IDA plans hit squads for schools

20 May 99
The Improvement and Development Agency is to lead the fightback against the government's privatisation agenda for schools by creating its own 'hit squads' for local education authorities.

21 May 1999

Education's position as a democratically accountable service was severely damaged this week when, after a damning report from Ofsted, the London Borough of Islington accepted that elected councillors could no longer be trusted with its delivery.

Instead, the council is setting up a school standards board – consisting of head teachers, educational advisers, members of the community and some councillors – to support the schools. 'The education authority in its current form will cease to exist,' said chief executive Leisha Fullick.

Islington also wants to set up a joint venture company – on which the council will have minority representation – to provide services such as special education, school improvement and management support.

The IDA has not announced any details of its new initiative, which is still in embryonic form. But it has decided that the model will be based on its system for improving entire councils, and will be under the control of a former assistant chief education officer of Birmingham, Philippa Cordingley, now an independent education consultant.

Cordingley denied that the IDA was attempting to stave off government intervention by correcting the worst failures within LEAs before they are inspected by Ofsted. 'It is not a defensive reaction,' she said. 'The government's drive is raising important questions.'

The Ofsted report into Islington was the most critical yet. The inspectors found the LEA provided 'inadequate and ineffective' support for its schools and said they did not believe it had the capacity to put things right.

The report also noted that 'according to the chief executive, [the council] has largely lost the confidence of the people it serves. This is especially true of the education service, which is generally held in low esteem by the schools, which it fails adequately to consult or inform.'

Fullick said the council's move had been partly prompted by the knowledge that Education Secretary David Blunkett could intervene if he wished. 'But we are not opposed to radical, cutting-edge solutions,' she added.

The first stage in the response will be the appointment of consultants, from the government's approved list, to draw up recommendations for how services will be delivered in the future. They will examine the council's proposal for a joint venture company, and report in June.


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