I’ve written to Bradford’s political leaders asking them what they see as their biggest successes, current projects and future plans for improving Bradford. The first person to reply was Cllr Ralph Berry (Labour, Wibsey) who is on the council Executive and holds the portfolio for Children & Young People’s Services.
Cllr Berry gave a list of his proudest achievements in local politics – and he is right to be proud of them. Whilst serving Bradford, he has been responsible for a “a range of work projects, a Village Green created and excellent local support for community groups” in Wibsey.
On a District-wide scale, Cllr Berry has overseen some excellent progress in Child Services: “From Satisfactory to Good, praise for leadership in safeguarding, in particular Grooming issues, and partnerships to protect children and Children’s Trust Governance.” Grooming an looking after the vulnerable is a hot topic in Bradford and the north, with high profile instances, cases and allegations being made in Bradford, Keighley and other northern towns and cities. It is excellent that Bradford has led on this and has identified a problem, certainly earlier than many, and has begun making inroads into the problem. When it comes to Child Protection (I think I’m reading Cllr Berry’s email correctly), Bradford is the third best Local Authority in Yorkshire & Humber “by a sliver” and is “on an upward trend” and has such an “excellent reputation” with intervention with troubled families, it has been granted £7m in additional funds. Bradford’s Adoption Services are “Outstanding”.
In Education, Cllr Berry cites an improvement of “4.2% rise in A-C in the year we took over the former Serco Services”. I know a bit about Education, more so than I do about Child Services and Protection certainly, being a former Bradford teacher and employed by Serco as a Teaching & Learning Consultant. When Bradford MDC took back the contract, I was made redundant along with many of my colleagues – I don’t have an axe to grind about that as when it comes to being a consultant, I think I make a good teacher. However, I do wonder about Cllr Berry’s claims and his wholly positive outlook.
Firstly, I don’t doubt Cllr Berry’s claim that there was a 4.2% rise in A-C but these students would have had nearly all of their education services throughout their scholastic life provided by Serco, and only a few months at the end under Bradford MDC, so maybe suggesting Bradford MDC’s leadership is responsible for the rise is a tad disingenuous – but then, when else would the statistics begin if not from day 1? Also, results had been rising nationally and locally year on year under Serco.
Secondly, Bradford is really bad at educating its young people when you compare it to other areas. The league tables by Local Authority (source BBC 2010 and BBC 2011) show Bradford languishes near the bottom. In 2010 it was 8th from bottom, out of about 150, with 44% of students achieving 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths, the key indicator of success and a benchmark for higher and further education and training. In 2011, Bradford was still 8th from bottom with 47.5% of students reaching 5 A*-C including English and Maths. In only 13 areas was a child statistically unlikely to get 5 A*-Cs including English and Maths; Bradford was one of them. In the whole of the country, there are only seven areas in which children have a statistically worse chance of reaching 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths, and we have some excellent and high achieving schools in Bradford which pull up the District. People point to Bradford’s problems and why it is uniquely challenged in Education, but it isn’t. It’s in the post-industrial heartland and has suffered from a decline in manufacturing jobs – but so has Trafford (Manchester) (70%), Warrington (64%) and Wakefield (57%). It has a large immigrant population and a high number of EAL (English as an Additional Language) students, but so has Solihull (62%), Calderdale (59%) and Dudley (59%). A number of years ago, Bradford MDC was so bad with education it had it taken off it. I sincerely hope that it has learned lessons and will succeed, but anything less than a complete overhaul of education within the District, whether at LA or school level, cannot be enough. Bradford is in the bottom 8 of LAs in the country. The District’s schools are doing significantly worse than all of the councils it neighbours: North Yorkshire (63%); Kirklees (59%); Calderdale (59%); Leeds (54%). Bradford is the youngest city in the country and its young people have poor qualifications in a tough job market with their neighbours significantly outscoring them. If you were a business, where would you set up? If you were moving to West Yorkshire, where would you send your children to be educated? If you were employing a young, well-qualified young person, where would that person come from? Statistically, it wouldn’t be Bradford & District.
As an aside, the bottom 8 are mainly northern. Portsmouth is the only southern council in the list of shame, with the Midland’s Nottingham and the Northern Hull, Blackpool, Barnsley, Middlesborough and Knowsley completing the bottom 8. There’s a north-south divide in education and the north’s losing out.
I’d asked Cllr Berry what he was doing right now for Bradford, and much of what he said are ongoing projects, but he didn’t really highlight what he thought of the future for Bradford. I am positive he’s not resting on his laurels but the council and councillors need a vision and must communicate it to us because, right now, I don’t know what I should be looking forward to. Bradford’s reclaimed its leadership of Education, so what is it doing with it? What’s the plan, the project, the way forward that’s going to get us out of educational malaise, even mire, we’re in?
Cllr Berry, I’m sure, works really hard. He’s had some real successes, particularly with Child Protection, and I salute him for that. But Bradford’s education picture is awful and as a leader in that field and proud the Council’s retaken control of it, he has to do better and show real results. We’re the worst LA in West Yorkshire, third worst in Yorkshire, 7th worst in the north of England and 8th worst in the country. Over half of our children leave school without 5 A*-C (inc E+M) so are locked out of a great deal of education and employment opportunities. Cllr Berry and Bradford MDC must do more for our children. It would be good to hear his plans for Bradford’s young people and how he will lead the council in supporting schools to ensure most of our students succeed, how their fortunes will see us leave the bottom 8, bottom 10, bottom 20, bottom 25% of councils in the country, and see our children succeed at a rate comparible to their peers in the county and the country.