Royal Grammar School


North-East Education: vibrant and forward-looking

North-East Education: vibrant and forward-looking

I spent today at the amazing annual summit organised at St James Park (in the conference suite) by SCHOOLS NorthEast. I’m lucky enough to be a trustee and board member of that amazingly vibrant organisation which brings together schools right across our region.

At our board meetings, for example, we have a representative of primary and secondary schools from every authority from Hartlepool up to Northumberland, plus special interest groups: I represent the independent sector.

There is something amazing about this organisation. Originally set up by heads for schools, it somewhat mischievously cuts out the bureaucracy that can too often slow down change and development, let alone partnership and collaboration, in schools.

To be sure, we have plenty of strategic and business partners who help, and all were there at today’s summit. We had some eminent national speakers: and fantastic contributions from many of the great leaders of our own schools.

We had Ed Dorrell, Deputy Editor of the Times Educational Supplement, chairing a session on what should be in the party manifestos on education! Sadly, representatives of think tanks and the like seemed to obsess about the need to continue banging schools over the head with inspection and burdensome accountability measures.

Alan Milburn, the social mobility tsar, talked about how schools can make England fairer. No one can doubt his sincerity nor his commitment to his mission, so I don't mind disagreeing with him on approach.

Still, whether we agree or lock horns at its major annual event, there is something special (as I might have said already!) about SCHOOLS NorthEast. We all come together in common purpose to further the cause of education in the North East. Hell, we’ve even put together a bid (which looks to be successful) to set up a North East Challenge in the manner of the London Challenge that transformed the capital’s education system a few years ago. Let’s hope we can do the same up here.

Why do I bother to write this in my blog? Mainly, I suppose, because the Media are too full of criticism of schools by politicians and the Inspectorate – or, at least, its boss. We hear only about the problems, and the recent party conferences seemed to serve to highlight the divisions in policy between the parties with little thought, honestly, given to the people who do the work on the ground - by which I mean not just the teachers and all the support staff but also the children themselves.

Education will always be a political football (at least, ever since Tony Blair’s Education, Education, Education speech): but, when schools get together and share their ideas and enthusiasm, the effect is electrifying. The release of energy is remarkable and reminds me, at least, that the region’s schools as a whole, just like a successful individual school, are more than the sum of their parts.

That’s the knack in education. I really want to be part of making education successful and life-changing not just in the RGS (though, in truth, that keeps us all busy enough) but in the region as a whole. I think in SCHOOLS NorthEast, we have the organisation that can do it.  

Bernard Trafford