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Troubled Hackney is sixth most improved

Some now question the decision to send in an improvement team. Clare Dean reports

Hackney, the London local authority only last month slated by the Government for its poor management of schools, is the sixth most improved council in the country.

Department for Education and Employment statistics reveal that the number of its pupils gaining five or more top grade GCSEs has increased by almost 8 per cent over the past three years.

The figrues come a little more than a month after the Government sent a hit squad into the east London borough to sort out its chaotic education service, claiming its management structure was unworkable.

The borough has now been told to appoint an education director - advertisements for the Pounds 85,000-a-year job appeared this week - and David Blunkett wants the final say in Hackney council's choice.

Hackney's ranking in the league table of local authority improvement has led many outside the borough to question privately the Government's insistence on sending in an improvement team.

The borough, meanwhile, was happy to celebrate its success story and Sarah Ebanja, Hackney executive director, pledged it would continue to work for even greater improvement year on year.

"Our education service continues to face major challenges but we are determined to create a system which will deliver the highest standard of education to every child," she said.

"This determination, which is shared by teachers, headteachers, governors and the education authority, is beginning to show results. While Hackney is a borough with a number of serious socio-economic problems, this makes it all the more important that the education our children receive is of the very highest standard."

London authorities dominated the league tables of improvement at five-plus GCSEs grades A-C over three years - holding all but one of the top 10 positions.

The biggest improvers since 1994 were Newham (an increase of 10.4 percentage points), Kensington and Chelsea (9.4), Westminster (9), Southwark (8.9), Hammersmith and Fulham (8.2), Hackney (7.7), Trafford (7.5), Camden (7. 2), Tower Hamlets (7) and Lambeth (6.6).

Trafford, meanwhile, was the only council to feature in the top 10 of both local authority league tables for improvement and on straight results for this year.

On results for this year, the Isles of Scilly led the local authorities with its one secondary school.

But drawing definitive conclusions from the rankings is difficult because of extensive changes to the local government boundaries since the creation of a number of new unitary authorities.

For example, one of the biggest apparent improvements is in Buckinghamshire. However, it is impossible to judge the improvement its schools have made since 1994 because it is now no longer responsible for Milton Keynes.

Analysis of top-grade GCSE results for Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, now a unitary authority, reveals that almost 60 per cent of county pupils gained five A-C grades, while only 35 per cent from the city did so.

David Whitbread, head of education at the Local Government Association, said: "The trouble about ranking authorities is that you are not comparing like with like. How on earth can you rank Westminster against Lancashire when you are looking at a completely different size and social mix of an authority?

"If you want to rank authorities by absolute results you will get one answer, if you want to do it by improvement you will get another. You can't keep this information secret, but some of it is less useful than others."

Andrew Collier, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, welcomed the move away from crude figures, and said: "It is very encouraging to see that a number of local authorities are seen to have substantial improvement."

He predicted more confusion next year, however, with another round of local authority reorganisation which would see some councils losing their inner-city areas.

Roy Jobson, chair of the Association of Chief Education Officers, was not surprised by Hackney's results and said: "We are not trying to make poverty an excuse but we are trying to understand the effects of it and combat it. "

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