Yorkshire Challenge – influence the debate

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yorkshire challengeAs part of our push to try to get a Yorkshire Challenge in place to ultimately improve the educational prospects of our young people I’ve personally written to education secretary Nicky Morgan, Labour shadow for education Lucy Powell, Lib Dem spokesman for education Jon Pugh as well as the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP and ex Labour shadow for education. (For fairness and because they received a significant proportion of the general election vote I want to write to the UKIP spokesperson also – but I can’t seem to find for definate who their education person is – anyone help) It would be unfair for me to publish my letter before these people have had a chance to receive, read and respond to it but I will eventually publish the main parts of it (each is personalised – it isn’t exactly the same letter to each person) on this blog and any response I may get.

As any regular reader to my blog will know, we at Yorkshire First are pushing for a similar programme of educational improvement that transformed London schools in the last decade. It is flattering that this idea is being taken up by some serious players in the education and political world as well as the Yorkshire Post.

The basic crux of the argument goes … For the last five years Yorkshire schools have held the bottom position in the regional league tables for examination success. This of course becomes a self defeating prophecy as we gain an unwanted (and untrue) reputation for poor schools which drives parents away and good teachers from wanting to teach in Yorkshire schools. This was happening to Londons schools in the 90s. Did central government wash its hands of Londons schools and children like it appears to be doing with Yorkshire’s? Did they decide the answer was yet more OfSTED hit squads? More top down accountability measures? No – they actually did something really rather sensible. They put someone who knew about education in overall strategic control, used data not as a hammer to beat schools with but as a tool to tell underperforming schools where there problems were and to group them with similar schools who were actually being successful in their weak areas with pupils of a similar background. They got schools working collaboratively together, constructively critical and had a relentless push on teaching and learning and outstanding leadership.

The reason I know it worked is because London schools now lead the regional league tables and have done for a number of years. In fact a piece on the BBC news website yesterday evidences a report from the London School of Economics and the Institute for Fiscal Studies which says children on free school meals in the capital vastly out-perform similar children in other parts of the country and that this is set to continue and of course have massively beneficial knock on effects on social mobility for the capitals young people.
It goes on to say that London could offer “valuable lessons” for improving standards in other areas. Yes of course! We’ve been saying this for a while now!

Of course there are also funding issues which play a part. Why should a pupil in London be worth £1000 more to the government than the same pupil would be sat in front of me in my classroom in central Sheffield? However even taking into account the unfair funding formula, the results from the London Challenge and the continuing benefit London’s schools and their children continue to reap is astounding. If ever there was a rock solid evidence base for regional solutions to issues, the London Challenge is it.

I’m just a school teacher. I’ve had over 40 years experience in the education sector (half as a student and half as a teacher) but ultimately, despite my experience and my strong opinions (maybe because of my strong opinions?!) I don’t really matter. My party, Yorkshire First is pushing this idea because we believe it shows a massively positive example of how regions can succeed and prosper. We are making this case loud and proud and people are starting to listen and engage with us. However children only get one go at this and the longer we leave it, the more Yorkshire children become disadvantaged against those from London purely because of where they go to school. Because of this I feel I have to try to get those who can influence policy to listen to the evidence we in Yorkshire First have been banging on about. Maybe, just maybe, one of these people will listen and start saying the right things in the right places in a loud enough voice. Then we may just be able to tackle the unfairness of the regionally divisive education our young people receive.

I will keep you posted on any responses I receive.

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Wayne Chadburn

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