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Fears that diversity audits will distract council from school improvement challenge

November 9, 2017 9:22 AM

The leader of Leeds Liberal Democrats is warning that a council scheme to sell diversity accreditation to local organisations could be a distraction for the council's under-pressure schools service.

The cultural cohesion quality mark is being set up by the council's children's services department as a means for organisations to audit their diversity and receive accreditation from the council. The quality mark will cover a wide range of equalities issues including ethnicity, sexuality, gender and disabilities.

But Cllr Stewart Golton (Lib Dem, Rothwell) is questioning why the council's equalities team are not involved in the scheme, which is instead being set up and administered by the children's services department.

Cllr Golton fears the scheme will be a distraction to a service facing a squeeze on its budget and declining standards in schools. Recent figures show that disadvantaged pupils are on average almost two years behind children from wealthier backgrounds at GCSE level. Pupil attainment at GCSE in Leeds is below the national average for every ethnicity. And Ofsted results for Leeds primary schools have seen a marked decline in 2017 with figures for the first half of the year showing ten schools receiving a worse score since their last inspection and just three improving.

The council intends to run the scheme at a profit by charging organisations that take part.

Cllr Golton moved a reference back motion at a council meeting on Wednesday calling for the council's decision making executive board to reconsider the scheme.

Cllr Stewart Golton (Lib Dem, Rothwell) said:

"Several years ago the council had a very good scheme set up in the wake of the tragedy of Stephen Lawrence's murder to which schools could sign up and improve the ways they support and embrace children of all backgrounds.

"We've come a long way since then and the council council's equalities record is now much better than it was.

"In the meantime organisations like Stonewall have helped to fill this gap and have very good and widely respected accreditation schemes that it seems the council is now trying to imitate.

"It's mystifying that the council has its own dedicated equalities scheme yet they're not involved in this scheme at all.

"I'm really worried that this will be an unnecessary distraction at a time of crisis in our education system that should be occupying the council's full attention.

"The council should be devoting its full attention to this issue and not wasting energy on resurrecting an old scheme which duplicates what other organisations already do with far greater expertise than our children's services team.

"The executive member needs to go back and have a rethink, especially when children's services have a worsening record in improving equality within schools in comparison with local neighbours. She has to give this a closer look before giving the go ahead to something that could be a distraction when she has so many other important issues to deal with."