Discussions over whether Education Bradford’s ten-year contract should be extended have begun. The company, owned by Serco, was handed the £360 million contract to run education services throughout the district in 2001, following a damning Ofsted report issued to the Council.

Seven years on the authority has confirmed it has begun preliminary talks ahead of the contract’s conclusion on July 29, 2011.

A Council spokesman said plans were now underway to recruit a Council officer dedicated to assessing the options available to the authority. A report into the options is expected in 2009.

Kath Tunstall, the Council’s strategic director for services to children and young people, said: “The overriding criteria has to be that, whatever the arrangement is, it is one that will secure the best possible outcome and improve educational attainment.”

In his first speech to the Council as executive member for children’s services and young people, Councillor Michael Kelly highlighted the fact education services were taken away from the authority in 2001 “by a requirement of Government”.

“For education to return to our direct control, this requirement would have to be lifted,” he said.

Coun David Ward, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said he hoped a “broad debate” would now begin.

He said: “The issue is about whether education should come back in-house or whether we are happy to continue outside.

“We really need to work towards some form of political consensus on the process so we can all agree at the end of this that it has been rigorous.”

Coun Ralph Berry, Labour group spokesman, said the true test would lie in whether “any changes would represent an improvement in performance”.