County chief tells Gove to halt 'academy broker' visits
The Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council is urging government education officials to stop visiting schools in his local authority.
Geoff Driver says "academy brokers" are putting too much pressure on staff to turn schools into academies.
It comes after a meeting about the issue with Education Secretary Michael Gove was cancelled.
The government said support from what it called "academy sponsors" was the best way to improve struggling schools.
Academies are independent schools funded by the state.
The Department for Education (DfE) is using this type of semi-private school as its main vehicle for improving education in England.
In cases where schools are deemed by officials not to be performing well enough, the governors can be removed and the process of converting to academy status is forced.
But there have been allegations in some areas of the country that education officials, loosely known as academy brokers, have been putting head teachers under undue pressure to convert to academy status.
In a letter to Mr Gove, Mr Driver says "the activities of your officials in Lancashire is having a detrimental and counterproductive effect on the education of our children, particularly those in schools where we know improvements are necessary and where we are working with the schools to achieve those improvements".
Mr Driver says in the light of the cancellation of the meeting, which Mr Gove's private secretary says was down to forthcoming local elections, he has requested that DfE officials suspend their activities in the county for the time being.
He adds: "I have contacted all head teachers and offered support from county officers to attend any meetings that your officials arrange... but all that is in itself potentially disruptive to those schools and their senior managers and governors, who should be concentrating all their efforts on working with the county council to improve their performance.
He continues: "I should therefore be obliged if you would instruct your officials to suspend their activities in Lancashire until we have had the opportunity to meet to discuss how we can best move forward."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The activity of some academy brokers falls far short of any acceptable standard of conduct and has even been shown by Ofsted to stand in the way of school improvement.
"We are not surprised therefore at Lancashire's decision. Until better rules are developed, conflicts like these will keep emerging."
The Department for Education said the meeting between Mr Driver and Mr Gove was postponed, not cancelled, due to the so-called "purdah" rules surrounding political activity ahead of the local elections on 2 May.
A spokesman added: "If we consider that a school that has been struggling would benefit from the support of an academy sponsor, a full consultation is always held.
"Ministers carefully consider the responses and any other representations before making a final decision.
"We believe that the support and advice of an academy sponsor is the best way to improve underperforming schools. Sponsors have already turned around hundreds of struggling schools across the country."