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Hackney critics scent fresh blood

Opponents of

privatisation seize on inspectors' criticisms of company's schools services, reports

Warwick Mansell

PRIVATISATION is not the answer to the problems of England's worst council, it was claimed this week.

Opponents of the "outsourcing" of education services seized on inspectors' criticisms in the third damning Office for Standards in Education report on Hackney Council in three years.

Outgoing chief inspector Chris Woodhead promptly named the east London authority as the worst in the country. He said the Government should look "hard and quickly" at radical changes in the borough, including wholesale privatisation.

Ministers have not ruled this option out. They said schools could either be given opportunities to band together to buy in their own support services, or further Hackney services could be "outsourced" wholesale.

However, opponents of privatisation in Hackney found ammunition in the inspectors' verdict on Nord Anglia, the company sent in to tackle the borough's school improvement and ethnic-minority services.

Sixteen months into its contract, Nord Anglia is not meeting two key performance targets for school improvement, the report said.

The company took till September this year to appoint a new director of school improvement, while two senior positions in the service remained unfilled.

The report criticised the firm for delaying job advertising.

Inspectors added, however, that arrangements were now "on a better foundation", ith good prospects for improvement.

The other Nord Anglia service, ethnic-minority support, which was criticised in the last report, was praised this time for being "sound and improving".

The findings were seized upon by both teacher unions and the local opposition party, the Liberal Democrats. Mark Lushington, of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The OFSTED report is critical of Nord Anglia for doing too little, too slowly - and then Chris Woodhead says the answer is privatisation. We are fed up with being a political football."

Kevin McNeany, Nord Anglia's chairman, defended his firm's record. He said:

"Having taken on what was reputed to be one of the worst LEA services in the country, we have made significant progress."

Meanwhile, it emerged that the resignations of Hackney's senior education officers - whose departures, Mr Woodhead said, had triggered the current turmoil - were prompted by a row with the council's managing director Max Caller.

Former deputy director of education Michael Daniels claimed that five senior managers left after Mr Caller failed to consult them on a major shake-up of the council's structure.

Angela Murphy, branch secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "After years in which the local authority was beginning to achieve stability, we feel let down by the events of the past three months."

Despite Hackney's problems, she added, its schools had delivered strong examination and test improvements.

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