Race for Islington's services nears end;News;News amp; Opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
An experienced troubleshooter is to help a London borough privatise its schools. Chris Bunting and Steve Hook report

AN EMERGENCY management team has been appointed to prepare Islington for Britain's biggest privatisation of school services.

The race to secure the contract to run the north London borough's 65 schools reached the finishing straight this week when consultants Cambridge Education Associates emerged as the Government's and Islington's "preferred bidder". The business is believed to be worth about pound;17 million a year.

The company, which carries out inspections for the Office for Standards in Education, stands to make an annual profit of about pound;600,000 on the deal.

And its director Derek Forman, a former deputy director of the Inner London Education Authority, said the contract would quadruple the company's turnover.

But, with morale among Islington's teachers and officers under massive strain, the authority faces a long transition to private control. The contractors are not due to take over until April.

Islington has recruited Simon Jenkin, former chief education officer of Devon, to handle the sensitive transition.

Mr Jenkin, who has a reputation as a troubleshooter in fail-ing authorities, will replace Andy Roberts who is leaving to become Wokingham's director of education. A new deputy, Thanos Morphitis, replaces the retiring Mike Clayden.

Last year Mr Jenkin was the principal author of a searing report on Calderdale after it failed an OFSTED inspection.

He was subsequently called into Haringey, north London, where he wrote another critical report for the local authority, before taking up his present post as Wokingham's acting director of education.

One head who is leaving the authority, Andy Marshall, of Central Foundation boys' school, said the privatisation of Islington's services was driven by a central government political agenda and not the needs of local schools.

"There were one or two departments that needed a strong shake up and that could have been done without privatisation.

"They could have done a far more limited privatisation like they did in Hackney," he said.

Mr Marshall said his decision to leave to run Hackney's education action zone was unrelated to Islington's problems: "But I know quite a few of the officers are going. There are farewell parties going on. It is a very difficult time."

And things could get more complicated. Plans to scrap the borough's education committee and replace it with a trust depends on the outcome of a crucial by-election. Labour controls the council with the mayor's casting vote but, if the Liberal Democrats win on December 16, they have promised to oppose the trust as "undemocratic".

Islington's chief executive Leisha Fullick said: "A lot of work still needs to be done before the contract is awarded, but we are now nearing the end of a long process which the council believes will build on improvements we have already achieved over the past year. "

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