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Hit squad is stood down

Karen Thornton reports on a reprieve for Calderdale

CALDERDALE has been spared a visit from the Government's education hit squad - for now.

But headteachers in the troubled West Yorkshire education authority are warning that this is its last chance to get things right.

Calderdale and Manchester were both criticised in recent Office for Standards in Education inspections for failing schools and pupils, and have submitted action plans to schools minister Estelle Morris.

She said this week she would not be unleashing the hit squad - yet. Manchester has until October 12 to provide further details of its plans for literacy and inspection and advisory services, while Calderdale will have to deliver a more detailed and costed version of its action plan - due in December. OFSTED inspectors will be back in Calderdale next summer, to check on progress.

Mark Hackett, Manchester's education chairman, said: "I'm not surprised, in such a huge document, that there are some things that want further clarification. We will be doing our best to meet ministerial requirements. "

And Lawrence Killian, vice-chairman of Calderdale's primary heads association, welcomed the approval of the Halifax authority's plan. He expects to see improvements within six weeks.

"One or two colleagues have indicated they would prefer the Government to send a team in, but that's not the general feeling," he said. "I really do feel Calderdale is poised for great improvement, and perhaps we can set the pace. Although there's a lot to sort out, there's certainly a positive air."

But he warned: "I think this time there will be no turning back. If we find that we are not getting the back-up and co-operation from the local education authority then we must take action."

David Scott, chairman of the authority's secondary heads association, was also pleased - but warned it was the authority's "last chance to get it right".

Both heads' groups have welcomed moves to keep on consultant Simon Jenkin - the former Devon chief education officer who helped draft the action plan - until a replacement for retiring director Ian Jennings is found.

But Mr Scott added: "It would be extremely unhelpful if anybody perceived the retirement of the chief education officer as the thing that needed to be done to move forward. It's far more fundamental than that."

Mr Jenkin said he was "absolutely delighted" that the action plan had been given the go-ahead, and said he had agreed to stay on initially until Christmas.

Ms Morris said the Government was right to take a tough line on the authorities, to make them take stock of their education service.

She added: "On this occasion, it has not proved necessary to use the last resort, but I will not hesitate to use a hit squad where I feel authorities are denying children the education they deserve."

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