Bear-faced cheek

7th November 2003 at 00:00
When school budgets face the knife Graham Lane is never lost for words. But the days of the councils' mouthpiece may be numbered. Philippa White reports

In a story about schools and funding a quote from Graham Lane is as predictable as complaints from headteachers.

Described as resembling a "well-worn teddy bear after a serious night out", Mr Lane, 59, is the amiable education chair at the Local Government Association, the body which fights councils' corner against the Government and the unions. He also chairs the National Employers Organisation for School Teachers, which advises on teachers' pay.

Critics may complain that he represents himself more than the cross-party LGA in his quotes, but they acknowledge his broadcasting ability. A media monitoring programme at the LGA was scrapped after six months because his output put others to shame.

His days in the two big jobs could be numbered though - he could lose both next year if the Conservatives gain control of the LGA in June.

But Mr Lane is undaunted. He sits on employment tribunals, earns pound;24,000 a year as chair of education at the London borough of Newham, and is keen to cut down on political meetings.

One date, however, will not alter - he has turned down ceremonial functions and awards ceremonies for a weekly dinner with Isabel, his wife of 20 years, every Friday at the same Indian restaurant. "They keep a bottle of Chablis on ice for me - I'm a creature of habit," he says.

Born in 1943 in Handsworth, Birmingham, to a working-class family, he fought to stay at Handsworth boys' grammar and go to university, the first and last person in his family to do so.

He gained a 2:2 in English and history at Manchester and took a postgraduate certificate in education in Cambridge. The experience turned him into a socialist.

"I was appalled by the ignorance of people from public schools," he says.

"They would say over coffee 'my father made 2,000 people redundant' ."

After 10 years teaching English at Redbourne comprehensive in Bedfordshire and Ilford comprehensive in London he became a policy adviser for the Inner London Education Authority in 1982.

"I wondered whether teaching was something you should do for part of your life, not all of it," he says. "There's a great danger of becoming institutionalised."

Hopes of becoming an MP were thwarted in the 1979 election when he stood for South-west Staffordshire. He got 17,000 votes, but the Tory victor increased his majority.

He refocused on local politics and became a councillor in Newham in 1986 because he was so appalled at the state of the schools. His first job as chair of education finance was to make pound;8 million cuts ordered by the Conservative Government.

He also presided over the abolition of special schools, closed sixth-forms, opened a sixth-form college, and published exam results in the local paper before the Tories thought of it.

"Results were so awful they could only improve," he says. They did - rising from the equivalent of 8 per cent five A* to Cs at GCSE in 1986 to 46 per cent this year.

One of his proudest achievements is recommending education maintenance allowances worth up to pound;40 a week for 16 to 19-year-olds - the Lane Report came out of a committee he chaired from 1997-8.

He is also an ardent supporter of the workload agreement's 10 per cent non-contact time for primary teachers and he says he persuaded the Government to make all schools specialists.

But his critics say his achievements should have been greater.

They say he is too political, fails to master his brief and is a "loose cannon". They argue that the LGA has lost influence and does not punch its weight among ministers and senior civil servants. "It is in nobody's interest to have a weak LGA," said one senior figure.

However, critics also admit he is a survivor. There are likely to be more Graham Lane quotes in future.


Get your scooters off our lawn - A message to civil servants on their excessive interference in councils' education development plans in 1998

DfES officials are in the special educational needs class when it comes to local schools funding but they are making progress - On an admission by a government official in June 2003 that he did not fully understand how the local education budget works

Blair wants a simple solution to a complex problem. Downing Street advisers don't understand education - On how changes in funding next year could cut cash for special needs pupils It looks like a case of 'now you see me, now you don't' - On the decision by Gillian Shephard, the then Tory education secretary, to pull out of speaking to teacher union conferences in 1997

I always end up drinking orange juice or water because the wine is, shall we say, not up to standard. And the food is not up to much either - On the hospitality offered by the Department for Education and Skills in 2001

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