Schools' progress removes threat of direct rule Progress wards off threat of direct rule at schools

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The Independent Online
PRIVATE CONTRACTORS will not be sent into two local authorities that have been heavily criticised by schools inspectors, the Government said yesterday.

Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, said there was "evidence of substantial progress" in Liverpool and Leicester councils after consultants drew up plans to raise standards. But she ordered a joint public-private panel to look at contracting out some education services in the London borough of Haringey. Ms Morris warned that private contractors could still be drafted into Liverpool if standards did not rise. Ministers expected"substantial progress" in Leicester by the end of the school year, she said.

In Liverpool, a new contract between the city council and its schools was drawn up by the authority, the consultants KPMG and government officials after a shake-up of the council's senior management. Leicester set up a "partnership board" chaired by David Hopkins, dean of education at Nottingham University, to oversee efforts to raise standards.

Ms Morris said, during a visit to Liverpool, that she was "pleased with the progress we have made so far with this intervention". But she ordered a re-inspection by Ofsted within a year, and warned: "There have been false dawns in Liverpool before. That is why I am putting in place a very tough and independent monitoring regime. If the recent progress is not maintained over the next 12 months, we will not hesitate to put the education service in Liverpool out to commercial contract."

Ms Morris announced that Capita Managed Services had been selected to work with Haringey council, in partnership with Bedfordshire education authority and Westminster Education Consultancy, to advise on how to secure "urgent and significant improvements". Capita and its partners would "advise on the availability of other providers and assess their services", Ms Morris said.

They would develop specifications for services and draw up bidding documents for possible privatisation.

Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "Privatising services is just treating the symptoms, not the cure. The important thing is sorting out a political strategy for raising standards."

David Aaronovitch

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