Ministers select their own zone chairman

Geraldine Hackett on how Sir Anthony Tippet became a condition of Calderdale's bid being accepted by the Government

MINISTERS have taken the unusual step of imposing their own nominee as chairman of the forum of one of the first education action zones.

Troubled Calderdale has been forced to accept Sir Anthony Tippet, the 69-year-old rear-admiral and former chief executive of the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, to direct the preliminary organisation for the zone due to start operating in January.

Sir Anthony was appointed for two years as part-time chairman of the Funding Agency for Schools last year by the then standards minister Stephen Byers. Sir Anthony will combine his FAS role, for which he is paid around Pounds 30, 000 a year, with his work on the Halifax education zone.

The choice of Sir Anthony as chair of the zone was also made by Mr Byers, who is now chief secretary to the Treasury. It was made a condition for granting zone status that councillors accept Sir Anthony's appointment.

Pam Warhurst, the leader of Calderdale Council, said the proposal to appoint Sir Anthony was put to her in a phone call from Stephen Byers. "He did not give a reason for wanting Sir Anthony in particular. We met Sir Anthony and liked him and the Department for Education and Employment made clear we would not have to pay for the cost of his appointment."

Sir Anthony is currently spending two days a week in schools in Halifax in the run-up to the first formal meeting of the forum next month. The major business partner is the Halifax, the former building society which has its headquarters in the town and is a major local employer.

Sir Anthony is a governor of West Buckland, an independent school in Devon. His appointment to the FAS was his first involvement in state education.

He is understood to have requested a nominal payment of between Pounds 5,000 and Pounds 10,000 from the DFEE.

One of the zone's partners said: "It was made clear that Stephen Byers wanted Sir Anthony appointed. It may have been because ministers considered an independent chairman was required to deal with councillors prone to intervening in the day-to-day running of schools."

Councillors have been warned by Estelle Morris, the present standards minister, that the Government could still send in a hit squad if they failed to implement the action plan to improve the education service.

A spokeswoman for the DFEE said Sir Anthony has been appointed because it had been felt that Calderdale required intensive support. Other zones are to get advice from the standards and effectiveness unit of the DFEE.

The spokeswomen said Sir Anthony's appointment could last for up to three years and he is to receive payment from the DFEE according to the days worked.

Twelve education action zones start operating this term. Calderdale is one of 13 due to start early next year.

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