How do you solve a problem like Knowsley?

The future is Knowsley. So says the sign that meets you as you drive into the area. The clue to the issues around their education problems is highlighted quite perfectly in their slogan. It barely scans, it doesn’t work and requires of the reader to make odd contortions of their vowels to make sense of the whole wretched business.

As a metaphor it does seem to illustrate what the area is struggling with, if the leaders, the great and the good can make such a mangled, torturous confection the centre piece of their tourism offering what chance do the students at their schools have?

As one of, if not the worst performing authorities in the country, with all six schools in the borough failing to meet Government standards it holds the distinction of achieving the worst GCSE results in the country. Alongside other boroughs locally such as Halton this is an area in dire need of fresh ideas and not new gimmicks. Yes, it’s true they have suffered from ambitious students travelling to nearby boroughs, leaving behind the academically less capable which naturally will have an impact on results. However this has been going on for several years and shouldn’t have caught them with their trousers around their ankles quite so much. It’s no secret that there is an entire cohort of the ‘white working class’ that are being left behind because they are so thoroughly disaffected and disenchanted about what their future holds that they, and subsequent generations, simply don’t see a point in trying to better their lot as they consider it to be utterly futile. Those that don’t, seek out the better schools and so the problem continues.

The single largest issue is not the students, and not the teachers doing their best in what I’m sure are very trying and frustrating circumstances but the leadership and the people from on high, imposing initiative after initiative, each one failing to address the real problem. Unless education can be tied towards some kind of tangible future goal that inspires the students from the youngest possible age to believe that they have the tools and the capacity to make of their lives what they want, then it will always be considered an irritating and perfunctory legal obligation. Through our work with a Free School relatively close to the area we had some thoughts about how to raise the level of ambition and aspiration within schools lacking that underpinning. We had designed an entire curriculum focused on engaging the school, the parents and the community in coming together in support of trying to elevate the pupils’ reach. Not necessarily within academia but just cracking the door open enough to give them a peek at a world where practical and vocational qualifications weren’t sneered at and opportunity wasn’t a desert mirage. If after seeing what could be possible they embraced university as an option then that too could be supported but it was by no means considered the default.

Now, set against the backdrop of the widespread condemnatory news the council leaders leapt to their own defence and made brash assurances that they were doing everything possible to resolve the issue. Councillor Andy Moorhead was indeed quite bullish in his repetitious assurances that they were doing everything possible and would leave no stone unturned in their quest to get things back on an even keel. Those Herculean efforts did not however seem to extend to responding to any emails. We contacted him directly on a number of occasions asking for the opportunity to discuss the problems and present our thoughts on how some of them may be addressed. Needless to say we didn’t hear anything back, nothing, not a sausage. Not even, thanks but no.

If I was a Councillor with a particular mandate for education presiding over the worst performing borough (or at least top 5) in the UK and a specialist educational consultancy dropped me a note asking for a chat to explore whether they could offer any suggestions, guidance etc. I might be tempted to at least respond. If they further had impeccable credentials and letters of recommendation from the aforementioned Free School’s Principal, and amongst their ranks as detailed on their website boasted 4 PhD’s doctorate from either Ivy League or Russell Group universities and had a wealth of experience in helping people find employment and develop their life chances then again I might be just a teensy bit curious.

Sadly it seems that the protectionist, fiefdom building mentality that prevails in so many schools has found a place to hunker down in local government too. The worst case scenario for Councillor Moorhead is that we didn’t have any answers for him, so what was he so afraid of, is he so really so busy that half an hour of his life couldn’t be given up? What is happening to the country where the elected officials who self evidently are failing the future generations cannot even explore the possibility that someone else could help? If he and others like him would occasionally pick up the phone to people other than big business and cronies the Future may not necessarily be Knowsley but it might be less bleak.

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