Ofsted's annual report, due out later today, will launch a scathing attack on those responsible for underperforming schools. But rather than taking aim at the teachers or the schools, it's the local authorities that the watchdog has got set in its sights. The report will say that there is too wide a gap in standards between different councils.
Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw told the Today programme this morning:
'There are not only differences between local authorities, there are differences between local authorities with similar demographics, and we will be looking very carefully at what is happening in those local authorities with the same sort of population, same levels of deprivation, similar numbers of children on free school meals where one particular local authority does extremely well, and another one doesn't.'
The teaching unions are inevitably rather upset by this, arguing that the government will use 'naming and shaming' to force local authorities to convert schools to academies instead. Wilshaw deferred this debate to Education Secretary Michael Gove when quizzed about it on Radio 4, saying:
'Well, that's an issue not for Ofsted, but for the Secretary of State: he will obviously look at our inspection judgements and make those sorts of decisions. What we intend to do is to find out why there are these big differences up and down the country.'
Gove may well use the findings in some cases to push for schools to become academies, and independent of local authorities. Don't forget, though, that when it comes to schools existing outside of local authority control, the Education Secretary has a debate to resolve within his own department about how those schools are supervised, particularly when it comes to the other independent state-funded institutions in the sector: free schools. Currently the Secretary of State has overall responsibility for academies and free schools, but his colleague David Laws believes there should be a middle tier of supervision for the growing number of free schools. As a Liberal Democrat, his instinct might be for some local authority involvement, which might be more difficult a case to make following Ofsted's revelations today about the disparities between the way councils intervene in their local schools.