The world of education in Leicester never seems to stay still. I was thinking just the other day about all the senior education chiefs who have come and gone during my near-four-year stint as Leicester Mercury education correspondent.
To say nothing of the head teachers who have fallen by the wayside. One constant of my time here is hearing the frustration among head teachers and teachers that the stress of the job is becoming too much.
So there was very real celebration in the education sector today. The Department for Children, Schools and Families announced that, after nearly two years, it was lifting its programme of intervention in Leicester City Council’s children’s services department.
It’s clear to me there have been some very real improvements. To be honest, the DCSF’s warning to Leicester could have come sooner. By June 2008 it was already beginning to turn the corner.
But since then there has been a real focus on raising results which shows what can be done.
Leicester has a long, long way to go. It has a lot of social problems far out of the control of politicians and certainly schools. And maybe there shouldn’t be any real cause for celebration until all of its schools are as good as its best.
There is certainly a worry among some senior education people I’ve spoken to that any loss of focus – whether that’s because of political instability, lack of cash, or the loss of key leaders – could see Leicester back to square one, but that must now be unthinkable.
No private company worth its salt would have seen so many changes in key personel, so many half-finished initatives, so many non-local temporary and consultancy staff on expensive short-term contracts, so much money spent on projects which attracted funding despite no clear measure of success as I saw in the city’s education system when I first came here.
Not everything was bad. There were some great schools then too, but taken as a whole, those were dark days.
Much of that has been rectified and that’s why (that horrible word they use in education at the moment) outcomes have improved: better exam results, fewer failing schools, lower rates of teen pregnancy, less truancy. And there has been a growth in confidence that’s come with that.
There are still schools teetering on the brink of unacceptable standards but you do get the feeling that, rather than brush the problems under the carpet, which was being done in the past, education leaders are now more willing to take decisive action.
There’s a general election in the offing and perhaps that’s why the DCSF chose now to say that a Labour council has improved. It’s also recognition that Leicester City Council has – in planning to turn three schools into trusts – given the Government what it wanted, albeit watered down from its original desire to see the schools become completely independent of the local authority, as academies.
But there is far, far too much politics in education so let’s resist the temptation and put that to one side at the moment and concentrate on this: Over the past two years head teachers in Leicester and their staff have been put under more pressure than ever before, weak council officers have been replaced by tough, competent, motivated ones, and pupils have been through breakfast clubs, after-school tutoring and intensive holiday revision sessions – they probably didn’t know what hit them.
The pupils are the ones who will really benefit from this. There is no subsitute for going to a good school, which is led well, and which helps you get good qualifications. Too many in the past were let down and that’s disgraceful.
That’s why Leicester must never, ever go back to those dark days and must continue its relentless improvement.