No thanks for Hull's saviour

13th May 2005 at 01:00
The woman who turned around Britain's worst education authority now faces the axe. Joseph Lee reports

Anyone who turned around Hull's education department, for so long branded the country's worst, might expect a knighthood at the very least.

Instead, Helen McMullen, who became corporate director of learning and culture two years ago, is to be replaced by someone with no experience in education.

The decision to install a new director of children and young people as part of a management shake-up comes just weeks after the Office for Standards in Education said the authority had finally become effective.

Poor leadership, in-fighting and bullying by councillors have been replaced by good leadership and proper scrutiny, inspectors found.

They said: "A high priority is now given to the education service by councillors, and there is now strong planning to act on that priority and turn it into improved outcomes for the people of the city."

Speaking to The TES just after the decision about the new director was confirmed, Ms McMullen suggested her departure could jeopardise the improvements made so far. "There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of consolidation needed," she said. "Certainly, I don't think headteachers and people in the city would want me to go."

Her replacement in the new role, which combines education and social services, is Nigel Richardson.

He is an expert in social services who worked on the Victoria Climbie inquiry, but Hull city council admits he has no experience in education.

Ms McMullen arrived in Hull as the city's fourth education chief in four years. Her predecessor had left, after being praised by inspectors, because he objected to an earlier reshuffle which combined education with leisure services.

Ms McMullen, a former Department for Education and Skills adviser, said she felt the "worst authority" tag no longer applied to Hull.

"What I would like to think I have done since coming to Hull is built confidence in our schools and in our city," she said.

Her replacement will face a full in-tray. A controversial closure plan to tackle surplus places means "Save our school!" banners hang from some primaries.

Ofsted also noted problems in financial monitoring, with one school managing to run up a pound;250,000 deficit before the alarm was raised, and in promoting racial equality in the largely white city.

However, schools in Hull are now improving faster than most others in the country, and at primary level, pupils achieve as much as their counterparts in similar schools.

In secondaries, just 34 per cent of Hull's pupils achieved at least five A*-C grades at GCSE last year, compared to an average 53 per cent nationally.

But the authority expects to break through the 40 per cent barrier for the first time this year.

One headteacher, who asked not to be named, said: "Many heads will feel that Hull city council can be rather careless with its directors of education and has a great capacity for scoring own goals."

He said some heads who had been under pressure to deliver results might be relieved to see Ms McMullen leave, but others would be sorry.

No one from the city council was available for comment.

* joseph.lee@tes.co.uk

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