Two local authorities are facing compulsory inspections of all their schools next year because of concerns about the quality of education they offer.
More than 160 schools in Waltham Forest and Lambeth will be visited by Ofsted, the school inspection body, between January and July. Last night the chief education officer of Waltham Forest was meeting the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, to try to have the measures stopped. Meanwhile a Lambeth councillor welcomed the move but accused the Government of a political motive in announcing it on the eve of the Conservative Party conference.
Four out of 12 primary schools inspected so far in Waltham Forest have been deemed in need of "special measures," while a fifth is believed to have serious weaknesses. Two out of eight secondaries inspected in the borough have serious weaknesses. In a letter to Andrew Lockhart, chief education officer of Waltham Forest, Mr Woodhead said the schools were causing serious concern.
In Lambeth, five out of 16 schools inspected so far have been picked out for special measures, two secondary and three primary.
Last month Mr Woodhead criticised Lambeth after inspectors found every subject except music unsatisfactory at Mostyn Gardens Primary School in Brixton. They discovered that teachers had failed to notice when one child did not speak for three years, and said conditions at the school were some of the worst they had seen. A special education committee meeting in Lambeth next Friday will discuss the report.
Nationally, only 2.5 per cent of the 4,500 schools inspected since the system was introduced two years ago have failed.
When special measures are ordered, the school and its local authority must produce an action plan and prove that substantial improvements have taken place as a result. If they cannot do so, an "education association" can be sent in to take over the school and it can be forced to become grant- maintained.
Mike Tuffrey, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, which has an equal number of councillors with Labour on the hung Waltham Forest council, welcomed the move.
"We are trying to see this positively because we have 20 years of mismanagement to redress. But what I would say is that it is sad that this is being timed for the Conservative Party conference. We have real problems in the borough," he said.
Lambeth said its GCSE results were improving and that a study had found its schools performing better.