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THE eyes of the education world are on Islington following a deal to make it a test-bed for using private sector cash to regenerate failing local authorities.

A partnership with Cambridge Education Associates has been forced on the council by the Government.

When Islington failed its Office for Standards in Education report last year, the Department for Education and Employment insisted that most or all of the LEA's services should be contracted out.

The Liberal Democrats, who have taken control of the authority, have scrapped plans for a largely-unelected trust to replace the education committee. An education commission will report to the committee in April with ideas about the future of the LEA.

Professor Tim Brighouse, chief education officer of England's largest metropolitan LEA - Birmingham - has agreed to chair the commission.

The aim is to vastly improve the education sevice within the existing budget. The contract is expected to cost pound;11.5m a year at today's prices - pound;86.6m over the full seven years.

CEA, for whom the contract represents a huge opportunity, has been told that no school must fail its OFTSED inspection and all schools in special measures must be back on track within two years.

It must increase the percentages of children achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A-C and the percentage achieving recommended numeracy and literacy levels at key stage 2, along with a fall in the truancy rate.

The contract limits profits to pound;600,000 and the company will be penalised for failure to meet any of its targets.

The LEA's new chief education officer Simon Jenkin, brought in to oversee the transition warned: "If I think there are deficiencies in the way the process is handled, I shall say so. Islington can expect some straight talking."

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