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A hard slog in Hackney

Trust running troubled authority is making progress - but schools are still not up to scratch. Helen Ward reports

The not-for-profit body running education in Hackney is making rapid progress - Jbut the service is still not good enough, inspectors said this week.

Despite improvements since control was handed to the Learning Trust last year, education is still unsatisfactory in the east London borough, said the Office for Standards in Education.

One service, support to governors, is good and 10 functions are highly satisfactory. But seven of its 56 primary schools are in special measures or have serious weaknesses.

Despite the continuing problems, Ofsted concluded that the trust, which has a 10-year contract, was doing well enough to be allowed to continue.

Its findings are in sharp contrast to its scathing verdict three years ago on Nord Anglia, the private firm which made an ill-fated attempt to run education services in the borough.

Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector of schools and chair of the Learning Trust, said that steering education policy in Hackney was the most important of his current responsibilities. He is also chairing a national review of 14-19 education in England that is due to be published next month.

He said: "We still have a long way to go but the important message is that we have policies and strategies in place which will yield benefits over time. The challenge is to get these policies embedded.

"We were disappointed by the key stages 1 and 2 results this summer. They had been gettting steadily better, so to get the results we did this summer was a blow. We also hope for more progress in our relationship with groups of stakeholders, particularly parents."

Hackney is one of the most deprived authorities in England, with high crime and unemployment. More than two in five children are entitled to free school meals.

Sean Flood, head of Our Lady and St Joseph Roman Catholic primary and a National Association of Head Teachers representative, said: "You have to give teachers in Hackney a lot of support. One thing we've always done here is invest in people. We have almost two teachers in every class, and at least two adults."

But teachers in the borough are concerned that the Learning Trust is not paying enough attention to their concerns.

Ofsted found that one of the few services which had got worse was human resources, the section which deals with the employment rights of teachers.

Mark Lushington, of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The Learning Trust has not exhibited any level of care towards teachers.

"It is a question of morale. The trust is bossing the show. If they really want to lift themselves above the present measure they have to meet with other people, teachers and parents - Jand listen to us."

Between 1998 and 2002, the proportion of 11-year-olds achieving the expected levels rose from 52 to 66 per cent in English tests and 47 to 66 per cent in maths, but scores dropped last year to 63 per cent in English and 59 per cent in maths.

At secondary level, 39 per cent of children achieved five Cs or better at GCSE, the authority's best-ever result, but it still came 135th out of 149 authorities in England.

Hackney MP Diane Abbott provoked controversy last year over her decision to send her son to the private City of London School. She admitted her decision was "indefensible" but said she made it because of the "catastrophic failure of black boys in Britain's schools". She added that this underachievement was linked to a youth culture which can lead them to the fringes of criminality and gun crime.

Mr Tomlinson said it must be the parents' decision as to where to send their children to school, but added that Ms Abbott's references to the problems of guns in Hackney schools were unfair.

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