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.
Once 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?