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.


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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One Response to Eduwhinge 6: (Some) MPs Reply

  1. Pingback: Eduwhinge 7: Northerners doing for Us Selfs | Things that Occur to Me

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