Town hall bosses are in "the last chance saloon" if they want a role to play in raising standards in schools, the head of Ofsted has warned.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said questions were being asked, especially following the alleged "Trojan horse" school takeover plot in Birmingham, about whether local authorities should take any part in school improvement in the future.
In a speech to the Association of Directors of Children's Services, he said that council education leaders should be concerned about their role being cut further if they do not use their remaining powers to intervene in failing schools wisely.
Sir Michael told the conference in Manchester that councils can already take action if they have concerns, but few were doing so.
He said that councils' responsibilities were enshrined in statute, adding: "The question is, are you taking those responsibilities seriously and are you stepping up to the plate, or have you already thrown in the towel?
"In all honesty, I have to say that the evidence is, at best, mixed and that is worrying.
"Worrying, because, as I said last year, local authorities, to use an old cliché, are drinking in the last chance saloon in relation to their role and function to raise standards in our schools.
"Your concern should be that if you do not use your remaining powers wisely, the political pressure to curtail your role further will only increase. Indeed, to continue the analogy – the pub might shut, the last drinker turfed out and the brewery turned into a free school."
The Ofsted chief inspector said that while there are exceptions, many Westminster politicians see councils as part of the problem in raising school standards, rather than the solution.
"At best, they perceive the type of sluggish and half-hearted local authority response to emerging problems, which we have seen and reported on in Birmingham, as all too typical," Sir Michael said.
"At worst, they suspect some councils are actively colluding with those who have an interest in resisting change."
Last month Ofsted issued a damning verdict on the running of a number of schools in Birmingham.
Five schools in the city were placed in special measures after a series of inspections in the wake of the "Trojan Horse" allegations of a takeover plot by hardline Muslims.