Skip to main content

The collected wisdom of Pryke the elder

Two years ago, he was Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. His outspoken condemnation of grant-maintained status - "confusing, incoherent, wasteful and corrosive" - led to former education secretary John Patten describing him as "deeply lippy".

"That was the younger Pryke," said Roy Pryke, director of education services at Kent County Council, with a wry laugh. As newly-elected chairman of the Standing Conference of Chief Education Officers, he has pledged there will be no shooting from the hip.

It is unlikely that Mr Pryke, one of the country's most outspoken CEOS, will be easily silenced. But he intends to be well-informed. He wants to draw on the collective wisdom of his colleagues, estimated by him to be around 2,000 years on the grounds that each has had at least 15 years in senior management.

He will also draw together working parties of chief education officers and outside bodies - such as the National Children's Bureau and the Audit Commission - to help devise policy.

"Too often in the last few years I feel we have been caught on the back foot," said Pryke. "But we have enough collected wisdom to anticipate developments and move rapidly to make well-judged professional comments."

The Standing Conference, set up nearly two years ago, already works behind the scenes with the Department for Education and Employment. To date all of its meetings have been held in private. The first was attended by Sir Tim Lankester, the then permanent secretary. Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, was at its second. And it has held two seminars with senior civil servants on school effectiveness.

It seems a long way from that infamous condemnation of him by John Patten. Pryke has described the attack, made at a fringe meeting at a Conservative party conference, as a low point in 1993. A high point was the number of letters of support he received - particularly some from Mr Patten's constituents.

With the general election looming, education will remain a hot political issue.

Given the desire of Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, to spotlight individual authorities, the Standing Conference is already proposing self-evaluation for LEAs. Staffordshire will be the first to trial a system which has been worked on by Eric Bolton, the former chief inspector.

Policy on nursery vouchers has yet to be formulated, but Pryke wants it based on research in the four authorities piloting vouchers, and on discussions with the National Children's Bureau.

He is also keen that the Standing Conference and Society of Education Officers work in a complementary rather than confrontational fashion. Hardly the action of a "deeply lippy" man.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you