Michael Gove says that schools put social mobility into reverse
Struggling secondary schools in England should be taken away from local authority control says the Shadow Schools Secretary, Michael Gove.
The government has promised a "national strategy" to improve more than 600 schools with the lowest GCSE results.
But the Conservatives say that these schools need to be managed by outside organisations, rather than councils.
Mr Gove says there is an "opportunity block" which traps pupils living in the poorest areas in the weakest schools.
In a speech to the Centre Forum think tank, Mr Gove accused the government of failing to provide a fair chance in school for children growing up in the most deprived families.
He pointed to figures showing the achievement gap between the most and least affluent pupils widens during their years in school - and that over time the size of that gap nationally has been increasing.
"If our schools were merely entrenching social division rather than promoting social mobility that would be bad enough," said Mr Gove.
"But it's worse than that. We actually have a schools system which widens the gap between the fortunate and the forgotten."
Describing this as a "blight" on modern Britain, Mr Gove argued that under-performing schools in the most challenging areas needed to be run by someone other than their local councils.
"If it's been run by the same local authority, with the same party in control for the last 10 years, then why should the local authority be allowed to continue failing our children?"
Instead of the local authority, Mr Gove proposed that other groups should be funded to take over - and he gave the example of groups already running schools, such as trusts which are currently running academies, charities and private school organisations.
"Why shouldn’t we take schools out of the hands of those who’ve been failing and allow them to be run by those with a proven record of success?"
Schools Minister Jim Knight said "such a massive assault on local government will not work" - and he defended Labour's plans to improve struggling schools.
"Where schools are letting children down year after year, we are taking action and we expect local authorities to use the new powers available to them to tackle failure and drive up standards," said Mr Knight.
"That is what we are doing by accelerating the academies programme, creating more trust schools, making sure good schools collaborate with weaker ones."
The speech by Mr Gove sets out an educational battleground between the government and opposition over how to tackle the problem of the lowest-achieving schools.
The government is committed to ensuring that by 2012 every secondary will have at least 30% of its pupils reaching five good GCSEs including English and maths.
At present there are 638 schools below this level and the government, in a £200m package, says it will ensure that no school remains there - using extra support, mergers, more academies and the threat of school closures.
But Mr Gove proposes a structural change in areas where there has been persistent underachievement - arguing that improvements can be driven by greater parental choice over school, parents being allowed to set up schools, greater autonomy for schools and an influx of new providers to manage schools.