Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Education matters

Tower Hamlets achieved huge education success using tactics that might be a tiny bit heretical to some Progress members – our success was driven by collaboration, not competition. Without academies. The path we are carving now makes it clear that Labour can make a difference to education locally under a Tory government. National policy should be developed based on what we can demonstrate works.

We achieved that huge shift in results through a collaborative and cohesive local family of schools. Now we are mapping out a new path forward.

In 1998, Tower Hamlets schools were amongst the worst in the country. Now our results are amongst the best. That change was achieved through strong local authority leadership, the active recruitment of great school leaders, and collaboration between schools, and with parents and the broadest range of local community groups.

It took time to entrench change. When I was elected, in 2008, I met teachers and governors in my ward who told me that it was unfair to expect much from local children, because they were poor, had parents with limited English, and few books at home. The turnaround in the secondary school in my ward, St Paul’s Way, over the last eight years, demonstrates that that is simply not true. High expectations backed up by brilliant support, in collaboration with local communities, work.

Tower Hamlets resisted academies for a very long time. Now, some of our best local schools are taking that route – although other excellent schools have chosen not to. We want to work with all schools that sign up to our core values of collaboration, excellence and equality.

Now we are backing schools to set up a new Tower Hamlets education partnership, to embed collaborative leadership and maintain powerful schools improvement. We are still mapping out the details of the mechanics. Three principles are important to me.

First, that regardless of how central government changes our formal powers and resources, local leaders will always have a role in partnership with schools, championing success and standing up for children and parents.

Second, our schools are extraordinary, and our teachers and governors know what they are doing. There are local leaders who need support and space to shape the future.

Third, central government will never understand our community like we do. The east end is a community where collective action works. Strong leadership is respected, and families ambitious for their children expect to play a role in the system. The Labour government gave us the space to succeed on our terms. If devolution is to mean anything at all, this government should do the same for communities across the United Kingdom.


Rachael Saunders is a candidate in the councillors’ section in the Progress strategy board elections. She tweets @RachaelSaunders



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Rachael Saunders

is leader of the Labour group in the London borough of Tower Hamlets

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