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EDUCATION SPECIAL - LONDON CALLING

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Credited as the man who turned around his beloved Birmingham's failing schools, ...
Credited as the man who turned around his beloved Birmingham's failing schools,

Tim Brighouse is now taking on his biggest challenge yet - London. Anne Gulland reports

Professor Tim Brighouse, London's schools tsar, has quite a reputation to live up to. Hailed as the man who turned round Birmingham's schools while the city's chief education officer, he has now been given the job of improving the capital's much maligned secondary education system.

He retired from Birmingham last year in his early 60s, saying the city needed someone with more energy to run such a vast education service. When he stood down the plaudits rained down on him. Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, described him as 'outstanding' and a retired head teacher in the city said Prof Brighouse gave teachers a belief in themselves.

So can he work the same magic in London that he did in Birmingham?

Prof Brighouse would like to point out that the capital's schools are not in the dire state the doomsayers would have us believe.

'I have seen the most amazing practice in London schools. I really can't understand why people's perception is that they're awful, because they're not,' he says. He describes Conservative home affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin's comments that he would rather beg than send his children to his local state school in Lambeth as 'shameful'.

'There are people who have decided to go private or have decided to move out of London and they have an uneasy conscience and they shed crocodile tears about the poor. I think it ill behoves them if they are not daily involved in schools to continually go on in a pretty insincere way about the problems of urban schools.

'If you send your kids to urban schools I'm very happy to listen to your point of view,' he says.

He wants the capital to be the place to be for teachers - if a teacher wants to progress in their career they will have to have a stint in a London school on their CV.

'What I'm after is attracting the very very best o f the profession to London. The good thing about London is if you're not a good teacher you don't last long. You could be a very bad teacher and get away with it in Suffolk or Oxfordshire, which you couldn't in London. The challenge of an urban environment, of kids bringing a lot of baggage to the door is that much greater. You need a lot more skill,' he says.

Prof Brighouse has a range of ideas for attracting teachers to the capital. As well as improving pay and providing help with mortgages he wants newly qualified teachers to have a network of professional support so they can get help in their subject areas. He is also planning a new qualification - a chartered London teacher. Teachers would have to prove they were willing to learn on the job, be it by extending their knowledge and skills in teaching and learning, increasing their subject knowledge or learning about managerial and wider school issues. The qualification would attract financial rewards.

Prof Brighouse says: 'Intellectually curious teachers are what we need. We need them to be energetic and well supported and appreciated.'

His vision is for a city where councils and schools

co-operate rather than compete with each other, where boroughs do not poach staff from each other. He suggests a collegiate approach where different schools - selectives, comprehensives, specialists, city academies - collaborate with each other.

'I want to discourage people from thinking a secondary education means belonging to a secondary school full stop. I want secondary education to mean belonging to a secondary school, plus a whole set of other learning environments,' he says.

Prof Brighouse believes the nature of London's educational system, where each borough works in isolation, makes it incredibly confusing for parents and children, who may live in one borough but who go to a school on the other side of the city.

He is encouraging London boroughs to have a common admission system, similar to the university one, so they all use the same form and ha ve the same closing date for applications. He has also got boroughs to work together on problem issues such as how to stop children slipping back when they transfer from primary to secondary school.

So is Prof. Brighouse advocating the return of that bugbear of the Thatcher years, the Inner London Education Authority, where he was once deputy education officer? He is emphatic that he is not advocating any wholesale structural change. What he is in favour of is 'matrix' management. He would like particular boroughs to take the lead on subject areas so a newly qualified maths teacher in Wandsworth, for example, could go to Hounslow LBC, the lead for that particular subject, for support and advice.

'In other words, education departments are within an existing command structure, but they have a set of responsibilities which are pan-London. That's one way of overcoming the issue of a lack of a strategic approach on some issues. That's what I would personally prefer to see, rather than a huge upheaval,' he says.

For someone who gave up his previous job because it needed someone with more energy he certainly has his hands full. His job as London schools' tsar - or to give him his proper title commissioner of London schools - is a four-day-a-week post and he is also a visiting professor at the Institute of Education.

He misses his old job at Birmingham - a city for which he has much affection. There is also a big difference between his current position and that in Britain's second city. As a commissioner he has no powers - just the power of persuasion over councils and minister for London schools Stephen Twigg.

Prof Brighouse says: 'What I have to guard against is thinking that I am managing something or even that I'm leading something. There's a minister and civil servants, it is a difficult and ill-defined role, which I'm getting to grips with.'

It is easy to see why Prof Brighouse attracts such praise - he has huge enthusiasm for teaching and for teachers, a profession which could do with support f rom all areas. He also believes London schools will be able to achieve the Holy Grail and break the link between deprivation and poor educational performance.

'Kids are achieving more than they ever have, we've got huge advantages - we know more about teaching and learning than we did five years ago, we know more about school improvement. If we can attract the best

of the profession to London then my belief is that in

five years people will be beating a path to London and other areas in the UK asking how on earth have we done it.

'It will be excellent for the nation internationally and excellent for the health of its schools beyond London,' he says.

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