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Six hurdles set for council take-overs;Local authorities

Public-sector experience is preferable for firms hoping to take over failing local authorities, reports Clare Dean.

COMPANIES drafted in by ministers to take over struggling local education authorities will be asked to demonstrate experience of working in the public sector.

This is one of the six key criteria which the Department for Education and Employment will use to determine who gets the job.

The others are the relevance, scale and scope of their experience, geographic location and the quality and delivery of their work.

No priority or weightings have been given to the criteria issued to the private, public, profit and not-for-profit organisations bidding for the work.

Last week an application from the Local Government Association was rejected. The association has demanded an urgent meeting with the Education Secretary David Blunkett.

The DFEE is working through a short-list of 18 drawn from the 107 organisations who applied to take over all or some council services. Civil servants also cut the 100 applications for consultancy to 13.

The short-lists include the Centre for Education Management - which has links to the grant-maintained schools movement - and the Centre for British Teachers.

Evaluation will be completed by the middle of next month. The DFEE may then invite selected bidders in for interviews and presentations before identifying the successful by the end of April.

Seven council services are up for grabs - raising education standards; financial management and school funding; organisation of school places; supporting governors; employment and staffing; functions to pupils and parents (such as assessing special needs pupils); and leadership and management.

In all areas, candidates are expected to focus on the likely problems they envisage and to detail how they would tackle them.

They are also asked to describe how they would measure their performance and success.

Companies bidding for work to raise standards will have to show rapid improvement in the performance of failing schools.

They will be required to draw up an urgent response strategy and action plan to ensure that all pupils have access to high quality education by turning around schools with serious weaknesses or requiring special measures.

The London borough of Hackney may be one of the first councils to lose control of its education services.

The Office for Standards in Education was today due to report on progress made since the Government's hit squad left the east London borough last July.

Tony Elliston, the council's chief executive, has already resigned. He denied that his resignation was linked to the investigation.

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