Outspoken academies chief loses his job

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The Independent Online

One of the most influential government advisers on education over the past two decades has lost his job as head of the trust representing specialist schools and academies.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), has been replaced after headteachers said they had lost confidence in him.

He recently claimed there were 17,000 incompetent teachers in state school classrooms and that 500 secondary schools were under-performing.

Sir Cyril has been a senior adviser to 10 successive secretaries of state for education starting in the Thatcher government when he masterminded the launch of its City Technology College programme.

Formerly a Conservative alderman with the now defunct Greater London Council, he later left the party and persuaded former prime minister Tony Blair to use his expertise to shape Labour's specialist schools and academies the privately sponsored, state-financed institutions replacing struggling inner-city schools.

As head of the trust, he was responsible for representing nearly 2,700 of the country's 3,000 state secondary schools.

However, in recent months, claims in a BBC interview that there were 17,000 incompetent teachers and 500 under-performing schools irked headteachers who believed he should spend more time praising successes.

His comments also irritated ministers who pointed to evidence from Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, that the quality of teaching today was better than ever before.

Ed Balls, the current Children, Schools and Families Secretary, did not make him an adviser bringing to an end an unbroken reign of services to 10 education secretaries beginning with Kenneth Baker in the late 1980s.

At the meeting when he lost his job, it was decided to replace the 40-strong council set up by the trust with a new streamlined board with just 12 members who would have a stronger grip on the organisation. Sir Cyril's trust was also embroiled in the "cash for honours" controversy when Des Smith, a former headteacher and member of the SSAT council, told an undercover Sunday Times reporter that donating large sums of money to schools could help secure an honour.

Mr Smith was later arrested by detectives investigating the honours system but was later eliminated from inquiries due to "insufficient evidence".

Sir Cyril, 72, later said that Mr Smith's comments were misguided, adding: "In no way is giving money to the academy programme linked to the award of an honour."

He will still serve as a member of the board. He will be replaced as chairman by Sir James Hill, his deputy since 2006 who currently chairs the board of governors at Dixons City Academy in Bradford.

Mr Balls said of his departure: "Sir Cyril Taylor has made a landmark contribution to the system over the past 20 years. His energy and enthusiasm for, and commitment to, improving schools, has been highly impressive and leaves a lasting legacy to education in this country.

Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, added: "He was an early and steadfast supporter of the academy programme and has made an immense contribution to education over more than two decades."

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "He has been an amazing political survivor through different governors and has helped to build the trust into an impressive network of schools.

"More recently, though, headteachers have been concerned with some of his public pronouncements in particular his emphasis on failure."

Sir Cyril said last night: "The trust has played a crucial and important role over the past 20 years in helping to raise standards in English secondary schools.

"I am delighted to have had the opportunity through the trust to contribute to that achievement.

"The trust will continue to have my wholehearted support and has my very best wishes for its future success."