Bradford education chiefs have been rapped by a Government minister for “the poor achievement of their most disadvantaged pupils”.
The Council is among the authorities to receive stern letters amid concern over the stubborn attainment gap between children from wealthy and struggling backgrounds.
Ministers fear the apparent success of many schools masks a failure to improve the performance of boys and girls from the poorest homes.
Ofsted inspectors have already been ordered to strip the “outstanding” label from any schools where disadvantaged youngsters are still falling behind.
Now Schools Minister David Laws has written to the Council – and 86 other authorities – demanding “decisive action”.
The Department for Education (DfE) refused to release the letter or the names of the councils it had targeted, but the Telegraph & Argus has established that one is Bradford.
Councillor Ralph Berry, the Cabinet member for education, mounted a strong defence of its record in pushing for higher standards – and pointed out schools largely ran themselves.
He said: “We have received a letter from David Laws, but we believe we are making good progress on this.
“It is a high level priority for us to narrow the gap for free school meal pupils and, according to the regional director of Ofsted, we are making faster progress than some other authorities.
“We have a system for challenging the performance of schools, but we are being held to account for money that doesn’t go through us.”
Mr Laws is concerned that ‘pupil premium’ money – £2.5bn allocated to schools with the poorest pupils – may not being spent wisely everywhere.
The best schools have employed extra teachers and staged booster classes, but others have been accused of failing to drive up standards.
In recent evidence to a committee of MPs, Mr Laws expressed concern that poorer white pupils were falling behind and that girls still outperformed boys.
He said: “More money is extremely important, which is why we have introduced the pupil premium. But it is about getting the accountability system right and creating strong incentives for schools to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may have very low levels of attainment.”
A DfE spokesman said new guidance had “made clear” to councils that they must intervene where disadvantaged pupils were falling badly behind.