Education: History of in-fighting and bad managers

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The Independent Online
Heads and teachers in Hackney believe that the collapse of the education authority is the result of both political in-fighting and weak management.

The ruling Labour group on the north-east London council was disbanded by the national party last year after 17 out of 36 of them voted with Conservatives and Liberal Democrats against the party's official candidate for mayor. The decision came after Labour's national executive had spent months investigating the group over allegations of dirty tricks, vote- rigging and the formation of an unofficial caucus.

At the end of July last year, Gus John, Britain's first black director of education, took early retirement after three months on sick leave. He accused councillors of behaving like "a bunch of gangsters putting out a contract on someone then gathering at their funeral to speak eloquent eulogies". He said that they had failed to defend him from attacks by left-wing teachers and gay activists.

In August the party tried to end a war between factions in the council. Five members were suspended and the leader and local party chairman were in effect barred from holding office for 22 months.

The five were suspended after claims that an unauthorised decision-making body had been forming policy in private.

The split among Labour councillors persists with those expelled from the party often voting alongside Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

There has been no director of education for 18 months and, during that time, there have been two attempts to restructure the council in different ways.

The instability has led to the departure of nearly all the council's senior education officers. The last remaining senior official leaves for a job in Camden this week.

Hackney schools have hit the headlines in unwelcome ways. Hackney Downs was the first school to be taken over by a hit squad set up by the previous government after inspectors declared that it was failing its pupils.

A storm also broke over Kingsmead primary school where the head, Jane Brown, refused tickets for pupils to attend a performance of a ballet of Romeo and Juliet because it was "entirely about heterosexual love."

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