Chalk Talk: One school that will always be 'outstanding' to Andy Burnham

Richard Garner
Thursday 23 December 2010 01:00 GMT

Abit of a spat has broken out between the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and his Labour shadow, Andy Burnham, over the latter's old school.

Mr Gove tried to josh his opponent as he launched his White Paper outlining his vision for the future, with a throwaway line congratulating St Aelred's school in St Helens, Lancashire, Burnham's alma mater, for embracing the Coalition Government's academies programme.

He said it had "this week applied to the Department for Education to embrace academy status", saying that it was an outstanding school – the Government's priority area for new academies.

And he went on to suggest the two of them should make a visit to the school together.

The truth, though, turns out to be a little different.

Yes, St Aelred's is to become an academy, but it is closing and merging with a neighbouring school, Newton Community High, to become the new Hope Academy.

It has not gone through the Coalition Government's procedure for turning outstanding schools into academies. It was, in fact, only given a satisfactory rating by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog. Also, the school had applied for academy status months previously under Labour's academy programme – which was designed to target areas of under-performance.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of the occasion, Burnham agreed to Mr Gove's suggestion that the two should visit the school together. "It would give us both an opportunity to recognise the service of teachers and staff over many years," said Mr Burnham.

He added that – despite the school's overall satisfactory rating – "it will always be an outstanding school to me".

Watch this space, then, to see if the visit goes ahead in the New Year.

If it does, though, perhaps there had better be a few teachers on hand to ensure orderly behaviour.

Education journalists will be invited to a shindig at the House of Commons in the New Year for their annual awards ceremony.

They were due to be there on December 9 – but readers may recall that this was the night of the tuition fees vote and the major student demonstration.

It had to be cancelled because access to the Commons would have been slightly difficult even for the most intrepid of reporters.

Ironic, really, when you consider the biggest education story for many a decade was happening both in and outside the House at the time.

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