Sunday, 7 March 2010

What's in a name

One of the saddest legacies that Education Leeds will leave us as its own name starts to unravel is that it has crossed out the names of Leeds' past as it slashed its way through our education system. All it took was the delete button of a computer to erase Matthew Murray and Merlyn Rees from history.

It started, this slashing and deleting in a small way from pre-Education Leeds days. For four years, between 1992 and 1996 Foxwood School had been East Leeds High School [a pointless rebranding exercise that lost us our dignity along with our name].

Foxwood School [aka ELHS] was merged with Cross Green with all pupils and most staff being asked to go to the Cross Green site. Naturally, all pupils who could, hopped off to John Smeaton School, thus depressing their results for a decade; in response all aspirational Smeatoners hopped off to Boston Spa and Wetherby [somewhat compounding John Smeaton's problems]. Where would it stop, we wondered, Oslo?

I digress. What shall we call this wonderful new Cross Green School, they asked. "Cross Green" would be a good idea, we opined. Bad enough one set of kids and staff losing their identity; no need for both. Of course there was some obscure little legal point that meant Cross Green couldn't be Cross Green, and it became Copperfields, and closed four years later.

2001 and Eddie Leo bursts onto our scene bristling with brilliant intentions. Taking no notice of changes in EU law, failing to observe the new demographies, misunderstanding the basic laws of class size and the greater needs of the inner-city, Eddie set about appeasing its government masters to punish that crime of all crimes - surplus places!

One by one and two by two they fell. Whatever good Education Leeds was doing, and I believe there was, and is good in there, its public role now was of the Grim Reaper. Shameful and sad that we lost Royal Park, Leopold, Tinshill and Miles Hill, but no excuse for Potternewton to lose its name [nice legal point? New Potternewton at least, or is that a bit New Labour? You get the idea.]

When we, through marriage or divorce etc, change our names, we are giving up or changing some part of ourselves. Our identity and our past are wrapped up in what we are called. Little London survived its dark days without losing that symbol of itself. John Smeaton survived the Foxwood onslaught with becoming Jane Smeaton. Ex-students from Foxwood always say, "It's always Foxwood to me". And it is to me.

City of Leeds School was recovering its good name which it temporarily lost as it decamped from City Centre site to Hyde Park, when the Grim Reaper slithered onto the scene. A series of good Ofsteds made City more popular; it became a haven for refugees from Europe, Africa and the David Young Academy. But it was two steps forward, one step back. Every fine Ofsted was followed with yet another damaging local newspaper headline. Here's one from 2003, " You can't possibly close us after this", refering to said inspection, and they didn't.

And my point is this: after the Council acknowledges that City of Leeds School is rather more popular and successful than they realised, and we all sit down to repair the damage done, we should remember that changing a name fools noone. We will be the same staff, the same students, in the same mixed inner-city area. Changing Foxwood's name didn't "improve" or save it. "Consignia" was an expensive joke. We should take advantage of this outpouring of public support, be upstanding and proud of who we are. We stood up for City, not Blosson Garth Hill Gardens. Rebranding is for chocolates and cereals.

Stand Up For City of Leeds.

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