Consultants groomed to oust LEAs

13 May 99
A strong impetus has been given to private sector management of state schools by publication of a government list of selected consultancies that will be permitted to bid for services mismanaged by local education authorities.

14 May 1999

Though dominated by for-profit consultants such as Capita, the list does include three well-regarded local education authorities which will be free to bid for the work of their failing counterparts. However, as widely predicted, the Local Government Association has been left out in the cold.

This omission was slammed by the LGA as 'a deliberate political act of ineptitude'. Significantly, one of the favoured individual LEAs, Birmingham, has Tim Brighouse, a vocal critic of government policy, as its education chief.

The LEAs inclusion raises the intriguing possibility of one council being paid to intervene in the work of another.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) said: 'In technical terms, you could look at it like that. But when we ask people to come forward to do the work, we will be looking for value for money.'

In the same announcement, schools standards minister Estelle Morris also revealed that Hackney LEA will be spared a complete takeover.

Only its school improvement and ethnic minority achievement services are to be externalised, in a decision that will be seen as a partial triumph for the beleaguered council.

Following advice from KPMG consultants, she said, the government had decided not to force computer, finance and personnel services out to the private sector.

'We will monitor these services very carefully and will not hesitate to add them to the contract if improvements are not delivered quickly,' Morris warned.

The test of how serious the DfEE is in forcing the private sector on to LEAs will come soon, with the publication of Ofsted reports into Islington and Liverpool LEAs expected in June. A DfEE spokesman confirmed the LEAs had been selected for scrutiny because of continuing concerns. 'They have had problems in the past five to ten years and consistently had trouble satisfying Ofsted with their performance and targets,' he said.

The report into another perennial poor performer, Lambeth, will be out in the late summer.

Hackney's Labour group spokesman on education, Ian Peacock, said he was satisfied with the final outcome of the government's intervention and he accepted that the services that have been targeted were heavily criticised in the Ofsted report.

The LEA may have been spared a complete take-over thanks to the resignation of chief executive Tony Elliston in March and a commitment from the three main political parties to work more closely together.


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