One of the many meetings and events I get invited to as a local councillor is a series of briefings entitled "Members Seminars"
These are timetabled into the Civic Diary at 10.00am on the first Tuesday of every month. They are often cancelled due to nothing to discuss (or nothing that they want Back Bench Councillors like me to know about). Unfortunately a register is taken at these seminars, not going means your are marked absent and so it affects your official attendance figures at the end of the year.
Today's seminar was about Educational Achievement in Hartlepool in 2006-7 and the targets for 2007-8. Out of 47 Councillors a grand total of 14 turned up. 6 independents, 3 lib-dems, 4 Labour and me for UKIP. No Conservatives made it to the Seminar. I thought "Education, Education, Education" was the mantra!
Anyway it was very interesting, full of positive messages about how wonderful Hartlepool Education is, how all our schools are improving like mad, educational attainment is going through the roof, absences (truancy) is falling, exam results are going up, fantastic news. Of course Hartlepool Council policy is NEVER to admit anything is less than perfect otherwise you are accused of bringing the town down. Now I am 100% in favour of encouragement and rewarding achievements but the "all must have prizes" philosophy is not one I subscribe to.
The entire seminar was aimed at saying how well the underachieving schools had improved, how much support there was available for pupils who were not achieving 5 A* to C Grade GCSE's, how exclusions were being brought down by targeted assistance to pupils with problems and an especial plea to Councillors present to ensure the local paper was given the right message about why one school was much worse (in performance table terms) than any of the others.
However, the atmosphere got a little frosty when I enquired about the other end of the spectrum. What support were we giving gifted and talented pupils to enable them to achieve to their potential. Unfortunately we ran out of time before that point could be really answered. I am sure Hartlepool Council is supporting its gifted and talented pupils just as much as it is supporting its less academically able. Obviously however this is not something that can be talked about!