Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A role model !

The other Thursday  I was present at Chelsea Old Church for the Service of Thanksgiving for the Baroness Ritchie of Brompton better known as Councillor Shireen Ritchie, and in the tabloid press as the former step Mother in law of the Popular singer (as the Daily Telegraph would put it ), Madonna 

Many of the Great and the Good were present including Cabinet Ministers Michael Gove, Maria Miller and the "millionaire private plane owning" Party Chairman Grant Shapps as well as several dozen MPs and peers. Sadly Shireen's husband John was not well enough to attend and step son, film director Guy was otherwise engaged.

Shireen was first elected to Kensington and Chelsea Council in 1998 and during her local Government career made children and young people's issues her speciality. In his excellent address Sir Merrick Cockell mentioned that she insisted on being updated on the progress of each individual child in the care of the Council a commendable action , but all I can say is the Royal Borough must have far less children in care than Barnet !

Shireen exemplified the sort of local Councillor fast disappearing across London passionate about her Ward, prepared to do the hard work, afraid of nobody and an expert in a particular field . She was not afraid of controversy and her service on the voluntary side of the Conservative Party included being responsible for Parliamentary candidates and Cameron's much derided "A-list". A number of the beneficiaries of that system occupied the pews last week !  However the recent resignation of the lightweight Louise Mensch as MP for Corby has reinforced that on this particular topic Shireen was wrong. Her final illness prevented her from making the most of her well deserved elevation to the House of Lords in 2010 . 

The presence of Michael Gove, in my view the most reforming and sensible Education Secretary since Margaret Thatcher, proved the respect in which Shireen was held by Central Government due to her role on the Local Government Association when it came to advising on Children's issues.  She was clearly listened to

However in the last few weeks a number of leading Councillors have made speeches at Party Conferences and elsewhere which Michael Gove would be sensible to ignore. The growth in the number of Academies has left some power hungry local Councillors and many jobs worth Local Government Officers suddenly realising that there influence in Education is fast disappearing down the swanny.  The Academy programme has resulted in a fundamental shift in power away from the traditional restraints of the Local Education Authority, most Secondary Schools and an increasing number of Primaries are now enjoying freedoms they have never experienced before. Additionally failing schools are being removed forcibly from LEA control and re-established as new schools with a frsh start.
The traditionally fraught issue of schools admissions which drives so many parents to distraction both at secondary level and, with the shortage of school places increasingly at primary level is mainly a result of the failure of Local Authorities to properly plan and the solution is not to force parents to send children to unpopular schools or schools the other side of the Borough but to allow successful schools to expand as their Heads and Governors see fit . For this to happen there needs to be flexibility on the planning front as many schools sit in the green belt.
A centralised schools admission system which often leads parents with false hope or cons them into thinking there is genuine choice has had its' day and a more honest and open system run by schools themselves and not by an LEA whose officers are often more interested in social gerrymandering than good education is needed. The suggestion from the Mayor of London that he should have a strategic role in Schools, in a sort of "son of ILEA" format is a recipe for disaster. Is there any parent in London who wants some distant official at City Hall dictating which school their child should attend or worse still thinks Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone could run Education in the 33 Boroughs with hundreds of schools?.
In the NHS the Government reforms were based on "leaving it to the professionals " and the same thinking is beginning to apply to Education . The move to have fewer Politicians involved in Education is welcome because sadly not all have the expertises and dedication of the late Councillor Baroness Ritchie .


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment. It will be visible after approval.