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A Hackney marriage

It is just over two years since Chris Woodhead urged the Government "to act, and act now, to rescue the education of some of Britain's most deprived children from the malign influence of Hackney council".

The then-chief inspector of schools' comments followed a highly critical Ofsted report, which said that morale had collapsed in Hackney schools. The inspectors' verdict on the work of Nord Anglia, the contractor that had taken over some school support services, was mixed. They said too much had happened too slowly and called for radical change in the east London borough.

The obvious solution was to privatise the LEA. But a group of headteachers, governors and parents voiced strong opposition to this idea. Ministers, in turn, rejected the group's proposal for a partnership between the authority and a more successful LEA. Instead, they transferred Hackney's education service to a not-for-profit trust.

Headed by a board of directors which includes a school governor and two headteachers, the trust entered into a 10-year contract with the council last August. The council continues to employ teachers via school governing bodies, though the trust deals with staffing issues, including recruitment.

"It's an interesting model, which avoids raising the emotions that come with the idea that someone might be making a profit out of education," Mike Tomlinson, Chris Woodhead's successor as chief inspector and now chair of the learning trust, told The TES. "If it works, and others will be the judge of that, then I think it does offer lessons for any other interventions which governments might want to make."

The scale of the challenge was highlighted by the Audit Commission's recent report, which ranked Hackney among the 13 most badly run councils in the country. Its education service received a particularly low score. But Alan Wood, chief executive of the trust, insists that things will now be different - not least because the council will no longer be able to use education funding to subsidise other activities, "so we are not spending our time worrying about where the money will come from. We will have stability for 10 years," he says.

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