The long road to York

Harvey McGavin

It's only a short trip from Bradford to York, but for Mike Peters it represents the last leg of a roundabout route. By becoming director of educational services in the historic city's new unitary authority - the first black CEO outside London - he will be returning to the place where he trained to be a teacher in the late 1970s.

While in Ghana he set up the science department of a school ("A very interesting time"), and after qualifying, taught science for seven years in the late, lamented Inner London Education Authority, before spending six years as an officer in the London borough of Ealing, where he was responsible for teacher recruitment and primary reorganisation.

He comes from a post as assistant director of education at Bradford Council, a time distinguished by his battle to restore Section 11 funding. A former colleague is unequivocal in his praise. "It has been a pleasure to work with him. He's very approachable, easy to get on with and very clear about what he wants. Everybody agrees that the success of that campaign was due to his leadership - he united support from across the political spectrum and local businesses. But he wouldn't agree - he's a very modest man."

Sure enough, Mike Peters is keen to play down his part in what became a national issue.

"I felt a bit like I had pulled the short straw when I was asked to do it. But within a period of 10 months we went from a position of having no Section 11 money to getting Pounds 10.8 million over three years. It was a joint achievement - we built up a coalition which at the end of the day is what I think did the trick."

After a fruitful two-and-a-half years, he admits to some sadness at leaving Bradford. "It is an important city nationally - it has an enormous amount of social disadvantage but a lot has been achieved. I have a lot of respect for the people there."

His work in Bradford concentrated on school resources and development, truancy and race equality. However, he is reluctant to read any great significance into the groundbreaking nature of his own appointment, preferring to talk of the "passionate business" of education.

"York is a city of contrasts. People know it for the nice shops and tea houses, but it's largely an industrial and commercial economy. " He says he's in danger of using the word as often as Tony Blair at the Labour party conference, but the establishment of a "new" local authority, (provisionally titled York District Council but possibly City of York) presents plenty of challenges.

Not least among them are the logistics of taking over the running of the city's 12 secondary schools and 62 primary schools from North Yorkshire County Council next year.

"It is an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to help to lead the service into the 21st century. The sheer enormity of the task and the time in which to do it gives me moments that are absolutely free from worry. These brief respites are called panic."

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