Education 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.
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 (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:
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.
Heartened 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.
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.
I 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.