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Brummies turn against Labour

The loss of the second city's 'model' schools was a particularly bad blow on a poor election night for the party. Jon Slater reports

LABOUR has lost control of schools in Britain's second largest city after voters inflicted real damage on the party's local power base.

Birmingham was one of 11 education authorities lost by Labour in last week's local elections, which also raised concerns about the growing success of the far-right British National Party.

Only 70 of 308 councils involved in the polls had responsibility for education. In 28 of these no party now has overall control.

Key Labour losses included Bolton, Coventry, Derby, Bristol and Brighton - all went to no overall control.

But the party won back Sheffield and Oldham from no overall control and took Plymouth from the Conservatives.

The loss of Birmingham to no overall control is a severe blow for the party because school improvement in the city, masterminded by former education director Tim Brighouse, was often cited by ministers as a model for reform.

The Liberal Democrats won Torbay from the Conservatives, and Bournemouth, Windsor and Maidenhead and York from no overall control.

They lost two councils, South Gloucestershire and West Berkshire, to no overall control.

The Conservatives took control of only three councils with responsibility for education - Medway and Poole from no overall control and Rutland, which was previously controlled by independent councillors. But the gains were wiped out by the loss of three LEAs, including North Somerset.

There was alarm as the BNP more than trebled its number of council seats from five to 16 - gaining footholds in Stoke-on-Trent, Dudley and Sandwell in the West Midlands.

Its manifesto for schools had promised to "end trendy failure" by stopping recruiting teachers from training colleges, ending the teaching of Asian languages and reintroducing head-lice checks.

In Calderdale, the BNP could hold the balance of power after it won a second seat on the council which has no overall control.

Sue McMahon, of Calderdale National Union of Teachers, said: "It is very dangerous. Anybody who has policies of racism and intolerance is not worthy of being involved in our education system."

Labour remains in control of 58 LEAs compared to the Conservatives' 36 and the Liberal Democrats' eight.

Graham Lane, Labour education chair of the LGA, blamed national issues, such as war on Iraq, for the party's losses. "The results are a little bit worse than some of us expected. It is disappointing to lose places such as Birmingham and Coventry," he said.

Ruth Pentney, a Liberal Democrat councillor and part-time primary teacher in Torbay, said: "We did as well as we expected and our win in Torbay showed we did better than the Conservatives."

Peter Chalke, Tory LGA education spokesman, said: "Nationally it was a very good night for us. Labour lost a lot of seats and the row over school funding had a lot to do with it. Ministers' explanations just do not wash."

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