Galloway, Bradford Brewery and the Tragedy of the Bradford Spring

Originally posted on AnotherCountry:

When you see the pictures of Galloway’s victory parade around Bradford, its easy to see why he is one of the most exciting (and indeed excitable) politicians of his generation.  Basically no one else acts like that anymore.  Apart from maybe Dennis Skinner, there really doesn’t seem anyone who can turn on anger, clarity and oratory like Galloway.  Ranting and speaking, declaring the “Bradford Spring” from the top of a double decker bus.  As you see him, genuine talent eclipsed by the outrageous bombast of his cigar, hat and glasses, you have to wonder if, up there on his double decker victory bus, he thought his time in Bradford might be refreshingly uneventful.  “Surely”, you can imagine him thinking, surrounded by people chanting his name, “after a career like mine, Bradford must be sedate, and not a place where controversy and scandals are”.

I am not a professional politician and neither…

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George Galloway: It’s not Him – It’s Me!

GALLOWAY - sadI got in bother with Bradford West candidate George Galloway this weekend. It’s ended up with me apologising to a couple of people, not least the person who Mr Galloway thinks I am. That might need clarification…

I was in a conversation with a feed which I thought was about “friendly banter” concerning Bradford’s political scene. I said something, which I won’t repeat, about the Respect Party. In summary, I incorrectly and foolishly (thinking I was speaking to a general, friendly discussion feed) repeated allegations as fact. I apologised. Correctly. It was due to brevity and the limit of 140 characters. This is how it all started.

After suddenly realising that the conversation I was in wasn’t quite what I thought, I felt that it would be right to withdraw the comments – which I did. However, the people I was speaking with weren’t happy with that and, it would seem, shared my error with Mr Galloway.

A lot later, Mr Galloway tweeted this

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.08.58I didn’t see it at the time. Mr Galloway didn’t include my handle, so the message didn’t pop up as a notification. He’s blocked me on Twitter so I can’t easily see his tweets and would’ve been unlikely to have come across it accidentally. He also has my email address, but didn’t use it.

Oh, and one more thing: that’s not me.

I believe there is a Mr Atkinson at Bingley Grammar School. It’s not me; I’m not him.

Sorry, Mr Atkinson – it’s me he wants – not you.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.10.09But back to the tweet. He chose not to use my handle or my email and didn’t put the tweet as part of the conversation, so I was unlikely to see it. But he did put in what he believed was my place of work. I don’t know why. I felt that it was intimidatory – a kind of ‘I know where you live’ but, well, not quite as close to home. Was this him telling me that, unless I stopped, he was going to report me? Would an employer be upset at what I’d written? Possibly, but I thought I’d dealt with exactly as how the people I was speaking to had asked and had taken back my error. Is it right to report what someone said in (what I believed was a personal, friendly) conversation about politics to the person’s employer?

Mr Galloway knows my Twitter handle; he knows my email address; I think he knows my address as I’ve probably included it in emails; so, why did he just include my last name and (incorrectly) my place of work? What was the point if not to intimidate? If it were you, would you feel intimidated?

I’ve tweeted and emailed Mr Galloway yesterday explaining the situation – and haven’t got a reply yet. I’ve also apologised to Mr Atkinson of BGS as part of the conversation (but I don’t know if he’s on Twitter so can’t say that he saw it) and will write to the school and to Mr Atkinson if I find out Mr Galloway or anyone else has put in a complaint to the school about him / me. I hope Mr Galloway will do the same.

indexOn another note, Mr Galloway was in the news this weekend for a much reported spat with new venture and local beer purveyors, Bradford Brewery. (If you don’t do anything else in April, make sure you go and have a pint or two.)

Mr Galloway, amongst other things, seemed to threaten to close the brewery down if he is elected.

Tweets from the brewery and Louise Mensch seemed to think it was, and the latter warned him, that any action after the election could be illegal.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.33.48Mr Galloway also retweeted (but that does not necessarily mean he agrees, obviously) a call for the MP to use his influence with the council’s head of planning to have Bradford Brewery shut down.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.09.04Also, he and some of his supporters have suggested that “complaints abound” about the brewery. I’m not sure they do, so I asked how many have been received. I haven’t got a reply yet. I also put in an FOI request to Bradford Council to ask how many complaints have been received about Bradford Brewery to date, and how many of those were received before Mr Galloway’s twitter argument with the brewery. I’ll let you know when I get the information back.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.37.21Mr Galloway made me feel intimidated and bullied. It seems to me that he has also threatened a local business during a Twitter “spat” – which a Respect spokesperson described as ‘trivial’ – with closure because they were a bit pissy with him – but this might not be what he meant to say and I would urge you to seek clarification on his view in case, due to the limitations of 140 characters this isn’t what he meant at all.

It’s been a learning opportunity, and I’ll certainly be more careful with what I say about my former and possibly future MP on line.

But, most of all, I apologise to Mr Atkinson who, through no fault of his own, has been called some most hurtful and damaging names by a politician and (probably) Bradford West’s MP. Really – I’m sorry.

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Eduwhinge 7: Northerners doing for Us Selfs

North1If you’ve been following my Eduwhinge escapes, you know what I want – and can freely skip to the next paragraph – but for those who are wondering… I’m annoyed that kids in Bradford and across the North don’t perform as well as those in other areas and don’t go to schools that are as effective as those in the South. Many people have their ideas about how to change things, but the truth is the government knows exactly what to do – after all, it did it, a decade ago, in London. The London Challenge turned London’s schools from worst to best and London’s kids from worst to best performing – and I want to know when it’s our turn.

Slide1From the replies, however few, I got from MPs, councilors and Lords (coming soon), it seems that our elected (and unelected) representatives know there’s a problem oop North. Poor kids in Barnsley are 4 times less likely to succeed than poor kids in Westmister; 2/3 of Northern cities are underperforming, and 7 of the bottom 10 worst local education authorities (LEAs) are in the North. What wasn’t apparent, though, was what they intended to do about it. There were some positive noises, and my MP, George Galloway, has ideas which entirely chimed with my own: he wants a Bradford Challenge. I think he should be doing more doing to get it done as a lone voice isn’t going to get the money and impetuous needed to make a real difference. I asked about him getting a group of Northern MPs together to petition the Secretary of State for the kind of intervention and desire to change given to London over a decade ago. He didn’t reply.

However, maybe things are changing, on this side of the Pennines at least.

hidden-bdBradford has big ideas for how to change its educational fortunes, and it looks a lot like what I’ve been advocating, even if it is on a much smaller scale.

Cllr Ralph Berry and the Labour led council have big plans: getting every school rated Good or better; improving the recruitment & retention of highly effective educators and school leaders; increasing sharing and collaborative working so that Outstanding schools and leaders support those which Require Improvement or show Serious Weakness.

I think this is a fantastic vision. Bradford Council, often rightly, gets slated, and with standards slipping and attainment plummeting, it feels like, to me at least, that they are determined to reverse decline and, rather than getting their heads above water, or out of the bottom 10 LEAs, they are planning for continued improvement.

However, where’s the support of the MPs? Bradford has five covering Bradford East, West and South, and Keighley & Ilkley and Shipley. I’ve written to all of them about education, with only George Galloway (West) and Philip Davies (Shipley) replying. MPs of every party should be on this. All of them make noises about improving education: for the coalition members (David Ward (LibDem) in East, Kris Hopkins in Keighley and Davies in Shipley (both Con)) this should be a great way to point out that, even with falling budgets locally, councils can still plan for success; for Labour’s Gerry Sutcliffe (South) this should be a great way to celebrate and crow about how Labour’s fighting against coalition education policy and making real change in its heartlands where it’s been accused (including by me) of ignoring its core vote; and by George Galloway (Respect; West) should be applauding the fact that the council are, pretty much, doing what he’s been calling for.

But, in an election year especially, maybe I’m asking too much even if it benefits all their constituents.

North4In the wider area, Yorkshire & the Humber was named, again, as the worst area for educational achievement at GCSE level. Whilst there are some really great examples of success, such as Calderdale and Kirlees, and even in Bradford with Dixons Trinity which Sam Freedman (Conservative education spokesperson and Director at Teach First) described as the “best school he’d visited”, Yorkshire’s schools and children, generally, underperform.

In a recent blog post, Simon Cooke, a Conservative councilor for Cullingworth, a village in Bradford District, called for the cooperation Bradford council is undertaking but on a larger scale. I usually disagree with Cllr Cooke on politics, but by no means always, and on this we are agreed: he’s calling for Labour’s flagship London Challenge to be rolled out, but with a Tory twist of no more money, just using existing resources. It’s well worth a read and, it seems, is close to what’s being envisioned by LEAs across Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire Post, which generally backs the Conservative party, called for something along the lines of the London Challenge for Yorkshire’s schools in their manifesto for Yorkshire: Educating our youth for all our futures. “Parents in Yorkshire today have a harder task finding good a school than in any other part of England. A child growing up in the county is less likely to go to a school rated as good, grasp the three Rs at primary school level, achieve national GCSE targets at secondary or go into a job, university or college course after they leave school than those living in the regions in the south.” Going on to draw similarities with London’s schools of the 80s & 90s, and wondering, like me, where our Challenge is, The Yorkshire Post knows there’s a problem and has flagged it up. The response from politicians was similar to the ones I got (even though, quite obviously, you’d expect them to care what the YP has to say). “Politicians have, quite rightly, talked about the importance of closing the attainment gap between rich and poor. But they should also focus on the huge variations of academic achievement in different parts of the country” – but the problem is, to my mind, that all we get is talk. If London’s kids got talk, not action, Knowsley, Blackpool and Bradford wouldn’t be bottom, and Yorkshire & the Humber wouldn’t be bottom – London and London’s LEAs would.

Talk is cheap – action on the scale of London Challenge is expensive. But, if they’re worth it, why aren’t we?

More pleasing, and along the lines of a London Challenge, is the plan for a region wide intervention. In 2014, a Pathfinder programme was set up as a small scale pilot to see what works for our kids. This year, a similar summit was told that councils and LEAs must work together and do the same on a grander scale to ensure that our kids get the best possible start in life.

Overall, is Yorkshire doing what the national government can’t or won’t? Well, in my opinion, a bit. London Challenge succeeded because of certain things any Yorkshire version will find hard to match.

Firstly, London’s success came about because of the desire of the national government. MPs didn’t want to send their kids to London’s schools so something needed to be done. With Yorkshire’s MPs making up only a tiny minority of MPs in total, that weight isn’t there, and if they educate their kids in the capital (I don’t know how many do) or if they live in the leafy suburbs of their constituency, their kids probably go to a decent school with decent results. I’m not suggesting MPs don’t see the problem, but I suggesting, maybe, most don’t feel it.

Secondly, that national desire brought with it prestige, investment and support. To change things on this scale, you need a lot of money. When Labour were in power and set up the London Challenge, the country and economy were booming. Now, it seems, we can’t afford to change the fortunes of our kids. Challenge-style interventions in the Midlands and Manchester were terminated as soon as the Coalition came to power – it wasn’t cost effective to educate their kids now that London was fixed. Simon Cooke believes that the money’s already there, and it’s just a mater of making it appealing enough for the better LEAs to support the poorer. I don’t know if I agree and how effective a Challenge on the cheap would be – but as a local politician, with in my opinion a great idea, he’s got to be listened to.

Thridly, and let’s face it, London’s London, so, in the eyes of the media, the politicians, the economy and everything else, London’s the most important place on planet (expect, maybe, for The White House or Kim Kardashian’s cleavage). If London’s failing, the country’s failing; if London’s flourishing, the country’s flourishing.

By that token, now that London’s schools are thriving and its children are attaining, there is no education crisis. I’d like to imagine, though, that we start a virtuous circle of educational reform and revolution: imagine if we took London from worst to best, then we took the North from worst to best, then we took the Midlands from worst to best… and, before long, London’s at the bottom again, and so we start over again, continually building, changing, evolving education.

And so, maybe crowing to MPs and Lords isn’t the way to go – maybe I should be looking smaller, more locally and pushing Bradford’s, Yorkshire’s and the North’s local politicians to do it for themselves. I’d always expected to get ignored by London’s politicians – and I’m glad to say that, at points, I was wrong to assume that – but if we’re capable of doing it for ourselves, why bother with Whitehall when City Hall or Town Hall can actually make the change… if they’re willing.

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Eduwhinge 6: (Some) MPs Reply

Slide1Education in Bradford and across vast swathes of the North is terrible. You name the league table, Bradford’s near the bottom and is invariably surrounded by local education authorities (LEAs) also ‘oop North’. Few, though, seem to think there is a solution.

However, the government knows exactly how to solve the problem. Why? Because the government revolutionised education a decade ago, putting in resources, making it a priority, and would not accept failure… in London. London’s schools were among the worst in the country. Look at any league table, performance indicator or general comment on London’s schools in the 1980s or 90s and they were abysmal. PM Tony Blair described it as “an emergency” – and so the London Challenge was born.

Today, London’s schools are among the best in the country: pick out a particular group (special educational needs, white working class, English as an additional language) and London’s schools do better than most; London’s LEAs outperform (as a group) all other areas in the country.

So, when’s it our turn? When’s it our kids’ turn to get their schools, their education, their underperformance treated seriously? Who better to ask than the MPs whose constituencies are in the North and in the bottom 10 or 20 LEAs nationally? (As an aside, 50% of the bottom 20 are in the North; 70% of the bottom 10 are in the North; Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the two worst performing areas.)

I sent this email to the MPs serving LEAs in the North and in the bottom 20 nationally and those who Michael Wilsham, head of Ofsted, named and shamed as having a fewer than half of schools rated Good or better (and I copied in Nicky Morgan, Education Minister, and her shadow, Tristram Hunt (neither of whom replied)). It’s a long list which you can view here.

Replies were swift: mainly, I was told that due to parliamentary rules, MPs were not allowed to reply to my letter and I should write to my own MP, George Galloway, only. It seems that even though Bradford shares appalling educational prospects with Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Salford, et al, I can’t comment on their failings, only Bradford West’s.

Some, though, did reply, including neighbouring MP Philip Davies (Con; Shipley), Michael Dugher (Lab; Barnsley East) and Tom Blenkinsop (Lab; Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland). So far, these three MPs and my MP, George Galloway, are the only ones to reply.

Philip Davies’ response points out the successes within his constituency (which is one fifth of Bradford District), and there are many, but does not see that sometimes we are separate entities – Shipley, Keighley, Bradford or Bradfords – but sometimes we are one. What’s good for Bradford District as a whole must, surely, be good for its component parts, and, by that logic, Bradford West’s kids’ achievement is good for Shipley’s.

Dear Mr Atkinson

Thank you for your email.

As you may know there are schools in my constituency rated as Outstanding and so it is certainly possible for that level to be achieved in my constituency.

However, if you live in the Shipley constituency please email me with your full postal address and I will take up your views with the Minister and send you her response as soon as I receive it.

Best wishes

Philip Davies MP

I pushed Mr Davies on this, suggesting that a London Challenge-style intervention would not harm the outstanding schools in his constituency; rather, it would allow those schools to become even better and the children’s attainment even better.

Dear Mr Davies

Many thanks for your reply.

Over a decade ago, the then Prime Minister described London’s education failings an emergency and backed London Challenge. Today, “Judged by relative performance in examinations and in Ofsted inspections, London schools now outperform schools  in the rest of England and achieve the highest proportion of students obtaining five  good GCSEs, the highest percentage of schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted,  and the highest GCSE attainment for pupils from poorer backgrounds. The superior  performance of London schools is apparent using both government-imposed  key indicators and other metrics that are less susceptible to ‘gaming’ by schools.  Ofsted considers that the quality of both teaching and leadership in London schools  is substantially above the level found in England as a whole. London is the top- performing region in England using other measurements, such as the percentage of students leaving school and remaining in further or higher education. The pattern of improvement has been particularly marked in inner London, which is impressive, as it has a higher level of deprivation than outer London.” (from p8)

Setting up a Northern Challenge for those LAs invariably at the foot of every league table (of which Bradford is one) with the funding, investment and expertise needed to bring real change could transform the lives of your young constituents (and those of your neighbours), improving education, crime and a whole host of areas which are entwined with education.

I am no longer your constituent since the last boundary changes, even though my address is still Shipley. My current MP, Geroge Galloway, has been calling for a London Challenge style intervention for Bradford, particularly Bradford West, but he cannot succeed in isolation. Bradford or Shipley won’t get a Challenge, just as Bexley or Brent wouldn’t, but a call from a cabal of MPs representing areas of the North which routinely underperform could bring the change so desperately needed and could bring such a great change to schools, teachers and children in Shipley, Bradford and across the Northern Powerhouse envisioned by George Osborne. If education in the Northern Powerhouse is amongst the best, investment and entrepreneurial spirit is sure to follow, giving your constituents better job prospects and life chances.

Your calling for a Northern Challenge would not undermine but enhance the excellent work by outstanding schools in Shipley, allowing them to improve further and become not just Outstanding but leading edge establishments with other schools across the country are desperate to learn from.

I really hope that you will support a Northern Challenge and have our children’s futures invested in in the same way as London’s were a decade ago.

Many thanks

In reply, Mr Davies spoke in glowing terms of the benefits of cooperation and collaboration in education, and offered to meet with George Galloway, my MP, and the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, if Mr Galloway would set up a meeting.

Thank you for your further email.

If George arranges a meeting with the Minister and wants me to join him at such a meeting I will happily do so.

I know there is some good work going on across Bradford – for example Beckfoot school in my constituency which is rated as outstanding is looking at taking over the running of another school in Bradford to try to instil the same ingredients for success there.

I am sure that such collaborative working can help to improve standards across the district which I very much agree are far too low and affecting the life chances of people.

Mr Davies knows there’s a problem – although he and I disagree on the solution.

I shared his offer to be part of a meeting to discuss, with the Secretary of State, problems with education in Bradford and the North. I thought it was a small victory in getting two MPs, however ideologically divergent, to speak with the person in ultimate control and flag up that such underperformance based on geography is unacceptable. I shared Philip Davies’ invitation with the MPs I’d written to and suggested they, and particularly the other 3 MPs serving Bradford, might want to attend. Mr Galloway did not set up the meeting and the other MPs, including those who serve Bradford, did not reply.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 17.33.33One MP who did reply to my first email was Michael Dugher (Lab; Barnsley East). His office sent me a brief note of how Mr Dugher shares my concerns that standards are slipping under the present government, and a clipping from the local paper, the Barnsley Chronicle. Blaming the other side aside, Mr Dugher has “raised concerns” and believes Barnsley’s results were “disappointing”.

Dear John,

Many thanks for contacting Michael regarding the latest school league tables.

Michael shares your concerns that standards in schools are slipping under this Government. Michael’s thoughts were recently published in the Barnsley Chronicle, which I have attached for your information.

Kind regards,

Josh Stephens

It is good to know that Mr Dugher sees that Barnsley’s underperformance (144th out of 151) is “disappointing” and he has raised concerns but, as with Mr Galloway, it is unclear with whom concerns have been raised, and, unlike Mr Galloway, it is unclear if he knows what the solution to Barnsley’s and the North’s educational failure is. Saying there’s a problem is one thing; knowing fow to fix it and being able to implement that solution is another. If I were in Barnsley East, would I be confident that Mr Dugher is really capable of changing the fortunes of the young people int’ Tarn? Would you?

North1The fourth and final MP to respond, Tom Blenkinsop (Lab; Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland) echoed thoughts of Labour’s educational think tank, which certainly strike a chord with me, speaking of:

  • the attainment gap between richer and poorer has widened;
  • huge regional disparity shows that deprivation does not have to dictate destiny;
  • In Westminster, over 62% of pupils on Free School Meals achieved 5 good GCSEs: four times the rate of pupils in Barnsley [Michael Dugher’s constituency], where less than 1 in 5 achieved this.

Tom Blenkinsop agrees with these comments – but still, where’s the solution? What does Mr Blenkinsop think should happen and what is he doing to bring it about? Where’s his solution to Middlesbrough’s kids’ failure?

You can read Mr Blenkinsop’s reply in full here.

North4Overall, MPs across the North know there’s a problem. The Labour Party, which instigated the most revolutionary and effective change in educational policy, knows there’s a problem. But, now that London’s fixed, where’s the urgency of MPs to effect change? I got replies from a handful of MPs whose constituencies’ kids are failing – but none gave me the answers I’m looking for – none told me when change was coming to the North.

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Eduwhinge 5: George Galloway calls for a Bradford Challenge

Slide1Education in Bradford and across vast swathes of the North is terrible. You name the league table, Bradford’s near the bottom and is invariably surrounded by local education authorities (LEAs) also ‘oop North’. Everyone has their excuses for it: poverty, lack of ambition or role models, even a general fecklessness. However, nobody seems to want to come up with solution: better to ignore the problem and hope it’ll go away.

The most galling thing, though, is that the government knows exactly how to solve the problem. Why? Because the UK’s national government has already gone about revolutionising education, putting in resources, making it a priority, not accepting failure. This was over a decade ago… in London. London’s schools were among the worst in the country. MPs of every hue would rather have cut off their children’s hands than send them to a London comp, schooling in the capital was a national disgrace (apparently) and PM Tony Blair described it as “an emergency” – and so the London Challenge was born. Today, London’s schools are among the best in the country: pick out a particular group (special educational needs, white working class, English as an additional language) and London’s schools do better than most; London’s LEAs outperform (as a group) all other areas in the country.

Slide1So, when’s it our turn? When’s it our kids’ turn to get their schools, their education, their underperformance treated seriously? Who better to ask than the MPs whose constituencies are in the North and in the bottom 10 or 20 LEAs nationally? (As an aside, 50% of the bottom 20 are in the North; 70% of the bottom 10 are in the North; Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the two worst performing areas.)

I sent this email (or something similar) to the MPs serving LEAs in the North and in the bottom 20 nationally and those who Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, named and shamed as having a fewer than half of schools rated Good or better (and I copied in Nicky Morgan, Education Minister, and her shadow, Tristram Hunt (neither of whom replied)). It’s a long list which you can view here.

Replies were swift: mainly, I was told that due to parliamentary rules, MPs were not allowed to reply to my letter and I should write to my own MP, George Galloway, only. It seems that even though Bradford shares appalling educational prospects with Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Salford, et al, I can’t comment on their failings, only Bradford West’s.

Some, though, did reply, including my MP, George Galloway (Respect; Bradford West). He said:

Hello John,
Having made Bradford’s schools an issue in my campaign I obtained a private meeting with Gove and a promise, unkept, that he would visit. I suspect the Kings scandal kept him away.
The architects of London Challenge are close to us and we will bring one or both of them to Bradford for a public meeting on this soon. You must come.
Since I was elected the schools have gone from bad to worse. The principal problem is the state of denial in which the council live. As we fall further and further they still deny it. As I have frequently pointed out, Tower Hamlets, where I previously served as MP, is climbing higher and higher up the tables with remarkably similar demographics. The difference is the London challenge.


GALLOWAY - sadHeartened that my MP understood the problem, understood how it had been resolved by London Challenge, and was inviting others to speak to Bradfordians about how education might be solved, I felt vindicated in my whinging… and pushed:

Dear Mr Galloway,
Many thanks for your reply.

I will certainly look out for the visit and would love to see Bradford ‘do a Tower Hamlets’ in education.

“Since I was elected the schools have gone from bad to worse” – you really shouldn’t blame yourself too much.

More seriously, I fully agree with you on the London Challenge and was somewhat heartened when Cllr Berry said that Prof David Woods was involved with education in Bradford. At the moment (and I have written to Cllr Berry to ask about his involvement), this has just been a couple of days auditing, the full report of which is unavailable, including to councillors, I believe, but I have asked for the summary which was given to councillors to be made fully public, which he has agreed to.

What is of concern is that London Challenge cost money and simply trying to shout into the ether, or Twitter as I call it, isn’t going to turn the tap on. I don’t know what the alternative is, though. How does an unloved city in the North get the kind of investment needed to make a difference? Would attempting to get the other LAs named and shamed by Ofsted to petition the DfE en masse be a way forward? Could the MPs of the areas be persuaded to create a bloc?

As I say, Mr Galloway, I am stuck for ideas about how to get some support from central government, and as a man who frequently gets what he wants, I’d love some direction for my witterings.

Yours sincerely,


I didn’t get a reply.

However, the meeting Mr Galloway was setting up with education heads from Tower Hamlets was inspiring and I was really looking forward to going. Unfortunately, it was cancelled a day or two before after another damaging, damning report into Bradford’s education.

GG defiantI appreciate Mr Galloway’s reply and I’m really glad someone at the seat of national power is taking notice of Bradford’s poor education. What was less heartening was Mr Galloway’s inability to play nicely with others. I believe (and will happily correct if I’m wrong) that Mr Galloway has yet to meet leader of Bradford council, Dave Green, and has not contacted Cllr Ralph Berry about education and what can be done in Bradford. My suggestion of Northern bloc to push for better educational opportunities (which shouldn’t be too hard as the majority of MPs I contacted are Labour and the vast majority of LEAs are Labour controlled) fell on deaf ears. Mr Galloway asked Mr Gove (when he was Education Secretary) to visit, but hasn’t done anything since. Mr Gove, the big, bad Tory bully boy – a pantomime villain for left-leaning educationists, to borrow his Twitter phrase – was invited but Nicky Morgan, his replacement, hasn’t. Why? When Philip Davies (Con; Shipley) replied, he offered to be part of meeting with Nicky Morgan if Mr Galloway (as my MP) set it up (more to this in the next Eduwhinge blog). Mr Galloway, though, didn’t. I got another MP to say he’d go to a meeting with the Secretary of State – Mr Galloway didn’t set it up.

Furthermore, Mr Galloway has lots of strengths, but, along with working in partnership, wielding power isn’t one of them. I’ve written to Mr Galloway before about education, tweeted him (before he blocked me), always asking what he’s doing. What he’s doing. Mr Galloway’s reply is always the same: he’s calling for a London Challenge… but he’s not getting any closer in delivering it because he doesn’t work well with others and he doesn’t have any power alone. His party has 1 MP – him – and it has either a handful or a no councillors in Bradford (after they resigned en masse). Mr Galloway has known about the problem with education in Bradford since before his election and he knows how to solve it… but he seems incapable or unwilling to do what’s needed to actually get something done. Far easier, far better for him, maybe, to stand on the sidelines and shout at the little ‘they’ are doing rather than get on the pitch, even captain the side, and get something done.

In fairness, he has used his position in Parliament to do one thing: he tabled two early day motions (EDMs) in parliament which were “designed to draw the House’s attention to failing (sic) standards in both the primary and secondary schools [in Bradford].” You can read the full press release here. What did they achieve? EDM752: Primary Schools in Bradford – 1 signatory (Mr Galloway himself) and EDM753: Secondary School Attainment in Bradford – 1 signatory (again, just Mr Galloway).

Mr Galloway’s a gobshite. I like that about him – that’s why I voted for him – but the best thing about gobshites in power is that they can get something done. There are backbenchers who wield power far above their station simply because they know how to shout loud and get in the press. In this instance, Mr Galloway’s the squeaky wheel that still manages to avoid the oil. He shouts – few listen.

If Respect doesn’t have the power or influence to get the job done, what’s the point in voting for Respect? Mr Galloway might share your concerns – in this instance, he does mine – but what’s the point if he won’t wield his influence to get people to agree with him, to get behind him, to get something done?

If Mr Galloway wants to do what he says – to improve education in Bradford – he’s got to listen to his own advice, understand that he can’t do it alone, and certainly not without the support or backing of the current council and some other MPs who are in the same boat, and start working with others. Mr Galloway shouts and few listen. Imagine if Mr Galloway shouted along with the MPs for Teeside, Hull, Tameside and more – then, even London would have to listen.

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Picking Over The Bones

Originally posted on Richard Knaggs Photography:

The demolition of the Bradford and Bingley building (which I talked about in the post Goodbye and Good Riddance?) which stands right in the centre of Bingley is now well under way and it looks like in a couple of weeks time all that will be left will be a large pile of rubble.

Bradford & Bingley 1 Bradford & Bingley 1 – click to enlarge

I didn’t really know what to expect when they said that demolition would start soon as I have never seen a building such as this get demolished. Would they dynamite it all in one go? Take big swings at it with a giant ball? If not how would they go about it?

Bradford & Bingley 2 Bradford & Bingley 2 – click to enlarge

The answer is that they carefully and meticulously knock bits off it with a jack-hammer type device on the end of a crane. They are basically consuming…

View original 135 more words

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Eduwhinge 4: Councillors Answer the Call

Slide1Concerned, disheartened – hell, embarrassed – by Bradford’s and the wider North’s educational underperformance, I’ve taken up whinging and have become a busy body by writing letters, using social media and generally making a nuisance of myself to try and find out why the North’s kids are worth less and are less important than London’s. That sounds very emotive and incendiary, but remember: when London’s schools were the worst in the country, they got prime ministerial attention, investment, funding and academic support; London now, easily, has the best perofrming local education authorities (LEAs), schools and students in the country. I simply want to know… when is it our turn?

In Eduwhinge 3, I shared who I’d written to and what I wrote. In this blog post, I’ll share the first few replies I got from the 30 or so councillors I wrote to. Well, both of them.

Slide1Firstly, Ralph Berry (Lab), Bradford MDC’s Children’s Services portfolio holder. Ralph really doesn’t have the easiest of jobs and is constantly taking flak – rightly so – for Bradford’s educational underperformance; it’s his job, after all. Bradford was named and shamed by Ofsted supremo Sir Michael Wilshaw as one of 14 LEAs with less than 50% of schools classed as Good or better, with 13 of them in the North* – but Ralph Berry knows what the problem is and what the ideal solution would be:

what we need is the Unions and others t press for the same resources commitment to the region [the East Riding and other Yorkshire areas are in challenging circumstances too.
The reality is we deserve the method and the resources ….
Ralph Berry – Children’s Services Bradford MDC

The education chief in the worst city in the worst region in the country knows how to fix it… and that’s a push for an expansive, regional solution bringing together all stakeholders to make a real robust difference quickly but one that will last over time. How does he know it? Well, the guy’s been in the job a while, he cares, he wants to do well and, most of all, he’s looked on enviously as London soared away from the rest during and after London Challenge.

I replied:

I agree that the only way to get the funding that the areas named by Ofsted need is to work together, like the way we did over the threat to the Science Museums and NMM. How do we do that? What can someone like me do to help get Bradford (and the other areas) the necessary attention and investment from central government?

Areas which are failing need to go, en masse, to the government and demand help, demand support, demand what London got over a decade ago.

Signing off with a question, a plea, that was to become my signature for these emails, I wanted to know what I could do. I’ve had a couple of answers to that, which I’ll share as we go along, but, most of the time, I got no reply. Is there really nothing I can do?

St Helens councillor, Susan Murphy, replied too, pointing out the North-South divide is alive and well:

Hi John
I agree with your comments, the North South divide also effects the amounts of cuts local authorities in the North are experiencing compared with the South
Cllr Murphy

I agree, wholeheartedly, but Cllr Murphy doesn’t address the points – how can we work together to make sure kids in Bradford and St Helens, et al get the education they deserve? Cllr Murphy is very busy, I’m sure, so any reply is gratefully received (and was unusual) especially as I’m not a constituent. However, ungratefully, I wondered what the point was. I’d asked why failing LEAs, such as St Helens, weren’t working with others to demand that we all get a fair deal for our children. David Cameron and George Osbourne and Michael Gove don’t care about St Helens. It’s small and northern and Labour, so why would they? Bradford’s much bigger and a bit less Labour and they don’t care about it either. But, if St Helens and Bradford and the others joined together and shouted – just as Labour’s trades unions have told us to – perhaps we’d get somewhere. The trouble is, it seems, local councillors are too busy fighting fires, fighting elections and fighting cuts to consider doing something innovative to change course (whether it’s my call or some other scheme); sadly, it’s more of the same thing that’s not working.

I asked Cllr Murphy

Thanks for your swift reply.

Would you agree that the areas in the North named and shamed by Sir Michael Wilshaw need special treatment in order to catch up with the rest? Do you think that working with other areas which have found themselves in the same position would be the best solution to improving schools (as happened with the London Challenge)? Most of all, if you do agree, how do we get the investment and funding needed so that we get what they got a decade ago?

I’d really appreciate your ideas so that Bradford, St Helens and the rest get what they need and deserve.

I never got a reply… but then, one reply was better than what I got from most, so I should be thanking Cllr Murphy.

What came of my letters, which went to Children’s Services executive members or portfolio holders to councils in the North which were named & shamed by Ofsted and / or were in the bottom 20 LEAs nationally was a resounding silence. Do these LEAs have ideas about how to get them off the bottom, out of the embarrassing shamed zone? I don’t know. What is apparent, though, is that Bradford and St Helens and Barnsley and Hull and all the rest are working alone. None, it seems, is asking why our kids are worth less than London’s; none are reaching out and saying that our kids deserve more; none are saying, “Let’s work together to show the government we need and deserve and demand its support… just like London got!”**

Instead, it seems, failing LEAs across the North are working to Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different results. The government can point to a whole host of areas, most of all London, where educational performance has increased, so why would they be concerned about ne’er-do-wells in the North if they can’t even join together? The government believes it knows how to increase educational performance for all and is going down that route… but if all schools increase by 2%, 5%, or 100%, it still leaves our kids at the bottom without the chances their Southern peers have; in fact, the gap simply widens.

That wasn’t good enough for London’s kids… why is it good enough for ours?

*if you include Derbyshire as Northern rathern than Midland, as The Guardian did: “All but one were in the north: Tameside, Middlesbrough, Barnsley, East Riding, Stockton-on-Tees, Bradford, Blackpool, Doncaster, Oldham, St Helens, Hartlepool, Derbyshire and Isle of Wight.”

** Cllr Berry has contacted me about the Yorkshire Challenge, an unfunded trial which has a couple of Bradford secondaries involved, of which I’ll write more later.

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Eduwhinge 3: Who’ll stand up for our kids?

I know I can’t do much as just one person, but, I thought, surely, if I can get a few important people on side, I can get people at least talking about a Northern Challenge to drive up standards in education.

I’m disappointed that the UK, especially England, revolves around London. In the 1980s and 1990s, education in London was a byword for underperformance and underachievment: nobody, least of all our Mps, wanted their kids state educated in the capital. Quite rightly, Tony Blair, as prime minister, described this as an emergency and did something about it. Working with local authorities, schools, professionals and academics, the London Challenge was born… and London’s schools quickly moved from the worst to the best.

Slide1Once London Challenge had been proved to be a success, the idea was partially rolled out – to Birmingham and Manchester as part of the city challenge (though why two of the most underperforming areas in (West and South) Yorkshire and the North-East were not included, I cannot say). In 2010, after the Conservative’s election win and their comprehensive spending review, the scheme was scrapped (in favour of the enormously over budget and much maligned Free Schools policy and enforced academisation).

Now, we have a divided nation when it comes to education: London has been sorted so those lagging behind, left at the bottom are, mainly, in the North (and the Midlands, to some extent). My question is simple: where’s our Northern Challenge?

I wanted to know why local councils and MPs in the North weren’t clamouring for a Northern Challenge to lift us up from where London was to where it is today: the best for education for all, including all social (but particularly poorer) and ethnic groups. So, I asked. Below is a copy of one of the letters I wrote and, if you’re interested, a link to the people who got the first letter. These included Children’s Services (or similar) portfolio holders at and MPs for the local education authorities (LEAs) which were in the North (or Derbyshire) and had been lambasted for having less than 50% of schools rated as Good or better, and / or were in the bottom 20 LEAs for GCSE performance in 2014.

I was hugely frustrated by my local authority being named, again, as one of the worst performing areas for education in England. I’m sure you feel similarly.

I’m tired my local schools being named and shamed by Ofsted; I’m tired of my local schools coming near the bottom of every league table possible; I’m tired of children in the schools around me having a poorer education, poorer life chances, poorer exam results and poorer employability than almost every other child in the country.

I know that the local teachers, headteachers, schools and education authority are working hard everyday to give our children the best possible education they are able to provide – and I applaud them. The reason I am tired is that central government knows exactly what tools, what investment and what support is needed to get our kids’ education improved… because over a decade ago the government did just that with the London Challenge. I’m tired of waiting for it to be our turn.

When all schools were treated the same, London’s schools stayed at the bottom of the pile. You know – far better than me – that if the government takes a one-size-fits-all approach to school improvement, our kids will always be at the bottom; if all schools improve at the same rate, our kids’ results will always be worse than those of other children; if we are not given more, our kids will always have less.

If the next government – Conservative, Labour or coalition – is to make a real difference to children in your constituency, it must realise what we need something different, something special, something bespoke that will truly change our children’s futures. This is too important to be a partisan issue – and all parties should be determined to make a real, lasting difference to our kids’ futures.

The only option to ensure that our schools get better, relative to other areas, is to make the next government understand that, like London a decade ago, this is an emergency, this is vital and our place at the foot of all league tables cannot and must not be allowed to continue.

7 out of 10 of the worst performing LAs are in the North. 50% of the bottom 20 are in the North. Yorkshire & The Humber, the North West and North East are all in the bottom 5 areas in England.

London’s schools got the London Challenge – so where’s the Northern Challenge? Why isn’t the government making the Northern Powerhouse a centre of excellence of education? What better way could the government support our industry, employment and business in your constituency than by supporting the next generation of workers, business people and entrepreneurs? What more could the government do to give our children the best possible chance in life than revolutionising their education?

This email is going to the MPs representing the local authorities across the North which came in the bottom 20 in 2014 for getting students good GCSEs. It is a plea for us, all of us irrespective of party, county or local authority, to say enough is enough, and come up with a new plan that will benefit us all. In isolation, you will not get the change your kids need; together, we can ask that all political parties make a firm commitment to changing education in each of your constituencies. On this issue, we can put party politics aside and get real change.

I’m just some bloke in Bradford who’s tired of seeing my local schools’ vilification with the publishing of every new league table. I don’t want to read in another 10 years’ time that Bradford’s kids are still underachieving and still amongst the worst attaining children in the country. I would dearly love to hear what you think I can do, who I should write to, what foot stamping, whinging, whining and moaning I can do to get you the support that we need. I want Bradford’s schools to be better – but I don’t think they’ll get what they need without you joining us to ask for more for all.

I want a properly funded Northern Challenge to make your schools better. How do I get that?

The people I wrote to (and others I have  or am planning to contact) can be found here.

If you’re as annoyed at this as me, make sure you write to your MP and ask them – Where’s our Northern Challenge?

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Eduwhinge 2: We know the problem; we know the answer; where’s our solution?

There’s a problem with education in Bradford and across the North. It’s a fact. The problems can be sorted, quite easily. Another fact. When London’s schools were failing, the national government acted and sorted the problem. Another fact. So why isn’t the government acting when it’s our kids failing?

Slide1What I want is to know, simply, why Northern kids’ failure is allowed, is ignored, is tolerated by government after they acted so swiftly a decade ago. Failing education is not a head-scratcher; no new initiative needs to be dreamed up; the answer to the question does not need a huge amount of resources in discovery. All of this has been done before… in London. So when is it our turn? When will the national government see that we need exactly what the South got a decade ago?

Slide1My eduwhinge letters, meetings and calls will try to find out why London’s kids’ failure was an emergency, and why Northern kids’ failure is routine, tolerated and OK.

 If you’d like to join in, write to your council, your MP or someone in government ask them why it’s OK for the country to concentrate on London’s kids but leave ours to rot.

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Eduwhinge 1: Why are they failing our kids?

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 13.00.16Education in Bradford is poor. It’s a fact. Bradford is the worst city in the country to educate your child, joint second worst local education authority (LEA) in the country and is in the worst overall area, Yorkshire & the Humber, in the country. Education in Bradford is bad.

The picture, though, is mirrored across huge parts of the (post) industrial North, with the worst performing areas and LEAs far more likely to be at or near the bottom of the league tables. For instance:

  • Of the 13 areas shamed by the head of OfSTED, in which children have a less than 50% chance of attending a Good or better school, only the Isle of Wight is below Birmingham.
  • Of the bottom 10 LEAs (GCSEs in 2014), 7 were in the North; of the bottom 20, 10 were in the North.
  • Of the worst performing areas, Yorkshire & the Humber was the worst, followed by the North East.

I’m tired of Bradford coming near the bottom of every league table published and want to do something about it. But what can some bloke from Bradford actually do? Complain.

My problem, you see is, that we’re not getting our fair crack of the whip. The government makes noises about HS2 and Northern Powerhouse/s, tells us we’re all in it together and that we should trust them to sort out our education system. But, London’s schools were awful a decade or so ago. Nobody wanted to send their kids, least of all parliamentarians, to schools in London who were failing their kids routinely.

What happened? The national government stepped in and decided that enough was enough, schooling in the capital was a national disgrace, and they sorted it. London got the London Challenge – we got nowt.

In 2015, 6 of the top 10 LEAs are in London; Outer London and Inner London are 1 and 2 in the best areas for GCSEs; nearly 90% of LEAs are above average; and London’s schools are praised for their work with all children, but especially poor kids and non-white kids.

Am I angry that Bradford and Northern kids tend to do worse? Yes. But what is more galling, more frustrating, more disappointing is that the government knows exactly what to do to change our kids’ fortunes and prospects… because they did it over a decade ago.

So, when is it our turn? Where’s our Northern Challenge?

If you’re annoyed, angry or upset by this, join me. Write to your MP, write to your council, write to anyone you can think of and ask them: when’s it our turn? Where’s our Northern Challenge?

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