#OneTownCan: The Hartlepool Promise

Written by: Gary Wootton & Sean Harris | Published:
#OneTownCan: The Hartlepool Promise sets out a clear vision for the North East town (Image: Adobe Stock)

What can one town do to improve its education system? Gary Wootton and Sean Harris report on how Hartlepool is trying to answer this question

On September 20 last year, a panel of experts convened in Hartlepool to look at answering one question – what can one town do to improve its education system?

The event was organised by The Hartlepool Fabian Society – a think-tank considering how to lead a town through austerity, rather than just manage the cuts.

The group includes some sitting Labour councillors, as well as some candidates running to join the Labour-led council in May: there are grounds for optimism that political support will be forthcoming.

The conversation was about what was possible given the constraints and parameters of a national context of underfunding, hyper-accountability and systemic competition. Gathered to listen to the debate were a crowd of the town’s educators, parents, school leaders, governors, and councillors.

Since then, further “drop-in” meetings have been held to gather the views of even more school leaders, parents and governors.

The Hartlepool Promise is a series of pledges – researched and culminating in a set of specific and actionable recommendations – that hope to outline how struggling communities can, through cooperation and collaboration, improve the education provided to the members of those communities.

The full document can be provided (see further information). Here, though, there’s an opportunity to outline a few developments that have already begun to take shape.

On the night of the panel discussion, one of the speakers – Vivienne Porritt of the #WomenEd initiative – invited any interested parties to “stay back at the end” to see if there was interest in a local branch. There was appetite for that local branch, and a WomenEd North East event is now due to take place in Hartlepool on January 30.

The merits of a grassroots movement seeking gender equality in the profession should be all too evident in a workforce dominated by women, but under-represented by women leaders. The group is also collaborating with the government-funded Women Leading in Education Network in the North East, led by Nicki Smith of Nunthorpe Academy.

Further, the group has successfully bid for funds from the Department for Education (DfE) to support the retention and progress of women, including provision for women who are pregnant, on maternity leave, etc.

Another of the Fabian Society’s recommendations which aligns with this is that the 38 education providers in Hartlepool should collectively invest in the provision of Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) childcare, free for parents in the school workforce who want to return to work but view it as financially prohibitive.

This would reduce costs on advertising vacancies, and would likely provide a real boost to the town’s recruitment activities, giving people another genuine reason to choose to work here.

Another development is that Darren Hankey, principal of Hartlepool College of Further Education, has secured the support of school leaders to help him tackle the issue of adult literacy and numeracy.

The adult education budget covers the costs of providing this vital training, but the town’s transport infrastructure and the lack of relationships between some families and the college, has proven a barrier to adults accessing this training.

The idea is that schools – geographically more dispersed, and which are more firmly rooted in the communities adults identify as belonging to – can act as “hubs” for this adult learning. The schools are invited to make themselves available to host the training, provided by the college. This would enable schools to do the morally decent thing of supporting the community, but would also likely make the work of schools easier, through supporting more of the families they serve in the pursuit of meaningful work and a living wage. Early responses to this are encouraging, and it is hoped that all of the town’s schools view this as a meaningful activity.

The Hartlepool Fabian Society has also been in contact with some providers of world class on-going professional development: Evidence-Based-Education, at Chester-le-Street, and Ambition School Leadership.

These providers have shown a willingness to work with large collectives of local schools and an ability to negotiate on costs for such bulk procurement.

The Fabians believe this is indicative of a general move that would benefit the town: collaborative procurement practices among the schools. Acting as one purchasing bloc would enable them to access excellent CPD, building real networks of colleagues undertaking shared professional learning, at a fraction of the cost.

This purchasing bloc – and the economies of scale resultant – would also be able to secure lower costs, favourable contracts and better service in terms of procurement of physical resources, services, and learning experiences for the pupils themselves.

The proposals are also presently with the Tees Valley Combined Authority, to see if they can support the funding of this shared professional learning: it is hoped that they view the knowledge, skills and understanding of the staff serving Hartlepool as worthy of investment.

Within the space of a few months there have been movements on inclusive recruitment and retention of staff, the support of families via viewing education as a right from cradle-to-grave, and on the cost saving potential of collaborative procurement practices.

There’s more to do, but it does seem as though #OneTownCan.

  • Gary Wootton is a teacher and governor in Hartlepool, and chair of the Hartlepool Fabian Society (@wootton_gary90). Sean Harris is a former deputy headteacher and NQT. He is North East area director for Ambition School Leadership and chair of governors at James Calvert Spence College in Northumberland (@SeanHarris_asl)

Further information

If you would like a copy of the full Hartlepool Promise documents, email hartlepoolfabians@gmail.com or make contact on Twitter @HpoolFabians
For details of the #WomenEd North East event in Hartlepool on January 30, visit http://bit.ly/2Hh1yEJ


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