Variety is the spice of life in London's East End

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
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Hackney. You mean "the worst-run council in Britain"? Those were Chris Woodhead's words - virtually his parting shot before leaving his post as head of the Office for Standards in Education. "Now is the time to give Hackney's schools more control of their destiny," he said. "Now is the time to free them from a council that is not a partner but a millstone."

A tad harsh surely?

Not really. In November OFSTED delivered a scathing inspection report on the East London borough's education service - its third in three years. In response David Blunkett suggested putting the education service in the hands of a private firm or a successful local education authority. A private company was already running the LEA's failing school support services.

The last straw for OFSTED came when Hackney's respected director of education Elizabeth Reid and senior colleagues left. It was, said the inspection report, "only the latest in a series of crises resulting from the continuing ineptitude of the corporate management of the council." Hackney's finances are in a parlous state - at the time of the inspection report the borough was pound;40 million in the red and it was trying to make serious cutbacks to avoid bankruptcy.

Oh dear. This doesn't bode well for teacher recruitment.

Nope. London boroughs have a tough enough time recruiting teachers, but particularly in the poorer ones like Hackney and Tower Hamlets. The TES wanted to sk Hackney Borough Council what incentives it was offering to attract teachers, but a spokesman said the recruitment manager was too busy recruiting to talk about it.

They are trying then?

Yes. The authority is attempting to straighten its finances, and there's a new director of education in situ. "We are working on our post-OFSTED action plan," said a spokesman.

Hackney has nine secondary schools, 58 primaries, five special schools, two nursery and two pupil referral units. The borough is one of the poorest areas in the UK, with a big and diverse ethnic population. It has a high intake of refugees and there are over 100 languages spoken in Hackney's schools.

What's it like to live there?

The borough covers Hackney, Shoreditch and Stoke Newington. Its ethnic diversity means Hackney's good for eating out, with food ranging from Nigerian to Russian, to Britain's contribution - pie and mash and jellied eels.

For going out there's also the old Hackney Empire theatre, once home to music hall and variety, and now refurbished and playing everything from 'La Boh me' to Chas amp; Dave.

Blimey! Are house prices affordable?

Leave it out - it's London, innit? There are lots of period Victorian houses in Hackney and even the cheapest three-bedroom semi goes for around pound;300,000, with prices going up to pound;450,000 around the more desirable Victoria Park end. A one-bed flat would set you back pound;650 to pound;750 a month in rent.

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