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Hackney challenges hit squad

Councillors in the north London borough of Hackney meet today to consider a report which urges them to defy the Government over proposals from its school-improvement hit squad.

As the council moved towards confrontation with the Government, Richard Painter, the squad's chairman, warned that he would call on ministers to intervene unless councillors agreed to its plans by next Thursday.

Tony Elliston, the council's chief executive, who wrote the report, said the team's plans would "do absolutely nothing whatsoever to raise standards in Hackney schools".

Gerry Ross, the leader of the Hackney New Labour group, which has split from the Labour Party, called Mr Painter a "twopenny-halfpenny dictator".

Ministers are believed to be working on ways of bringing the council into line if the rebellion goes ahead. The Secretary of State for Education has powers under the 1944 Education Act to issue directions to a local authority.

An education Bill to be published later this month will give the Governmentpower to take over failing local education authorities but it will not be law until next spring.

The row exploded when Mr Elliston accused the improvement team of recreating an expensive, old-style management structure that had failed in the past.

Last week, the team said the structure proposed by the council was "too trendy" and that it must appoint a director of education: the post has been unfilled for nearly two years.

The team was invited into the borough in September after inspectors said that the education service was in disarray.

Mr Elliston told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the team's plans were "a totally unreconstructed piece of fifth-rate management opportunism". He added that the Government had no legal powers to stop the council rejecting the team's recommendations. A decision about whether to confront the Government will be taken at a full meeting of the council next week. No political party is in overall control. Official Labour Party councillors, the only group so far not to back the hit squad, are in a minority.