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Labour councils set to show up ministers

DAVID Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, faces embarrassment next month when inspectors criticise the education service in Sheffield where he is a local MP and former council leader.

The Government is also set to run into trouble in Rotherham and in Leeds where inspectors are thought to have found interference by Labour politicians in the running of the services to schools.

Of the five major cities already inspected, only Birmingham has emerged with a relatively clean bill of health. Sheffield, Rotherham and Leeds are set to join the cluster of poor-performing Labour-controlled authorities in the North.

The Office for Standards in Education has already been critical of the services provided by the Yorkshire councils of Calderdale, Barnsley and Doncaster. With the publication of these new reports, the number of education authorities causing concern will rise into double figures.

Ministers will be under increased pressure to take action over poor education services run by mainly Labour city councils.

The report on Sheffield is likely to highlight weaknesses but the city is not expected to be a candidate for private-sector inolvement.

So far, ministers have only insisted that Islington, north London, which is now controlled by the Liberal Democrats, contract out all its services to schools. Two sectors of education services in Hackney are being managed by the private company, Nord Anglia.

The Liberal Democrat administration in Liverpool was forced to accept private consultants to report on its future, but it is now unlikely that its education service will be privatised. An inspection of Labour-controlled Manchester indicated serious problems in the education service.

The performance of education authorities is likely to be a central theme of chief inspector Chris Woodhead's annual report, due early next month. The report will draw on about 44 inspections, covering almost a third of the councils providing education services.

The chief inspector estimates that on the basis of those inspected, between a quarter and third of councils have problems. However, ministers have asked for those with poor test and exam results to be included in the first inspections.

The reports have led to the departure of chief education officers in Liverpool and Southwark.

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