to do with school improvement.

Huw Lloyd Jones of the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector outlined this possible framework to Welsh education officers at their annual conference in Llandrindod Wells last week.

While these long-term arrangements are sorted out, half the Welsh authorities face inspections over the coming year on their support for literacy. The other half will be inspected next year on numeracy support.

Welsh LEAs are being inspected later than their English counterparts because they are so new.

Unitary authorities were set up throughout Wales in 1996, increasing the number of local authorities from eight to 22, many of which struggled to start up services at a time of cuts.

But Mr Lloyd-Jones said an inspectors' survey of the role of Welsh LEAs in school improvement showed that "a pretty healthy start had been made," despite the difficulties.

There were wide differences between authorities in their pupils' achievement, and even the highest achievers still had a long way to go, but LEA initiatives did seem to be playing a part in raising performance, especially in the weaker schools.

The 35 education officers at the conference were heartened to hear Mr Lloyd Jones say: "LEAs do make a difference in Wales."

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