Councils bid to help struggling colleagues

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
Failing education authorities are hiring more successful councils to assist them, reports Warwick Mansell.

SUCCESSFUL councils are taking on the private sector in the battle to raise standards in some of the country's struggling education authorities.

Councils which have won praise from inspectors this week said that they had been sending some of their leading officials to help out colleagues in difficulty elsewhere in the country.

The news comes as Waltham Forest, which was criticised for "lacking an agreed strategy for education" by school inspectors, said it was seeking a public-sector partner.

In the first move of its kind, the Government wants another council and a private company to sit on a "partnership board" providing strategic management for the north-east London authority. The private-sector partner would also handle day-to-day services for Waltham Forest schools.

Shortlists of possible local authority partners and private contractors have not yet been drawn up by ministers. However, the London borough of Camden, told The TES this week that it would consider putting together a bid.

In recent months, senior officials from Camden have been helping to improve services in Haringey, north London, and Leeds, said Mohammed Mehmet, assistant director of education.

Paul Robinson, Camden's head of school support services, has been working one day a week at Haringey for the past two months as the struggling council prepares for wholesale privatisation.

Camden offiials have also visited Luton, Harrow and Worcestershire - authorities which have not been severely censured by the Office for Standards in Education. Government officials had been encouraging Camden to get involved, Mr Mehmet added.

The Government is known to favour trying out a wide range of intervention models.

Officials from Warwickshire are also known to have been working to improve services in Doncaster, south Yorkshire.

Two months ago, the Local Government Association, representing all 172 English and Welsh authorities, announced that it was linking with the business support services firm Capita to help run services to councils.

Although four councils feature on the Government's list of bodies approved to take over the running of failing local authorities, local government is known to be nervous about committing public money to such contracts.

Mr Mehmet said that, in these circumstances, Camden's more piecemeal approach was attractive. He added: "Councils such as ours are doing well in an inner-city setting - in similar circumstances to those which have been strongly criticised by the Government.

"In a sense, we are natural partners for these councils. People should be asking whether, in fact, the private sector can do as good a job as successful councils in helping to improve standards - not the other way around."

Waltham Forest has appointed Stephen Sharp, former chief education officer of Buckinghamshire as its director of education until next May.

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