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Saturday, November 6, 1999 Published at 05:37 GMT


Education

Haringey angered by privatisation threat

Haringey was accused of failing to support schools

Councillors are planning a legal challenge to any government moves to privatise their education service.

Leaders of Haringey council in north London say they are considering the possibility of getting a judicial review of the threat.

Highly-critical inspection reports for the London boroughs of Islington and Hackney and for Liverpool have led to government intervention and the privatisation of education services in those authorities.

In another London borough - Southwark - the director of education resigned last month, shortly before a re-inspection by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). The authority was heavily criticised in a previous inspection.

Ministers have said repeatedly that where authorities are failing to come up to scratch they will use new legal powers to intervene.

'Weaknesses'

In Haringey's case, it received a mixed Ofsted report which said that support for its 92 schools had been effective in some areas.

"However, the weaknesses outweigh the strengths," it added. "Schools lack confidence in the commitment of elected members to education."

Shortcomings included a lack of support to schools for target setting, improving the 14-19 curriculum, and maintaining school buildings.

"Current changes, and the effective leadership of the director of education promise a better future," Ofsted said.

"However, we are not convinced that it is firmly established, nor do we believe that the work of the LEA provides value for money. Improvement is overdue ..."

But Haringey's education chairman, Bob Harris, said the inspectors had not, in their list of recommendations, mentioned government intervention.

Deadline

Nevertheless the Education Minister Estelle Morris ordered the borough to come up with an action plan to improve its services within 30 days.

The deadline expires next week. But already a senior civil servant has written to Haringey, suggesting that it call in consultants to prepare a tender for the privatisation of key services - a similar process to those used against other 'failing' authorities.

Mr Harris said the civil servant said Haringey might consider "out-sourcing" services which had not been criticised, to ensure a package of services "wide enough in scope to offer the potential for radical transformation of the quality of services across the authority."

A "sensible" sized package could include "some services found to be satisfactory by Ofsted," the civil servant had written.

Mr Harris said Haringey was now seeking urgent discussions with Estelle Morris - and was considering the scope for judicial review if privatisation was forced upon it.

"We are not looking at this from an ideological point of view," Mr Harris said. "We are very happy to work with other local authorities and learn from good practice.

'We are astonished'

"We are prepared to out source where necessary but we are not willing to have large chunks of our local authority taken over.

"We are not going to be railroaded by civil servants into a solution which we do not think will work in the best interests of children in Haringey.

"We are astonished that civil servants are suggesting this when we have not yet even submitted out action plan."

A senior government source said the government was "still consulting" on Haringey's future.

In June, the education secretary singled out 14 LEAs which he claimed had taken the first instalment of the extra £19bn for education in the government's three-year spending review, and had spent it instead on other services.

Haringey was one of the 14 he named.



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