On the 5th May 2011 I failed in my attempt to be re-elected to Luton Borough Council after eight years serving as an elected councillor. This article is part of a series of posts where I attempt to process what those eight years have meant for myself by asking the question “what did I achieve?” in that time.
The second achievement I thought I would talk about is one I am somewhat cautious about discussing. I have been a school governor at Downside Junior School in Luton more or less since I became a councillor.
The school is in my old ward of Challney and I thought that being a school governor would be a good way of understanding and involving myself in the life of my ward. In some ways it has been one of the richest experiences I have had. I’ve learnt things about education that I otherwise would not have known. I’ve been involved in an organisation which at the very basic level is shaping the community and improving peoples lives. It has been a pleasure to have been a part of a friendly and forward thinking school, and I have developed tremendous respect for the head teacher Mrs Thompson.
However, I have often felt that I have got more out of being a school governor than they have got out of me. I don’t think I have been a particularly good one. I haven’t been able to give the time that is needed to do the role properly and I have often missed meetings because they have clashed with other things. So I am cautious about claiming credit for something in an area where I feel that in general I have been of limited use.
The Junior School is just about to complete a merger with Downside Infants School to create a new, and very large, primary school. The work on extending and refurbishing the school buildings is almost done. A headteacher for the new school has been appointed and a few weeks ago I was helping with the interviews for the appointment of a deputy head. An awful lot of work has been done to make the process of merger, which seems to be happening relatively smoothly, happen. The credit for that should go to the staff, the headteachers of the two schools, and the governors who sat on the joint working group.
I haven’t been that much involved in the merger except for one significant moment right at the start. It is that moment that I think was an achievement of mine and I want to talk about it because it is a good example of how an elected local politician can make a real difference through a timely intervention.
Being both a councillor and on the school’s governing body I have been able to be a bit of a bridge between the school and the local education authority. I did make sure that I had occasional meetings to discuss the school with officers from the LEA. It was during some of those meetings that it became obvious to me that the long term future for the school would involve a merger and the creation of a new primary school. This was the preferred direction of the LEA and the logic of the circumstances seemed to strongly point to it.
The conclusion I came to was that given this was the direction we were heading in we ought to grasp it and do it right. There was a need to be proactive about it rather than just waiting for it to occur. Another consideration was that I new that both the headteachers of the two schools were schedule to retire and it made sense to coordinate the creation of a new school with that.
So the action that I took was to organise a meeting between both sets of school governors and officers from the LEA to discuss the possibility of merger. The meeting went well with lots of agreement and so the idea of carrying out the merger became fixed as an objective for the two schools.
Organising a meeting may not seem like much of an achievement in itself but by acting as a facilitator I think I helped to force the issue a little. Getting these discussions to happen earlier than they might have done has meant that the timing of the merger was better and that the schools themselves were more in control events.
I repeat that I was acting at the very start of the process and the heavy lifting of carrying out the merger has been done by others. But looking back I do think that my intervention was useful in making sure that this important change was got right.
There is a lot of talk within local government about “community leadership” often without any real understanding of what that is. The lesson I have learnt from this is that a key component of community leadership is about fulfilling the role of a facilitator. It involves being aware of what issues and decisions are coming down the track, understanding who are the right people needed to tackle them, and knowing when to bring them together. It is an achievement in itself to provide the right context for others to achieve.
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.