Local authorities will make a fundamental change to their approach to education following heavy criticism from the teaching profession and the Assembly government, according to the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA).
Chris Llewelyn, association education director, said councils recognise their responsibilities and are committed to change.
In a landmark report on the structure of education services, published last week, Wales's 22 councils were again attacked for failing to support and challenge the performance of their schools.
The report recommended that the four local authority regional consortiums should be formed, each run by a lead director, in an effort to drive up standards.
It suggested another major review should take place in 2013 to consider whether more fundamental changes are needed, such as education services delivered through a small number of regional departments.
Mr Llewelyn said: "Local authorities have to prove they are willing to co- operate. They know they will have to do it voluntarily or in two to three years it will be done to them.
"The challenge is there. It's clear that local authorities have to deliver on the promise of collaboration, both within local government and with the further education sector and other partners."
Mr Llewelyn said a "significant amount" of school-improvement collaboration was already taking place, but authorities know they have to "pick up the pace".
"I think there's an appetite to work with the government and to do what it takes to raise standards and make the kind of school improvement needed to move up the Pisa (international) table," he said.
The WLGA has already started discussions with the Assembly government's new school standards unit and its leader Brett Pugh.
It is also helping to develop the new local authority grading system for schools, announced by the education minister in February, although the term "banding" is now being used instead of grading to avoid accusations of a return to league tables.
Mr Llewelyn said: "It's important that this has the trust and support of all stakeholders.
"The minister has made it clear that it's not about league tables, but identifying how much support schools can expect from local authority school-improvement services."
Teaching unions have attacked the variable performance of local authorities for a number of years, and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru is calling for a reduction in their number as part of its Assembly election manifesto.
Director Philip Dixon welcomed Mr Llewelyn's comments, and said: "It shows that the WLGA is emerging from its slumber and waking up to what some of us have been saying for years about the variable standards in local government.
"The banding system will reveal the full extent of these substantial variations in performance."