DONALD Naismith is no supporter of the policy of removing schools from local council control.
Doing so, he says, destroys the “carefully balanced distribution of responsibility between central government, local government and the schools themselves, on which the state system has always rested.”
His belief in local government, a guiding force throughout his career in education administration, arose from his own education in Bradford. In his book, A Bradford Apprenticeship, he recalls working in the city’s education department - his “apprenticeship” - and pays tribute to its pioneering work.
Mr Naismith entered educational administration in Bradford and, from 1974 to 1994, was chief education officer for the London boroughs of Richmond-upon-Thames, Croydon and Wandsworth, the policies of which he says helped to shaped Margaret Thatcher’s education reforms. He begins recalling the “offer he could not refuse” - an administrative role with responsibility for Bradford’s school building programme, maintenance of premises, non-teaching staff, school meals and the education budget. It wasn’t the job he’d gone for, as a teacher seeking a career change, but accepted the unexpected offer with “the blurred sensations of a life re-focussing through the stone corridors of Bradford’s town hall - as well worn with intrigue, I was to find out, as those of Florence’s magnificent Palazzo on which it had been modelled - into the heart of the city where I had grown up, gone to school and, more than anywhere else, felt at home.”
Mr Naismith looks at Bradford’s educational legacy, not least MP William Forster’s work extending elementary schooling to all children through locally-elected school boards. Eight such schools were completed in 1874, among them two which Mr Naismith attended; Whetley Lane Infants and Lilycroft. He went on to Belle Vue Boys’ School, “established in response to a petition of a hundred Manningham ratepayers, the first purpose-built school of its kind in the country, opened by the great man, William Forster, himself”.
He writes: “In 1895, the Bryce Commission...observed that ‘a door is open in Bradford for a boy of special ability to pass right through to the universities’.” Mr Naismith went to Clare College, Cambridge. “An early, happy discovery was that the master was a Bradfordian, Sir Henry Thirkill, who had started as a student-teacher at Hanson Grammar. One winter, he told me, when the banks of the Cam had broken, flooding his wine cellar up to his waist, he wondered, if he were not rescued, how the circumstances of his demise would be received in his native city. The high-water mark of his career, he called it.”
Mr Naismith recalls his career at “the town hall”, and along the way examines Bradford’s educational system in a lively style that will appeal not just to those working in education.
* A Bradford Apprenticeship, published by Authorhouse, is available at amazon.co.uk