Friday, 17 December 2010

The Forces of Darkness

On December 17 2010 the Chief Executive of Education Leeds stepped down and out of the lives of the good folk of Leeds. The articles in the Yorkshire Evening Post, of the same date describes him as bowing out with pride. It is hard to see why.

The article makes a somewhat exagerated claim of academic improvements, brought in under his watch. And that’s it, I think. An improved percentage. And a rather unlikley one at that: 40% up to 80% of "good grades" whatever they might be - to be precise, or imprecise. In the YEP article it's acknowledged that improving attendance is the next challenge and yet, last year, they tried to close the Leeds school which won the attendance challenge!

For us: parents, teachers, other school staff, school-governors, local residents, the decade that was Education Leeds has seemed more like a reign of terror. Whole localities had the hearts ripped out of them Exeunt forever Royal Park, Becket Park, Miles Hill, Asket Hill, Tinshill, Fir Tree, Leopold, the primaries of Otley - over 40 primary schools in Leeds either closed forever or merged forever. And for those who didn't altogether lose themselves they had the ignomy of having their names, their very identities taken away. Bye bye Potternewton; hello Millfield. Bye bye Osmondthorpe and Whitebridge; hello Meadowfield.

Then, a couple of years ago, after I had had another letter printed in the local paper, this Chief Executive called me into his office [as I, along with many others, had been “tuped” out of the council and into being an employee of Education Leeds]. This meeting seemed to be in order to discuss who paid my wages. I was shocked and wondered if I had maybe wandered onto the set of some Victorian melodrama. Who pays my wages indeed! I tried to discuss freedom of speech.

I have only ever wanted to work for the public sector; I never wanted to be privatised; I never agreed with bringing a private company to take over any part of the Leeds education service. And I thought it was courtesy to let the newly-arrived private firm know what my feelings were when they wrote to us all to say how “brilliant “ everything was going to be [spring 2001]. I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite and I wasn’t going to lie down, roll over and see what was in it for me. I wrote them a reply. I told them I looked forward to the day when they was gone, and Leeds education left back to Leeds authority control again. I thought they would appreciate my candour, and actually I think they did.

After a couple of years in post in Leeds a representative of Education Leeds gave a lecture at Leeds University and was interviewed by lecturer, Stuart Hodgkinson, to whom he described himself as a “risk-taker”. Alas he was taking risks with the lives of the unsuspecting citizens of Leeds. I quote from the interview:

He summed up the qualitative change from old LEA to Education Leeds as follows, "Education Leeds has closed more schools in 18 months than the council managed in 18 years" . . . One important obstacle to resolving the problems in Leeds was the continued opposition of a small number of people whom Edwards referred to as "the forces of darkness". He reserved his strongest attack for teachers. . . . . .

and when the interviewer asked if:

embarking on a 58 school closure programme was absolutely crazy given all the opposition and disruption this would cause. . . the answer was that it should be , done at once as quickly as possible - the long-term benefits would justify the short-term disruption. . . .

Well Education Leeds, closing itself forever this Easter, has left us in Leeds the legacy of recreating the primary places lost by expanding primary schools still standing and taking them up to a size which independent educationalists would describe as unmanageable. And the short-term disruption, for some pupils, would seem to involve going from school closure to building site.

So the 17 December 2010 should have been a day of celebration, but the world didn’t stop rolling round the sun; the weather was just as uninvitingly cold and lifeless, and the local paper’s headline didn’t spot the obvious and instead invited its reading public to celebrate the disaster that had been the previous eight years.

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