Hit squad to select Hackney chief

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Government team seeks unprecedented degree of central control, reports Josephine Gardiner

The "hit squad" sent in by the Government to sort out the chaotic education service in the London borough of Hackney has condemned the council's management structure as unworkable.

In an emergency report published on yesterday, the council has been told that an education director must be appointed before Christmas - chosen by the Government team - not the council.

The improvement team was not due to report on the borough until January, but considers that further delay would be dangerous. The council has been told to approve the recommendations by November 13 and advertise for a new executive education director plus four second-tier directors by November 17. The education director's job will carry a salary of Pounds 85,000, one of the highest in London, to reflect the enormity of the task.

If Hackney refuses to accept these recommendations, the team will refer the matter back to the Education Secretary, said its leader, Richard Painter. Exactly what David Blunkett would be able to do if this happened is not clear.

Standards minister Stephen Byers and inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education have repeatedly criticised Hackney for its failure to appoint somebody with overall responsibility for education. The borough has been without an education director for more than two years.

"We find it surprising that the council has not tackled this problem and the very obvious financial chaos head on. The decline of the education service has been going on for some years. This neglect must stop," says the improvement team's report.

The team is proposing an unprecedented degree of control over council appointments and the report will provoke anxiety about the interference of central Government in local democracy. Richard Painter acknowledged this, but said there was no alternative.

When the OFSTED report was published, Hackney's chief executive, Tony Elliston, insisted that the internal reorganisation, once completed, would be the answer to the borough's problems. The improvement team does not agree, and concludes that the restructuring has merely distracted officers from tackling the crisis.

"No account was taken of the needs of schools, pupils or their families, " Richard Painter told The TES. "We could not see how the new structure would improve standards." Teachers, headteachers and unions were not consulted, the report says, with the result that "they do not perceive the proposed changes as relevant to education in Hackney".

The council is also criticised for trying to separate responsibility for schools from other aspects of education. Education happens throughout life, says the report.

The council must also agree to use a recruitment consultancy to attract candidates. The final shortlist will be drawn up by the improvement team and the consultancy, not the council. Hackney headteachers, however, will have a say in the appointments.

The new officers will need "at least three years to complete the immense task of transforming the education service", says the report, and they will start work early in 1988. A new chief educational psychologist will also be recruited.

The Government's team also condemns the elected politicians for their failure to provide leadership and work together to solve the schools crisis. The council is controlled by a breakaway Labour faction voting with the LibDems and the Tories. Labour is in opposition.

A new chair of education should be appointed and the committee should delegate powers to the new director of education, "thereby removing the need for more frequent meetings of the main committee".

The improvement team will produce another report in January, followed by a development plan. Team members are Richard Painter (who led theeducation association that closed Hackney Downs school), Pat Collarbone, director of the London leadership centre and former Hackney headteacher, and Anne Sofer, former director of education in Tower Hamlets.

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