Listening tsar proves a star

16th May 2003 at 01:00
THE words "exceptional", "brilliant" and "amazing" pepper the air as Tim Brighouse moves through the south London primary school.

Just seconds after his arrival at South Rise, Greenwich, he is deep in conversation with a teacher. London's "schools tsar" did not need an introduction. He spots Hazel Brown working on a lap-top as soon as he enters the staffroom and strides over for a chat.

Professor Brighouse smiles, nods and makes the occasional suggestion, listening intently with his hand pressed to his forehead. This is a typical Brighouse scene and it goes down well with his interlocutor.

"He came across as very open, amiable and non-judgmental," said Ms Brown, an advanced skills teacher. "He made it very easy for you to talk to him."

He makes a similar impression as he tours the school, charming pupils and teachers alike with his relentlessly positive approach.

It is one of more than 60 London schools which Professor Brighouse has visited since starting work as the capital's schools' commissioner in January. And with its buzzing atmosphere, collegiate leadership and membership of a local mini-education action zone, South Rise is a perfect example of the collaboration he hopes can be achieved through the London Challenge schools strategy.

He leaves with a scrap of paper scrawled with the names of several teachers he met. In the next few days each of them will receive a personal letter from him relating to their discussion.

"If you notice things and then follow them up you create a creative energy," he says. "It doesn't matter how much you systemise it - education is terribly personal. It is to do with elusive and very important human qualities."

Unfortunately, systems do tend to get in the way. Professor Brighouse is known to be concerned about the impact of the schools funding crisis on London. And what of the city academies that feature so heavily in the London Strategy? Surely Professor Brighouse cannot be backing a policy so firmly rooted in Thatcherite educational thinking?

He says that, providing their admission policies are fair and serve their community, the academies could be "very helpful" in bringing in extra partners and finance.

His reluctance to rock the boat shows a commitment to his new London role that becomes even more apparent as he addresses the Greenwich Teachers'

Research Forum that evening.

He leans forward, excitedly jabs the air and clenches his fists as he tells his audience how they must work together to improve London education, before ending with a classic Brighouse sign-off.

"I must thank you for what you do," he said. "You change kids and you change kids' lives. You are astonishing people."

The feeling was mutual.

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