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Hackney council backs down

Hackney Council, in east London, last night backed off from a confrontation with the Government over the running of its schools, by appointing a director of education - a post which has not been filled for nearly two years.

Stephen Byers, the schools standards minister, said: "I welcome the positive response to the call I made yesterday to Hackney to agree to the appointment of a person to provide leadership of the education service in Hackney schools."

But the decision by the council's education committee creates a dilemma for the "hit squad" chairman Richard Painter, appointed by ministers to rescue education in Hackney.

Only on Tuesday, Mr Painter rejected the proposals put to the committee by Hackney's chief executive, Tony Elliston, and threatened if they were approved to ask David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, to intervene.

Last night councillors instructed Mr Elliston to discuss with Mr Painter the appointment of a director of education - something which, by itself, he dismissed as inadequate.

All four groups represented on Hackney's education committee - Labour, the rebel Hackney New Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat - approved the motion. It is understood that the official Labour group's decision followed intervention by Mr Byers.

In a statement, the Hackney Tory group said: "Labour councillors have been forced by Stephen Byers to support a motion to the education committee which accepts its streamlined management structure, which only days ago they were describing as a fancy and trendy structure."