Two of the country's worst performing councils are to be singled out by the Government in its drive to force more schools to join its flagship academies programme.
Leeds and Middlesbrough councils are said to have been chosen because they have been less co-operative with ministers in tackling under-performance in their schools than others who may have a worse record in national curriculum tests.
Their schools will be expected to embrace new sponsors and, most likely, new heads in an effort to turn their performance around. If they still do not co-operate, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has the power to sack the governing body and impose his own interim executive board to run the school before it becomes an academy.
In Leeds (the seventh-worst council for primary school performance) 41 out of 218 primary schools fail to meet the Government's "floor" target of 60 per cent of pupils reaching the required standard in English and maths tests at 11. In Middlesbrough (14th worst), eight out of 41 schools fail to hit the target.
Mr Gove said in a speech on Tuesday that the academies programme would have to be "accelerated", arguing that it would be "morally reprehensible" to do nothing about schools that were failing their children. Other councils whose records are on a par with Leeds and Middlesbrough are said to have been more co-operative in discussions with ministry officials over improving standards or "coming quietly".
The Government's move provoked an outcry amongst teachers' leaders last night. Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "This just demonstrates that this is not about running a quality education service [but] about victimising people who don't agree with their ideological agenda."
Middlesbrough Council said it was co-operating with ministry officials over the transfer of three of its primary schools to academy status from September.
Nigel Richardson, director of children's services at Leeds City Council, said: "We are one of the fastest improving local authorities in the country. Of the 30 Ofsted inspections we have had since January last year, 24 schools were rated as good and only one was identified as inadequate."
He said his department had "very good working relationships" with the Department for Education.