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Ministers to shame six more councils;Local authorities

Hackney - failed twice by inspectors - is to have its education services put up for grabs. The news will send out shock waves as others wait to see how serious the Government is about contracting out their work. Geraldine Hackett reports

MINISTERS are expected next week to name and shame at least six education authorities which have been identified as not having the systems in place to raise school standards.

After months of government advisers' scrutinising education development plans from the country's 150 councils, a number are to be told their schemes are not up to scratch and improvements will be required over the next 12 months.

However, David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, cannot refuse to approve plans submitted by even the worst performers because local authorities not given the go-ahead would have to cease funding key services from the beginning of April.

In his letter to the London borough of Hackney, Mr Blunkett says its education development plan will be approved "in order that the local education authority can continue to incur expenditure on school improvement".

At the time of the inspection, Hackney's plan was only in draft form, but the Office for Standards in Education judged it to be inadequate.

Inspectors reported that the advisory service was not capable of bringing about the required improvement in schools, and the council has been given four months to modify the plan.

Other councils are not expected to get the full Hackney treatment, but those identified as having drawn up inadequate plans may have to demonstrate they can in fact improve services to schools within 12 months. Councils with poor test and exam results, such as the City of Nottingham, are expecting their plan to be reviewed within a year.

Most councils will be told their plans have been approved for three years. Government advisers have been informally putting local authorities into four classes, ranging from a minority that can be confidently left to get on with the job to those that have serious deficiencies.

The announcement will give the first indication of how prepared the Government is to tell councils that their services may be offered to outside contractors.

The inspection of local education authorities has produced evidence that intervention is required in a substantial minority of cases, but the programme will not be complete for a couple of years.

The final analysis of plans submitted by 150 councils will provide the most detailed information held centrally on education authorities.

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