BPET Leadership Consultant – Sir Bruce Liddington Obituary

Sir Bruce was a first rate educationalist who ultimately believed in education autonomy for the benefit of pupils he served. He became the driving force of the academies programme under the Labour government.

Sir Bruce led Northampton School for Boys from 1986, where just 9% of boys achieved 5 good GCSEs to 2000 when 79% of pupils achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs.  Later, after joining the civil service, Sir Bruce rose to become the first National School Commissioner in 2007.

Born in Kettering General Hospital in 1949 and brought up in Wellingborough as an only child to a stone mason and shoe factory worker, Bruce thrived academically.  He passed the eleven plus and was accepted into Wellingborough Grammar School with contemporaries like Sir David Frost.

Having been accepted into London University’s Queen Mary College (as it then was) to read English, Bruce took a year out to teach and he caught the bug.  After gaining a first class honors degree, he also enjoyed reading, a lot and going to the theatre and gigs.  He passion was musicals and the opera along with seeing his favourite band Crosby, Steals and Nash all over the world.

Whilst doing a master in Washington State, with the aid of a rotary club sponsorship, he met his wife Carol Jane.  After completing his first-class honours in English, he did his PGCE at King’s College, Cambridge.

Inspired Bruce to take up teaching in Conisborough, Yorkshire, Bruce developed as a great school leader and applied for his first headship at Northampton School for Boys.  Far from the grammar school it once was, it was the worst performing school in the town.  Through grit, resilience and pure determination, the school improved year on year, at one point being the only school nationally to improve 11 years in a row.

After 14 years as Head Teacher at the school for Boys, Bruce had taken the school out of Local Authority control, a controversial process for greater school autonomy, and made it the most oversubscribed school in Northampton.

Sir Bruce was knighted in the 2000 new year honours and went onto a secondment in the now Department for Education.  He soon found himself at the forefront of a new education policy called City Academies.  He threw himself into formulating policy and challenging the worst performing schools to have a structural solution.

He will always say he was put on this earth to close Willesden High School in Brent, north London.  A school in special measures for five years and a term, to become Capital City Academy.  Now performing at national average, Sir Bruce even wrote the design brief for what is a vastly improved school.  He copied this model across the country.

He became the Government’s enforcer on poor performing secondary schools, challenging Local Authorities and recruiting sponsors, initially with £2m donations, to govern the new academies.  Time has shown these schools to be very successful.  As the worst performing schools, more than half are now rated Good or better by OfSTED.  This has become the blue print for failing schools that has continued to be used as the strategy for school improvement by the Government today.

Sir Bruce left the civil service in 2009 to become the Director General of E-ACT.  Believing the role to be for high-level public advocacy of education, he soon found himself leading an academy sponsor through a governance crisis with six poor performing secondary schools in mainly large cities across England.  They all improved significantly and most were judged Good by OfSTED in their first inspection as academies, with two being Outstanding.

After expanding the organisation to 35 schools, including opening the first Free School in the country, Sir Bruce left E-ACT in 2013 and will be long remembered by those who knew him as an education visionary, who saw what was best for pupils and how best this was overseen and governed.

Not many transitioned from classroom, to Headship, to senior civil servant, to Chief Executive and were respected deeply along the way.

Sir Bruce celebrated his 70th birthday last September.  He leaves his wife Carol Jane and three children, Gaby, Richard and Jamie along with six cherished grandchildren.