Senior Dorset councillors are set review the relationship between the council, schools and academies.

A report to Dorset County Council's (DCC) cabinet today says schools are lagging behind "more challenged" local authorities.

Six years ago it is claimed the county's schools were considered good, but have now been “leap-frogged” and there is need for improvement.

It is recommended that members give permission for officers to carry out a detailed consultation with all educational establishments under the authority's remit to understand their wants and needs.

Councillors are also advised to authorise officers to encourage smaller rural schools to federate as maintained schools or convert to academies in order to improve "economies of scale and sharing of expertise and resources".

Around 40 per cent of Dorset's schools have academised, although the report to cabinet says while this has proved successful in schools where there has been a legacy of underperformance, there is less evidence to suggest being an academy definitely means improved standards.

A report for members of Dorset County Council's cabinet says: "There are some significant issues around the need to spell out a more clearly defined relationship between the council and schools of all types, whichever type of relationship is actually chosen.

"This relationship in Dorset is significantly affected by the council’s overall financial position itself and by the number of small rural schools and learning centres which suffer from lack of economies of scale."

Cllr Deborah Croney, cabinet member for economy, education, learning and skills: "Dorset County Council maintains over a hundred schools and, after their heads and governors, is ultimately responsible for the quality of education that pupils receive. Officers and members work in partnership with the schools, and with the fifty or so state-funded academies across the Dorset area.

“Dorset teachers and heads work hard to provide the very best teaching and learning possible for their children; where there are difficult circumstances, the county's small Education Advisory Service provides support and challenge.

“As a rural area, Dorset has a number of small primary schools which have to overcome significant diseconomies of scale. It is a tribute to their staff and governors that so many continue to be successful.

"Although the National Funding Formula for schools will make some difference when fully implemented, Dorset schools continue to be some of the lowest funded in the country under the current national arrangements. Similarly, the county council has only limited resources with which to support them."