Who’s to blame for Bradford’s failing schools?

Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe.
Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe.
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A YORKSHIRE council’s controlling group has been accused of failing to look for outside help to improve education standards, after the performance of local schools was criticised in a national Ofsted report.

Coun Simon Cooke, the leader of the opposition Conservative group at Bradford Council, has accused the Labour-led authority of being “incredibly complacent about its inability to transform the performance” of the district’s schools.

He suggested that the council was not looking for outside help and he described the city’s new education covenant designed to raise standards as “toothless.”

However Coun Susan Hinchcliffe, the authority’s executive member for Education, Skills and Culture said that all political parties had to take responsibility for “historically poor educational outcomes in the city”. She added that until recently Conservatives controlled the council for ten years.

The comments follow Ofsted’s national report which singled Bradford out for criticism.

Bradford was identified by the education watchdog as a city where standards have been low for many years across both primary and secondary schools.

It said that from a total of more than 200 schools with around 95,000 pupils, 67 per cent of primary pupils and only 42 per cent of secondary pupils attend schools in the city that it rated as being good or outstanding. This means there are almost 40,000 children in Bradford who attend schools that are less than good.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector said that the key to raising standards in underperforming areas was “collective action and political will.”

“We have to ask whether this level of failure is being effectively challenged by local politicians and school leaders, and whether the relatively successful big cities in the North and Midlands are playing their part in supporting their neighbouring towns,” he said.

Responding to this Coun Cooke said: “Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments are pretty damning, yet all local Labour politicians can say is that we should have yet another Bradford-only attempt to resolve the problems – despite the evidence that Bradford Council is unable to turn round the failing system.”

“The Conservative Group proposed at October’s full council that the Council start working for a regional education challenge but this was rejected by the Labour leadership in preference for a toothless ‘Education Covenant’ that was big on excuses for failure and weak on action to improve standards in schools.

“There are plenty of good schools and great teachers in Bradford, but this can’t be allowed to get in the way of the evidence that the district’s education leadership is failing. It’s time to acknowledge this fact and get on with the task of working with national government and our neighbours in Yorkshire to improve educational outcomes for Bradford’s children.”

However Coun Hinchcliffe said: “It is very disappointing that the local Tories are using our children’s future as an opportunity to make cheap political points. When I took on the education portfolio in June among my first phone calls were to the Conservative Group to ask for their opinions and contribution towards a cross party approach. I have kept them well briefed every step of the way. All political parties in Bradford have to take responsibility for historically poor educational outcomes in the City. Lest Councillor Cooke forgets, until recently the Tories reigned over Bradford and its education system for 10 years.

“We have a strong school improvement plan in Bradford, endorsed by Ofsted. We’ve had a full Ofsted inspection plus an external independent review of education in the district over the last year. In their report Ofsted said there was a real ‘cause for optimism’ and they could see ‘a step change’ in how we are supporting schools to improve. The focus now has to be implementing the agreed plan. I believe in action not hollow words. Whilst the Tories were in power in Bradford, education was outsourced to Serco who singularly failed to show any impact on results.”

The Education Covenant in Bradford sets out responsibilities for all stakeholders in the education system including the council, school leaders, teachers, governors, pupils, parents, businesses and the Government.