Kath Tunstall, Bradford Council’s director of children’s services, will today retire after seven years at the helm during a period which has seen drastic changes. In an exclusive interview, Mrs Tunstall, 60, reflected on the many achievements, as well as a highly-publicised case of the death of Hamzah Khan that left everyone in her department “soul searching”.
Kath Tunstall arrived in Bradford 12 years ago after a stint as senior manager for social services in Leeds.
Soon becoming director of social services for Bradford Council, she became director of children’s services five years ago. The role was a new one, and came about after the merging of different departments, including children’s social care and education.
During her time at Bradford Council Mrs Tunstall has seen some major shake-ups in the department – including the authority reclaiming control of running the district’s schools and the spread of academies and free schools.
And despite the reputation of Bradford’s education system often coming under fire, she said the district’s schools had a lot to be proud of, and in recent years have seen major improvements.
She said: “Bradford is the best place to be director of children’s services. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
“I will be relaxing – the role is 24/7 when you love the job like I do.
“The role was a new one, and you used to have directors in different areas before. It was much better to have everything joined up and that is what has been happening in Bradford – there is partnership working everywhere.”
She said standards in schools had been improving, and 82 per cent of primary school children now attended a school that was judged good or better by Ofsted. Last year that figure was 68 per cent. New figures released by Ofsted yesterday showed that of the 198 schools inspected by the body last year, 11 per cent were deemed outstanding and 64 per cent good. Twenty three per cent were told they “require improvement” and just three per cent were judged inadequate.
She said the improvements were down to “hard work” in both the Council and individual schools. She added: “Bradford attracts quality people.”
One of the department’s darkest moments came with the death of Hamzah Khan in 2009. The four-year-old was found mummified in a cot at the family home in Heaton two years after his death from starvation.
At a trial in Bradford last year his mother, Amanda Hutton, was found guilty of his manslaughter and after the criminal case was completed a Serious Case Review investigated if any agencies could have prevented his death.
The report deemed Hamzah’s death could not have been predicted.
Mrs Tunstall said: “Child protection is about managing risk, and a lot of the time staff are in incredibly difficult situations.
“Our systems are good and allow us to improve all the time but I can’t say a child will never die in Bradford – it is a sad fact that human beings hurt each other and some hurt their children.
“We have to put as many systems in place to protect our children, but we can’t predict the unpredictable.”
The Serious Case Review concluded the only person to blame for Hamzah’s death was Hutton – but Mrs Tunstall said Council staff still took his death to heart. She said: “We all have to live with this and the whole situation made people dreadfully upset – we were all affected by it.
“Just because the independent review said no-one was to blame that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of soul searching.
“There will always be areas to improve, and, I know it is a cliche, but lessons to learn. There was a robust investigation and it confirmed that the staff couldn’t be blamed. We have tightened up a lot of processes since, as have other agencies.”
Going through the highlights of her career in Bradford, Mrs Tunstall listed the creation of five new children’s homes in 2004/05, the Council’s B Someone initiative to encourage children of all ages to believe in themselves and the recent creation of Industrial Centres of Excellence – partnerships between schools, colleges and business designed to give young people practical world experience.
Although retiring from full-time work, she has not ruled out making a part-time return to work, be it in Bradford or elsewhere.
But for now she is looking forward to spending her free time in her garden and with her family, which has recently added two grandchildren.
She added: “I will be watching Bradford with a keen interest. Things really seem to be taking off and our schools are getting better.
“It is an amazing place and there is so much creativity and innovation. I have phenomenal respect for what our schools and children’s services do.”