Ofsted chiefs have warned they have the power to carry out a review of Northumberland County Council if it fails to address a “downward trend” in school standards.
Nick Hudson, the watchdog’s regional director, criticised the county council after a crisis review found the standard of schools in Northumberland was deteriorating.
Four schools failed the Ofsted tests while three-quarters of the 17 inspected had failed to improve or declined. The review found the deterioration of standards had been “unacceptable” and said the council had lacked clarity and leadership.
Mr Hudson has now said the watchdog could take the step of reviewing the council’s children’s services department if it fails to improve. It has happened elsewhere in country at Suffolk County Council.
Mr Hudson said: “The individual schools have got an absolute timeline to improve, but we expect schools that are less than good to improve within two years.
“In terms of the local authority, we have the option to come back and inspect the local authority itself to make sure education improvements are made. There’s been a number of them across the country.”
The Ofsted report found the council was failing to tackle declining standards and claimed an emergency review of schools did “not reflect well on the local authority’s capacity or influence to drive improvement”.
Robert Arckless, Northumberland County Council’s policy board member for children’s services, yesterday said the council’s school support network had suffered huge cuts in meeting the sweeping £100m deficit over the past four years.
Union chief Mike McDonald last night offered his support to members and said the report was “politically driven” to “dismantle education as we know it”.
Mr Hudson dismissed the union claims and called on parents to lobby school leaders in an effort to improve standards. He said: “I also hope the parents will be putting pressure on the headteachers, the local authority and governing body to improve standards. I’m not for one minute suggesting it’s the job or role of parents – the inspectors will be working closely with these schools and challenging them – but what I also believe is that all parents, and I include myself in that, want the very, very best for their child’s education.
“Parents do shout loud and shout from the rooftop when the schools are not doing what they should be doing. It’s not a plea, they want the best for their children, and it’s not their role to do the role of the local authority of the job of the inspector.”
Mike McDonald, regional secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said: “I’m disappointed Ofsted have chosen to put it in this way. First and foremost I want to reassure NUT members in that if they require our support they will get it.
“There’s a political agenda here - I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the sort of authorities that Ofsted are targeting are primarily Labour authorities with few academies.
“This is part of a political agenda to dismantle state education as we know it.”