Councils may get new powers on poor schools

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The Independent Online
Local authorities may be given new powers to take back financial control of under-performing schools, Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education said yesterday. Her speech to the Society of Education Officers' conference in Harrogate comes as the pre-election battle over which party will be tougher on bad schools intensifies.

Labour accused the Government of stealing its clothes, saying Mrs Shephard had been forced to respond to its party broadcast this week, which included failing schools. Before Christmas, Labour said, she attacked Calderdale local authority for not acting over Ridings School, where discipline collapsed. Now she appeared to be conceding that councils needed new powers to deal with failing schools.

Inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) go into Calderdale on Monday. At present councils can take over the running of a school's budget only if it seriously mismanages its affairs. Around 90 per cent of funding is delegated by councils to schools. Mrs Shephard told education officers she is considering given authorities power to take over budgets of schools where standards are low.

Action would be taken not just against schools judged by inspectors to be failing but also those which have such serious weaknesses they would have difficulty improving. About 2 per cent of schools have been pronounced a failure by inspectors; a further 8 per cent have serious weaknesses.

In a white paper in June, the Government proposed local authorities should have power formally to warn schools with serious weaknesses.