It is impossible to find a link between educational attainment in schools and the quality of local education authorities. They have a limited effect on school performance such as management effectiveness. These are a key findings in a report by OFSTED and the Audit Commission. The report is based on inspection reports in the period 1996 – 2001.Although the powers of education authorities have been reduced in past years as schools were given greater autonomy, they have an explicit the duty to promote high standards of education. They also have a fundamental role in planning the context within which schools work.
The report reveals that the quality of authorities varies widely. Of the 150 inspected, 29 gave good or very good support to schools, 80 gave satisfactory support, and 41 gave unsatisfactory or worse support. The authorities that were judged unsatisfactory or poor had a consistent pattern of serious weaknesses in strategic planning across many areas of work. A fundamental weakness was the inadequacy of support received from the corporate centre. Elected members were often floundering and senior officers lacked strategic ability.
The report sets out an agenda for improvement. Further attention needs to be given to building management capacity in authorities, such as pairing effective practitioners with those who need to improve, developing capacity for self-evaluation, and building on best practice. There is a need to strengthen schools’ capacity as customers by devoting more energy to developing governors’ and school leaders’ ability to procure good service support. Authorities in general have more work to do in developing strategies for the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs, and in supporting vulnerable children.