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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 16:30 GMT


Hackney's troubled past

Hackney now faces the takeover of its education services

Hackney, the London borough which is to become the first education authority to have its powers taken away by the government, has been the subject of growing concern in recent years.

Since the election of the Labour government in May 1997, the local authority and the Department for Education appear to have been set on a collision course, as inspection and re-inspection failed to find the improvements demanded.

Armed with new legislation that allows the education secretary to intervene directly and to take away the management of education services from councils, David Blunkett has now imposed changes designed to help Hackney's schools improve.

Events leading to Mr Blunkett's intervention

June 1997

  • Inspectors sent into Hackney by Mr Blunkett, who says he is concerned that the authority is not doing enough to improve standards and tackle underachievement.

  • The School Standards Minister, Stephen Byers, says the government is concerned about the performance of a handful of local education authorities, but Hackney stands out as the worst.

    September 1997

  • The Office for Standards in Education publishes a report concluding that Hackney local education authority is failing to meet several of its statutory responsibilities. It recommends that little is likely to be achieved until new appointments are made to most of its senior education posts. Mr Byers says the report reveals such serious failings in Hackney that the government would take over the council's education services and run them centrally if it had had the legal power to do so.

  • The Hackney Improvement Team, under the chairmanship of Richard Painter, is sent into the local authority by the education secretary. This so-called "hit squad" aims to ensure that the education authority meets its statutory duties and to prepare a development plan for Hackney focusing on raising performance and improving management.

    October 1997

  • The improvement team's first report on the management of Hackney local education authority records concerns about the council's management structure.

    January 1998

  • Elizabeth Reid is appointed the new Chief Education Officer for Hackney.

  • Mr Byers welcomes the recommendations on the future of Hackney education service published in an interim report by the improvement team.

    July 1998

  • The improvement team submits its final report. Mr Byers says there has been some progress and that schools are improving, but there are still areas of concern.

  • The School Standards and Framework Act is passed, giving the government the power to take over failing local authorities. These new powers allow the education secretary to intervene dircectly in failing authorities and appoint improvement teams to take over services.

    January 1999

  • Mr Blunkett announces that the Department for Education will be advertising for contractors to take over key functions of failing local education authorities. He warns that he will not hesitate to use his powers where local education authorities are failing to raise standards.

    March 1999

  • An Audit Commission report says a number of local authorities in the most deprived areas are doing well, but Hackney is among the exceptions. Hackney recorded the largest fall in the proportion of pupils achieving five or more top-grade GCSEs.

  • The Chief Executive of Hackney Borough Council, Tony Elliston, resigns a week ahead of the publication of the latest Ofsted report on the authority's education services.

  • Hackney is told it will become the first local education authority to have some of its powers taken away by central government after an Ofsted re-inspection finds insufficient improvements in the services it provides for its schools.

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