The man who won't stay still

30th October 1998 at 00:00
Winds of change are howling through a once notorious London borough. Karen Thornton talks to the politician whipping them up

TY GODDARD is so like a restless teenager, unable to sit still for more than five minutes, that some of his colleagues have labelled him the Typhoon.

On meeting him, it is easy to see why. The new chairman of education in Lambeth, south London, leans forward earnestly, leaps out of his chair to survey the view from his fourth-floor office window (ranging from Brixton Academy to the distant tower of Canary Wharf), then dashes into the corridor - still talking over his shoulder - to fetch a cup of water.

Barely five months into his chairmanship, the 35-year-old's energy and his passion for his adopted Lambeth have won him fans among local teachers.

"He almost knocks you over with his enthusiasm," said one.

He has given up full-time work to concentrate on education in Lambeth, where the social profile - high levels of deprivation, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, and English as a second language pupils - is challenging.

The borough's chequered "loony left" history of fraud, corruption and mismanagement said to have cost the public purse Pounds 50 million and to have left local people without basic services. So seems Mr Goddard will need every ounce of energy.

There are high hopes riding on his partnership with Lambeth's dynamic education director, Heather Du Quesnay, who moved to the authority last year from Hertfordshire. Ginni Bealing, chair of Lambeth headteachers' council, calls them the dynamic duo. "If they can't move things forward, who can?" she asks.

So far Mr Goddard has written letters to council staff, teachers and parents, visited numerous schools, set targets for improving standards, and helped establish and co-ordinate four policy taskforces.

"The things coming out of the taskforces may not be liked, but they are organised and there is consultation - and there was no consultation before, " says Janet Maggs, headteacher of St Stephen's school.

But his almost missionary "can-do" Blairism sometimes does not go down well with older local government hands. At this year's Conference of Local Education Authorities, he argued strongly for education action zones in the face of a motion giving only a cautious welcome to the reform that encourages business involvement in education. Lambeth's own zone partners include the multinational oil giant Shell and education consultants CfBT. "I couldn't support a motion that gave a cautious welcome to change. If you only give a cautious welcome to change, you only reap half the rewards of change," he says now.

"I didn't go to Shell like this" - he gets down on his knees and reaches out with an imaginary begging bowl - "and say I want Pounds 20,000 to help pay for a school roof. I said I want strategic intervention to help and support teachers. I have seen them in mentoring sessions, and the advice they have given is good, it's helpful.

"One delegate at the conference described its business involvement in zones as sinister. I don't see it as sinister. We are partners in an enterprise of hope. I felt like I had won the World Cup when the bid came through." (He's a Manchester United fan and plays for Brixton Town FC).

He is disarmingly charming, professing never to have been interviewed for a personal feature before and asks "is this the stuff you want?" as he reels through his career. But there is a checklist in a notebook on his desk and he comes to his own conclusion about his professional life. "I'm about motivating, about skilling people up," he says.

Ty (short for the Welsh Teifion - his father is from Milford Haven) is a political animal with an impeccably New Labour pedigree. He was born in Stockport, near Manchester. His dad was an FE college lecturer and his mother, a primary teacher, was involved with the National Union of Teachers. They now live in Zambia.

"I was aware that the chairman of education was sometimes the most hated person in our house," he says, half-joking.

An only child, he attended Stockport School, travelling half way across the town every day to go to the same place as his friends. It was his choice. School was "fantastic, I had a great time. It served me well, it really did."

He moved south after A-levels, to study history with French at Sussex University - majoring, he says, in student politics.

His first job was in the House of Commons, working for the then shadow employment spokesman and now Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd. He then moved into the voluntary sector, working for Scope, the NSPCC, and overseas voluntary organisations on training, political lobbying, policy and development.

He started getting involved with local politics in 1992, "when local Labour ward meetings were threatening and people couldn't speak. There was a culture that was rotten".

He stood, late and unsuccessfully, in the 1994 local elections, when the Liberal-Democrats gained 15 seats to match Labour's 24 - leaving Lambeth hung for the next four years. The pendulum swung back again this May,with a slate of New Labour councillors committed to change taking over.

Ask if the old Labour of "loony left" Lambeth still stirs in the borough, and the politician replies: "There is always warm debate in the party." And he is cagey about his own future political ambitions.

"I'm here, this is the place I live, I love this area. I am alongside this team trying to do the best with and for this area. I feel happy, content - stretched. I'm learning every day - what a fantastic position to be in at 35."

But colleagues attest to the political nature of the beast. Liz Atkins, head of public policy at the NSPCC, first came across Mr Goddard when he was working in the Commons.

"He loves politics and is very much on the New Labour side of the party. Whether he has ambitions to be an MP I don't know, but he's very embedded in the political scene and has good contacts with ministers. In Lambeth, he will be forced to face the realities of how you put politics into practice. It will be interesting to see what he's made of."

Others are also waiting to see if he can deliver. Mr Goddard chaired the first meeting on controversial proposals to close seven schools to reduce surplus places last week, and a review of special needs continues.

Brian Hazel, the National Association of Head Teachers' Lambeth spokesman, said: "He fills you with energy and enthusiasm, but that needs to be channelled. The only thing I'm concerned about is you need to take people with you. Sometimes I think he's going a bit too fast."

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