POOR political leadership is the common factor linking the country's weakest local authorities, the Office for Standards in Education claimed this week.
Most of the 11 worst authorities so far inspected were handicapped by inappropriate decision-making by councillors, OFSTED said.
The claim followed the release of a draft report on authority support for school improvement, the first detailed attempt to draw broad conclusions from inspections of local authorities.
OFSTED claimed there was no evidence of a link between strong local-authority performance and improving school results.
Chief inspector Chris Woodhead said that the head - not the local authority - was most important to raising a school's performance. Effective authorities could have large numbers of poor schools, and vice versa.
David Singleton, OFSTED's head of local-authority inspections, said: "There is a group of authorities, which is too large for comfort, where a failure of political leadership over many years has weakened the capacity of officers to take appropriate action to support schools.
Effective authorities, by contrast, benefited from rational decision-making by their elected members.
Unveiling the report at a London conference, Mr Singleton also revealed details of a new system of grades for local authorities.
Only three of the 75 councils so far inspected - the Corporation of London, Kensington and Chelsea, and Warwickshire - achieved the top of the seven grades. By contrast, 11 were in the lowest category.
The news comes as authorities criticised by OFSTED continue their struggle to improv.
In Islington, north London, a commission of inquiry, headed by Professor Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer, has recommended that the authority should hold education committee meetings only once a year to minimise negative Press coverage.
It also suggested that schools promise parents that if their children attend 95 per cent of lessons, they will gain a high-grade GCSE in English, maths and science.
Meanwhile, Frances Magee, director of education in neighbouring Haringey, has resigned - despite being praised in an OFSTED report which criticised many other aspects of the council's work.
In a statement, the council said the move related to a "fundamental change" in Ms Magee's future role. Many of the council's services look set to be privatised by next April.
Simon Jenkin, the "troubleshooter" who prepared Islington's services for privatisation, becomes acting director.
Tim Brighouse, 17
GOOD AUTHORITIES CAN HAVE POOR SCHOOLS Well-run LEAs with high- performing schools :
Well-run LEAs with low- performing schools
Barking and Dagenham
Kingston upon Hull
Newcastle upon Tyne
Weaker LEAs with high- performing schools
Weaker LEAs with low- performing schools
Source - OFSTED, based on inspections up to September 1999