Revised rules for council inspections will create a new category of authorities with "significant weaknesses". These will receive follow-up visits from the Office for Standards in Education.
Councils that fail to raise standards in their schools, do not provide value for money or do not abide by the code of practice that governs relations with schools are to have their action plans monitored. Normally, inspectors will return within 12 months, but Education Secretary David Blunkett may order an earlier visit.
The framework will apply to the remaining 110 councils due to be inspected by 2001. Of the 40 already inspected, ministers have intervened to direct three - Liverpool, Hackney and Islington - to put part of their education service out to private contractors.
Inspections will be done in three months, more than halving the amount of time staff spent on local authority reports. Inspectors will no longer observe lessons in schools for assessments. Teams will be reduced from 10 to four.
The framework describes the role of the Audit Commission for the first time. Commission inspectors will investigate the allocation and management of resources across the local authority and for special needs. They also assess how well councils plan school places, manage buildings and run support services.
Other changes reflect government priorities. Inspectors will examine councils' education development plans; the implementation of the national literacy and numeracy strategies and the effectiveness of support to schools in setting improvement targets.
Inspectors will look into how far councils comply with the new code of conduct which sets out the stages at which they can intervene to tackle problems in their schools.