Given that Kath was Deputy Chair of the Education Committee for a year (1989/90) and then Chair for four years (1991-95), this is the most personal chapter of the book. The three main issues were Local Management of Schools (LMS), inclusion in mainstream schools of children with ‘extra support needs’ (ESN), and the high capital costs of repairs to school buildings because of their age. This was the case across the country not just in Manchester. These three issues involved a lot of time and effort in consultations with parents, teachers and the Party, and campaigning to lobby government for more borrowing power.
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The first of these was the 1986 Education Act, which had to be implemented in 1988/89 and required the recomposition of school governing bodies – increasing the number of parent governors; reducing the number of Local Education Authority (LEA) governors; and giving new powers to governing bodies. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities tried to take legal action against the Secretary of State in January 1987 for inadequate consultation, but failed to alter the government’s course. A second aspect of the 1986 Education Act was the removal of polytechnics from LEA control from 1 April 1989.
As a newly elected councillor in May 1988, I was not new to the Education Committee, having been a co-optee since 1986 (see chapter 4). So the first task allocated to me by the Chair of the Committee, Richard Leese – in addition to being the Deputy Chair of the Further Education Sub-committee (Nick Harris being the Chair) – was to co-ordinate the reorganisation of governing bodies for the city’s 250-plus schools.
Previously, the allocation of LEA governors to schools had been done in a fairly ad hoc manner and people could be found serving on governing bodies miles away from where they lived. As the system was changing, it seemed to be an ideal opportunity to reorganise all the LEA governors to ensure that the allocations were done on a ward (geographic) basis, so that we would have both local knowledge and Labour Party accountability on all governing bodies.
This was no easy task, with four LEA governors to be allocated to each school and no single governor to be allocated to more than three. It had also been decided that all the LEA governor places would be reserved for Labour or Lib-Dem nominees or politically non-aligned people from among the trade union and diocesan co-optees on the Education Committee. Given our opposition to Tory education legislation, it made sense to exclude Tory Party members from governing body places, but of course it caused a huge political row.
A by-product of working on this task was my introduction to the inadequacies of the Council’s computer and information systems at the time. I was going to be using a computer word-processing programme, but didn’t want to end up with the data being held on my home PC in a form that was incompatible with the Council’s system. I spent some time discussing options with various education officers and the upshot was that I would enter the data directly to the Education Department computer system. The whole reorganisation took me several weeks (and much lost sleep) and I spent many hours after work and at weekends typing it all up in the computer room – the first time the staff in that department had ever come across a councillor working in their offices – and being regarded with bemusement by the department’s senior officers.
Then, after the job had been completed, it turned out that the Education Department system was incompatible with the Committee Clerks’ system in the Town Hall, so it would all have to be re-typed for the minutes anyway. I was furious, since it would have been much more convenient for me to do the work at home. It was small consolation that the team working on supporting school governors could use my work to produce labels for newsletters. And then, to add insult to injury, when it came to formally agreeing the governor appointments at the Education Committee meeting, the Committee Clerk insisted that the names would all have to be read out verbally – in addition to the full list of names being given to him. So I had to read out the name of each school and the names of all four governors (and whether they were Labour, Lib-Dem or non-aligned) for each school. Richard Leese joked that it was the longest speech ever recorded at any Education Committee, but I was really fed up with the intractability of the council officers and the inadequacy of the systems.
As an aside, when I was first elected, I approached the Labour Group officers to ask if I could have the use of a Council computer for Council work. Graham Stringer was nonplussed and asked what on earth I would use a computer for. When I said it would be useful for keeping records of casework and writing letters to constituents, he said there were secretaries employed to do that and I would be putting them out of work if I did it myself. From my point of view, it would take longer to hand-write a letter, pass it for typing, correct it and pass it back, than to type it directly myself, and I didn’t have the time to spare for that, so I did my Council work on my own PC at home. It took many years before it was accepted that a PC was an essential tool for doing the job of councillor.
Because of the increase in powers and responsibilities of school governing bodies, the City Party was concerned that the Council’s influence would be reduced and its new progressive policies might be sidelined. So the Education Working Party set in train a communication strategy to keep governors informed, with regular bulletins, CLP-based meetings and recruitment and selection training.
Although the Labour Party and the Labour Group supported the principle of sharing out the part of the Education budget spent on schools, they opposed the methodology for arriving at the budget division – the so-called ‘funding formula’. But no one fully appreciated all the consequences of the scheme of delegation at the time.
It was a financial nightmare trying to disaggregate the whole Education budget in order to devolve an individual budget to each of the city’s 250-plus schools, at the same time as trying to protect the schools with greatest need in very disadvantaged areas of the city. Educational Priority Areas (EPAs) had been designated in the past, which received additional funding in recognition of their need for additional teachers and smaller classes. But the government dictated that LMS funding was to be based purely on pupil numbers. Additional funding could be provided for Special Educational Needs, but with the previous emphasis on all children, regardless of any special need, being educated within mainstream schools, the issue of identifying additional funding on an individual basis was problematic. Government ministers also completely failed to recognise the need for compensatory education for children who were from deprived backgrounds, but didn’t necessarily have learning difficulties.
Eventually, the idea arose nationally of using the number of pupils on free school meals (a readily available figure for each school) as a proxy indicator for additional needs. Even then, the formula for calculating each school’s budget was fiendishly difficult to work out and for school staff and governors to understand. It had to include elements for the building and grounds maintenance and running costs as well as staffing and educational resources.
Maintaining the funding for cross-city services for children with special needs (including educational psychologists and education welfare officers) and for the youth service was also problematic as the Education Act restricted the percentage of the total education budget that could be held centrally for these services.
In addition to sorting out these financial problems, there was also the political necessity of ensuring that each headteacher was accountable to the school’s governing body for implementing the policies of the council, as well as for managing the money.
The whole nature of the job of headteacher was to change. The skills related to understanding and teaching children, and leading and supporting teachers, were no longer paramount. The job became much more oriented towards financial and personnel management. There was a fear that as many heads didn’t have these skills, their schools’ budgets would spiral out of control (as some did). Many headteachers also didn’t have the skills for dealing with difficult staff. In the past, LEA officers had dealt with disciplinary and competency proceedings or moved incompetent teachers into other areas of work. This was possible within a large and varied organisation like the education department, but within a small school, it wasn’t.
Governors also needed more training – in personnel and finance matters, and also in relation to their changed relationship with the headteacher and their increased responsibilities. Staff appointments were especially problematic, particularly in the case of headteachers. A governing body would have very little, if any, experience of appointing a head, whereas previously all headteachers were appointed by a panel of councillors and senior education officers who built up a lot of experience over the years. Recruitment and selection training had to be implemented for all governing bodies and advisors allocated to assist them. Fortunately, despite governors’ inexperience in this area, none of Manchester’s schools adopted the government’s assumption that a school headteacher didn’t necessarily have to have any teaching qualifications and could be appointed if they were good managers of any sort of organisation.
It was agreed that all job advertising would continue to be done centrally by the LEA. But the Labour group decreed that no advertising should be placed in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), despite it being the main reference point for all educationalists, because of the Wapping dispute. Richard Leese tried, but failed, to get this policy reversed in October 1989 and so from then on many school governing bodies did their own advertising (in the TES) rather than use the central facility.
The most insane part of the LMS legislation was that the budget allocated for each teacher in a school had to be an average teacher salary, whereas the school would have to pay the actual salary of that teacher. So those schools with long-serving, experienced (but higher-paid) teachers would immediately face a budget deficit and those with a higher proportion of newly-qualified teachers would have a surplus. This created a pressure for teachers to take early retirement and a demand (that was difficult to meet) for more newly qualified teachers. The national budget implications in respect of teacher’s pensions and increased teacher training provision seemed to be lost on government ministers.
Clerking governing body meetings became a more important (and more costly) job because of the new legal responsibilities – and liabilities – vested with governors. The job changed from one of simply taking minutes to giving legal, personnel and financial advice. We didn’t want to simply leave each school to fend for itself, so there were discussions about whether or not to recruit and train an army of new people as clerks and supply them to schools (many LEAs did this). Eventually, the decision was made that all the current LEA officers would clerk a number of schools as part of their normal jobs, with the more senior officers clerking schools perceived as likely to be problematic.
LEAs were criticised by the government for not wanting to relinquish control of schools, but in Manchester (and probably many other LEAs) the role was seen as one of support rather than control. We could anticipate the chaos that was likely to ensue and the possibilities for mismanagement (and even corruption) with the consequent damage to the education of children.
One of the immediate consequences of each school having its own budget to manage was the need for school secretaries to be further trained (and paid more). In fact, secondary schools and larger primary schools eventually employed specialist financial managers. So from then on, a far greater proportion of the education budget would be used for the administration of money (and increased salaries for headteachers) rather than for the education of children. And even though each school had its own financial manager, a central team of finance officers in the education department was still needed to do the checking, reconciliation and auditing.
In all the recent discussions about the huge amounts of money that the Labour government invested in education from 1997, and the hand-wringing about the lack of a commensurate improvement in educational outcomes, no one has referred back to LMS and the vast sums of money that are now required simply to “manage the money” at school level. In addition to the increased numbers and salaries of school administrative staff, there is huge expenditure on various forms of insurance. It was far less costly to have a central budget to enable local authorities to send in advisors to support schools through difficulties, or to help out following disasters such as fire, flood or vandalism.
Another consequence of LMS has been the drive towards school mergers to create more cost-effective larger establishments – often to the detriment of pupils who thrive better in smaller schools where the head and all the teachers know every pupil by name.
A very controversial decision taken by Manchester’s Labour politicians on the Education Committee was to try to rectify the historic imbalance in funding between pupils in the primary and secondary sectors, at the same time as delegating budgets to schools. I’m not sure if this was at the instigation of the education officers, but the cause was championed by Richard Leese who was the committee chair at the time. Traditionally, more money was spent on secondary pupils. It was argued that this was necessary because of the provision of different subject teachers in the secondary sector, the need for specialist equipment and so on, but the primary sector had long argued that the balance was out of proportion and unfair. The committee decided, after negotiations with teacher trade union leaders, that over a period of five years £2.8 million would be shifted from the secondary sector to the primary sector. This was a source of bitterness among secondary heads for many years, but the “re-balancing” was never completed and at the end of the five-year period (after 55% of the money had been moved) it was decided that there should be no worsening of the relative position of the secondary sector.
Another difficult aspect to the delegation of budgets to schools was the impact of compulsory competitive tendering for school meals. Responsibility for the school meals service had to be transferred to the city catering department and this was the first service that had to be put out to tender. This not only had implications for healthy eating (see chapter 14) but also our policy of ensuring that halal meat was supplied to schools with a high population of Muslim pupils.
Richard Leese was strongly committed to Labour’s policy of integrating children with SEN into mainstream schools. Along with most others on the Left, he regarded special schools as a form of educational apartheid. So he was determined to close as many special schools as possible – starting with schools for pupils with moderate learning difficulties (MLD). At that time, half of all the children in Manchester’s special schools were in MLD schools, one of the highest levels in the country.
The national SENIOS project (Special Educational Needs in our Schools) was adopted and although there was nothing in the City Party manifesto about inclusive education, in December 1987 the Education Committee agreed a set of policy objectives and a consultation process starting in the autumn of 1988.
Three public consultation meetings were held for parents and governors in different parts of the city, but these turned out to be a nightmare of hostility with parents shouting and directing verbal abuse towards the politicians and officers at the top table. This was hardly surprising, given that most parents with SEN children had to battle hard to get their children into special provision and so were extremely resistant to accepting any move back to mainstream schools, where their children had generally experienced only failure and rejection (and bullying). The proposals were also perceived to be a means of achieving budget cuts, although in fact it would have been more costly to provide additional support in every school. Parents and children lobbied hard against the proposed closures and attended committee and Council meetings to protest. Not surprisingly, Labour councillors caved in and, as we were in the run-up to the 1989 local elections, the proposals were quietly abandoned.
I was the Chair of the Further Education Sub-committee at the time and I felt that the employees in that sector needed to hear firsthand about the Council’s dire situation. As a former FE lecturer, I knew that the detailed information would not get passed down from the Education Committee and that people in the colleges would be given little or no explanation about why many of their jobs would be going. I felt they deserved an explanation – particularly where the blame lay – and embarked on a series of all-staff consultation meetings at each of the four colleges.
Richard Leese didn’t share my view and couldn’t understand why I would set myself up to face the inevitable hostility. There was some of that, but the meetings (all attended by huge numbers) were mostly very positive, and, from the responses I received during and afterwards, it was clear that most of the staff appreciated being given all the information. More importantly, they understood that it was government legislation forcing the cuts not local councillors.
In May 1990, Richard completed his four-year term of office as Education Chair and was elected as Chair of the Finance Committee. The new Chair of Education was Gordon Conquest, who was elected as a result of the left-right compromise (see chapter 12). He was regarded by the Left as a safe pair of hands (with only moderately right-wing views) as he had been the Education Committee Chair prior to 1984. He had no commitment to furthering the inclusion agenda, though, so during his tenure no political action was taken to reduce the proportion of SEN pupils attending separate schools. The education officers set up a range of SEN working parties with headteachers to make plans for some piecemeal changes that heads wanted to see.
Some administrative changes were made, partly to save money, but I suspect also to reduce the decentralisation of decision-making. These included the abolition of the three District Sub-committees, the Schools and the Further Education Sub-committees, and the establishment of just two sub-committees: the Service Sub-committee, chaired by Alan Wood, and the General Purposes Sub-committee, chaired by Bernard Stone. The responsibility for all communications with governing bodies was transferred from the Chief Executive’s Department to Education.
Having agreed to be Gordon Conquest’s deputy on the Education Committee (see chapter 12), I found the year 1990/91 to be extremely frustrating. Because we had been on opposite sides of an extremely hostile battle for so many years, it was impossible for us to amicably discuss a political strategy for education in the city, and we disagreed on almost everything. This was despite the fact that Gordon was not extreme in his views and always behaved in a calm and controlled manner. I was increasingly excluded from discussions between Gordon and the Chief Education Officer, Roy Jobson, and I felt that key left-wing policies, such as Equal Opportunities, were being sidelined. One example of this was reported to the Labour Group officers by Val Edwards in January 1991 after he had vetoed notices about the lesbian meetings going into the Education Bulletin.
The final straw was the list of proposals for cuts to meet a potential £6.7 million overspend in the current year. No political steer had been given to the officers and there was no consultation with the Education Chairs and Deputies Group prior to the proposals going to the committee. A total of £5.4 million had been identified and in addition to limiting pay awards for all teachers and non teachers, increasing the price of school meals by 5p and worsening the pupil/teacher ratio in secondary schools, the majority of the cuts were targeted at voluntary projects, Adult Education and the Schools Inspectorate and Advisory Service. Also recommended was the closure of a residential special school, Frank Hatton House, which was very controversial (although I supported this particular proposal).
At my instigation, in view of the sensitivity of the cuts being proposed to voluntary organisations and Adult Education, the Education Labour Group prior to the committee was opened up to the whole Labour Group. The meeting was chaired by Graham Stringer.
On the day of the committee meeting, 13 March 1991, there was a huge crowd of people in the Town Hall protesting at the proposed cuts. Graham presided over a long question and answer session followed by discussion, before allowing any amendments to be put. I put forward an alternative set of cuts proposals, but, because of the noise and disruptions, we had to move into a different committee room and there wasn’t time to debate them properly. After we’d settled into the new committee room, four people moved amendments to the officers’ proposed cuts, which all fell, and then my alternative list of cuts was moved, but fell (11 votes to 18). Arnold Spencer moved the same list plus an additional cut of £400,000 from the Advisory Service to be transferred to Adult Education. The vote on this was 14 for and 14 against, and Graham deemed it therefore not to be carried. The only amendment to the officers’ proposals that was agreed was the one from Gordon Conquest that Arnfield Tower and Ghyll Head outdoor education centres should not be closed, but should increase their fees and income targets.
It had been a very fraught Labour Group meeting, as was the committee itself. This started late because of all the disruptions and was packed out with protestors who were enraged that their Labour councillors were simply acquiescing with the cuts proposals.
At that point, I came to the conclusion that, if Gordon Conquest remained as Chair of the Committee, there would be no progress on left-wing policies and no political direction given to the officers. I decided I should challenge him for the position in May and, if unsuccessful, resign from the committee. I knew I would have the support of the Left and the GMB delegation (their president, Dick Pickering, wouldn’t support Gordon because of his prior experience of his period as Chair).
After I’d submitted my nomination papers, I was summoned to a meeting with the Group officers. Graham said very little, but looked totally disapproving and reminded me about the left/right agreement. Richard asked: “Do you think you can carry the Education Labour Group with you?” I said, “If I have the support of the Party and the Group, then that will give me the authority,” to which Pat Karney responded: “Don’t come crying to us if you can’t handle it.”
On the day of the City Party meeting that would be considering the nominations, I was in a dilemma about what to do. Full of doubt about whether I could in fact handle the job, I was close to tears, but then had a telephone call from Tony Lloyd, our MP, about a constituency issue. He could hear the choke in my voice and after probing to find out the reason, he said “Don’t let them grind you down – you know you can do it,” and this gave me the resolve I needed. I got the nomination from the City Party and the support of the Labour Group and was elected as Chair of the Education Committee in May 1991, with John Byrne as my deputy.
My second act was to convene the Chairs and Deputies Group (which hadn’t met much in the previous year) to discuss the education campaigns that I believed were needed. The first of these was a campaign to get capital resources for rebuilding our schools, a large percentage of which were in a terrible state. More than half had been built before 1960 (13% before 1920) and had very little modernisation work done since. The schools that were built in the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s, and were only meant to last 25 years, were still in use and well past their expected lifespan. Only five new schools had been built since 1980. This wasn’t just a problem for Manchester, it was a national scandal, with the National Audit Office reporting in 1991 that a high proportion of LEA maintenance budgets were having to be spent on emergency repairs, because the state of buildings was so dire.
In order to improve, renovate or rebuild school buildings, money had to be borrowed, but the government restricted the amount that councils could borrow and only granted credit approvals on an annual basis. A further problem was that since most building projects took two or three years to complete, the money required to continue a project might not be agreed for the following year, and much juggling and rescheduling had to be done, which meant that building projects often took much longer than they should.
We planned a cross-party campaign involving parents, teachers, governors and the five Manchester MPs, and enlisted the expertise of the staff in the Campaign Unit. They commissioned a video about the state of our schools that was designed to be shown at governing body and parent meetings to help gain their support. It used as its theme tune Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ and although we had reservations about the words of the song (“We don’t need no education…”), the video plugged a strong message about the impossibility of providing a decent education in crumbling schools.
In July 1991, John Byrne broke the Labour whip (again) in protest at the use of bailiffs for Poll Tax defaulters and was removed from his positions of responsibility (see chapter 12). This meant that I was left with no deputy. The group officers decided that the position should be left vacant until the AGM the following May, which felt to me like a further punishment for stepping out of line by standing as chair. However, the Chairs and Deputies Team was strong and there was no shortage of competent members who could be delegated to deputise as required.
The next phase of the school buildings campaign, in October 1991, involved taking an all-party delegation of parents, teachers and councillors to lobby the Secretary of State, who was now Kenneth Clarke, for which we got lots of press coverage. The Tory councillors refused to take part, unsurprisingly, but we were able to make political capital out of this by publicising their lack of support for improving our schools. The parents and staff met with the Manchester MPs and Shadow Education Secretary in the House of Commons, and the committee councillors and Chief Education Officer met with the schools minister, Michael Fallon, and civil servants to make our case. Our programme for the 1992/93 financial year, including the cost of continuing with projects already started, was costed at £37 million and this was what we required permission to borrow.
The government had a set of criteria for things they would approve, and building improvements were not included. Despite our campaign, the borrowing agreed for 1992/93 was just over £9 million (of which £4.5 million was to continue with current projects). Although this was a huge disappointment, we felt that the campaign contributed to Labour’s political success in the May 1992 local elections.
The education officers tried to rebut the CSIE figures by saying they referred to 1987. They produced statistics showing that the LEA had had considerable success between 1983 and 1989 in integrating SEN pupils and that the true figure was now 2.65%. This was still unacceptably high and was a classic case of officers trying to baffle councillors with statistics and trusting that no one would challenge their figures. While it was true that there had been 100% success in integrating children with sensory impairments into mainstream schools (with support), and considerable progress had been made with physical adaptations to schools in order to integrate children with physical disabilities, the number of children in MLD schools was far too high.
A specialist LEA officer was appointed to lead the review and in March 1992 the committee agreed a draft policy statement as a basis for consultation with a plan for reporting back to the Education Committee in July, followed by an autumn consultation on proposed changes. However, Graham Stringer was unwilling to have a public consultation exercise on such a sensitive subject in the run-up to the May local elections and the expected general election, so the process had to be delayed.
Another consequence of the re-election of the Tory government was the need to review our policy of not allowing local Tories to have places on our schools’ governing bodies. There were mixed views in the Party about whether we should do this voluntarily or wait till we were forced to do it. My view was that we should do it voluntarily in order to have some control over which schools they would be appointed to. I proposed that we should offer them places on condition that they agreed to abide by the LEA’s policies (a vain hope). It was agreed by the Party that we should offer them a proportion of places based on their representation on the Council, but ensure that they wouldn’t hold a majority of places at any one school or be concentrated in wards where they held council seats. There were just five Tories on the Council (out of 99 councillors) in 1992, which entitled them to 28 governor places (out of 588). The Lib-Dems had 68 places.
At the Labour Group AGM in May, a new Deputy Chair of Education was elected. Chris Rogers was a relatively new councillor and I felt he wasn’t really experienced enough to take on this responsibility, but he was very hardworking and was very supportive of my campaigning approach to the role. Since I had been without a deputy for six months, I was glad of the support.
I was determined that we should campaign vigorously against opting out and demonstrate to all of our schools that it was in everybody’s best interests for them to ‘stay with us’. I wrote a paper for the BRWP on opposing grant-maintained status and worked with the City Party’s Education Working Party to produce leaflets for all Labour Party members in the city (see Appendix 1) and to hold meetings for all Labour governors in different parts of the city. I wrote to all Labour governors as follows:
“Now that we face the awful prospect of another four or five years of Tory government, we know you’ll be aware of the implications for education in this city.
“Labour governors are now going to be in the front line, defending state education. There will be enormous pressure from some governors to encourage schools to opt out from the LEA; to be selective about the pupils the school takes; to adopt ‘we’re all right Jack’ attitudes and to ignore the development of ‘sink’ schools.
“It is up to all of us who care about state education to hold the line. We need a full debate in the Party – nationally and locally – about the future of our schools. The white paper that John Patten plans to issue in the autumn is unlikely to contain good news for us, but we need to start discussing the issues now, and avoid any pre-emptive action by one or two governing bodies…
“A fuller policy statement is being produced by Jack Straw (in consultation with the Party and Labour chairs of Education Committees) and copies will be circulated as soon as we receive it.”
Despite these looming problems, we needed to recommence work on the SEN review and in the summer of 1992 conducted a consultation on the policy framework that should inform the reorganisation. There was general agreement on this framework and the Committee agreed a comprehensive series of options that were to be the basis for consultation the following year, when there would be no local elections to impede progress.
In the autumn of 1992, as expected, the Tories produced their Bill to extend opting out (grant-maintained status) from the LEA and this swiftly passed into law. Just two Manchester schools decided to start the process – Trinity C of E High School and St Kentigern’s Roman Catholic Primary School. Following a successful campaign by Labour activist parents at Trinity High School, there was a 73% turn out for the parental ballot and the vote against opting out was won by a margin of two to one.
We were not so successful at St Kentigern’s. We mounted a vigorous local campaign to try to persuade the parents not to vote for opting out, but the local priest and the headteacher of the school were very antagonistic towards the LEA and they mounted an aggressive counter-campaign.
One of the senior LEA Inspectors, Paul Chidgey, who happened to be a Catholic and was very well respected by all the city’s headteachers, was very active in our campaign and addressed numerous meetings of parents and governors to make the LEA case. Together with many Party activists, we handed out leaflets to parents at the school gates and engaged many of them in debate. But the views of the priest and headteacher held sway, and despite our best efforts they won the vote and the school opted out.
However, having only one grant-maintained school in the city was a considerable achievement, given the publicity and pressure from the government. Manchester was one of only a handful of councils with that kind of record.
I visited schools with the worst problems together with local councillors and had pictures taken of the dilapidation and released to the press. Again, we elicited the support of headteachers and chairs of governors for the campaign.
The borrowing requests submitted to the Department for Education (DfE) included everything that we felt was needed. Even though we knew we wouldn’t get it all, we felt it was important to put all the need on the record – and so the bid was for £57 million over three years, with £30 million for the first year (1993/94).
We issued a press release on the day of the Education Committee that was due to agree the bid, and another on the day it was actually sent to the DfE. The Education Under Secretary Eric Forth invited me and LEA officers to meet him on 9 November 1992 to discuss the bid, so we issued another press release before heading off for London. We also met with the five Manchester MPs to brief them on the bid, so that they could follow up with questions in the House of Commons, which they did. After the meeting with Eric Forth, I did a lengthy interview with the Manchester Evening News and was interviewed for Granada TV. We got some very good coverage, but it was the first time I’d ever done a live TV broadcast and it was very scary.
The government’s priority for capital work was the remodelling of secondary schools from split sites to single sites in order to remove surplus places. Our bid included the removal of 3,238 places at seven secondary schools, which was costed at £27.2 million. Our priority was for structural repairs – work to rectify the appalling physical condition of the buildings (leaking roofs, mould growing on walls and so on); our bid for these improvements was £9.3 million.
The outcome of all this lobbying was a government approval to borrow a derisory £8.4 million, of which £5.7 million was to continue work that had begun in 1992/93. The government did agree in principle to our proposals for remodelling the seven secondary schools, however, and granted a borrowing approval of £2 million for architects’ fees and preparatory work. The implication was that the rest would be agreed in subsequent years, although there was no guarantee. It was a big gamble for the LEA to make a start on these projects (at a cost estimated as £11.9 million in 1994/95 and £8.8 million 1995/96) with no certainty that in subsequent years there would be the required borrowing approvals.
Although the campaign did not really have a successful outcome in money terms, it was successful in another way. We got the message across to most people in the city that the Council was not to blame for the state of our schools, but that the Tory government was.
Our lobbying must have made some impact in government too, because in January 1993 the DfE agreed to our proposals for converting Ducie High School into a co-educational and single site school, and then in February we were invited to bid for Supplementary Credit Approvals, although with very little time to put a bid together. A list of £1.5 million worth of desperately needed, urgent work was put forward, but none of it was agreed by the DfE. A lot of time and effort had been put into this bid for no return.
- Reasons for the review
- It is now 12 years since the 1981 Education Act created a national policy on integrating children with SEN within mainstream schools and the ‘statementing’ process. Manchester has not done a comprehensive review before.
- We need to make the best possible use of our resources in a climate of ‘no more money and probably less’.
- We have to introduce local management for special schools from April 1994 and some of our special schools might not be viable under that kind of funding regime.
- There will be six consultation meetings between 15 February 1993 and 3 March, each one based at a different type of special provision and in a different part of the city.
- Councillors have no firm views yet on any of the proposals.
- We want to hear views from parents, governors and teachers.
- There may be alternative proposals arising out of the consultation.
- Decisions will be made in April.
- No closures or major changes are possible before September 1994.
- No changes for individual children will be made without the full involvement of parents and teachers.
Each meeting had at least two senior education officers to answer questions and another one to take comprehensive notes. At all but one of them, I went through the reasons for the review and chaired the question and answer sessions. Because of the deep suspicion held by many parents, we had to keep on reiterating the fact that councillors had no firm views on the options proposed and that alternative options could arise as a result of the consultation. There was still some strong opposition to some of the options, principally the closure of schools, but nothing like the hostility there had been a few years previously. By and large, parents and governors could see that we were all in a difficult situation and trying to achieve the best outcome for their children. We promised parents that there would be no changes affecting individual children without their full involvement. The whole process was exhausting, but was it was vital for us to go through it.
During the consultation period, the outcome of the budget cuts exercise (see chapter 18) hit the headlines. The £10 million to come from Education caused great consternation and reinforced the suspicion among parents that the consultation was really all about cuts. I had to write to all special school governors and parents to explain that the cuts to be made from the special schools budget were only £510,000 (just under 3%). These would be found mostly from supplies and services and the loss of around 18 teaching posts, which would come from voluntary early retirements and redeployments, and not affect the outcome of the consultation.
Not only was this a horrific incident in itself, but the press did some digging into Chris’s background and discovered that he indulged in sado-masochistic practices, and even had the cellar in his house kitted out with a range of torture instruments. This was all a complete shock to his Labour Party colleagues – particularly since his house had been used for Gerald Kaufman’s election campaign and there was nothing in his behaviour or conversation that would have hinted at this secret life. Of course there were lurid pictures and headlines in the press. The Tories criticised our selection process for councillors and the fact that someone with this background could have access to children. And then a final revelation hit the Manchester Evening News front page under a ‘Gay Spy’ headline that Chris was known to the police as he was apparently acting as an informant to help them break up a national network of ‘satan-worshipping violent sex perverts’. All this was so far removed from any of our ordinary lives that we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
In addition to dealing with the shock and the grief (and the ridicule from some quarters), I was, for the second time, left without a deputy, but this time for only three months until the AGM. As before, the Chairs and Deputies Team could be relied upon to take on extra tasks.
These personal issues had to be set aside in order to meet the challenges facing the Education Committee. Once the SEN consultation meetings had finished, the LEA officers had the massive task of analysing the responses and amending the proposals ready for the committee in April. I sent a letter with a summary of the decisions to all Labour Party activists and councillors and issued a press release:
“We have undertaken a full review of our special education service to make the best possible use of resources to help the integration of children with special needs into mainstream education; to respond to the introduction of local management of special schools planned for April 1994; and to ensure that special schools and services remain viable in the future. This consultation has not been about cuts, but has been about making the best use of resources – we are determined that Manchester’s children with special educational needs receive the best possible educational provision… The philosophy behind the recommendations is to encourage integration into mainstream schools; split all-age schools into primary and secondary school; and to plough back savings into the resourcing of special education in mainstream schools”.
I was anticipating that the Labour Group meeting on 20 April would be fraught. There were two strong strands of opinion to deal with – one from the radical Left that wanted to see all special schools abolished and a complete integration of pupils with special educational needs into mainstream schools, and one from those who believed in ‘protecting’ pupils seen as vulnerable and didn’t want to see any special schools closed. The group of parents and teachers from Ewing School (for speech and language-impaired children) had been mounting a strong campaign against changes and had lobbied councillors (and even Tory MPs) before the meeting. In general, most councillors didn’t want any facility in their own wards to be closed and when it came to decisions concerning disabled children they were likely to vote with their hearts rather than their heads.
I had to try to address all these different concerns and even though I had prepared the ground fairly thoroughly, I wasn’t confident of getting agreement to move on to the next stage. Making good, persuasive speeches was not one of my strengths – even though I had written it all down beforehand. I began by saying:
“Some say this doesn’t go far enough. Others say these proposals are too radical and the time is not right. The time will never be right. This is not a be-all and end-all reorganisation, it’s the first phase of a longer-term strategy. There will be no closures until September 1994 and the needs of individual children will be paramount.
“In relation to the circulated paper opposing the changes at Ewing school, our proposals are very modest. Whilst understanding parents’ anxieties, I am very disturbed at their tactics and the serious allegations about maladministration that they have sent to John Major.” [This latter tactic didn’t endear them to Labour councillors].
I went on to summarise the proposals (although papers had been circulated beforehand, I knew most people would not have read them) and then waited to hear the main objections.
Martin Pagel wanted to see more radical proposals and was very critical: “Why not question the whole nature of special education institutions that do little to prepare students for everyday life?” But apart from this there was very little comment and there were no objections to our moving on to the next phase. I was really surprised at having been given such an easy ride.
But the really hard work was yet to come in implementing the proposals. I was keen to involve Party members in the changes affecting their communities and so set up an SEN Working Party with two representatives from each of the five constituency Labour parties (one Education Committee member and one CLP officer). These met monthly between July 1993 and January 1995 to monitor progress.
Just prior to the AGM in May 1993, I successfully argued in the Labour Group that the huge responsibilities in Education, as the committee with responsibility for half of the Council’s budget, warranted two deputy chairs rather than one. So for the next two years I had two new deputies, Mark Hackett and Joyce Keller, which considerably strengthened the team.
Since all the SEN changes involved the re-modelling of buildings and hence more capital borrowing to be approved by central government, LEA officers had to have lots of meetings with DfE officials and architects and there were inevitable delays. The planned date for the closures had to be moved from September 1994 to April 1995 and, given the sensitivity of the issue, I wrote a personal letter on 10 June 1994 to the chairs of the governing bodies of all special schools. This was in addition to the more formal one from the Chief Education Officer, and in it I personally re-affirmed our commitment to fully involving parents in the decisions affecting their children’s education.
The whole implementation process was hugely time-consuming and considerably hampered by the civil service bureaucracy. Between 12 May 1993 and 5 July 1994 there were a total of 25 contacts between LEA officers and DfE officials, including visits from DfE architects to Manchester, visits from our LEA officers to London, meetings with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, letters and telephone calls, before everything was finally submitted to the minister for approval. Despite all this contact and communication, in mid-October 1993 there was a telephone call from the DfE to say that they had lost the formal submission we had sent on 1 October 1993, and could we send everything again. Then in February 1994 we had again to re-send some documentation because the originals had got mixed up with those from Liverpool, which was also conducting a review.
I had asked the LEA officers to identify absolutely everything that needed to be done to bring our schools up to standard (even though we had no chance of getting it all) and to report to the Education Committee in May 1993. They identified that the overall need over the next ten years was in excess of £1 billion, with a minimum of £50 million needed in the forthcoming 1994/95 municipal year.
I wrote to all chairs of governors on 7 June 1993 to invite them to participate in the ‘Rebuilding our schools’ campaign and send us photos of the worst parts of their buildings. We had a huge response with large numbers of letters and photos. One school, St Wilfred’s CE Primary, even got their year-two pupils each to write a letter to the Education Secretary, John Patten, about the state of their classrooms and to invite him to visit. They also encouraged their parents to write and sent him a portfolio of photos and letters.
With the help of the Council’s Press and Media Unit, we arranged a press launch for the campaign, with a pack of photos and letters of support. We included photos of the new schools recently built to show what could be achieved. We encouraged schools to put out their own local publicity, all reiterating the same message: “Tory government won’t allow Manchester Council to rebuild its schools.”
Letters were sent to CLP secretaries and to the Manchester MPs and a meeting was held for Party activists and governors. Our plan was to ensure the campaign was primarily run by parents and governors so that John Patten would not be able to dismiss it as ‘politically motivated’. I must have been confident that my letter to Party activists wouldn’t fall into Tory hands as it included the sentence: “Our own political objectives are clearly to form maximum embarrassment to the government and to win political support for Labour’s education policies.”
Although our efforts in the previous two years had resulted in only limited success, other LEAs were faring even less well and were very interested in our campaign. So, at the forthcoming annual conference of the national Committee for Local Education Authorities (CLEA), I put forward a motion that I was confident would be carried, even though the committee had as many Tory chairs of Education as Labour ones. The committee was non-political and so the motion had to be very carefully worded (see Appendix 2), but it was carried overwhelmingly and I was interviewed by a journalist from the Times Educational Supplement who covered the issue sympathetically.
We stepped up the campaign in September 1993, with myself and the Chief Education Officer, Roy Jobson, touring the schools in the worst condition (Gorton Mount, Oswald Rd, Ravensbury, Temple) and involving headteachers, local councillors and parents in photo calls.
Roy Jobson and I were invited to meet the Education Under Secretary, Eric Forth, in November to discuss our bid for 1994/95 and so again we organised for a group of parents, staff and governors to join us for a lobby of Parliament on the same day. The Press and Media Unit produced a huge plastic version of a letter to the Secretary of State with a list of what we were asking for and the total sum of money at the bottom. This prop was set up at Piccadilly station as we set off to meet Eric Forth and the press was invited to photograph me and Roy signing the ‘letter’ watched by the Manchester MPs. This got front page publicity in the Manchester Evening News.
Despite our overwhelming case, we weren’t granted credit approvals to tackle the state of our primary schools. The government decision in December was to allow borrowing of £12.9 million. This was the highest for any of the metropolitan districts in the country, but it was mostly for the next phase of remodelling the eight secondary schools from two sites to one and to continue with the projects already started. There was a mere £159,000 granted to tackle the improve-ments needed in primary schools. Nevertheless, a programme of the most essential work was put together – totalling £2.3 million – and agreement obtained from the Policy and Resources Committee that general capital receipts could be used for schools.
Until then, Graham Stringer had not expressed any interest in our campaign. In fact, initially he thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to highlight the poor state of our schools in case it reflected badly on the Council’s Labour administration. But he had obviously come round significantly because he asked Roy Jobson to do him a briefing note summarising our successes, so that he could relay the information at suitable gatherings. Roy’s note stated that the Education Committee had persuaded the government to ‘invest’ a total of £30 million for the rationalisation of eight high schools onto single sites and £7.3 million for the review of special education. But this was hardly government investment since it was only granting permission for the Council to borrow and allowing us to spend our own capital receipts.
This was bound to cause massively bad publicity in the run up to the local elections. So I wrote to all members of the Labour Group and Labour candidates to try to explain the situation:
“The major reductions are in schools with fewer pupils. Labour has always predicted that this would happen with a system that funds schools on the basis of numbers rather than need. Exposing schools to ‘market forces’ as the Tories have done, is doing enormous damage to inner-city schools. The situation would have been much worse if the council hadn’t funded the teachers’ pay award (£2.3 million) from its contingency fund [created from direct labour organisation surpluses]. The Lib-Dems’ budget had no contingency and they would have had to cut school budgets even more. In other parts of the country, the government’s late decision on the teachers’ pay award has meant huge cuts in schools’ budgets.”
The budget reductions did cause major problems and job losses in primary schools, but there seemed to be general acceptance that the cause was the LMS system rather than blame being attributed to the Council.
The next political problem to be dealt with concerned the huge gender imbalance in the city’s co-educational secondary schools in the south of the city because of the larger number of all-girls schools. This had been exacerbated by the conversion of Ducie High School from all-boys to co-education (mentioned earlier).
There was also pressure to make changes because of the complaints from parents of primary-aged pupils in the south of the city that their primary schools were linked only to single-sex high schools. Although the system of ‘linking’ primaries and secondaries didn’t imply compulsion, it was a means of allocating priorities and meant that pupils wanting an alternative secondary school were not always able to get a place.
Whereas there was a good deal of support for girls to be educated at single-sex schools (and some evidence of their better academic performance when separated from boys) there was very little support for boys to be educated separately.
So, during the 1994/95 academic year we embarked on a consultation exercise on a proposal to change all the single-sex secondaries to co-education (including the two schools in north Manchester). There was huge opposition to this proposal from the Muslim community and the consultation meetings were extremely hostile and vociferous. The Muslim parents were particularly keen to ensure that there continued to be girls-only schools for their daughters.
After all the consultation meetings (towards the end of my four-year term of office) we had majority acceptance (albeit grudging from some quarters) for the proposals and the officers were ready to move on to working up details for the implementation and the timescale – including some options for single-sex classes for some subjects.
Mark Hackett’s years as Chair were just as difficult as the previous four years had been. Budget cuts were an ongoing problem with continuing massive overspends on the home-to-school transport budget (for transporting children to and from special schools) and repairs and maintenance to school buildings – both of which were demand-led budgets and therefore impossible to control. There were also enormous costs associated with the premature retirement scheme for teachers. Schools were under enormous pressure to get rid of senior (expensive) teachers in favour of newly-qualified (and cheaper) ones in order to get their budgets to balance, but the early retirement costs had to be borne by the LEA. The SEN budgets also continued to be a huge problem. The costs of educating pupils at other LEA schools (or private SEN schools) were huge and attempts to prioritise places in Manchester schools for Manchester pupils meant that income from other LEA’s was much less than budgeted for. Although the overall budget overspends always looked huge in Education (because the overall budget was huge) and therefore attracted a lot of attention, in percentage terms they were usually around 2-3% of the total Education budget.
Provision for pupils with special educational needs continued to be a problem. The review undertaken when I was Chair of Education hadn’t identified as an immediate need for changes to the service for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties, but this became more pressing in 1995 when the LEA inspectors found that one of the LEA’s two residential homes (Bollin Cross in Cheshire) was totally inadequate, with an ineffective management team and with some children staying for years longer than was necessary. The Chief Education Officer made an immediate decision to close the home, which precipitated an urgent redistribution of pupils and a need to review all the day-time and residential provision. This took some years, and caused large budget overspends in the short term, but in the long run produced a much improved service and better joint working between Education and Social Services in relation to residential provision.
Overprovision of secondary school places in Wythenshawe was a pressing problem in 1995/96 with two schools close together (Poundswick and South Manchester High School) and both with enormous budget deficits because of low pupil numbers. A consultation on which school should close precipitated a campaign at South Manchester High to go for Grant Maintained status, but this didn’t succeed and eventually it was the one that closed. The following year it was apparent that the loss of pupils to other LEAs was also seriously affecting numbers in both primary and secondary schools with consequent school budget deficits. As a geographically long, thin city, sharing borders with five other LEAs it was closer for many families to attend schools outside Manchester and despite aggressive marketing strategies and regeneration initiatives, the problem was not being solved. It also has to be said that, despite Manchester spending more per pupil that almost all the surrounding LEAs, the low levels of achievement of Manchester schools was a factor in the loss and a continuing source of frustration for politicians. The total school deficits had increased from £0.5 million in 1994/95 to £6.2 million in 1996/97, so preparations had to be made for a consultation on long term rationalisations. LMS was forcing changes from small schools to larger and larger ones, with finance rather than educational provision being the driving factor. The average/actual teacher salaries (mentioned earlier) was a major factor in the deficits and the lack of resources in the central administration to assist schools in making the necessary changes made things even more difficult.
- Appendix 22A : Leaflet Issued to all Labour Party Members in Manchester 1992
- Appendix 22B : Motion to CLEA Conference 18 June 1993 (by Kath Fry)
- Appendix 22C : Chairs and Deputies of Education Committee 1984-97
I added in footnotes 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 10 and put in the sub-headings.
 Referring to the Education (No 2) Act 1986. There were 3 Education Acts enacted in 1986. The 1986 Acts were not the first of the Thatcher government. There were Conservative Education Acts in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1984 prior to the Acts in 1986. For more information on the sequence and context of these, see Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history www.educationengland.org.uk/history
 In this case being Manchester City Council
 Further Education, aged 16+.
 Rupert Murdoch had sacked 6,000 striking print workers (and replaced them with members of the EETPU) and transferred his four main newspapers – The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, and the News of the World – to a new base in Wapping, where new technology was used to print them. The trade unions and leading members of the Labour Party called for a boycott of the four newspapers involved.
 Refers to 2010 or earlier
 The Inspectorate and Advisory Service had been criticised in the District Auditor’s management letter in September 1990, because of the lack of co-ordination of its activities.
 Editor’s Note: It is surprising that this is the only mention of Ghyll Head Outdoor Education Centre, since Kath played a big roll in securing its future.
 Nine (4%) of Manchester’s schools at this time had been built pre-1900; 19 (9%) built 1900-1919; 49 (22%) built 1929-1939; 36 (16%) built 1940-1959; 103 (47%) built 1960-1979; five (2%) built post-1980. A total of 43 primary schools had more than £100,000 worth of outstanding repairs – more than £7 million altogether.
 Borrowing permission of £2.5 million was agreed over three years. The total cost was expected to be more than this, but the surplus site (at Daisy Bank) was due to be sold and expected to bring in a considerable capital receipt.
 Basic Credit Approvals can be used in relation to any kind of capital expenditure whereas a Supplementary Credit Approval can only be used for capital expenditure of the kind specified in the approval.
 Some Labour colleagues expressed concern to me about setting precedents in terms of the extent (and time commitment) of my personal involvement, but to me this was all an essential part of a partnership approach with governing bodies. The Chief Education Officer, Roy Jobson, didn’t appear to be uncomfortable with my role or to feel usurped, but perhaps I wasn’t best placed to judge.
 Girls only – Levenshulme High School and Whalley Range High School; Boys only – Burnage High School.
- A more detailed history of the education legislation changes and their impact in this period is given in chapter 8 of Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history www.educationengland.org.uk/history (also a useful timeline on the same website).
- Education (No 2) Act 1986
- Education Reform Act 1988 and explanation on Wikipedia
- The Children’s Act 1989
- Timeline ‘Extended history of Early Education’
- The Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill Research Paper 97/74 3 June 1997 (download PDF) has explanation of local government finance in relation to Housing but the same applies to school buildings. “Basic Credit Approvals can be used in relation to any kind of capital expenditure whereas a Supplementary Credit Approval can only be used for capital expenditure of the kind specified in the approval.”
- Video clip on YouTube 1993 News Re School Investment
- Manchester City Council campaign video opposing 2 mile rule for schools 1993/94 and highlighting the need for repairs with the ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ music.