Authority's schools face private-sector takeover after report condemns state of services. Sue Learner reports.
A scathING report on Swindon's failing education service has forced the Government to intervene and could lead to private firms running its schools.
The Department for Education and Skills has stepped in after inspectors found Swindon education authority was impeding rather than improving school services.
The education authority in Wiltshire has now been given 70 working days to come up with an action plan. Estelle Morris, Education Secretary, said:
"The Office for Standards in Education report reveals Swindon LEA is seriously failing in its duty to provide support to its schools and their pupils.
"It is important that action is taken urgently to review the way the LEA's services are delivered and ensure significant improvement can be made."
The report found strategic management and planning to be poor or very poor in most areas, and the quality of leadership by elected members and senior officers unsatisfactory.
The education service does not communicate effectively with its schools and this, together with its frequent failure to use funding to best effect, has generated a high level of confusion, suspicion and mistrust among headteachers.
Mike Tomlinson, chief inspector, said: "Swindon LEA is simply not providing the quality of support that its schools and pupils expect and deserve.
"I share the inspection team's view that there is a need for immediate external assistance to move education in Swindon forward."
Swindon education service has fully accepted the report and says it is committed to finding solutions.
A team from Hampshire education authority has already started work with Swindon, and the DFES will be hiring consultants from the private sector to devise a long-term solution.
A Government spokesman said: "If a negative report comes out it triggers private-sector involvement. The degree of involvement depends on the severity."
There have been 20 previous interventions by the Government since 1999.
The services of seven education authorities are now fully or partially run by private companies and in three the senior management comes from a private company. Ten have established partnerships with other education authorities or worked with private consultants.
Swindon Council must prepare its action plan by December 21.
* financial support to schools
* governor support
* support for children in public care
* implementation of education development plan in secondary schools
* leadership of elected members and the advice they receive
* leadership of senior officers