Council counsel

1st February 2013 at 00:00

Our best school leaders demonstrate courage, moral purpose and a passion for school improvement. I have huge admiration for them and it is right that they are now in a powerful and pivotal position in the drive to raise standards.

The best local authorities are using their outstanding school leaders to drive area-wide improvement. The councils understand the new educational landscape and are determined to play a part in it.

Like outstanding heads, these councils make no excuses for underperformance. They work within the current tight financial environment and think creatively about school improvement. These authorities don't adopt a narrow ideological position on schools that are outside their formal control but see it as their duty to ensure that all schools deliver high-quality provision for all children.

However, some authorities don't think that way. They have been slow to encourage their best schools to become national support schools or teaching schools. They have failed to take the initiative and have held fast to old, centralised arrangements.

Whose ends are such authorities serving? Who is calling the shots in these areas? Who is championing the needs of local children?

Ofsted's last annual report highlighted stark and unacceptable disparities across the country when it comes to the chances of parents finding a good school for their children. In some areas, they have more than a 90 per cent chance. In other, seemingly similar areas, with the same demographics and the same levels of deprivation, it is barely 40 per cent. I vowed that Ofsted would investigate the reasons for these wide variations.

Last week we began a series of inspection programmes that will take place throughout the rest of this term, targeting local authority areas and starting with Derby.

They will take place in areas where our data suggest that schools are underperforming. During these inspections, inspectors will ask additional questions to assess how well the local authority is fulfilling its statutory duties to promote high standards and fair access to educational opportunity.

And next week we will begin consulting on a new local authority inspection framework so that, from next term, we can inspect the school improvement function of small and large local authorities where we think it is necessary.

Ofsted has also begun a good-practice survey of local authorities, which will be published in a few weeks. Our early findings confirm some common-sense conclusions:

- The best local authorities monitor performance effectively and intervene appropriately and in good time.

- The best local authorities use the most effective schools and heads to support others to disseminate good practice.

- The best local authorities use the full range of their existing powers to serve warning notices, appoint additional governors or replace governing boards with interim executive boards.

Many in local government agree that this is a critical moment in their history. All local authorities must now demonstrate their relevance to the improvement agenda.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.

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