Power play

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Liverpool is used to schisms: it has two football teams, two religions and was at the heart of the split between teaching unions in 1922. The National Association of Schoolmasters was set up 80 years ago because it believed that men should continue to be paid more than women. The NASUWT is still the main teaching union in the city, and it has provided 10 of its presidents.

Tony Hardman, head of Archbishop Beck Sports College in Fazackerly, is the latest. Hardman is second cousin to Frank Cogley, director of education from 1989 to 1999. Cogley had to fall on his sword after the damning Ofsted report of 1999 was backed by an even tougher assessment of what had to be done by KPMG, the management consultants. However, in March this year Cogley was appointed director of the city's Catholic authority to run the 33 per cent of the city's schools which are Catholic. Many suspect that the appointment was a political snub.

It is the latest twist in the power struggles in a city where most people take sides. Football allegiance is the acceptable face of division here. But those whose memories stretch back to the 1950s and 1960s will tell you about violence flaring on July 12 Orange Lodge marches. The religious bitterness has faded but clan loyalties linger.

The other important divisions within the city, though, were on another political fault-line. During the 1980s, when Militant was in control, power in education revolved around the Joint Teachers Association Committee representing all the teacher unions, but it was paralysed because the NUT abused the power of veto. In 1985, the year Militant refused to set a rate, the city's secondary schools were undergoing a reorganisation. Many feel it might have been more effective if negotiations had been conducted in a more positive atmosphere.

Dominic Bady, then chair of education, made the most of the anti-Militant backlash to suspend the committee - a deliberate attack on the NUT. But power was already shifting nationally. The Education Reform Act of 1988 delegated budgets and executive power to schools and gave governing bodies a bigger say in whom they hired.

The new lobby groups to emerge from this were the managerial associations: LASH, the Liverpool Association of Secondary Heads and its primary and special school equivalents. Their very existence represented a shift in the way education was moving: from a centralised control model to that of the authority as an enabler. But down at the antiquated education headquarters in Sir Thomas Street, the penny had not dropped.

"When I started as a headteacher 13 years ago," says Peter Barnes of Gateacre School, "I would be summoned down to meet the director in his office. Today, the director arranges with LASH to address its meetings. It's a different era."

Colin Hilton would be the first to agree that, as director, contact with heads and school visits are a vital part of his job. Through the 1990s, many heads were frustrated by the way education was run. They knew that their school buildings were in a terrible state and that many reforms were needed if the service was to be effective. LASH produced five reports on what it saw as priorities: school improvement, attendance, truancy, social inclusion and funding - the same as Ofsted's.

"I know for a fact that they were ignored," says Ian Andain, head of Broadgreen School. "But what has characterised Liverpool is what has characterised lots of authorities: political interference, poor managerial competence, and lack of investment."

Many heads are hoping that the new optimism sweeping the city's schools is not a false dawn.

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