Civic pioneer wins acclaim

15th May 1998 at 01:00
A HEADTEACHER who turned a declining, demoralised primary school on the outskirts of Newcastle into the thriving hub of the community is hailed as a "civic entrepreneur" in a new study published by the think tank Demos.

"When Norma Redfearn became head at West Walker in 1986 she took over a school in a state of near collapse," say the authors, Charles Leadbeater of Demos and Sue Goss of the Public Management Foundation.

"A decade later the school is transformed. Its attendance record is over 90 per cent and its scores in national tests are improving. Its classrooms are full. But it is much more than that.

"The school is home to a thriving adult education centre. It has a lively cafe, which provides breakfast for scores of children. Parents who met while building a nature garden went on to form a housing association that has built an estate of new homes opposite the school."

Norma Redfearn is an exemplary "civic entrepreneur", say the authors, because she realised how her public organisation needed to innovate to meet demands. And the way she approached the task - by collaborating with parents and other agencies - marks her out from the private-sector entrepreneur who is essentially a solitary, "heroic" figure.

The report says much more civic enterprise is needed to revitalise the public sector. It recommends that the Government promote civic entrepreneurship by setting up an innovation fund to finance risk-taking in the public sector and introducing a new Queen's Award for Excellence for innovative public sector managers.

It also wants to see a "lessons learned" unit in Whitehall, modelled on the unit run by the US Army, to find and disseminate best practice from the UK and abroad.

'Civic Entrepreneurship' is available for pound;7.95 plus 60p p amp; p from Demos on 0171 353 4479.

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