Education in Hackney condemned by Ofsted

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Education Secretary David Blunkett is considering privatising education services in Hackney to protect schools from the council's impending financial melt-down.

Education Secretary David Blunkett is considering privatising education services in Hackney to protect schools from the council's impending financial melt-down.

He was speaking after a damning report by education watchdog Ofsted painted a stark picture of the pressure the crisis was putting teachers under.

The report, launched by departing chief inspector Chris Woodhead, accused the council of making things worse by mishandling the departure of ex-education director Elizabeth Reid, who had won the trust and confidence of schools.

The situation in Hackney was "deeply depressing", Mr Woodhead said.

"Our conclusion to this report is simple and straightforward, but deeply depressing: We do not believe that Hackney local authority has the capacity to provide a secure, stable context for continuous educational improvement," Mr Woodhead told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

He said his preferred solution would be to take the area's education out of the local council's hands and bring in a private company to take responsibility.

Mr Woodhead added: "I have to say that I feel a sense of failure myself that I haven't persuaded the Government that radical intervention was needed in the past.

"The schools (in Hackney) are making very good progress, but they are making progress in spite of, and not because of, the authority.

"The authority is doing a considerable number of things wrong. It is failing to implement a schools' improvement strategy, it has failed to monitor and support and intervene appropriately with schools, it has failed to support school management.

"There is a failure of leadership from elected members, a failure to target resources on priorities."

Mr Blunkett said he accepted that radical action was needed and proposed two possible solutions.

Hackney schools could get more power to cluster together to buy in services from wherever they wished, he said.

Private firms or local education authorities might also be asked to take over parts of the borough's education services, including school improvement and building maintenance.

"Head teachers in Hackney need an anchor at this time," Mr Blunkett added.

The Ofsted report followed an equally damning appraisal of Hackney's financial management by the Audit Commission, which said the council was in a state of collapse.

Hackney Council leader Jules Pipe told the Today programme: "The report does acknowledge some improvements in the education authority, but all that has been made against the backdrop of the chaos of a hung council, which has been hung for four years.

"A hung council does lead to chaos and a lack of political leadership."

The Ofsted inspectors declared: "This inspection, which took place in very unusual circumstances, demonstrates graphically how education cannot isolate itself from corporate difficulties."

They described a scenario in which head teachers had to cope with sudden unexpected and demoralising cash shortages, which had a knock-on effect on teacher recruitment.

The report continued: "Poor handling of issues, such as those which led to the resignation of the director of education, who was the principal architect of improvement and who had won the trust and confidence of the schools, officers and elected members, impedes progress and undermines schools' confidence."

While there was evidence that the local education authority had made "hard-won" progress, it was "not sufficient to enable us to conclude that the LEA is now functioning effectively overall".

The inspectors delivered their harsh verdict after their third visit to Hackney in as many years.