Many education authorities make a difference to schools in ensuring they are run effectively, but others do not. The inspectors reported that they had to keep a watching brief on just over a third of councils during 2005-08 to make sure they were doing their job properly.
Inspections revealed that only half of the authorities were making an impact on learners which was judged to be very good or better. But the others showed "a strong capacity to improve", and they did make progress in response to the shortcomings which HMIE identified.
Those councils which were making a difference tended to be ones where staff knew their schools well and could "offer a robust level of support and challenge while retaining a relationship based on mutual respect". They also encouraged headteachers to concentrate on the areas likeliest to improve pupils' performance.
But the report says more needs to be done by education authorities to move from being "good to great". The levels of challenge they set for schools were still too variable, and should direct more resources to under-performing schools.