Hackney set to be run by trust

31st August 2001 at 01:00
Ministers hope a non-profit-making trust will sort out England's "worst" local authority. Warwick Mansell and Nic Barnard report.

ENGLAND's "worst" local authority looks set to hand education over to an independent, not-for-profit trust as ministers attempt to draw a line under years of chaos in Hackney, east London.

In the first move of its kind, the Department for Education and Skills is considering handing all education provision in the failing borough to the trust. This is an acknowledgement that privatisation has not solved endemic problems in the authority where Nord Anglia, a profit-making company, has been running several services.

Previous "privatisations", in Islington and Southwark, have involved profit-making companies.

Hackney employees would transfer to the trust - effectively spelling the end of the local education authority after almost a decade of political in-fighting and three failing inspection reports.

In a surprise move, announced jointly with the council, ministers this week brought in Anthea Millett, former chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, to make recommendations on the future of the LEA.

She will lead a three-strong team which will report back to the council and the Government by the end of September. Changes are unlikely to take place before September 2002.

Ms Millett stressed this week that she was going into her task with no preconceptions as to its outcomes. But The TES understands that ministers have indicated their preference for the trust idea. It is likely that schools would have a major input in the new body.

The move rejects the recommendations of a "stakeholders' group" of teachers, heads, parents, governors and others which this summer said the council should stay in overall control of education.

It wanted to give schools the freedom to shop around for services, through a "brokerage" system, while bringing in a more successful local authority to advise Hackney on its strategic direction.

The DFES was spurred to go further after local government secretary Stephen Byers indicated he was prepared to invoke emergency powers to take control of services after it emerged, that Hackney was facing a pound;19 million overspend this year.

Mr Byers, who as schools minister sent a Government "hit squad" into Hackney in 1997, is expected to announce his plans for the borough next month, with the trust the Government's solution for education.

Chris Woodhead named Hackney as the worst local authority in the country just before stepping down as chief inspector of schools last year.

Ms Millett said: "The problems of Hackney are going to require innovative solutions, which we will be looking for over the coming month."

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