Birmingham and Bradford, UK – 1980s

Travelling without moving far

Tales from two cities - travels of another kind by Dervla Murphy Tales From Two Cities – Travels of another sort by Dervla Murphy

If I’d researched more thoroughly, I might not have read Dervla Murphy’sTales From Two Cities and that would have been my loss. Having previously enjoyed A Winter in Baltistan, I was expecting a travel book and had been looking forward to seeing two places I know (Bradford, fleetingly and Birmingham, in depth) through the eyes of another.

As soon as my copy arrived, I realised this was a different kind of book. Murphy called it ‘Travels of another sort’, which offers a flavour of what follows.

Again, poor research, I’d thought she’d spent time in Bradford and Birmingham after the riots in the mid eighties, but Murphy has a far better nose for a story than that. She was already living in Bradford when the battle for Drummond School happened and she provides a breathtaking…

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Galloway’s Legacy to Bradford

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.32.59Bradford is a Galloway-Free Zone. Were sweeter words ever written?

After the shenanigans of the election, with allegations of electoral fraud here and criminality there, a lie for a lie being the order of the day (if one is to believe the parties and, let’s face it, why would you?), the dust is beginning to settle. So, what next for Bradford and Bradfordians?

If you read my blog or follow me on Twitter, it’s obvious that I got the result I wanted: Galloway is gone. Yes, he’s rearing his ugly head saying he’ll sue Bradford, sue Shah, sue Labour, sue everyone, which might be good for the local economy as his solicitors are based in Bradford, but the decision is unlikely to change and, even in the unlikely event of a re-run, he’d be a fool to run again here.

So, now he’s gone, what did Galloway ever do for us? I think it could be more than we first appreciate – if we play it right.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.36.20Galloway did very little for us in Parliament. He spoke in just 4 debates last year, and his 11% voting record made him the most expensive non-former-PM backbencher (ie salary / votes), and it was the contention of many, myself included, that he cared more, acted more and spoke more about foreign policy than about Bradford’s issues and national issues which affect Bradford disproportionately, such as education, unemployment and crime.

The Bradford Spring

When I voted for Galloway, which I did in 2012, Bradford’s political landscape was one of ignorance and abuse. There we were, a big city, in the north, with a multi-cultural electorate and suffering from the post-industrial diseases of poor education, poor skills and poor job prospects. Labour ignored us; the Tories punished us.

The left wrung its hands and watched us decline, ignoring our kids’ failure as first London then Manchester and Birmingham got their Challenge initiatives, ignoring our City of Film and Media Museum to send Aunty Beeb to Salford, and ignoring our lack of infrastructure to give Sheffield & Manchester trams and London whatever it wants.

The ConDem coalition, well, they trimmed our funding to the bone, taking far more from Bradford and giving it to their fattened southern heartlands, a punishment made worse by 3 of 5 Bradford MDC MPs being coalition partners. Respect, such a laughable misnomer as it now seems, were the answer, and their firebrand standard-bearer was a shoo-in.

I truly believed that Bradford West and her partners within the city, so long stalwarts of Labour and painted red religiously at almost every election, would actually get something, anything, out of this slavish, parasitic relationship if once, and it needed only to be once, we bit the hand that barely fed us and said, categorically, ‘Please, sir, can we have some more?”

In short, I thought Galloway’s election would stop Labour taking us for granted.

2015 – Bradford Summer?

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.39.25Fast forward on and it quickly became apparent that Labour – local, national or a mixture of the two – hadn’t learnt its lesson. I saw Naz Shah, whom I am delighted to call my MP, called “the accidental candidate”. If her election was an accident, so be it – I voted for her and am delighted thus far with the result. What is unconscionable is the execrable manner in which she came to power which was entirely despite Labour’s activities. The Labour Party put up council lambs to be slaughtered by wolfish George; picked a southerner without experience and watched her scamper back down South; then picked an unknown, inexperienced candidate who, by luck rather than judgment, had the balls to take on one of the most seasoned, vicious, uncompromising opponents in British politics… and win!

Labour threw her to the wolf and, this time, the lamb won – but no thanks to the party and entirely down to the lamb having fire in her belly and the strength to fight. For us in Bradford, the Labour Party still took us for granted. It’ll be up to Naz Shah to demonstrate that her party can deliver for us – even under a Tory government – or, as recent history demonstrates, we’ll look elsewhere.

Galloway’s Legacy

GALLOWAY - sadSo Galloway’s legacy hasn’t been to stop Labour taking us for granted… but maybe it is something far more important than that. Personally, I won’t put so much faith, trust and responsibility in politicians. Perhaps his greatest legacy is to teach us that we must do it for ourselves and not rely on politicians who are, like us, human, fallible and frail. Galloway, a promised panacea that turned out to be a placebo, has, maybe, taught us to do things for ourselves and use politicians as conduits, as tools, for us to use and, when they have been worn out, discarded and traded in for new.

What a legacy for George it would be if we treat politicians as we should, and make them fear being picked for Bradford West, a constituency with such active, vociferous, uncompromising, unforgiving voters that the incumbent trembles and the upstart shivers; a constituency which sends chills down the back of the media and SPADs alike; a constituency that becomes the rocks on which careers are smashed.

What a legacy it would be if George has taught us to push politicians to perform and produce or be punished.

A Toast: Cry God, Naz Shah & St George

When I raised a toast, vociferously echoed around Bradford Brewery, to “the memory of the memory of George Galloway”, perhaps it was an elegy to my trust in politicians. You see, for most of us, we say we’ll do a job, we get employed to do that job and either we do it and get paid or we don’t and we get sacked. Galloway might have poisoned my political well but politicians have the best of both worlds: five years’ guaranteed work, a golden parachute payment if you’re so shit you get kicked out and the easy get out clause of blaming the other guys don’t deliver (without anyone mentioning that, if the other lot stopped it, you failed at persuading them or your party failed at persuading enough people on it).

11127_10152661456977411_8088205202470936190_nNaz Shah, I believe, won’t be a career politician like those that came before. I hope she’ll be so knackered serving us she returns to use the influence she’s found and friends she’s made in parliament to do other good work – for Bradfordians and others. She’s made promises to us and, if we remind her of them, I believe we can trust her to do her utmost to deliver. But we must remember that she works for us, unlike George who never failed to remind us what he’d done for us, in truth or lie, nor what we should do for him.

As for doing it for ourselves, politics is not the be all and end all. We can’t take part once every 5, 3 or 2 years and hope it’ll all turn out for the best. We have to do something if we want things changed; if we want it, take it. If we’re happy to hope what we want will fall into our laps from the Westminster table, we’ll always be disappointed.

Personally, I’ve had a think and realised a few things:

Slide1Firstly, I need to get these buggers working for me and not just taking my vote; and if I didn’t vote for them, well, they work for me anyway so I want my pound of flesh. In practice, this means that I’ll continue with fighting for fairness in education, asking again and again, over and over why London, Manchester and Birmingham all got the Challenge, and why Bradford and Yorkshire didn’t; asking again and again why, now London’s schools are the best, education is no longer top of the agenda. Want to help? Get in touch.

politicsinthepub_genericSecondly, I’ll try to work out more about my own political ideas and thoughts. I’ll read a bit more and, maybe, see if there are few souls who enjoy discussing politics and drinking beer, and start up politics in the pub – give me a shout if you’re interested.

bd_angryFinally, and most importantly, I won’t rely on politicians. If summat needs doing, I’ll do it for me sen – and if I achieve this and Bradford achieves this, what a legacy George will have left.

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Bradford Brewery & the Theatrics of the Election

indexStood in Bradford Brewery surrounded by politicos of every hue, an odd feeling of being duped overtook me. Maybe it was because I’d just, in a small way, pushed myself into the politics of Bradford West during a campaign that was easily one of the dirtiest, meanest, vilest contests in recent history; maybe it was because of the frenzied attack of that campaign that the participants were so glad it was over; maybe it’s because I’d wolfed down a couple of the brewery’s delicious ales a little too quickly. Whatever the reason, I felt like a member of the audience who had willingly suspended disbelief but is confronted with the actors in the bar after the show and is unable to comprehend that it was all just a show; or, perhaps, the ‘victim’ of one of those hidden camera shows who, to the delight of the audience, is taken further and further into the extremities of farce only, at the last moment, for a mask to be lifted, the truth revealed, and, cue microphone, hilarity to ensue.

What had hoodwinked me? Politics. Like, I suppose, it does most of us every 5 years.

image-20141121-1040-21hs1iForget the Battle of Bradford West for a second and take a look at the national picture. For months – months – the Tories had been shouting that Labour would ruin the economic recovery, bring the country to its knees, move the country towards a leftist, neo-Marxist position (OK, maybe that was just the Daily Mail), open the borders to allow anyone in and, generally, turn the whole shebang into a dog eared, pig’s breakfast within seconds of Milliband entering Downing Street. On the other hand, Labour said the Tories would sell the NHS, sell education, sell, well, everything, cut social security (fuck ‘welfare’, let’s call it what it is), end human rights, punish the poor for being poor whilst rewarding the rich for giving them lots of money to win an election and, in general, turn the whole shebang into a dog eared, pig’s breakfast within seconds of Cameron re-entering Downing Street.

The right-wing Tory press (ie most of it) screamed about Red Ed’s inability to eat, think, count, write or breathe (without the permission of the unions). The left-wing press, such as it is (ie the Daily Mirror, Polly Toynbee, Deborah Orr and Owen Jones), screamed incandescently about inequality, injustice and income. From “Save our Bacon” and “save us from Red Ed” to “Five more damned years”, Osbourne’s “bone-chilling” vision of a “brutish future” and “where will your children live?”, this was not just a competition, this was a battle for the economy, morality and spirituality of our nation. The left was so wrong, its winning would be the death knell of any form of prosperity ever by anyone and we would live cold, hungry and shivering. The right was so wrong that the poor, elderly and infirm would be immediately be pushed on to the streets and left to rot.

imgID22764872.jpg-pwrt2So, on the back of this, I went to the pub to meet a few people I’d been tweeting with about the election but, as we’re in Bradford, mainly about George Galloway. At the pub were some of the vanquished. Not Galloway – though he would, I have been assured, have been welcomed. Naz Shah didn’t make it down but, I would imagine, there was probably a media person or two to speak to about her victory. Putting media before constituents was the downfall of the last chap so I’m sure she won’t make the mistake again, but this once could be explained away easily enough.

George Grant – looking, sounding and acting every inch the Tory (and there are quite a few inches to him) – beamed, grinned, shook hands and was enjoying the freedom of not being on the campaign trail. He was, much as I and most others expected him to be, pleasant, entertaining, thoughtful and a decent enough bloke to have a pint with (until he started on the whiskey sodas – yes… in a brewery!). Celia Hickson, the Green candidate, was chatty, smiley, lovely and everyone’s friend. Harry Bootha, UKIP’s candate, shook everyone by the hand, chatted pleasantly and seemed as at home in the Brewery as he did at the hustings – meaning he said little of substance but you were jolly glad he was there. Alun Griffiths (LD) was working and had said he’d come later; James Kirkaldy (independent) didn’t make it; and the Eng Nat was, well, who gives a fuck?

Also around were Labour & Tory councilors, including Simon Cooke (Cullingworth) who I finally got to meet, however fleetingly, in person; defeated local candidates, including Dave Ford, who I disappointingly didn’t get to meet; activists and supporters from all the parties; and anti-Gallowayers, like me. Any way, suffice it to say, it was a group which spanned the political divide: from the right of Tory & UKIP to the left of Labour and Green, all were present. And they got on brilliantly. The bastards.

George Grant did so well in his campaign that, possibly, another party will be writing him a letter of recommendation. Celia Hickson – petite, delightful, lovely – was taken warmly and, in an act of camaraderie, ardently embraced by George Grant – tall, posh, and no-less lovely. Bastards! There was little these two agreed on in the campaign: from Grant being a A-bomb-addicted, war-mongering, poor-bashing Fascist to Hickson being a tree-hugging, economically-incontinent, give-our-nation-to-the-Commies hippy, these two were diametrically opposite. And here they were, buying each other drinks, sharing jokes about the campaign and reminiscing about hustings past. Bastards!

They told us to hate the other when, in the end, they get on well enough. Bastards!

This disparity was shown in all its vulgarity a couple of times: Simon Cooke and friends, in their Conservative rosettes, were briefly but loudly accosted by a passing drinker; another drinker seemed about to come to blows with Harry Bootha over UKIP’s (in the drinker’s eyes) racist policies. The public cared more, were more outraged, were more passionate about the differences in policy and their reaction showed the policies meant more to them than the politicians. I saw myself in those drinkers. I didn’t call Simon Cooke a c*** – though, in my head in front of Twitter, I probably have. I wasn’t the guy threatening Harry Bootha and his “racist” party – in fact, I stood between the two when, were it Nutall or Farridge and on the TV and not my local, I’d probably have been happy to see them decked. People don’t behave like this generally in Bradford’s independent quarter – it was politics that had brought out the worst in us.

cameron-fascistHearing the hype, listening to the news, reading the papers, I’m one of those that leaning towards the Tories being poor-baiting fascists and you might be one of those who believe Labour are the commies who let all the paedos into the country. In reality, they’re two sides of the same coin… and it’s a very thin coin used to buy our votes.

I saw then that politics, really, is just a con. The politicians whip us up into a frenzy, promising the Earth if we vote for them and hell on Earth if we don’t. But, at the end, they all go to the same pub, slap each other on the back and buy each other a drink – like they’ve just played a game of 5-a-side on the rec ground: it was loud, passionate, meaningful during the match but, in the end, counts for nothing.

So, who’s to blame? Is it the politicians for whipping up our fears, the media for whipping up our hate or us for believing that they believe what they say and that our vote makes a difference?

At the end of the day, when all the votes were counted, the politicians politely disagreed on a few things, and positively agreed on most things, including that a) the world isn’t going to end because of an election and b) George Galloway is a twat.

Galloway had gone and it should have been an unadulterated happy moment, even if Cameron was going back to number 10. It wasn’t: the curtain had been lifted; the magician had slipped and shown me the trick. The hate and the hubris were just for my benefit and I felt duped I’d cared about the outcome of the election thinking it was a crusade for the just, not a theatrical bun fight.

But I bet I’ll get taken in again in 5 years’ time.

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Galloway, Bradford Brewery and the Tragedy of the Bradford Spring


When you see the pictures of Galloway’s victory parade around Bradford, its easy to see why he is one of the most exciting (and indeed excitable) politicians of his generation.  Basically no one else acts like that anymore.  Apart from maybe Dennis Skinner, there really doesn’t seem anyone who can turn on anger, clarity and oratory like Galloway.  Ranting and speaking, declaring the “Bradford Spring” from the top of a double decker bus.  As you see him, genuine talent eclipsed by the outrageous bombast of his cigar, hat and glasses, you have to wonder if, up there on his double decker victory bus, he thought his time in Bradford might be refreshingly uneventful.  “Surely”, you can imagine him thinking, surrounded by people chanting his name, “after a career like mine, Bradford must be sedate, and not a place where controversy and scandals are”.

I am not a professional politician and neither…

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George Galloway: It’s not Him – It’s Me!

GALLOWAY - sadI got in bother with Bradford West candidate George Galloway this weekend. It’s ended up with me apologising to a couple of people, not least the person who Mr Galloway thinks I am. That might need clarification…

I was in a conversation with a feed which I thought was about “friendly banter” concerning Bradford’s political scene. I said something, which I won’t repeat, about the Respect Party. In summary, I incorrectly and foolishly (thinking I was speaking to a general, friendly discussion feed) repeated allegations as fact. I apologised. Correctly. It was due to brevity and the limit of 140 characters. This is how it all started.

After suddenly realising that the conversation I was in wasn’t quite what I thought, I felt that it would be right to withdraw the comments – which I did. However, the people I was speaking with weren’t happy with that and, it would seem, shared my error with Mr Galloway.

A lot later, Mr Galloway tweeted this

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.08.58I didn’t see it at the time. Mr Galloway didn’t include my handle, so the message didn’t pop up as a notification. He’s blocked me on Twitter so I can’t easily see his tweets and would’ve been unlikely to have come across it accidentally. He also has my email address, but didn’t use it.

Oh, and one more thing: that’s not me.

I believe there is a Mr Atkinson at Bingley Grammar School. It’s not me; I’m not him.

Sorry, Mr Atkinson – it’s me he wants – not you.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.10.09But back to the tweet. He chose not to use my handle or my email and didn’t put the tweet as part of the conversation, so I was unlikely to see it. But he did put in what he believed was my place of work. I don’t know why. I felt that it was intimidatory – a kind of ‘I know where you live’ but, well, not quite as close to home. Was this him telling me that, unless I stopped, he was going to report me? Would an employer be upset at what I’d written? Possibly, but I thought I’d dealt with exactly as how the people I was speaking to had asked and had taken back my error. Is it right to report what someone said in (what I believed was a personal, friendly) conversation about politics to the person’s employer?

Mr Galloway knows my Twitter handle; he knows my email address; I think he knows my address as I’ve probably included it in emails; so, why did he just include my last name and (incorrectly) my place of work? What was the point if not to intimidate? If it were you, would you feel intimidated?

I’ve tweeted and emailed Mr Galloway yesterday explaining the situation – and haven’t got a reply yet. I’ve also apologised to Mr Atkinson of BGS as part of the conversation (but I don’t know if he’s on Twitter so can’t say that he saw it) and will write to the school and to Mr Atkinson if I find out Mr Galloway or anyone else has put in a complaint to the school about him / me. I hope Mr Galloway will do the same.

indexOn another note, Mr Galloway was in the news this weekend for a much reported spat with new venture and local beer purveyors, Bradford Brewery. (If you don’t do anything else in April, make sure you go and have a pint or two.)

Mr Galloway, amongst other things, seemed to threaten to close the brewery down if he is elected.

Tweets from the brewery and Louise Mensch seemed to think it was, and the latter warned him, that any action after the election could be illegal.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.33.48Mr Galloway also retweeted (but that does not necessarily mean he agrees, obviously) a call for the MP to use his influence with the council’s head of planning to have Bradford Brewery shut down.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.09.04Also, he and some of his supporters have suggested that “complaints abound” about the brewery. I’m not sure they do, so I asked how many have been received. I haven’t got a reply yet. I also put in an FOI request to Bradford Council to ask how many complaints have been received about Bradford Brewery to date, and how many of those were received before Mr Galloway’s twitter argument with the brewery. I’ll let you know when I get the information back.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.37.21Mr Galloway made me feel intimidated and bullied. It seems to me that he has also threatened a local business during a Twitter “spat” – which a Respect spokesperson described as ‘trivial’ – with closure because they were a bit pissy with him – but this might not be what he meant to say and I would urge you to seek clarification on his view in case, due to the limitations of 140 characters this isn’t what he meant at all.

It’s been a learning opportunity, and I’ll certainly be more careful with what I say about my former and possibly future MP on line.

But, most of all, I apologise to Mr Atkinson who, through no fault of his own, has been called some most hurtful and damaging names by a politician and (probably) Bradford West’s MP. Really – I’m sorry.

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Eduwhinge 7: Northerners doing for Us Selfs

North1If you’ve been following my Eduwhinge escapes, you know what I want – and can freely skip to the next paragraph – but for those who are wondering… I’m annoyed that kids in Bradford and across the North don’t perform as well as those in other areas and don’t go to schools that are as effective as those in the South. Many people have their ideas about how to change things, but the truth is the government knows exactly what to do – after all, it did it, a decade ago, in London. The London Challenge turned London’s schools from worst to best and London’s kids from worst to best performing – and I want to know when it’s our turn.

Slide1From the replies, however few, I got from MPs, councilors and Lords (coming soon), it seems that our elected (and unelected) representatives know there’s a problem oop North. Poor kids in Barnsley are 4 times less likely to succeed than poor kids in Westmister; 2/3 of Northern cities are underperforming, and 7 of the bottom 10 worst local education authorities (LEAs) are in the North. What wasn’t apparent, though, was what they intended to do about it. There were some positive noises, and my MP, George Galloway, has ideas which entirely chimed with my own: he wants a Bradford Challenge. I think he should be doing more doing to get it done as a lone voice isn’t going to get the money and impetuous needed to make a real difference. I asked about him getting a group of Northern MPs together to petition the Secretary of State for the kind of intervention and desire to change given to London over a decade ago. He didn’t reply.

However, maybe things are changing, on this side of the Pennines at least.

hidden-bdBradford has big ideas for how to change its educational fortunes, and it looks a lot like what I’ve been advocating, even if it is on a much smaller scale.

Cllr Ralph Berry and the Labour led council have big plans: getting every school rated Good or better; improving the recruitment & retention of highly effective educators and school leaders; increasing sharing and collaborative working so that Outstanding schools and leaders support those which Require Improvement or show Serious Weakness.

I think this is a fantastic vision. Bradford Council, often rightly, gets slated, and with standards slipping and attainment plummeting, it feels like, to me at least, that they are determined to reverse decline and, rather than getting their heads above water, or out of the bottom 10 LEAs, they are planning for continued improvement.

However, where’s the support of the MPs? Bradford has five covering Bradford East, West and South, and Keighley & Ilkley and Shipley. I’ve written to all of them about education, with only George Galloway (West) and Philip Davies (Shipley) replying. MPs of every party should be on this. All of them make noises about improving education: for the coalition members (David Ward (LibDem) in East, Kris Hopkins in Keighley and Davies in Shipley (both Con)) this should be a great way to point out that, even with falling budgets locally, councils can still plan for success; for Labour’s Gerry Sutcliffe (South) this should be a great way to celebrate and crow about how Labour’s fighting against coalition education policy and making real change in its heartlands where it’s been accused (including by me) of ignoring its core vote; and by George Galloway (Respect; West) should be applauding the fact that the council are, pretty much, doing what he’s been calling for.

But, in an election year especially, maybe I’m asking too much even if it benefits all their constituents.

North4In the wider area, Yorkshire & the Humber was named, again, as the worst area for educational achievement at GCSE level. Whilst there are some really great examples of success, such as Calderdale and Kirlees, and even in Bradford with Dixons Trinity which Sam Freedman (Conservative education spokesperson and Director at Teach First) described as the “best school he’d visited”, Yorkshire’s schools and children, generally, underperform.

In a recent blog post, Simon Cooke, a Conservative councilor for Cullingworth, a village in Bradford District, called for the cooperation Bradford council is undertaking but on a larger scale. I usually disagree with Cllr Cooke on politics, but by no means always, and on this we are agreed: he’s calling for Labour’s flagship London Challenge to be rolled out, but with a Tory twist of no more money, just using existing resources. It’s well worth a read and, it seems, is close to what’s being envisioned by LEAs across Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire Post, which generally backs the Conservative party, called for something along the lines of the London Challenge for Yorkshire’s schools in their manifesto for Yorkshire: Educating our youth for all our futures. “Parents in Yorkshire today have a harder task finding good a school than in any other part of England. A child growing up in the county is less likely to go to a school rated as good, grasp the three Rs at primary school level, achieve national GCSE targets at secondary or go into a job, university or college course after they leave school than those living in the regions in the south.” Going on to draw similarities with London’s schools of the 80s & 90s, and wondering, like me, where our Challenge is, The Yorkshire Post knows there’s a problem and has flagged it up. The response from politicians was similar to the ones I got (even though, quite obviously, you’d expect them to care what the YP has to say). “Politicians have, quite rightly, talked about the importance of closing the attainment gap between rich and poor. But they should also focus on the huge variations of academic achievement in different parts of the country” – but the problem is, to my mind, that all we get is talk. If London’s kids got talk, not action, Knowsley, Blackpool and Bradford wouldn’t be bottom, and Yorkshire & the Humber wouldn’t be bottom – London and London’s LEAs would.

Talk is cheap – action on the scale of London Challenge is expensive. But, if they’re worth it, why aren’t we?

More pleasing, and along the lines of a London Challenge, is the plan for a region wide intervention. In 2014, a Pathfinder programme was set up as a small scale pilot to see what works for our kids. This year, a similar summit was told that councils and LEAs must work together and do the same on a grander scale to ensure that our kids get the best possible start in life.

Overall, is Yorkshire doing what the national government can’t or won’t? Well, in my opinion, a bit. London Challenge succeeded because of certain things any Yorkshire version will find hard to match.

Firstly, London’s success came about because of the desire of the national government. MPs didn’t want to send their kids to London’s schools so something needed to be done. With Yorkshire’s MPs making up only a tiny minority of MPs in total, that weight isn’t there, and if they educate their kids in the capital (I don’t know how many do) or if they live in the leafy suburbs of their constituency, their kids probably go to a decent school with decent results. I’m not suggesting MPs don’t see the problem, but I suggesting, maybe, most don’t feel it.

Secondly, that national desire brought with it prestige, investment and support. To change things on this scale, you need a lot of money. When Labour were in power and set up the London Challenge, the country and economy were booming. Now, it seems, we can’t afford to change the fortunes of our kids. Challenge-style interventions in the Midlands and Manchester were terminated as soon as the Coalition came to power – it wasn’t cost effective to educate their kids now that London was fixed. Simon Cooke believes that the money’s already there, and it’s just a mater of making it appealing enough for the better LEAs to support the poorer. I don’t know if I agree and how effective a Challenge on the cheap would be – but as a local politician, with in my opinion a great idea, he’s got to be listened to.

Thridly, and let’s face it, London’s London, so, in the eyes of the media, the politicians, the economy and everything else, London’s the most important place on planet (expect, maybe, for The White House or Kim Kardashian’s cleavage). If London’s failing, the country’s failing; if London’s flourishing, the country’s flourishing.

By that token, now that London’s schools are thriving and its children are attaining, there is no education crisis. I’d like to imagine, though, that we start a virtuous circle of educational reform and revolution: imagine if we took London from worst to best, then we took the North from worst to best, then we took the Midlands from worst to best… and, before long, London’s at the bottom again, and so we start over again, continually building, changing, evolving education.

And so, maybe crowing to MPs and Lords isn’t the way to go – maybe I should be looking smaller, more locally and pushing Bradford’s, Yorkshire’s and the North’s local politicians to do it for themselves. I’d always expected to get ignored by London’s politicians – and I’m glad to say that, at points, I was wrong to assume that – but if we’re capable of doing it for ourselves, why bother with Whitehall when City Hall or Town Hall can actually make the change… if they’re willing.

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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.

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