Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

EDUCATION MATTERS / HEALTH WATCH

In R.Richardson on July 30, 2016 at 8:55 pm

HEALTH WATCH: JEREMY HUNT – A PROFILE

So, who is Jeremy Hunt – and what led him into such a bitter confrontation with junior doctors, their union – and indeed with most of the medical profession?

First, some biographical points. His background was in consultancy, but he entered Parliament as member for South West Surrey in 2005, and became Culture Secretary in the new Government. But in 2012, he took over as Health Secretary from Andrew Lansley. It may have been seen as a strange choice – particularly as he’d already courted some controversy by co-writing a book which proposed replacing the NHS with a system of health provision in which those who could afford it would pay into personal accounts which would enable them to shop around for care and treatment. Those who couldn’t would have to put up with what care was still available. This, of course, would have sunk the NHS replacing it with a second grade two tier system.   Maybe he was a bit ahead of his time, as the concept sunk without trace!

DISPUTE WITH DOCTORS:

Last autumn, Hunt was accused by a number of doctors and medical experts of making false claims that hospitals were more unsafe at weekends. He was accused of “misrepresenting the facts”. Not only were figures inaccurate but they were also out of date. His claim that stroke patients were more likely to die if admitted to hospital at weekends was also denied by those working in the profession.

These misrepresentations were Hunt’s pretext for attempting to force junior doctors into a new contract – which was bitterly opposed.

By September 2015 came the announcement that new contracts would be imposed on junior doctors in England (Hunt’s remit, of course, doesn’t extend to other parts of the UK). Basically these new conditions would include extended hours on all days except Sundays, without premium pay. Instead those doctors affected would be given an overall increase in salary.

After several days of action, backed by the doctors’ union, Hunt announced that he would impose his proposed contract unilaterally. Those in the medical profession united in condemnation of his announcement. Some suggested that Hunt saw himself as emulating Thatcher, in her dispute with the miners.

Certainly, there’s been no attempt at conciliation – and no sign that the doctors involved are prepared to accept their new working conditions.

“GET ANGRY AND GET ACTIVE”:

Meanwhile, a recent issue of Tribune carried an article by a GP, Dr. David Wrigley, under the headline, “Get angry and get active: we must fight to save our NHS”. He joined the picket lines himself, at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

“As a GP, I support our junior colleagues 100 per cent in this fight for a safe and fair contract and what is in effect a fight for the National Health Service,” he wrote. “… they don’t want to be on strike but they have been forced into this by David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt who now see doctors as their enemy and are trying to crush them.” He continues with the point that if the junior doctors lose their battle then “next in line will be nurses, porters, radiographers, midwives and many other public sector workers.”

Dr. Wrigley concludes: “The Government should be ashamed of itself having brought the service to its knees but they continue to ply us with their lies about the NHS doing well and care improving – when every NHS staff member knows the exact opposite is true.

“It is a national scandal. It should see the Government fall. It should see millions of us on the streets….

“The only way to stop what is happening is to get angry and get active.”

Since then, of course, agreement has been reached, via ACAS, on the dispute, and further action has been called off. The conditions agreed certainly aren’t perfect, but enough has been conceded for agreement to be reached.

And many in the medical profession still believe that this was a dispute that just shouldn’t have happened, if it hadn’t been for the obstinacy of Jeremy Hunt who chose to make an issue out of his plans to rub the noses of senior doctors in the dust.


EDUCATION MATTERS

ACADEMIES? WELL, MAYBE LATER

As our last edition of the Clarion was being prepared, the news had just broken that the Government intended to force all schools to become academies by, or before, 2022.  There was a huge outcry from parents and teachers alike. Petitions were organised and rallies held.

In the face of all the opposition, the Government was forced to back down and withdraw the target date for wholesale academisation. A welcome victory for people power! This does not mean of course that the Government has abandoned the idea of academies. It is still its preferred model.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN:

And other proposals in the White Paper remain, giving cause for concern. The requirement for schools to have elected parent governors is removed and, even more worrying, qualified teacher status is to be abolished.  Already unqualified teachers are regularly employed in academies and free schools, and this latest piece of legislation can only accelerate the process. In a recent article in the Morning Star Sarah Carter describes the situation in Chile where for-profit schools regularly under-perform in relation to the not-for-profit schools, as the former pay low salaries and have less qualified teachers. It’s precisely what academies are doing here.

WHAT ABOUT FREE SCHOOLS?

The other model promoted by the Tories is that of the Free School. These are state-funded institutions set up by groups of parents or other interested bodies. The NUT has called for councils to be able to open new schools, especially as a population bulge is about to hit. But bizarrely all new schools must be “free schools” – councils can only try to persuade someone – any one – to open one in their area. Solomon Hughes in the Morning Star says that “this is a massive piece of social engineering”

“BEWARE THE BLOB”:

Back in 2013, Michael Gove (then Minister for Education) said that his school reforms were being resisted by “The Blob”. By this Gove meant teachers, LEAs and teacher training colleges – all those with professional expertise. He branded them “Marxist”.  Instead, Gove wanted to give control of schools to private chains, religious groups or rich men “wanting a bit of glory”.

Local Authorities, of course, have less money for schools under their control. This makes it increasingly difficult for them to provide for the schools they do retain services such as special needs provision, musical instrument tuition or outdoor pursuit centres. So local authorities look to private service providers to fill the gaps. At a stroke the Tories have curbed the power of local authorities and provided business with money-making opportunities.

“DREADED SATS”;

This is the term when our year two and year six primary school pupils undergo the dreaded “sats” (standardised attainment targets). This year, new, tougher tests have been introduced.

In response parents formed a group called “Let our kids be kids”, and took their key stage one children out of school for the day on May 3rd in protest. The parents’ website explains that they “want our kids to be kids again and enjoy learning for learning’s sake, not for Ofsted results or league table figures. Bring back the creativity and the fun – say goodbye to repetition and boredom.”

Sats for six and seven year-olds were dropped some years ago, but were re-introduced in the belief that testing raises standards. Another explanation put forward by one campaigning parent is that children and schools are being set up to fail so that the Government can push through its academy agenda and claim it as saving struggling schools.  Apart from the stress of the tests themselves, the curriculum for the whole of year two (six to seven year-olds) is skewed, say campaigners, being centred on comprehension and arithmetic.

Teachers are as vociferous as parents in their condemnation of SATS, as was evident in the recent NUT conference. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, said “it frankly beggars belief that Nicky Morgan is not listening to the voice of the profession on the chaos that the Government has caused in the assessment system.”

FOOTNOTE:

Another Forest school, St. John’s Church of England primary in Coleford, has just been placed in special measures. Significantly the Ofsted report said that “Since converting to an academy in 2012 leaders have received little scrutiny or challenge.” There were low expectations and a failure to inspire. However, pupils’ personal development and welfare was praised. We wish St. John’s well for the future.

RUTH RICHARDSON

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