Two troubled authorities face re-inspection, while a third has been forced to draft in outside help.
A LOCAL authority whose schools regularly top the national league tables is facing a re-inspection after the Office for Standards in Education uncovered serious flaws.
Richmond upon Thames, west London, is criticised by inspectors for its "seriously defective performance" in basic areas of its work.
Richmond's schools last year achieved the best key stage 2 results of any of England's 150 councils. None has ever failed an OFSTED inspection, and only two have ever been judged to have serious weaknesses. The area has one of the lowest unemployment rates nationally, at 2.7 per cent.
But inspectors listed 10 areas in which the Liberal Democrat-controlled council was providing inadequate education services.
Services for excluded pupils were poor. There was no pupil-referral unit, though the authority was consulting on plans to establish one. Younger pupils out of school got less than 10 hours' tuition per week.
Behaviour support was also "inadequate", while shortcomings in special needs included a budget overspend of pound;550,000 this year.
The management structure, in which the chief education officer reports to a "strategic director", was criticised as "unnecessarily obscure".
However, the report did emphasise five strengths, saying the council gave good support for literacy, numeracy, governors , early years and admissions, and that backing for school improvement was "sound".
Inspectors said it was capable of improvement, and promised to return within two years.
Derby is also facing re-inspection in two years' time.
Inspectors said weaknesses in services outweighed strengths, with attainment of pupils at junior level and GCSE below national averages, The authority has suffered some upheaval. After a promising start in 1997, its director suffered an extended illness and subsequently died. Assistant and acting directors filled in until June 2000. During that time, the council failed to provide leadership; direction and communications with schools deteriorated.
Funding for schools was also below the amont recommended by the Government and Derby schools have ended up in the bottom 25 per cent of unitary authorities.
The report said: "The LEA has the capacity to continue the improvements which have so recently begun."
Positive steps had been taken in areas such as school monitoring, support for schools in trouble and support for management.
School admissions were efficiently dealt with and behaviour support was praised. However, there were problems with special needs such as the poor management of a scheme to give primary heads more control over special needs budgets.
Meanwhile Thurrock, a unitary authority that broke away from Essex three years ago, has called in a troubleshooting management support team from education services firm Capita after OFSTED found many of its areas of work were unsatisfactory. Inspectors said that councillors had not translated their passion to raise standards into effective leadership. The authority did not have a coherent approach to tackling social exclusion, and had been slow to adopt measures to combat racism.
OFSTED concluded that the authority, and in particular its senior managers, could not improve without external help. Jenny Cairns, former director of education in Merton, is to head the improvement team appointed by Capita.
* literacy and numeracy
* health and safety, welfare and child protection
* support for ethnic-minority pupils
* leadership of elected members
* use of performance data
* support for governors
* support for attendance and for children in care
* literacy and numeracy
* special needs
* planning of school places
* support for attendance
* support for pupils with no school place and those with behavioural
* support for numeracy
* financial services
* use of computers in the curriculum
* planning and leadership
* support to improvebehaviour and to re-integrate excluded pupils.