ESSEX County Council has refused to reveal which failing schools it has issued with notices ordering them to improve.

The authority can issue improvement notices to school governing bodies when “unacceptably low standards of performance” by pupils is observed.

But the council has refused a Freedom of Information request from a member of the public, asking for a list of all schools on warning or improvement notices.

A council officer has ruled public concerns about school performance are not as important as the ability to work “closely and confidentially” with headteachers.

Terry Osborne, council director for corporate law, said: “My view is the public release of the list of schools with details of the warning or improvement notices will make the council more reluctant to serve such notices in future because of the potential for further destabilisation.

“That will make it harder for the council to work in the background with schools to improve them and the objective of seeking to improve schools will not be met, to the significant detriment of the children being educated there.

“The public interest lies in withholding the information from disclosure.

“Whilst the public may have a genuine and very real concern about schools in their area currently subject to these special notices, there is an overriding priority and public interest in ensuring the authority can work closely and confidentially with schools to bring about improvement.

“Public disclosure would damage that working relationship and would only serve to undermine the willingness of all the parties to work together to meet the same objective.”

The council has a legal duty to act when concerns are raised about schools under the Education and Inspections Act.

Notices can also be issued when concerns are raised about financial mismanagement or if the safety of staff and pupils is threatened.