Hackney heads battle huge cuts

17th November 2000 at 00:00
Whitehall urged to rescue school services in bankrupt borough, reports Warwick Mansell

HEADTEACHERS in Hackney will next week ask the Government to safeguard the borough's education budget as their beleaguered council faces up to a potential pound;40 million hole in its finances.

A group of heads will meet civil servants in an effort to ensure that schools are not hit by cuts. Councillors in Hackney are desperately searching for savings after years of political in-fighting and mismanagement.

The move comes as the council faces the possibility of wholesale privatisation, less than 18 months after becoming the first education authority to hand over some of its services to a private company.

A draft Office for Standards in Education report, due for publication today, may well seal the council's fate. It is expected to say: "We do not believe that Hackney LEA has the capacity to provide a secure context for continuous educational improvement."

Despite this, the report is expected to highlight the fact that results from key stage 1 up to GCSE are improving at or above the national average. About two-thirds of the education services were found to be satisfactory, while inspectors are expected to praise "evidence of hard-won improvement" in several aspects of the authority's work.

School improvement - one of two Hackney services un by private firm Nord Anglia - is ex-pected to be criticised in the report.

The news comes as Hackney prepares for an exodus of its entire senior management team. In September, director of education Liz Reid, her deputy Michael Daniels and the head of education finance, Andrew Rennison, resigned. They will be followed by Ian Turner, head of pupil services, and Carol Tomlinson, head of early years. Alan Wood, acting executive director of education has been appointed education director (see below).

Rubbish has been collecting on the streets following Hackney treasurer George Jenkins's decision to freeze all spending last month, when he warned of an overspend of pound;14 to pound;40 million.

Riot police were called out earlier this month as councillors braved demonstrations outside a town hall meeting to decide cuts. Eventually, they found pound;4.5m of savings. Schools have so far escaped relatively unscathed.

Angela Murphy, branch secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said heads would be urging ministers to prevent councillors raiding next year's education budget to find savings.

Opinion on privatisation in the borough is divided, though Ms Murphy said heads weren't against it "in principle" - provided profits available to the contractor were limited and there were safeguards to assure the service's quality.

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