Education: Hackney puts safety of pupils at risk

Safety and well-being of children at schools in a rundown part of London is at risk, according to a ferociously critical report to be released today. In an unprecedented verdict, inspectors found that Hackney, which oversees the education of more than 10,000 children, is breaking the law by failing them badly. Anthony Bevins and Judith Judd report.
Hackney politicians are preparing to accept the offer of an intervention team appointed by the Government to sort out the borough's education service.

A report from inspectors at the Office for Standards in Education to be published today is expected to argue that the administration in Hackney has collapsed. Some children are not even being given places in school and the authority is failing to offer support to its 69 schools.

It will paint a picture of a drifting and leaderless education authority which lacks not only a director of education but also an entire second tier of officers. Ministers' decision to send in a team of experts reflects their determination to be as tough on failing education authorities as on failing schools.

Richard Painter, who headed the hit squad for Hackney Downs School which led to its closure, will lead the team, which has been given until January to report. Two other members are Ann Sofer, Tower Hamlets' former director of education and Pat Collarbone, a former Hackney head. Extra money will be on offer as an inducement to councillors to agree to intervention.

At present, the Government cannot force the authority to accept help, though it has said that it intends to acquire new powers to take over failing local education authorities in the education bill to be published this autumn.

Every headteacher in Hackney will this morning receive a fax explaining that the intervention is intended to deal with the problems at the town hall and is not a reflection on schools' or teachers' efforts. All parents will also be sent letters of explanation.

Brian Sedgemore Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, said: "This has got a lot worse over the last 18 months after control of the borough was taken over by a coalition of Tories, Liberals and expelled Labour councillors. There has been no director of education for the last 18 months and control has been left in the hands of third-tier officers. The chief executive has lost the plot."

Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour councillors said last night that they would welcome the offer of the Government-appointed team.

Mark Lushington, divisional secretary of the Hackney branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Many good things are happening in Hackney. We are one of the fastest improving local education authorities in terms of GCSE results in the last seven year.

"Some council officers have been extremely supportive but there has been a lack of leadership and grip since the dissolution of the Inner London Education Authority. We believe in local democracy but we have not been well served by politicians."