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First 'hit squad' to be sent in

Education Secretary Gillian Shephard is to draft in the first "hit squad" of external experts to run a failing local authority school.

The governing body at Hackney Downs, a boys' secondary in inner London, will be replaced by an education association intended to improve standards and take the school out of local authority control.

The 250-pupil school, one of three said to be failing in Hackney, has been at the centre of a three-month wrangle between its governors, who are willing to hand over control to an education association, and Hackney Council, which recently voted to overturn an earlier decision to close the school.

Their decision was taken against the advice of education director Gus John and was made after a change in the council's political balance. The former chair of governors, Pat Corrigan, who had backed the school's closure also lost his position as chair of education.

The introduction of an education association into the school has dismayed the council. Education chair David Phillips had claimed the school was showing signs of improvement. A council spokes-man said: "This is a cynical political move which ignores our record on turning around schools. We inherited 13 secondary schools from the Inner London Education Authority which were at risk and we have turned around 11. Given time we would have done the same at Hackney Downs.

"The decision to keep the school open was only taken in June. The Secretary of State made her decision to send in an educational association this month. It has not given us a chance to start pulling up standards again. Having said this, our over-riding concern is for the students and parents. We will agree to support the recovery of the school in their interest."

Professor Michael Barber, a former chair of education at Hackney who is about to take up a new chair at London University's Institute of Education, said Gillian Shephard's decision sent out a warning to other local education authorities.

He said "If they put populism before issues of educational quality, then there is every chance there will be intervention from central government. They have to recognise that they must put education before other issues."

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