London seeks new schools supremo

The new 'tsar' will tackle city-wide problems. But early favourite Tim Brighouse says that he is unlikely to be interested. Warwick Mansell and Jon Slater report

THE GOVERNMENT is to attempt to tackle the "special" problems facing London's schools by appointing an education commissioner, or tsar, for the capital.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris announced this week that, for the first time since the demise of the Inner London Education Authority 12 years ago, one person will have responsibility across the boroughs for tackling issues such as teacher recruitment and retention and admissions.

But many people's favourite candidate for the new post, Birmingham's outgoing education director Professor Tim Brighouse, this week told The TES that he would not be interested.

Professor Brighouse has been credited with radically improving standards in Birmingham and had been widely touted for the London role.

But this week he said: "I am already committed to becoming a visiting professor at London University's Institute of Education and to working for an educational foundation. I will do anything I can to help, but I personally think it's a full-time job. If so, I would not be a candidate."

Others tipped for the post include former chief inspector Mike Tomlinson and Christine Whatford, the outgoing Hammersmith and Fulham chief education officer.

The new commissioner will report to junior minister Stephen Twigg, recently appointed with a brief to focus on the problems of the capital's schools.

Mr Twigg told The TES: "What London has lacked is the city-wide focus on education that cities such as Birmingham and Manchester have. This will not re-create the ILEA or replace local authorities, but there are issues we need to look at on a pan-London basis."

The move is part of wider efforts to improve schools in London. The drive will also see teachers get extra money to work in its schools and, most controversially, the opening of at least 25 new city academies (see story, below).

Although unions welcomed the commissioner plan, they attacked the emphasis on academies. Ministers have not set a time-scale for their introduction, but the move seems to be an expansion of proposals in last year's White Paper for 20 new city academies - effectively state-funded independent schools - for England by 2006.

The National Union of Teachers described the academy plan as divisive, while the Secondary Heads Association said the move stood to worsen the problems of the most difficult schools.

Those outside London are also unhappy at the attention politicians are giving the capital when other cities actually have lower exam results. With the exception of Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield, pupils in most urban areas get fewer good GCSEs than in inner London. Performance in outer London is above the national average.

Manchester and Knowsley, Merseyside, both have a higher proportion of pupils from poor backgrounds. And truancy is a greater problem in Bradford, Merseyside and Nottingham.

Unveiling the plans at South Camden community school, north London, Ms Morris said there would be a new pound;10 million London centre for gifted and talented pupils, pound;7.5 m for training heads and school managers, and an innovation fund supporting schools spreading good practice.

Other ideas include dividing up big secondaries into smaller schools (see Boston story, below), encouraging schools to federate under one governing body and introducing schools catering for pupils from the age of five to 16.

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