April Opinion

Do you remember the New Labour mantra Education, Education, Education? This was part of a whole scale re modelling of Education including revision of the Curriculum, the launch of the Academy program, and the capital program Building Schools for the Future – with a long term aim to rebuild every secondary school across the whole country over time. This academic term sees young people across Calderdale taking public examinations be they GCSEs or equivalent, and A Levels. For many they will be using the new specification for either the first or second time. It’s a nervous time for young people and also for teachers and Schools, for exam results are a critical way in which schools are judged as Outstanding at one end or placed in Special Measures at the other.

Every Secretary of State for Education likes to leave their mark on the Education system – hence many teachers are exhausted by endless changes and tinkering. Having been Chair of Governors in two State Schools and now in the Independent Sector, my observations are that teachers just want to be left to get on with the job, to engage with young people and help them learn the subjects they have chosen, and to develop those important life skills. This doesn’t mean that Schools don’t require inspection because of course they do, it’s the BUT, in that OFSTED no longer seems independent of Government, and regularly one senses they have already decided what the outcome will be before the inspection has taken place? I think it’s really hard on schools that serve vulnerable communities with young people who experience many challenges and obstacles both at home and in the learning environment, and yet are all judged equally by a national standard. I recall one vulnerable school which was being supported by a University, where first a much loved member of staff died of Cancer, to be followed secondly by a Year 8 pupil who took his own life, leading the Head Teacher to have a nervous breakdown, and for OFSTED to question why the School wasn’t achieving rapid improvement? There was no recognition that the School had been rocked to its core and that it would take time to turn the school around to more calmer waters and pupils reaching national levels.

Many Head teachers are struggling to manage the current Funding Formula. Money is scarce, teacher’s pay has declined, many are leaving disillusioned, and many school buildings are now in a poor state of repair, because the Building Schools for the Future Program was scrapped following the Economic crash in 2008.

Here in Calderdale instead of wallowing in pity about the state of Education, there is a vision for a New Sixth Form College in Northgate House, the old Council Offices. There are a number of positives about this proposal: firstly many of our young people leave Calderdale and go elsewhere and we need to retain them here; secondly, Secondary Schools 11-16 have been subsidising Sixth Form provision for years because the funding is so appalling and this might help some of our smaller schools with sixth forms; thirdly, it will also release some extra space for schools who are already oversubscribed and with expanding admissions for places; fourthly, the Council has a real challenge to know what to do with the Northgate House site – Retail Developers don’t want to know – with Brexit looming investors are nervous about the future and retail on the High Street has never been more challenging. The danger is to bull doze the site and end up with a hole in the ground for ten years like Bradford? So what can be done with the site? Mixed use – A Sixth Form provision, with some housing, and small retail alongside, sounds like a plan, and deserves support across the political spectrum. Surely, we all want a vibrant town centre, and the best Education for our young people we can offer?