Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association (LGA) (OFS 08)


    —  The Report's acknowledgement of the improvement in LEAs and recognition of capacity to improve further is welcomed.

    —  The strength of LEAs in partnership work could be mirrored in the OFSTED inspection processes by considering the implications for further developing the inspection model in partnership with LEAs and others.

    —  The Select Committee might wish to consider how the OFSTED inspection processes could help future LEA capacity building.


  1.  Thank you for the opportunity to comment to the Select Committee on the work of OFSTED as part of the Committee's annual scrutiny of its work. This memorandum is in response to its invitation to make written submissions on the joint OFSTED/Audit Commission summary report on the first cycle of LEA inspections.

  2.  The Local Government Association (LGA) was formed from a merger of the Association of County Councils, the Association of District Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities on 1 April 1997. Currently the LGA has just under 500 members including 260 Shire district councils; 36 metropolitan district authorities; 34 County councils; 27 new unitary authorities; 33 London authorities, and 20 Welsh authorities. In addition, the LGA represents police authorities, Fire Authorities and Passenger Transport Authorities. The LGA provides a national voice for local communities in England and Wales. Its members represent over 50 million people, employ over two million staff and spend £65bn a year on local services. LGA members are major stakeholders in all aspects and phases of education: as providers, as users of education and skills, and as agencies in the forefront of addressing the social, economic and cultural consequences of educational underachievement.

  3.  The LGA is pleased to have the opportunity to comment to the Committee as part of its annual scrutiny of the work of OFSTED.

  4.  The LGA welcomes the joint final report on "Local Authorities and school improvement 1996-2001" and its recognition that overall LEAs have improved.

  5.  There are clearly many supportive comments on the work of LEAs although it is still relatively early days for the OFSTED inspection structure, as compared with those for schools, particularly given the additional complexities of LEAs and the inspection partnership between OFSTED and the Audit Commission.

  6.  We feel that the current inspection model could be improved further perhaps by contributing in some way to the recommendations on management capacity outlined in chapter eight of the Report. The recommendation to research effective LEAs will be particularly helpful for these purposes. The LGA hopes that this proposed study's outcomes will be shared widely.

Members of the Committee may wish to ask HM Chief Inspector his views on how OFSTED might build on and develop further its inspection of LEAs.

  7.  LEAs have changed considerably since 1996 especially given the size of the legislative programme. The report's recognition of the increased expectations of LEAs is welcome, as is its recognition of their particular success in partnership work, perhaps not unsurprising given their strong history in this area, as the Report points out.

Perhaps the Select Committee might ask the HM Chief Inspector his views on how this role might be further developed, given its view that it was "one of the most successful aspects of LEA's work"? How might OFSTED work with LGA and other organizations to build on and share best LEA practice?

  8.  A key change during the period covered by this summary was of course the local government review, the possible effects of which do not appear to be sufficiently highlighted in the Report, so far as it affected the capacity of LEAs. It took place in parallel with a major legislative programme affecting schools and LEAs. It is to the additional credit of many local authorities that in many instances they enabled a seamless transition from old to "new" authorities whilst also delivering a heavy workload of education legislation. This was at a time of significant change in the staffing profiles of education departments and in the composition of elected members.

  9.  These factors, which possibly had a "braking" effect in the early days of the inspection process, suggest that the pace of LEA improvement will continue to increase. Reports on LEAs, which were published earlier this year, perhaps reinforce this view.

Perhaps the Select Committee could explore with HM Chief Inspector whether he feels that the reports so far in 2002 support the increasing pace of improvement in LEAs noted in the 1996-2001 Report?

  10.  LEAs are organic and evolving, as the references to the increasing pace of change in the Report make clear. There may be doubts on HMCI's part about exactly how they contribute to school improvement but there is no doubt that the best LEAs do make a difference. The OFSTED model of the inspection of LEAs needs continuing refinement if it is to keep pace with future and evolving changes in local education authorities' roles. The LGA, in an earlier submission this year (4 March 2002) made several points about this matter, and the need to continue to explore ways to refine OFSTED's inspection methodology. The addition of appendices to the Report, highlighting good practice, as one means of aiding LEAs to improve through informing themselves of and sharing best practice is very helpful.

The Select Committee may wish to explore with HM Chief Inspector whether there are any plans to modify the OFSTED inspection process in so far as it affects LEAs, perhaps introducing similar "light touch" approaches to those seen in schools' inspections?

  11.  The report is a significant document for national and local government, based as it is on the cumulative data of five years of inspections. The overall conclusion that LEAs have improved and, importantly, have the capacity to improve further, is in no small way due to the hard work of elected members and officers. The LGA is grateful for the Report's acknowledgement of this

  12.  Whatever differences of opinion may exist on particular aspects of the LEA inspection process, and whatever the scope for future development, the reports recommendations are generally helpful. CPA processes do seem to be experiencing some difficulties in these relatively early days. Would the Select Committee wish to raise with HM Chief Inspector whether there is any scope for the CPA to learn from OFSTED's and the Audit Commission's inspection practices in LEAs and, if so, in which areas?

  13.  There may be doubts about exactly how the best LEAs contribute to school improvement but there is no doubt that in the best LEAs this does happen .

How could OFSTED help such LEAs to increase their "added value" to this process and continue to increase the pace of improvement still further?

  14.  The Report recognises that "LEAs usually have [the officers] who have . . . experience . . . and the vision" to get things done. They "generally work with the support of well-informed elected members . . . committed to education as a council priority".

  The LGA whole-heartedly agrees with the concluding remarks of the Report's Commentary that this does, indeed, "augur well for the future".

September 2002

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