London authority invites in private-sector managers as it braces itself for critical inspection report. Clare Dean reports.
A LONDON authority is believed to be the first in the country to voluntarily hand over control of its pound;70 million education service to private contractors.
Waltham Forest, expecting its inspection report shortly, has heeded the advice of ministers to councils to bring in outside help rather than have it imposed.
The Labour-run council has appointed the PPI Group to manage its 91 schools and has recruited a new acting chief education officer.
Four more senior jobs along with the post of director of lifelong learning are to be advertised.
PPI, which was parachuted into the failing London education authority of Islington, has been given an initial six-month contract. The council refused to specify how much it is being paid.
Waltham Forest's Office for Standards in Education report, likely to be published by the end of next week, is expected to be critical.
The authority itself has already identified five key weaknesses: relationships with schools, management, admissions, special needs and exclusions.
It embarked on a modernisation programme last summer and insists its decision to draft in PPI is not a pre-emptive strike. Advertisements to find a replacement for Andrew Lockhart, its former chief education officer who left last week, were placed last November.
"It's a pro-active strike," said Toy Buckley, council leader. "We had already identified areas where we had concerns. Pre-emptive strike sounds like you are going to war. We are not. We want peace, partnership and fruitful relationships."
Keith Evans, who ran the pound;270m education department for the now-defunct Berkshire County Council, has been brought in by PPI as acting chief. Mr Evans, 58, has been involved in 18 local authority inspections and was an inspector for 10 years.
PPI, responsible for some 200 OFSTED inspections a year generating a turnover of around pound;1.65 million, is also putting a core team of half-a-dozen people - backed by up to 14 more - in Waltham Forest.
It will be developing an action plan following publication of the council's inspection report.
Mr Evans said: "There is certainly the will to get this education authority up among the best and to provide the best for the children in the borough."
Just last week Sandwell in the West Midlands accepted it should appoint education consultants after a damning OFSTED report.
The London borough of Southwark, where inspectors have expressed serious concerns about the school improvement and support service, is also looking for a private-sector partner.
And this week it was announced that Harry Bower, Rotherham's education director, and Tom McCormack, its head of curriculum services and education standards, are to leave by mutual agreement following the authority's poor OFSTED report.