OXFORDSHIRE’S new education boss last night vowed to get a grip on underachievement by primary schools, ahead of a crunch meeting today.

The inquiry at County Hall will look into why Oxford’s seven-year-olds get the lowest results in reading, writing and maths in the country.

In 2010, a fifth of the city’s 1,274 seven-year-olds fell short of expected levels in maths, a quarter in reading, and almost three-in-ten did not achieve what they should in writing.

And now, for the first time, the council has publicly conceded that primary schools not just in Oxford but across the county “did not perform well” compared to other areas of England with similar demographics.

Compared to the 11 local authorities with the most similar social-economic makeup, Oxfordshire’s seven-year-olds came bottom in reading, writing and maths.

When broken down to district level, all areas of the county were roundly out-performed in Key Stage One assessments by other similar local authority areas.

County councillors will today cross-question expert witnesses to find out why in a special committee meeting.

Last night, the councillor responsible for school improvement, Melinda Tilley, said: “I am very concerned indeed, and that is why the scrutiny committee has taken it upon themselves to look at it and come up with a solution.

“We keep mentioning the problem without coming up with a solution.

“I’m hoping to get a strong recommendation that the cabinet take on board.

She added: “My remit is to make sure that every child in Oxfordshire is offered the education that can help them reach their full potential.

“It upsets me when I can see children who are not getting that.

“The headteacher, the governing body and us as a local authority are all absolutely crucial and must all be working together.”

A report published ahead of today’s meeting said improvement work in 26 targeted schools had already made a difference.

It added: “The engagement and determination to improve a school’s leadership is crucial to the progress made and where this has been less rigorous results are less impressive.”

The council also concedes underperformance in Oxford dates back to before the reorganisation of the city’s schools into a two-tier system in 2003.

The report highlights that the results of pupils who speak English as a second language are on average 10 percentage points lower than their classmates – as revealed by the Oxford Mail in February.

Oxford’s two MPs last night welcomed the inquiry.

Oxford West and Abingdon Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood said: “Improving attainment has clearly got to be a top priority.”

And Labour Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said too many students were joining secondary school unable to read and write properly. He said: “It is unacceptable that despite the efforts of teachers and schools, so many of our young people are achieving less than young people in similar positions in other parts of the country. It is vital action is taken.”

He added: “It really does need to be a top priority, and headteachers and governors need to be held account for delivering it.”

Oxford University education expert Prof John Howson said: “It is disappointing it has taken effectively two terms to get to this stage.

“If the committee report does not go to the county council until autumn, there is a big risk there will not be any action before September 2012, almost two years after the problem was identified.”