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.


About jatkinson1977

I'm in my 30s and married to Sharon, the beautiful woman who keeps me in check. We live in Shipley, just outside Bradford, with our black lab, Nipper. I'm an English teacher in secondary school and, after working as a Teaching & Learning Consultant with the local authority, have returned to the classroom to become a Lead Professional in English at a large comp in Bradford. I'm also trying to become a little more cultured, especially by seeing what culture's right here on my doorstep in Bradford and West Yorkshire (please see my blog, 'Am I Kulchad Yet?'). I've got a third and final blog which is filled with things that, essentially, don't fit into the other two but are interesting enough to share (please see my blog, 'Things That Occur To Me').
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