TOP education officers are being poached by private companies in a "brain drain" which could provoke a crisis in the public sector.
Newham, east London, is the latest casualty with the loss of its "dream team", education director Ian Harrison and deputy Parin Bahl. The pair, credited with creating the Council of the Year, are leaving to join Capita Group PLC.
They are the latest names on an ever-expanding list of well-respected education chiefs defecting from the public sector. At least nine other senior officers have taken up positions with private companies this year.
And education directors still in place report repeated calls from headhunters offering salaries of pound;120,000 plus.
Bob Clark, education director of Wigan who was drafte in to save Liverpool's education service, claimed the haemorrhage could lead to a public-sector crisis.
"These companies cannot get sufficient numbers of quality people. They pay officers more money to work in the private sector. It will leave more and more failing LEAs," he said.
"We do not have a limitless supply of people who can do the job. The involvement of private companies does not increase the pool of talent, it merely redistributes it."
Graham Lane, Newham's chair of education, said the Local Government Association had missed the boat with its own early intervention service. It had set up a partnership with Capita, but was not consulted on the appoitment of Mr Harrison and Ms Bahl.
He said: "We are seeing the start of a brain drain from the public sector - our best could go."
The list of headhunted officers includes Steve Davies, seconded to Southwark from Havering, who has joined WS Atkins, which subsequently won the contract to run the school improvement service in Southwark. Joining him are Hilary Pitts, assistant director at Stoke-on-Trent, and Mike Smith, a senior officer with West Sussex.
Graham Moss, former deputy director in Hillingdon, London, is in charge of a Nord Anglia team providing short-term management in Sandwell, west Midlands.
With him are Penelope Penn-Howard, former assistant director at Sheffield, and Eric Griffiths, former head of school improvement in Wolverhampton.
Cambridge Education Associates, running services in Islington, London, has recruited Vincent McDonnell, former chief education officer at Richmond, as its director of schools' services.
His two assistant directors, Lela Kogbara and Dr Kirit Modi, were senior figures in Lewisham and Luton, respectively.
Michael Daniels and Andy Rennison, Hackney's deputy director and head of education finance, have resigned to set up their own consultancy business.
In at least three cases former authority staff who have retired, or resigned after critical inspection reports, have since been taken on by private firms in key positions.