For once, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree on something with Mayor Anderson. His complaint about the Government’s failure to have a meaningful consultation on proposed NHS restructuring, struck a chord. I just hope that Mayor Anderson now applies the same thinking to any more proposals HE wishes to dump unannounced, on the city of Liverpool.
Nevertheless, I was not as moved as he appeared to be at proposals to restructure the local NHS. I know that we have seen billions wasted on similar exercises. We all oppose privatisation, and deplore cuts in service levels. Yet if the proposals are about cutting out the Byzantine bureaucracy of the NHS, with its overbearing, management-heavy culture, we should look at them with care.
Of far more concern to me, is the recent report from Ofsted on schools’ performance. It shows the widening educational gulf between the north and the south of England. We are all conscious of the divide in the country in terms of wealth and income. There is little chance of narrowing that gap if we fail to give our children a fair and equal start in education and training.
It is particularly worrying to note the parlous educational standards in the boroughs of Liverpool and Knowsley. Unlike the rest of the city-region, these two authorities are specifically named in the report, for their overall declining standards. Both have invested heavily in new school buildings (some already empty!), a huge expense through PFI funding. However, the decision makers seem to fail to recognise that the key to raising standards lies not in new buildings (welcome though they may be) but in what happens IN them. In particular, we need dynamic leadership and high quality teaching.
Most intriguing is the difference between the achievements in the primary schools, and the struggle at the secondary level. So many of our primary schools have exemplary records in educating our children in preparation for secondary school. It is when they make that transition where things go amiss. So much good work seems to be wasted.
I recognise that there are complex reasons for this, but there is much which can be done locally to improve matters. As ever, different interest groups will seek to pass the responsibility on to others. This blame game has bedevilled education in this country for years. However, in the final analysis, the issues raised by the report will only be resolved when those in charge – “the leaders” – accept both the responsibility and the challenge. We are talking here of councillors, officers and headteachers.
Without addressing the problem, with the greatest urgency, we will continue to see so many of our youngsters denied the opportunities afforded to youth elsewhere in the country – and, indeed, elsewhere in the city-region. There can be no excuses, and no empty distractions to take people’s minds off this failing of our children.