League tables, as any supporter of Walsall Football Club will tell you, are not very important unless you find yourself at the very top or at the very bottom. However, a drop of 70 places even in a meaningless and hollow taxonomy is not the best of news for a beleaguered yet still proud town.
With Walsall sixth from bottom in the npower League One Table, just three points away from the relegation zone and with a dreadful goal difference of minus 12, questions as to the future of manager Dean Smith are beginning to be asked. Only an emphatic win against Yeovil on Saturday will go some way to silence the critics and avoid the long journey into League Two and away fixtures at Exeter and Gillingham. Football in Walsall, though, still has a chance to survive with the noble forces of courage, commitment, dedication and hard work. Sadly, the same cannot be said of education in Walsall.
Walsall now sits fifth from bottom in the local authority national rankings for education provision; that is 147th out of 152. Based on Year 6 SATS results, our Primary schools have been judged as amongst the worst in the country and even given that SATS testing is pointless and comparison futile, it is blindingly obvious that it is the grown-ups who are failing and not the children. Leader of the council, the increasingly ridiculous Mike Bird, said:
“We are now looking to address this as a matter of urgency and will analyse it and establish why there`s been this decline.”
Now then, children. Who can point to the clown and who can point to a local politician that can ever be taken seriously again? Well done, you have all answered correctly. Now, does anybody know how to spell the word “Serco”?
The last time Walsall council was allowed anywhere near education proved to be an unmitigated disaster. It was so bad that the then Labour government imposed special measures and bunged their private corporate mates a juicy contract to run education because they had the skills to actually bang rocks together without missing. So less bad than the local authority, Serco blagged a further 12 year contract worth £345million for the benefit of Serco shareholders and not for the benefit of children. Serco promised all manner of wonderful shiny things including a Business Incubation Centre, a “Green” data storage facility and a new 10,000 sq ft headquarters. There was to be a new young persons` apprenticeship scheme and 200 new “high quality” jobs were to be created. More importantly, Serco promised to dramatically improve the woefully poor levels of academic achievement.
The shiny things didn`t happen, the 200 new “high quality” jobs were existing jobs simply tuped across from the local authority and the recent census data indicates that three per cent of young people in Walsall have apprenticeships. Now languishing at the bottom of the table, the census figures show that 33 per cent of Walsall people have no qualifications. Mercifully, four years into the contract, Serco have been given the heave ho and Walsall can join Bradford and Stoke on the list of authorities that have kicked Serco out of town for failing children, bullying teachers and forcing schools to become Academies against their will in order to increase profit margins. After its disastrous forays into education, Serco can return to its business base of unlawfully detaining children in UK Border Agency concentration camps and providing “services” in some rather murky defence contracts. The children and young people of Walsall might rejoice to see the back of Serco but with a local authority led by the likes of councillor Bird and a dangerous megalomaniac in the grotesque form of Michael Gove in the departmental bunker, the alternative is just as bleak.
Now children. What is twelve divided by four? That`s right Mike. The answer is three. And what is 345 million divided by three? Mike? Okay that is a very big number and a very hard sum so I`ll tell you. The answer is 115 million.
In attempting to explain away their incompetence, failing politicians both local and national are fond of comparing global economies and municipal finance to a household budget. We must always live within our means and spend our money wisely. So, if a householder employs a builder to fix a leaking roof and that builder not only fails to fix the roof but actually makes things worse, then we do not pay the builder for his or her labours or we demand a refund. In the four catastrophic years that the Serco contract has failed children and young people, simple mathematics would indicate that £115million has been paid out to a cowboy firm for precisely nothing in return. We will never know the details of the Serco contract as this information is considered “financially sensitive” and we will never know how much the council is paying Serco to go away even though it was Serco who broke the contract by not delivering the goods. Rather than “looking to address this as a matter of urgency”, councillor Bird should be asking for our money back; £115million would reverse the cuts to services in recent years and secure improved services in the future.
Things could be worse. A good win over Yeovil or even a draw could see Walsall climb away from relegation and we must remember that there are five boroughs that offer education provision even more woeful than Walsall. We are fortunate, though, to have a new Executive Director of Children`s Services who will hopefully sort out the mess. With an annual salary of £170k and with £50k a year going to the agency that found her, Rose Collinson is certain to have us storming back up the table leaving other failing councils in our wake. Consider Medway council in Kent; they are at the very bottom of the education pile with a dreadful record of failure.