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
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
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
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
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'
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
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
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".