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Friday, 17 November, 2000, 15:21 GMT
Woodhead slates Hackney's failures
Chris Woodhead
Chris Woodhead's report was damning
The government should have intervened to prevent a crisis in schools in a troubled London borough, the outgoing chief inspector of schools in England, Chris Woodhead claimed.

Mr Woodhead described Hackney as the worst-run council in England, incapable of running an education service.

We do not believe that Hackney local authority has the capacity to provide a secure, stable context for continuous educational improvement

Chris Woodhead
Giving details of a third inspection by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) in as many years, he expressed his frustration at the lack of impact his reports had had.

Education Secretary David Blunkett had seen evidence of the borough's "endemic" incompetence in 1997, he said, but schools were still in crisis because of the council's ongoing financial difficulties.

Mr Woodhead said he wondered if he could have done more to persuade the government to take radical action.

'Coded criticism'

BBC education correspondent, Sue Littlemore said his words were a "coded criticism" of the Labour government for not scrapping local education authorities, allowing schools to manage their own affairs.

Mr Woodhead - who leaves his desk as chief inspector at the end of this month - believes most schools would be better off without the intervention of local authorities.

Defending the government's stance on Hackney, a spokesperson said Whitehall was not in a position to intervene before the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act became law.

Mr Blunkett had then waited for the publication of the second Ofsted review before sending in consultants to recommend which services should be privatised.

'Radical action'

In response to the indictment of the authority, Mr Blunkett said he accepted Ofsted's recommendation that radical action in Hackney was now necessary.

He proposed two possible solutions.

David Blunkett
David Blunkett accepts the report's findings and the need for "radical action"
Hackney schools could get more power to cluster together to buy in services from wherever they wished, he said.

Or private companies or local education authorities may also be asked to take over aspects of the borough's education services, including school improvement and building maintenance.

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

Schools Minister Estelle Morris confirmed the government would also consider stripping the council of responsibility for education altogether.

Damning report

In his report, Mr Woodhead recommended that education services in the borough should be taken over by a private company.

I am absolutely 100% with the findings of the Ofsted report and its conclusions

Elizabeth Reid, former director of education
"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," he said.

The report said the poor handling of issues, such as those which led to the resignation of the director of education, Elizabeth Reid - who had won the trust of schools - had impeded progress and undermined 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".

Some progress

Schools in Hackney were improving, Mr Woodhead added, but such improvement was in spite 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 Woodhead said.

Standards in the borough's schools have been low and many of serve poor communities with a high number of refugees.

'Political chaos'

The leader of Hackney Council, Jules Pipe said the Ofsted report had been made against the backdrop of four years of the "chaos of a hung council".

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

He said the political administration - led by the Labour Party and Conservative Party for the first time in four years - was determined to make changes in the quality of education services provided.

A new director of education would take over in January, Mr Pipe said, and a Department for Education-approved temporary director was in place in the interim.

Director leaves

Mrs Reid, whose period of notice finished on the same day the Ofsted report was published, said she was leaving with "mixed emotions".

She would not comment on Mr Woodhead's claim that the government should have stepped in sooner, saying that was a political matter.

"I am absolutely 100% with the findings of the Ofsted report and its conclusions," she added.

OFSTED Chief Inspector, Chris Woodhead
"I feel a sense of failure myself"
Schools Minister, Estelle Morris MP
"The OFSTED report says now is the time for further action- and that is what we will be doing"
BBC education correspondent Sue Littlemore
"The worst run authority the chief inspector has ever seen"
See also:

26 Jul 00 | Education
London colleges lack 'strategy'
17 May 00 | Education
More firms to run education services
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