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Tuesday, May 11, 1999 Published at 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK


School services to be privatised

Hackney is accused of letting down its schools

The government is to tell a local council to privatise some of its key education services - the first time this has happened in state education in the UK.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has said he is "minded" to direct Hackney in London to put out to tender its school improvement services and its ethnic minority achievement service - formerly known as the language and learning service.

[ image: David Blunkett: Tough words put into action]
David Blunkett: Tough words put into action
The move is unprecedented but is unlikely to be the last of its kind. The government has also published a list of consultants who can advise on possible future interventions in other education authorities.

The Hackney action is based on recommendations from the consultants KPMG, sent in following a second bad report on the authority by the schools inspectors, Ofsted.

Mr Blunkett's move was allowed for by changes in legislation last year and he had made it plain he would "not shrink" from using the new powers where education authorities were not coming up to scratch.

On probation

In response to a parliamentary question, the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said the government was inviting a number of organisations to bid for the work of running Hackney's services and aimed to have a contractor in place "shortly" for the school improvement service.

"The functions of the ethnic minority achievement service will transfer to the contractor on 1 April 2000 by which time the LEA will have reorganised this service to take account of the fact that most of the funding for extra teaching support now goes directly to schools," she said.

Again on advice from KPMG, the secretary of state had decided that two other departments - information and communications technology, and finance and personnel - should not be "added to the package" at this stage as Hackney had taken a number of important steps to improve them.

"We will monitor these services very carefully and will not hesitate to add them to the contract if improvements are not delivered quickly," she added.

Union criticism

The General Secretary of the biggest teachers' union, the National Union of Teachers, was critical of the government's action.

"When the education secretary ought to be supporting the development of education in Hackney under its new director, he is taking services away which will lead to profits being made and paid for by the education service and the taxpayers of the borough," Doug McAvoy said.

Six organisations will be awarded so-called framework contracts for possible consultancy work on other interventions. They are KPMG, Lorien, Capita, Office of Public Management, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Arthur Andersen/Birmingham LEA.

Ten organisations have been put on the current list of those who may be invited to bid for contracts as service providers in local education authorities: Arthur Andersen/Birmingham LEA/APS Keele, Cambridge Education Associates, Nord Anglia, Hampshire LEA, The Education Partnership, Capita, CfBT, Essex LEA/Windsor & Co, Include and CEM Consortium.

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