What next for Northamptonshire? Throwing off the shackles…grassroots resurgence of education in our county.

I am from Northamptonshire and proud to be involved in education in my home county. Yesterday I was fortunate to be invited to be part of Educating Northants, a grassroots movement organised by teachers and school leaders, that attracted 600 plus educators from Northamptonshire and beyond and took place at the impressive new Waterside Campus of the University of Northampton. The agenda was wide-ranging, cross-phase and brilliantly organised into strands, enabling delegates to choose variety or follow a theme.

The whole day was inspiring and the antithesis of the tough time that Northamptonshire has been having in the recent past. National challenges within education are well documented especially around funding and recruitment. However there is a long list of regional challenges too; some of which apply to many other locations too, others are unique.

In Northamptonshire, we are vulnerable to County Lines (the targeting of rural market towns by drug running gangs) and experience both the challenges of being rural (rural poverty, lack of facilities for young people) and the parochial attitudes of many people in large towns in rural areas.

A county and community that was embedded in footwear and farming has seen the number of jobs available in these traditional industries decline due to diversification, mechanisation and of course the financial crash. There is optimism that investment is increasingly coming back. For example, the transport links including the M1 and A14 and Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT) make it advantageous for logistics companies. However, these major routes also mean that it is easy not to stop.

As a result recruitment is tough here – although house prices are attractive the lack of major conurbations mean that Northamptonshire is often a place that people pass through on the way to somewhere else. Attracting the young, innovative, cutting edge teachers of the future is easier in and near to cities where the huge demand for the facilities of modern life are well catered for. For us, Northampton is the largest town (with 212 000 people in the 2011 census) with the next largest town of Kettering (88000).

To be fair, many aspects of the University of Northampton are impressive including the opportunities they provide in linking with schools and their EYFS and primary education pathways. Unfortunately it is not currently offering secondary teacher training courses but I’m sure they would love to if demand was created. Facilities across the county, are improving but slowly.

Our county is a wonderful place to live but in my experience we tend to attract two types of teachers. Firstly, those who have cut their teeth in the cities and have now moved ‘further out’ to enjoy a slower pace, often with kids, dog and estate car in tow. These teachers are experienced which is good…and expensive which is less so. Or , secondly, they are originally from the county and have moved ‘home’ – I am one of these. I am sure that the primary sector benefits from new blood coming to UoN and staying locally, at present that demographic in secondary schools is rare.

In addition, financial difficulties for the County Council have led to our very own Brexit-style uncertainty with Government inspectors suggesting the county being split into 2 unitary authorities. The knock on effect of this is two-fold: firstly the financial position has led to a depletion or withdrawal of aspects of many support services that schools utililised well as part of a multi-agency approach. Secondly, with the focus on a potential unitary future, the political decision may be slow and distracted, with education (and other key areas) potentially getting stuck in the mire.

These comments are not a reflection on the many hardworking members of the Children’s Services departments of the local authority, who are often equally frustrated by the lack of finance and service. They were well represented at Educating Northants and determined to work collaboratively with schools and school leaders to be part of the solution.

So it is within this context that @Tom Rees_77, @beautifullyfra1, @621carly @cristinataboada and @HScott18187067 along, I am sure, with the input of many others, dreamt up and put together Educating Northants.

Yesterday was inspiring.

It started well with a performance by Silhouette Youth Theatre setting the standards of expectation for the rest of the day with superb performances including their rendition of ‘This Is Me’ from The Greatest Showman. It was fitting, as after all we were coming together as a group of professionals to ensure we were providing the very best opportunities for young people.

What followed was 115 sessions, panels and discussions delivered by the full gamut of people ranging from Education big-hitters like Sir David Carter and Dame Alison Peacock, EduTwitter royalty and through to 1st time presenters. 50% of presenters either live or work in Northamptonshire.

By the final panel discussion on ‘What next for Northamptonshire?’, facilitated by Tom Rees there was a tangible feeling that something had shifted during the day. There had certainly been a sharing of great practice; a showcase of talent that exists within our county and many teachers and leaders going home up-skilled from the position they were when they arrived. These would be objectives, that if achieved would be an indicator of success for any conference.

But this was more than that. There had been a mindset shift. What had been created was belief. A belief from within our county that we can drive the system from the grassroots. We do not need to wait for politicians or an inspectorate to tell us what we can and can’t or should or shouldn’t do. The courage of a few to put this event together had given 100s of others the self-confidence that we should give ourselves permission to lead. It is time to throw off the shackles, plan the next steps and maintain the momentum created by #EducatingNorthants through working collaboratively. We can, and should, all be involved.