Observer Comment: We owe Sir Dexter a debt of thanks

AFTER years at the helm of three Hastings secondary schools, Sir Dexter Hutt is heading back to Birmingham.

Sir Dexter remembers times his plan to steer Filsham Valley, The Grove and Hillcrest to success was threatened. Last year’s strike and pupil protest at Filsham stand out, and the disruption created by moving Hillcrest pupils to IT courses midway through the academic year.

These moments of difficulty make it all the more important to recognise his overall achievement. Schools have improved drastically since Sir Dexter took over. That is a tremendous force for good in Hastings, and we owe him a debt of thanks.

In the case of Hillcrest, to rise from bottom of East Sussex in 2008, to this year’s achievement of a 43 per cent pass rate of five A* to Cs, including maths and english, is a phenomenal achievement for students and their teachers. The Grove has also more than trebled this pass rate under Sir Dexter, from 12 to 40 per cent.

When Ninestiles Plus took over the federation, Hillcrest parents accused Sir Dexter of altering the curriculum to achieve a rapid rise in results. He denies this, arguing passionately for the role of IT and drama in a 21st century education. His visionary rhetoric is convincing, at least at GCSE level, where students do not have the fear of university admissions boards eyeing their Media Studies BTEC mistrustfully.

His mission, he says, was to raise the self-belief in our classrooms. One measure of this is that we now have 13 Advanced Skills Teachers in the federation, against one in 2008, and significantly, all of these teachers were promoted from within, rather than being parachuted imports.

Moving forwards, the test will be to maintain the standard of improvement established by staff and pupils over the past three years. For his work in setting that standard, and dragging the federation schools’ socks up, Sir Dexter can enter retirement with some satisfaction.

Still on the subject of education, the Observer offers its congratulations to all hard-working students who achieved excellent and outstanding GCSE results.

William Parker enjoyed its best ever results this year, but on a slightly less positive note, the usually high-flying Helenswood saw a dip in the percentage of those achieving five or more passes at A* to C, including maths and english.

A mixed lot, then, but staff and students at all five secondary schools in town have undoubtedly worked their socks off to produce another year of great grades.

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POLICE cuts loom over Hastings, and Amber Rudd has shown her cards.

The MP this week chose not to back the Police Federation’s appeal for Sussex MPs to fight Government cuts.

She criticised the federation’s ‘unhelpful’ stance, and claims to be reassured by Hastings police officers that day-to-day policing will not change. Of course, this is a helpful stance for her to take, because it means she does not have to oppose her own party’s policy, but there is some support for her view.

Both the Hastings Police Federation representative and the borough councillor sitting on the Police Authority board have made similar noises, mostly because Hastings is lucky enough to have been chosen as one of the five East Sussex police hubs that launch in September.

It is too early to say for sure how this will play out. Sussex Police are not yet releasing details of how their own spending cut of £52million by 2015 will impact on individual stations in terms of man hours, and how thinly the new hubs will be spread.

If Ms Rudd is right, she chose wisely not to pick this battle, which seems doomed to failure. If she is wrong, this week’s decision will return to haunt her.

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HASTINGS is full of kind-hearted and generous people.

The Observer supports Paul Harris’s and Carl Denne’s selfless mission to help sick and poorly children across 1066 Country.

It takes a lot of gumption to completely set up a new charity and approach businesses and individuals for help. We wish them every success.