Using a new regional network of directors, Ofsted hopes to address inequalities in education provision and hold local authorities to account for their role in challenging schools to improve.
From January 2013, the initiative will see eight regional directors working with senior Ofsted officials to investigate and challenge schools, colleges and early years settings that are rated less than good.
Yesterday, Ofsted’s annual report revealed concerns about the variance in education provision between different local areas across the country. Chief inspector Michael Wilshaw said the regional structure would help address this.
“Through the new regional directors we will visit the places where there are concerns to find out more about what’s happening,” he said.
“If we believe that there is an issue of governance of the local authority – of supervision – that they’re not using their powers effectively, and as a result schools are underperforming and children are missing out, then we will inspect.
“We have those powers already, with existing frameworks for local authority inspection, and we will use them if necessary to set them straight.”
Wilshaw added that local authorities should support all schools, including academies, by offering commissioning support, issuing warning notices, appointing additional governors, or replacing governing boards when problems arise.
“A good local authority will know what’s happening in all its schools, including academies,” he said.
“It might not visit them, or have officers visiting the head teacher or governors on a regular basis, but they will know from the data that’s coming through and the 'word on the street' about what’s happening.
“They would, if necessary, make representation to that school or if there was resistance there, make their views known to the Secretary of State.”
But David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association's (LGA) children and young people board, warned that government was weakening councils' powers of intervention.
“Councils want to intervene more quickly, but decades of giving schools 'greater freedom' and 'protecting' them from council interference means that local authorities now have very indirect and bureaucratic ways to tackle poor performance and improve schools, which are based on intervention driven by Whitehall, not flexible local arrangements,” he said.
“Ironically, the government and academy chains have more direct power than councils to quickly turn around underperforming schools.”
Simmonds warned that educational standards could deteriorate as more schools moved away from local authority control. But he acknowledged councils in some areas needed to do more. “Intervention is a use it or lose it power,” he said.
“We now call on government to free councils from the red tape that weakens councils’ intervention powers and allow us to get on with the job of effectively turning around the very worst performing schools.”
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said local authorities must work together to raise standards, and welcomed Ofsted’s recognition of the “critical role that local authorities play in improving schools and educational outcomes for all children”.
“Local authorities need to be encouraged to share good practice and the Children’s Improvement Board is a vital way of doing this,” said Debbie Jones, president of ADCS.
“Ofsted is clear that where local networks have been set up, the quality of services have improved.
“Whilst one-size improvement plans do not fit all and are not a simple answer to closing the gap between the worst and best schools, it is important that schools can learn from each other.”
The Ofsted annual report 2011/12 showed disparities in the quality of schools across the country. For example, a parent in Coventry has a 42 per cent chance of sending their child to a primary school rated good or better, while that opportunity rises to 92 per cent in the London Borough of Camden.