Head-sharing like 'lending PM to Rwanda for two days a week', says ex-minister

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, breaks ranks to hit out at the effect of Government cost-cutting measures on school leaders

A former Labour minister has described putting a headteacher in charge of two secondary schools as "like Britain lending its Prime Minister to Rwanda for two days a week".

Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East and former minister for Europe, made the comments about plans by Leicester City Council to put Rushey Mead School and Fullhurst Community College under the leadership of a single executive head.

His remarks place him at odds with the Government's drive to promote federations and other schemes in which a headteacher can oversee more than one school. Last week, Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, suggested that sharing heads and deputies in this way was central to his plans to cut England's schools budget by #163;2 billion.

Rushey Mead is one of the most successful schools in Leicester, while Fullhurst has been placed in special measures.

In July, it emerged that Fullhurst was searching for its fourth headteacher this year, and that Carolyn Robson, head of Rushey Mead, would work part of her week at the troubled school.

Mr Vaz, whose constituency includes Rushey Mead, told the Leicester Mercury that the link-up between the two schools would damage standards. "It is not acceptable to create new structures to deal with teaching problems," he said.

"This is me breaking ranks with the local council because this is a simplistic way of trying to deal with underperforming schools.

"Many people didn't even know that the headteacher and other teachers from Rushey Mead were already working a few days a week in Fullhurst.

"This is like Britain lending its Prime Minister to Rwanda for two days a week. People would be completely outraged."

Mr Vaz's outburst appears to have surprised local politicians.

Vi Dempster, Leicester Council's cabinet spokeswoman for education, insisted standards would be improved at both schools and that Mr Vaz was "absolutely wrong".

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association for School and College Leaders, agreed. "I think that Keith Vaz should visit successful executive heads in other towns and he will see that the model works," he said.

Ian Wishart, the Leicester Mercury's education correspondent, suggested on his blog that Mr Vaz might have criticised the plans to win support from Rushey Mead parents at the next election, and to press for Fullhurst's replacement with an academy.

"Yes, Rushey Mead is different from Fullhurst. Its intake means it doesn't have some of the behavioural problems associated with Fullhurst," he said. "But it's too simplistic to oppose the idea for that reason. Rushey Mead and Fullhurst have far more in common than Britain and Rwanda ever will."

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