These are strange days indeed.
Yesterday morning Keith Vaz MP called me to say that the tie-up which will see teachers from Rushey Mead School – in his constituency – working in Fullhurst College was like the “British Prime Minister working in Rwanda two days a week”.
That’s Rwanda, where state-sponsored genocide in 1994 saw at least at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus brutally massacred.
Vaz’s opposition to the federation of the two schools puts him directly at odds with Leicester City Council, which is controlled by his own Labour party.
More extraordinary still that Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors, notably Tory leader Ross Grant, rose to defend the Leicester Labour party’s plans.
The MP’s outburst certainly took education chiefs at the city council by surprise and left many wondering what lay behind it.
Firstly, a general election is not too far away. Rushey Mead parents, his core vote, have expressed concern that formal ties with Fullhurst (Leicester’s lowest results and in special measures) could adversely affect their own school.
If this is a popular cause to take up – he as already called for a public meeting – it won’t do his chances at the ballot box much harm. Fullhurst, by contrast, is not in his constituency.
Secondly, the Government is known to favour Fullhurst being closed down and replaced by an independent academy school, free from city council control.
Locally, objection to that and, more importantly, support for the federation idea has – almost unprecedentedly – brought Labour, Conservative, LibDem, head teachers and even notoriously-hard-to-please teaching unions together. So is Keith, by speaking out against the plans, and getting public support in Rushey Mead on his side, trying to make the case on behalf of his Westminster colleagues? “The council should look at turning Fullhurst into an academy,” he told me quite bluntly.
Meanwhile, while all the politics is going on, four out five students at Fullhurst leave without five good GCSEs including English and maths.
The city council should be congratulated for its innovative plans to raise standards in its three low performing secondary schools and trying to keep them working together for the good of the city.
The Government has demanded “radical solutions” to low educational standards. And, as Peter Flack, of Leicester’s National Union of Teachers told me, when councils up and down the country are responding to this by shutting local authority schools and opening academies, cast adrift from any duty to act in the common good, aren’t the ideas in Leicester the move that is truly radical?
Yes, Rushey Mead is different from Fullhurst. Its intake means it doesn’t have some of the behavioural problems associated with Fullhurst and the Braunstone estate. But it’s too simplistic to oppose the idea for that reason. Rushey Mead was named as one of the top 10 outstanding schools in the country last year. Clearly Rushey Mead is special. This is just the sort of help Fullhurst is crying out for.
Good teaching, high standards and professional working practices are universal. Rushey Mead and Fullhurst have far more in common than Britain and Rwanda ever will.