When Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews announced last week that local authorities could be stripped of their role in providing education, assembly members were visibly taken aback. Conservative shadow education minister Angela Burns called it "extraordinary" and "astonishing".
Mr Andrews (pictured) has grown increasingly frustrated with the performance of Wales' 22 local authorities since he took office in 2009. A major review last year suggested that four regional consortia could deliver savings and better services for schools. They began their school improvement work in September, but Mr Andrews said progress had been "patchy". As TES revealed last month, all four have struggled to recruit sufficient numbers of seconded heads or specialist council officers to lead work in individual schools.
Local authorities have made progress in delegating more funding to schools but their inspection reports leave a lot to be desired. Under watchdog Estyn's new framework, introduced in 2010, four have been rated "unsatisfactory", with two placed in special measures as a result. Of the others inspected so far, only five were "good" and six were "adequate" - or "barely good enough" in the minister's words. None were "excellent".
It seems Mr Andrews' patience has run out. He said councils had failed to deliver efficiencies and rarely used their powers to intervene when schools were failing. "I have given local authorities time and money to get their house in order but the evidence is overwhelming that this has not occurred," he said.
As a result, he is bringing forward a review that was due to conclude in autumn 2013 and is expanding its terms. It will now report in March next year. Options on the table include forced mergers of local authority education services or even regional school boards operating completely independently of councils and answering directly to the Welsh government.