Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for the ‘R.Richardson’ Category

HEALTH WATCH: our Forest Hospitals – the controversy continues!

In R.Richardson on January 23, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Since the proposals for the shake-up in the Forest’s hospitals were first announced (see our last issue), things have moved on apace,

A glossy information pamphlet was produced and distributed – and an attempted “consultation” was made. Mobile outlets were set up in various locations in the Forest to answer questions and to provide soothing assurances.

So, what was in that information pamphlet, one that was clearly produced by a publicity company at some expense?  It’s full of pictures of the Dean, presumably to make us all feel good about the place we live in, plus text to try to persuade us that the loss of one of the two local hospitals will be good for us all.

“Health and Wellbeing for all”, it proclaims on the cover. It also assures us that our feedback is “greatly valued”.

It goes on to claim that “the two existing community hospitals are reaching the stage where it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide modern, efficient, effective, high-quality care.”

It goes on to tell us that it’s becoming more and more difficult for “healthcare professionals” to work across different sites (ie Lydney and the Dilke). And there are difficulties, it suggests, in “training and maintaining enough staff with the right skills.

It goes on to criticise the present hospital provision, and then tells us that “too many people from the Forest of Dean are having to travel outside the area for treatment…”

BENEFITS?

So what are the benefits? Well, according to the document, we’ll all benefit from a new community hospital facility “fit for modern healthcare”.

And so it goes on. There will be “significantly improved facilities, more consistent, reliable and sustainable community hospital services… and so it goes on.

GENERALISATIONS:

All these, of course are either platitudes or generalisations.  Apart from a promise of an endoscopy suite, there is not a single specific gain in service provision.

Indeed, opponents have made the point that there will be significantly fewer beds available to patients than there are now. Patients will still have to travel outside the area (to Gloucester or even further afield) for specialist care. And the Forest still won’t have many of the facilities that it wants (high on the list of demands by local people are maternity facilities).

OPPOSITION:

It’s no wonder that opposition to the plans has been growing. Whilst not everyone is happy with the status quo, few would welcome the alternative presented to us.  This amounts to a considerable cut in provision with no guarantee of better hospital service at the end of it.

A public meeting to oppose the plans, at Lydney Town Hall is being held on the 27th of November – as we go to press. It may well be a spring board for a more sustained campaign for our hospital services. Watch this space!

MORE MONEY FOR THE NHS?

One promise that emerged from the budget was a promise for an increase in funding for the National Health Service.  Indeed, it was even described as a “national treasure”!

Since the Tories came to power it’s been consistently under-funded – whilst vast sums of money have been siphoned off on privatisation schemes (resulting in waste of money that the NHS could ill afford). It has also been pointed out that the amount of money promised in the budget is nowhere near enough to meet its needs. It is at best a sop.

 

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FOODBANKS: Why do we need them?

In R.Richardson on January 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm

A report from Ruth Richardsonfood-pot-kitchen-cooking.jpg
Our Co-op Member Group meets regularly to discuss topical matters – usually concerning the co-operative movement – but not always.

In November we invited Sandi McDonagh, the PR and training manager of the Forest of Dean foodbanks, to come to talk to us. I warned Sandi that we were a small group, but she assured me that she’s happy to talk to groups of any size including schools, the W.I., housing associations, etc.

The Forest has a foodbank in each of the three main Forest towns, and a large warehouse at Cinderford. It operates under the auspices of the Trussell Trust, a countrywide organisation and by far the largest provider of food banks, now having 400 outlets – a number which has doubled in recent years. Last year over one million three-day food “parcels” were provided.

OTHER FOOD BANKS:

There are other foodbanks in the Forest often run by churches, such as the “Lord’s Larder” in Newent. The need for and use of foodbanks is considerably greater than official statistics show – the Government doesn’t want to lend credence to the idea that its policies have exacerbated need among the less well off!

Sandi showed us the vouchers that clients have to obtain from bodies such as schools, town councils or surgeries, and present them to receive food. Different size boxes are filled at the warehouse to cater for families of different sizes, and the boxes are decanted into bags.

A box contains enough food for a family for three days, and a client can visit the food bank three times in six months. It’s not intended that there should be long-term reliance on the foodbank (The Tressell Trust doesn’t have the resources for that) and what is provided is intended to see a family through an emergency.  Extra food can be provided though for families with school-age children during school holidays when the children will not be getting their free school meals.

At present the Forest foodbanks are supplying donated hats, gloves and scarves and also Advent calendars and tins of chocolate for families. Sandi made the point that the warehouses are well stocked at present because of harvest festivals and also because of people’s generosity in the run-up to Christmas. Often there’s a bit of a shortfall after Easter.

Sandi mentioned that while all donations are welcome they are over-flowing with tins of baked beans and soup! Last year the turnover of food in the Forest was fifty tons.

HELP WITH ADVICE:

All the foodbanks are attended regularly by a representative from Green Square, a Gloucester-based body which advises on housing and debt management, and sign-posts clients to other organisations as appropriate.

Universal Credit which we reported on in our last issue is now being rolled out in Gloucestershire. Although the Government has tweaked its legislation a little, it is still expected that the change over will lead to an increase in the use of foodbanks of 17 per cent in the run up to Christmas.

* Collection points for donated food (tins and packets) are situated in many supermarkets and churches. Or go trusselltrust.org to find your nearest collection point.

R.R.


EDUCATION MATTERS: FACING UP TO WORK LOADS

In September, as we reported in our last issue,  a new large teachers’ union  came into being –  The National Education Union (NEU). It was formed through the merger of the NUT and the ATL.

It’s worth looking at their website, in particular at their campaign to reduce  teachers’ workloads. The average working week is 54 hours for a classroom teacher and 60 plus for subject heads or senior management . The NEU has detailed advice advice on how to “develop a workload  campaign in your workplace”.  The step-by-step guide looks practical and helpful, though whether hard-pressed teachers will have time to put it into practice is doubtful – even with the long-term objective of reducing the workload.

AN EXERCISE IN ASSET STRIPPING:

Another story that we covered in our last issue was the collapse of  the Wakefield Academies Trust. An article in  the Guardian detailed the asset-stripping that occurred in the year or so before the Trust’s demise.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds were transferred into the Trust’s accounts from schools such as Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy or Heath View Primary School, when they joined the chain in the last two or three years.

Even when a budget deficit was evident, the Chief Executive, Mike Ramsey, was paid £82,000 for fifteen weeks’ work. £440,000 was paid to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsey and his daughter . But, says a draft Department of Education report, there is no suggestion of fraudulent activity. The full report has yet to be published.

NICE WORK (?):

A Times Education Supplement investigation discovered that a quarter of  England’s best paid academy leaders received pay increases of  ten per cent or more last year. The investigation analysed the top salaries at 121 academy trusts and found that on average the pay was a fifth more than that of the Prime Minister. The Department of Education commented: “It is essential that we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards.” One wonders if Mike Ramsey from the Wakefield Academies Trust was one of the “best people”?

A NARROWING CURRICULUM?

Amanda Spelman is the head of Ofsted.  Recently she condemned the narrowed down curriculum resulting from the focus on passing SATS and GCSEs .  Her comment infuriated teachers who for years  have been railing against league tables, SATS and continual assessment.

A letter in the “i” newspaper from a retired teacher expressed their views succinctly.

“I was a teacher for 43 years and had to endure a rich, vibrant and interesting curriculum being systematically eroded and turned into a narrow, blinkered, unimaginative, boring regime.”

Another letter commented  that test results decide…

“Ofsted grading, pay increases and the head’s future” so schools then “focus on results to the detriment of everything else. Who’d have thought it?”

DO IT YOURSELF?

A recent article in the “i” newspaper reported on the lengths that some head teachers are going to, to keep costs down as their budgets undergo the heaviest cuts in a generation. They are carrying out the work of caretakers, support staff and maintenance men.

One head spent his summer holidays repainting the school, whilst another has had to let the playing fields go to seed as he cannot afford to mow them.

Schools funding levels have been frozen whilst costs have increased. Which means a shortfall in real terms of around eight per cent.

Ruth Richardson.

THE SCOURGE OF “UNIVERSAL CREDIT”

In A.Graham, R.Richardson on November 7, 2017 at 6:51 am

Explained by RUTH RICHARDSON

Universal Credit was introduced in 2012 as part of the Welfare Reform Act (sic). Its aims were to simplify the system whereby clients claimed a number of benefits with a multiplicity of forms to fill in. It also aimed to encourage people into work and to make sure that work paid. And, it was claimed, the system would reduce fraud and be cheaper to administer.

The transition to Universal Credit from so-called “legacy benefits” such as Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit has been gradual. But it is the Government’s aim that the roll out should be completed by 2022.  A report from the Trussel Trust [1] lists a number of points of difference from the previous system.

These include:

  1. A six-week delay for first-time claimants.
  2. Payments made in arrears with housing benefits paid directly to claimants rather than landlords.
  3. New forms of conditionality for claimants both in and out of work.
  4. Digitisation of how payments are managed (ie, on-line communication regarding benefits).
  5. Some reductions in the amounts received.

The Trussel Trust report detailed the problems clients face in coping with these changes.  The six week delay in the first payment hits particularly hard and food banks report that this alone has led to a 65 per cent increase in referrals.

Digitisation seemed fraught with difficulties with misinformation, claims being lost and documents misplaced.  To speak to an advisor directly, claimants have to hold on for an average of 40 minutes (at no small cost).  In fact the administration in general seems to be in disarray.

Since Universal Credit has been introduced, Food Banks have seen increasing problems with mental health, debt, work issues and housing. The report emphasises that where possible clients are sign-posted to local support services such as Citizens Advice – though these services are often stretched with a waiting list for appointments.

CALL FOR RE-THINK:

This report was published in April this year.  More recently, a newsletter from the Trust asks for the Universal Credit roll-out to be halted.  The Trust asks the Government to re-think the six-week waiting time for a first payment and to tackle the poor administration that can lead to ever longer waits.  More support for claimants could be provided through programmes like Universal Support [2]

Meanwhile the Trust calls for a  pause “particularly until appropriate emergency financial support is available and accessible to all people left with no income and no food in the cupboard.”

It is feared that as winter approaches problems will only get worse for the most vulnerable in our society.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Trussel Trust is the largest provider of Food Banks in the UK. Like many charities (such as Amnesty International) it bends over backwards to appear non-political.

[2] Universal Support is a partnership between the DWP and local authorities to give advice on the transition to Universal Credit.


FOCUS: What happened to public transport in the Forest?

a Clarion report by A. Graham

There was a time when we were well served by bus and rail services both in and out of the Forest of Dean – but sadly those days have long since gone.

The network of bus services is now dominated by Stagecoach, whilst all that’s left of the public rail service are the trains that serve Lydney station.  The network that once ran up into the Forest (and indeed across the Severn) has long since gone (true, we have the Dean Forest Railway, but that is basically a tourist-style “heritage” line).

ON THE BUSES:

The bus network in the Dean, and indeed beyond, was swallowed up through a ruthless takeover of other local companies in Gloucestershire by the Stagecoach group. It followed a series of acquisitions by the company throughout the country.  When Stagecoach finally set its sights on our neck of the woods in the early 1990s, it took over four companies in one fell swoop – Cheltenham & District, City of Gloucester, Stroud Valleys – and Red & White Services with its network of routes in the Forest and into South Wales.

The “Red & White” company had its head offices in Bulwark, near Chepstow, though its roots were in Lydney, having been founded by the John Watts’ group of companies between the wars. In 1950 Red & White was brought under public control along with other major bus undertakings throughout the UK. Routes were co-ordinated in order to provide an integrated network of services throughout the country, and fare levels were controlled.

In the Forest, there were two major bus service “hubs” – one in Lydney and the other in Cinderford. In Lydney (as an example) there was a sizeable bus depot and a cafe. The main service operated from Gloucester through Lydney and on to Cardiff – whilst there was also a service up to Hereford. From Cinderford there were connections with the Western Welsh company’s buses.

“DE-REGULATION”:

All this came to an end with legislation passed by the Thatcher Government in October 1986. This de-regulated the way that buses were operated, and effectively ended public control. Before then there had been a legal obligation on bus operators to provide adequate services, whilst any changes in routes or fares was subjected to scrutiny.

CHAOS – FOLLOWED BY CO-ORDINATION:

The immediate result of the legislation was chaos, when any old Tom, Dick or Harry who felt that he/she could run a bus service could buy up an old bus or two and put it on the road. In many parts of the country, timetables ceased to have any meaning. But then came a phase of co-ordination, with the big companies putting the privateers out of business. Within a short while Stagecoach and the “First Bus” groups established a virtual monopoly in their respective areas.

It should, though, be noted that for a while some well-established local operators (such as Soudley Valley Coaches, Cottrells, Willetts and – of courses – Bevans, continued to provide an adequate network of local services in the Forest – but over time they were put out of service or taken over. Now only Willetts and Bevan’s survive.

OFF THE RAILS:

What of the rail network that once served the Forest? Much of it survived the notorious “Beeching Report” (although there was a degree of shrinkage), but the old Forest and Wye network suffered a mortal blow with the destruction of the old Severn rail bridge in 1960. After a decade of inaction it was finally decided to demolish it in 1970.

When John Major came to power he decided to de-nationalise British Rail and carve up the remnants of the network into an overlapping patchwork of franchises. At the present time, our last remaining railway line is served by two passenger rail companies – Arriva and CrossCountry. Both are now owned by Deutsche Bahn (the German state railway) – although their franchises are up for renewal. So, as they say, watch this space!

EDUCATION MATTERS & HEALTH WATCH

In O. Adams, R.Richardson, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:26 am

COMING TOGETHER:

Earlier this year we heralded the amalgamation of two large teachers’ unions – the NUT and the ATL. Now it has happened, and the result is a union half a million strong – the fourth biggest affiliate to the TUC. Its title is the National Education Union (NEU).

The NEU will have its work cut out. De-regulation and marketisation has seen local authorities undermined and support services cut.  A prescribed narrowed down curriculum is dominated by assessment and testing and teachers’ workloads are unacceptable.    The new union, says the Morning Star, “promotes an opportunity for an organised fight-back against the dominant ideas that have done so much damage in education.”

SATS SCRAPPED FOR 7 YEAR-OLDS:

Infants’ teachers throughout England have no doubt seized with delight on the news that SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) for seven-year-olds are to be scrapped – but not until 2023.  If it has at last been recognised that these tests are, as teachers have long argued, harmful, why wait six years to abolish them? A new “baseline” check will be introduced in the reception class, presumably to help assess progress made – yet it’s something else to fit in to the busy infants’ teacher’s day.

CUTS IN FUNDING:

School funding was one of the key issues in June’s General Election. Here in the Forest leaflets were distributed outlining what the proposed cuts would mean to individual schools. Many Conservative MPs pointed to the cuts as being a decisive factor behind the Tories losing their majority, and several in the worst affected areas lost their seats after sustained anti-cuts campaigns. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, under significant pressure from her own MPs, was forced finally to find an extra £1.3 billion to ensure that no school was left worse off after the reforms. But heads complain that inflationary cost pressures have not been addressed, and that schools are still losing out in real terms.

TROUBLE UP NORTH:

We have long been concerned at the lack of accountability of academies. Now the Wakefield City Academies Trust has admitted that it is unable to improve its schools quickly enough, and is asking the Department of Education to seek new sponsors for its 21 schools.

Only two years ago this trust was earmarked by the Government as one of the best-performing sponsors in the North. It was handed a share of a £5 million pot to take on more schools.  Since then, however, it has come to light that the trust paid £440,000 to companies owned by the CEO, Mike Ramsay and his daughter.

A report some months ago in the Independent said that the trust had been put in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management.”

SCHOOLING IN FINLAND:

Robin Head, an educationalist writing in the Morning Star, produced an interesting article on education in Finland. It is a country, says Head, whose standards are universally admired and which does very well in the international “Pisa” league tables.

In Finland young children up to the age of seven learn mainly through play, develop at their own pace and are not crammed with inappropriate rules of grammar or mathematical theory.

When more formal teaching is introduced classes are of mixed ability and are kept below 24 pupils in size. Pupils have free transport to their nearest school and free school meals. There are no league tables and no national inspection system – the teaching profession is trusted to regulate itself.

Such a regime, says Robin Head, improves life chances and opportunities for all.

He goes on, “Theresa May and Justine Greenwood would do well to heed the lesson of the Finnish experience.”

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HEALTH WATCH: OPPOSITION TO FOREST HOSPITAL PLANS

When the authorities produced their new plans for hospital provision in the Forest of Dean they might have thought that it was all a matter of working out the details.

It was about replacing the Dean’s two existing hospitals with one single facility (referred to as “the hub” in technical jargon).  It was, they thought, just a matter of deciding where this new “hub” would be sited – and perhaps a bit of tweaking of the facilities to be offered.

Although the concept had been on the cards for some time, it only became public in mid-September – and immediately controversy came bubbling to the surface.

It wasn’t simply a parochial reaction to the (still) rather sketchy plans – though there was a certain amount of that in where, out of the three Forest towns, would the new facilities be based. It was more concern about what this new “hub” would offer.

SOME ANSWERS?

The Forest Review gave us some information. First it would be paid for by the NHS. No threat of private capital, then.  The new hospital would contain a “minimum” of 24 beds. This compares with the combined number of 47 in the Dilke and Lydney at present. Readers can, of course, do their own maths.

Meanwhile, we’re told, that the new “hub” would contain a “wider range of services” possibly including an endoscopy suite. What it wouldn’t have, though is a maternity unit, or a full operating theatre.  For such facilities patients are expected to take themselves out of the Forest to such places as Gloucester or even further afield.

The new hospital is planned to open by 2021 – though given the consultation needed plus the decision making involved before work actually begins, such a planned opening date must be speculative to say the least.

NEED FOR CAMPAIGN:

There is, of course, concern about these plans, with some critics feeling the need for a campaign of opposition on the scale of the “SOS” campaign in a previous decade, when a (“New Labour”) government put forward plans to close both the Forest’s hospitals.. That campaign was successful.

According to one critical Facebook page, “this consultation is asking us to sign up to plans without scrutiny of them.  All we know is there will be half the number of beds there currently is.”

A PERSONAL VIEWPOINT:

Meanwhile, Owen Adams writes:

“… do you worry about the lack of any detail except the new hospital will be ‘state of the art’ , have better X-ray facilities and endoscopy  if we’re really lucky (but no maternity ward and half the number of beds – and no guaranteed minor injuries unit either… )

“Are you concerned that our attachment to the two hospitals is patronisingly classed by professionals as “emotional” or “affectionate” – never mind that the Dilke was built by mostly local subscription, is public land in the heart of the Forest (private developers must already be dreaming of the pounds) and has a covenant for the site to be always used for a facility to treat the poor and the sick?”

“Are you convinced this project has nothing to do with asset-stripping; the Naylor Report (now Government policy) to help make £220m of NHS cuts (otherwise known as ‘savings’) or to help private contractors rake in one billion pounds in contracts?

“Maybe it’s just me but I feel we’re being ripped off … and a great many of our elected and unelected representatives have fallen for the con (and that goes for people of all political persuasions). Anyone with a vanity development project they want fulfilled?”

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EDUCATION MATTERS: SCHOOLS OUT FOR THE SUMMER BREAK

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on September 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm

NOTE: we still promote print-first, so if you’d like your Clarion more up to date, then please subscribe to the print edition. Online is FREE, so we need your subs to keep going – that’s why we post to the web a bit later. Although sometimes we do drop the occasional web-only special edition, or unedited longer pieces – so do drop by even if you do read print first. Thanks – your Clarion needs you.


So, schools are out – and what’s been happening in the final few weeks of the academic year?

One consequence of Theresa May’s ill-judged decision to hold a General Election is that a number of her more right-wing policies have had to be modified. As far as education is concerned the abandoned policy which has had most teachers and educationalists cheering is the fact that the grammar school expansion programme will now not happen – not yet anyway, and hopefully not ever.

WASTING MONEY:

Although grammar schools have been put on the back burner, the Government’s free school programme goes ahead. An NUT review of available data found that £138.5 million has been wasted on free schools that have either closed, partially closed or failed to open. This would fund 3,680 teachers for a year.

The report came out days after Justine Greenwood (Education Secretary) announced that 130 more free schools would be created.

Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, declared that the initiative would fail to provide schools in the areas where they were most needed, and the cost entailed came at a time of unprecedented budget cuts for schools.

SATS FOR THE YOUNG:

Both the NUT and the ATL unions have condemned the “Sats” exams which pupils take in their final year at primary school. In the last two years these tests have been toughened up, and only 61 per cent of pupils have reached the expected standard this year. According to Kevin Courteney (NUT) 95 per cent of teachers say that the tests “reduce pupils’ access to a broad and balanced curriculum”

Almost 40 per cent of 11-year-olds are being given the message that they have not reached the expected standard and are not ready to begin secondary education. Mary Bousted (ATL) echoed these sentiments and said that “SATS are at the centre of a toxic accountability system that is driving teachers and leaders out of the profession.”

PROFITS MADE OVERSEAS:

We have commented before on the profits to be made by private companies from educational provision. In May, the AGM was held of Pearson, the largest such international company. Teachers from Britain rallied to protest against them.

Why were teachers so angry? Pearson is “up to its neck” in the privatisation of schools in Africa and Asia, helping to fund Bridge International Academies, a so-called low-fee school chain. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have also helped to set up the chain. Bridge has received millions from Britain’s overseas aid budget and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has pointed out that using aid money to fund private education is against its principles. Bridge’s academies undermine public education provision, which is open to all in Third World countries starving it of investment and funds. Moreover, the education provided by Bridge schools has been widely criticised. A standardised and scripted curriculum is delivered by teachers following lessons on a tablet and pupils are subjected to endless standardised tests.

In Uganda all Bridge schools were ordered to close because of their use of unqualified teachers and unsanitary conditions. Although Bridge academies with their connections to big business is the most widespread private school chain in Asia and Africa, there are others. One such, reported on recently in the Morning Star is Omega in Ghana (see picture, left).

Omega offers “pay-as-you-go” education, i.e. if a parent cannot afford the school fee on any given day, the child does not attend. The schools are set up in shacks and the teachers are mainly unqualified. The Ghana National Association of Teachers mobilised to urge the World Bank to stop funding the schools, and two of our main teaching unions, the NUT and NAS/UWT, have lent them their backing.

A BIT OF CLARITY NEEDED:

Some clarity is needed in Labour’s education policy re. Student fees and debt. In June, before the election, Jeremy Corbyn said: “First of all we want to get out of student fees altogether… plus reduce or ameliorate the massive debts owed by graduates. “  Subsequently John McDonell endorsed that. But in a Parliamentary debate on July 18, Angela Rayner, Labour’s education spokesperson, said that there were “no plans” to write off existing loans and that her party had “never promised to do so.”, And had only promised to abolish tuition fees from the date when Labour might be elected.

Graduates struggling to pay off huge debts, and indeed some undergraduates at present accruing them might see that as something of a betrayal. It’s true that our party leader failed at the time to clarify what was meant by plans to “reduce or ameliorate “graduates’ massive debts.

Compiled by RUTH RICHARDSON

EDUCATION MATTERS: UNION MATTERS – UNIONS MERGE

In R.Richardson on July 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Last month it was announced that the N.U.T and the A.T.L (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) were to merge. Its new name will the N.E.U (National Education Movement) and will be officially formed in September. Until 2023 the new union will be jointly led by Mary Baisted (at present the ATL general secretary) and Kevin Courtney (NUT general secretary). “We look around the world,” said Kevin Courtney, “and see that wherever teacher unions are united they are the better for it. “

Mr Courtney went on to say, “Our next step has to be to move this burgeoning unity further.” He seemed to be hinting that a merger with the other big teachers’ union, the NAS/UWT might be on the cards.

Unsurprisingly, Theresa May’s policy of establishing new grammar schools was one of the main discussion topics at the NUT’s Annual General Conference. Already some schools are advertising that they have a “grammar school stream”. The union’s solicitor, Clive Romain, declared that schools could be acting unlawfully as they might be seen to be in breach of admission procedures. The N.U.T is threatening a High Court challenge.

FREE SCHOOLS AND ACADEMIES:

Free schools have been in the news again. It seems that some £140 million have been wasted on schools that have been forced to close, partially close or failed to open at all. Kevin Courtney declared that this was “an appalling waste of significant sums of money”, and this at a time when school budgets elsewhere are under severe pressure. A new policy has been put in place whereby the salaries of new free school heads will be paid for two terms even if the school fails to open or is deferred. This said, the Department of Education would allow such schools to secure “high quality heads.”

An academy chain has scrapped local governing bodies at all of its schools The CEO of the Aspire Academy Trust, Andrew Fielden, said “You are putting unpaid volunteers in the heart of a highly pressurised and extremely professional group of people. What the bloody hell for?” So much for parents’ representation and local accountability.

PRIVATE FINANCE INITIATIVES (PFIs):

PFI contracts were introduced by successive Conservative and “New Labour” governments, leading to schools and hospitals being built by private contractors.

Pay-back was over a 25 or 30 year period. But under the terms of the contracts, schools are often tied to particular suppliers for purchasing or replacing simple items such as blinds or taps. A school in Bristol will have to pay £8,000 for a single blind. In Malmesbury, head teacher Tim Gilson said that a bench will cost the school £6,000 over the remaining thirteen years of the PFI contract. He said “We have to pay about £40 a month for the facilities management cost (!) of that bench, on top of the cost of putting the bench in and all the materials.”

THE IMPACT OF STRESS:

Finally, the subject of stress was another hot topic at the NUT conference. In a survey of 5,000 teachers, more than 80 per cent said that their job was being negatively affected and 60 percent said that it had affected their mental health.

Teachers reported turning to medication, alcohol and caffeine to help them to cope with the job. . Some had undergone counselling. More than half said that they were often exhausted when they entered the classroom.

Delegates at the conference voted to ballot members for a national campaign of strike and non-strike action over crushing workloads, and also pay which is down twenty per cent since the Tories took power.

Compiled by RUTH RICHARDSON

Clarion Comment & Health-watch special: CRISIS IN THE NHS

In Editorial, R.Richardson on April 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm

As 2017 dawned, crises struck the National Health Service in England. Our hospital services in particular were hit by what seemed like a sudden tsunami of patients needing treatment. The media showed us queues in hospital corridors of patients left (often overnight) on trolleys because beds just weren’t available. Or, indeed immediate treatment. It showed up a service in meltdown. Even the Red Cross described it as a “humanitarian crisis”.

Yet it was a crisis that seemed to have a certain inevitability about it. Indeed it wasn’t really a case of if but when. A bout of bad weather together with a build-up of urgent cases that couldn’t be put on the back burner was enough to trigger the emergency. Even cancer cases were put on hold in some hospitals.

The National Health Service has come a long way since it was founded with such high expectations in the post-war years. It came into being in the summer of 1948, at a time when the country was trying to pull itself together after the devastation of war. It was the most visible, and most welcomed, part of the new welfare state being created following the adoption of the “Beveridge Plan”. The Tories didn’t like it, of course, claiming loudly that it was something that we just couldn’t afford.

We could of course afford it (as we could today if the will was there). True, the provision of “National Health” glasses disappeared, along with free dental care, not to mention modest prescription charges. But apart from that the NHS had become rooted and accepted by the time the Tories returned to power in the early ‘fifties. And the new Government accepted it as part of the status quo.

THATCHER – AND BLAIR:

It wasn’t until Margaret Thatcher returned to power that the NHS came under attack. She made it clear (at least privately) that she disliked our Health Service. But she realised that any frontal attack would be unwise, and so instead she encouraged the spread of private health care, to provide “options”. The strategy was clear. As funds were re-directed from the public to the private sector, then the NHS would decline into providing a second class service.

Certainly within Thatcher’s own period of office it failed to have the impact she desired. But when Blair came to power it seemed he had his own plans for the NHS which in many ways ran counter to the original ideals of the Service. Early examples of democratic control disappeared. Smaller hospitals and care facilities were closed, and a process of centralisation of services was introduced.

Even hospital provision in the Forest came under threat. Both Lydney and the Dilke were earmarked for closure, and were only saved after a determined and sustained campaign across the Forest of Dean.

But Blair’s biggest attack on the founding principles of the Health Service was the introduction of “foundation hospitals” in 2003. This was bitterly opposed by Labour MPs in the Commons (63 voted against it), and Frank Dobson, a former Health Minister described them as a “cuckoo in the nest”. Health campaigner, Professor Allyson Pollock declared that such foundation trusts were a “fig leaf for privatisation.”

Incidentally, one of those that applied for “foundation trust” status was the Gloucester hospital trust. Fortunately, it never went ahead.

EROSION OF THE NHS:

All these changes to the structure of the National Health Service contributed to its fragmentation. Local health boards had, by now, disappeared – and there was a blurring of the line between public and private health care.

Fast forward to the Cameron era, and the “age of austerity”. Health care was soon identified as one of the country’s big spenders which, it seemed, we couldn’t afford. Strict financial controls were imposed on health care – particularly on hospital budgets.

Of course if a patient needs treatment, he or she should get it. And the NHS was founded to ensure that the care would be available, “free at the point of need”. They shouldn’t have to shop around, or join a waiting list, let alone dig into their pockets in order to “go private”.

David Cameron was keen to point out that “we were all in this together, but by this time the lines were so blurred and care was being increasingly rationed that the NHS was struggling to provide adequate care.

A SORRY SAGA:

We’ve come a long way from the establishment of the NHS in the summer of 1948 to the sorry state of the service today. Our Health Care needs more, much more, than extra cash to fund it adequately. It also to be able to return to the principles and practices on which it was founded.

And we should also salute those who work within the service who’ve worked hard, for long hours, to keep it operating for so long – often for little reward.


HEALTH WATCH: PROMISES, PROMISES

Whatever happened to those promises that if we achieved “Brexit” there’d be all that extra money to pump back into the NHS?

The pledge was plastered all over the sides of campaign buses. It figured in speeches made by pro-Brexit campaigners. And then quietly forgotten after the votes had been counted.

Now, it seems, the opposite will be true. There will be swingeing cuts to an already cash-strapped service.

According to the BMA, £22 billion’s worth of cuts will have to be made in order to balance the books. And Dr. Mark Porter, head of the doctors’ union, charged those with pushing the cuts of using them “as a cover for starving services and resources and patients of vital care.”

“SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION”:

The cuts are all part of the new “Sustainability and Transformation” plan (revealed in the last issue of the Clarion.) The plan has been introduced with little or no consultation with those who will be most affected – the doctors (not to mention the patients!

In response Dr. Porter says, “improving patient care must be the priority… There is a real risk that these transformative plans will be used as a cover for delivering cuts, starving services of resources and patients of vital care.”

Meanwhile, a conference held in Birmingham to “challenge the Sustainability and Transformation Plan” back in September was organised by Health Campaigns Together. It drew a packed audience. One of its main speakers was Dr. John Lister.

“MISSING ELEMENTS”:

There are three missing elements from the NHS as we know it today, declared Dr. Lister. One, the money. Two, the staff to do the job. And, three, the evidence that the policies can deliver the expected results.

Documents produced by the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) show a reluctance to engage with this harsh reality, he said. Instead there’s an air of wishful thinking, of pie in the sky.

Consequently, plans are written not by those from within the NHS, but by lavishly paid management consultants. Meanwhile, have these consultants, however lavishly paid, offered any real evidence to support the assertions and proposals that they’ve made?

WHAT’S “INTERMEDIATE CARE”?

“What is glaringly obvious is that throughout the 51 pages of text there is not one example of a working model of the type of new systems that are proposed to replace hospital bed provision… According to another document prepared by management consultants “intermediate care” is supposed to enable the NHS in North West London to dispense with over 400 hospital beds – but the document lacks any definition of intermediate care, let alone any plans to establish or expand it.”

THE CUTTING EDGE:

Faced with this welter of confusion, Dr. Lister sees the STPs as being presented as ways of curbing health spending, to live within the impossible spending limits imposed since 2010 even while the needs for health services continue to grow.

Or, asks Dr. Lister, “is it in fact the cuts that are being driven through now on the ground, and already happening even as we plough through the small print?”

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers, has been busy in the media stating the case that there is not enough money to sustain services at the current level or meet increased demand over the next four years.

His options include: a reduction in the number of priorities that the NHS is trying to deliver; rationing access to care; and reducing the size of the NHS workforce.

Dr Lister retorts that “Hopson’s choice” is effectively to abandon NHS principles – or to cut the NHS to vanishing point. He adds that “most of these things are already being done in some form at local level…”

Hopson suggests a “public debate” on how the NHS should be sustained. Dr. Lister doesn’t favour the idea, in which one side “backed by the right wing media… and the backwoods Tory right that is now dominant will be urging us to turn the clock back to the 1930s drop the NHS principles and adopt some combination of charging for treatment and private health insurance.”

“Let’s fund the NHS properly from general taxation. It’s already under-funded compared to almost any comparable country, with fewer staff, fewer beds and less modern equipment than almost any developed economy.”

 

 

 

EDUCATION MATTERS roundup

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on April 21, 2017 at 12:45 pm

2 issues worth compiled by RUTH  RICHARDSON

HIDDEN AGENDA?:

Education news recently revealed is hardly positive. Statistics published at the end of last year indicated that only 53 per cent of primary schools reached the standard in reading, writing and arithmetic demanded by the new rigorous tests for ten and eleven year-olds.  Heads and teachers complained that the tests were set at too high a level, whilst parents reported their children being extremely stressed.

The previous year eighty per cent of primary schools reached the required target, and some fear that there is a hidden behind the setting up of the new tough tests. Schools who fail could face being forced into academisation, which is of course the model that the Department of Education favours.

WARNING OF CUTS TO COME:

We have reported previously on the cuts imminent in education in the years 2017-18.  Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has warned of “bigger classes, fewer subjects and staff being let go. Parents … will see the person looking after special educational needs go and all those other additional services disappear. ”

Schools have already used up any accumulated reserves. For example one playing field has been sold off every two weeks since the London 2012 Olympics – this at a time of growing concern over childhood obesity rates.

WHO’LL SUFFER?

A recent article in the “i” newspaper reports that changes to the way that funding is allocated will mean that schools in Labour areas will suffer proportionately more.

The article compares funding in, for example, poorer London constituencies such as Bermondsey with more affluent  Conservative seats such as Derby North.  It finds that the poorest constituencies suffer cuts of £800-£1,000, whilst the richer ones face cuts of £80-£150 per pupil per year. These figures have been published by six education unions.

The Department for Education claimed that the analysis was “fundamentally misleading.”

EXIT TRISTRAM:

Last month the shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt left his job as an MP to become director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, a move that will almost double his salary.

Many of us on the left will feel that he is no great loss – the New Statesman in 1915 labelled him “Britain’s least popular MP”,

An avowed Blairite, Hunt backed the setting up of academies and free schools, and advocated performance related pay for teachers.

Hunt has been reported as supporting entry charges to the big London museums, charges which in 2011 were abolished. We hope that the V& A does not live to regret its new appointee.

STANDING UP FOR EDUCATION

During the past year the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has been running a campaign entitled “Stand Up for Education”, to fight for better policies – a fairer system with a wider vision which values every child.

A recent pamphlet, Reclaiming Our Schools*,  sets out ten objectives of the campaign, which include giving more time to teaching rather than tests, ensuring a 100 per cent qualified teaching profession and an assurance that education  will never be run for profit.

THOUGHT PROVOKING:

The pamphlet is a compendium of thirteen essays from leading educationalists. All are thought-provoking and range from a historical analysis of our current situation to the ending of child poverty.  One essay in particular interested me. It argued for “an empowered democratised and properly resourced local school system.” The authors are Professor Richard Hatcher of Birmingham University and Ken Jones, formerly Professor of Education at Goldsmiths College and now working for the NUT.

SILENCE FROM LABOUR?

They quote a policy document put out by the Labour Party which states that “we will put an end to the fragmented, divisive school system created by this government “.   But this document, say the authors, remains silent on the subject of free schools, academies and grammar schools, all of which have contributed to the very fragmentation which the Labour Party seeks to condemn. This essay points out that research shows that academisation does not raise standards, as has been claimed, and their lack of accountability is unacceptable.

A first step would be the “re-creation of fully inclusive local systems of schools.”

Legal expert, David Wolfe, has shown that funding agreements can be rescinded, including those with private sponsor chains. No state-funded school should be controlled by a private organisation – it’s a form of privatisation.

LOCAL AUTHORITY’S ROLE:

The role of the local authority being re-established, they should control admissions policy and identify schools which need additional support.  Schools would work co-operatively instead of competitively. The local Authority would be acting in the interests of the whole community they are elected to represent.

Professors Hatcher and Jones (the authors) were at pains to point out how important it would be to have proper structures and procedures in place, to enable local communities to effectively participate in decision making.  They argue for the idea of a local education panel to include governors, teachers, school students and community representatives. Such wide-reaching participation would not mean intervening in issues which are properly matters of professional judgement. But there would be a movement towards “deliberation and negotiation between public professionals and local authorities and the mobilisation of collective support for progressive policies.

BIAS AGAINST LABOUR AREAS:

A recent report in the Morning Star revealed that school funding costs would adversely affect more Labour constituencies than Tory ones. Teachers ‘unions published a list of one hundred MPs whose constituencies were most likely to be affected, and of these 86 are Labour and 14 Tory.

Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, said: “Budgets have already been cut to the bone and all the sacrifices and compromises have been made. Schools simply cannot take another blow to already precarious finances.”  There was a rally of teachers in Whitehall on November 17th in protest at the proposed cuts.

FOOTNOTE:

The King Edward V1 Grammar School in Louth, Lincolnshire, sent out postal results of their entrance examination. Those children who had passed received their results in gold envelopes, whilst the rest were in plain envelopes.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that this “told you all you needed to know about selective education.

The school declined to comment. 

RUTH RICHARDSON

*See  http://www.reclaimingschools.org

HEALTH WATCH / EDUCATION MATTERS double-bill

In R.Richardson on January 3, 2017 at 5:22 pm

EDUCATION MATTERS: Who Wants Grammar Schools?

As schools went back after the long summer break, the big news was that Theresa May intends to lift the 17-year ban on establishing new selective schools – in other words to bring back grammar schools.

The “tripartite system” of secondary education which was set up following the Education Act of 1944 prescribed  a universal exam at 11, whereby children were selected for what was considered the most suitable education for them.  The three types of schools were grammar schools for the more academic pupils, technical schools  for the technologically minded (though few of these were established) and secondary modern schools for the rest.

UNDER FIRE:

Twenty years later the system was  being criticised by educationalists on several counts. First, eleven was far too young an age to predict ability  and consequently to prescribe a suitable educational path.  Secondly, those who went to the secondary modern schools were all too often deemed to have “failed” and thus had low expectations.

The solution was the setting up of comprehensive schools countrywide, where children worked and played alongside all their classmates from the primary schools. This policy which obviously took several years to implement, was begun under a Labour government, with Harold Wilson being PM and Anthony Crossland as the then education minister.

REVERSE GEAR:

When a Conservative government under Edward Heath was returned in 1970 , the comprehensive  programme was not yet complete, so there was the anomaly of some grammar schools remaining in Tory local education authorities.  It has never been part of Conservative education policy to promote comprehensive schools, and Margaret Thatcher (who was then education minister) brought the programme to an abrupt halt.

SURVIVAL:

Those remaining grammar schools have survived through successive Conservative and Labour regimes, so it is possible to look today at areas such as Kent and Buckinghamshire which have retained their policy of selection at 11. . An article by Stephen Bush in the “i” newspaper points out that while in those areas the grammar school  does create higher education opportunities for some children it is by no means a panacea for those from the working class.

A third of grammar school pupils from deprived backgrounds left without a single GCSE, wrote Stephen Bush. Strangely, Theresa May claimed on September 9th that “the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is reduced to almost zero for children in selective schools.” So who is correct?

Jeremy Corbyn cited Kent as an area  where there was evidence of the shortcomings of selection. He said that GCSE results in Kent showed the system was not working.  In Kent, said Corbyn, only 27 percent of children on free school meals (an important indicator of social deprivation) got at  least five GCSEs whereas in inner London, a fully comprehensivve area, the figure is 45 per cent.

Some Conservative MPs have also expressed concern. Theresa Villiers, former Northern Ireland Secretary, asked how new grammar schools would actually benefit the communities in which they are situated. Keith Simpson, Tory MP for Broadland also had “severe reservations.”

Theresa May was at pains to point out that new grammar schools would be required to take a proportion of pupils from lower-income households.  They would, in fact, promote social mobility, she claimed.

UNITING THE OPPOSITION:

May’s announcement managed to unify against her the “seemingly un-unifiable Labour Party, along with a coalition of the likes of Teach First, the University of Oxford  and Kings College, London”, The Sutton Trust has recently produced research warning that grammar schools entrench inequality. Its CEO, Dr. Elliott Major points out that children from less affluent backgrounds would have to be offered lower thresholds to take up a place if May’s claims of social mobility are to be met. At present only 3 per cent of grammar school pupils are entitled to free school meals as against 17 per cent of the national average.

An article in the Observer quotes the reaction of a number of educationalists to May’s announcement. Among them is Melissa Benn, who writes “All the evidence shows that where schools select social segregation  and widening gaps in attainment follow, and it’s ordinary working class people who lose out …  but what May and co. have not yet reckoned on is the fury these plans will arouse among parents across the country…   for whom comprehensive education is working well. They certainly won’t accept the rejection of their own children before they have even left primary school.”

RUTH RICHARDSON


HEALTH WATCH: WHAT’S THE SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION PLAN WHEN IT’S AT HOME?

The notion of  “Sustainability and Transformation Plans” (STPs) seems to have been exercising the minds of those within the English NHS a great deal this year. It seems to be presented as a kind of panacea for the problems facing the Health Service – without providing any extra funding.

Draft plans for STPs were submitted in June this year. To the layperson it’s difficult to understand what exactly they will mean for the Health Service on the ground. There’s plenty of talk about “co-ordination” and “working together”- and, perhaps more ominously, of “closing the funding gap”.

Health campaigner, Dr. John Lister,though is in no doubt. He points to the fact that Health Care managers and top bureaucrats have been involved from the beginning in the preparation of these STPs, whilst those on the ground have been left out of the process. “The STPs don’t just exclude GPs and primary care staff  from the process – they also exclude hospital staff and staff in community health services” he points out (writing in the Morning Star) . In other words, all those who will be most affected by the planned changes are to have no say.

With NHS budgets frozen at levels totally inadequate to meet needs plus mounting deficits, it’s difficult to see how the STPs are supposed to resolve the underlying problem of lack of funding.  Indeed, Dr Lister suggests that they are little more than a “slash and burn” exercise.

At present NHS budgets are insufficient to meet the needs of the Service.  Rather than looking to increase funding, the STPs seem to be based on cutting services to meet what money’s available.

As far as the care for those who need it in the NHS is concerned, that’s no solution.  The proposals like to use words like “reconfiguration” without spelling out what this means – the closing of hospitals.

All this is to prepare us for making the NHS a second class service – whilst opening the door to more private health care, charges for certain treatment within the NHS – and private health insurance.

So, beware of managers bearing gifts. Study the small print – if you’re able. The more jargon is involved the more we should be suspicious of the intentions. The STPs look suspiciously like another blow at the National Health Service as we’ve known and cherished it.

Paying for a consultation – or a quick fix?

A new service has recently been promoted by a group of  GPs allowing patients to gain access on line to a quick quarter of an hour consultation.  Those surgeries who wish to be involved sign up to “Doctaly”, which allows its doctors to join in the new service.-  And  to charge £40  for the 15 minute consultation.

According to those behind the scheme, it’s “the quickest way to find and book an affordable face-to-face GP  appointment. Choose from our trusted private doctors, at a convenient time  and location from just £39.99”

The blurb tells those who may be interested that the scheme “allows patients to book and pay for a 15 minute appointment with a GP – who primarily works in the NHS – at a local practice for £40 on line” (incidentally, this cost rises to £69.99 for  any out of hours appointments).

This new service has already been rolled out in North London (and the Doctaly website includes a glowing reference from a patient from Bounds Green). It’s being extended throughout London, followed by the rest of the country over the next couple of  years.  Incidentally, London patients can also get a same-day appointment at a BUPA hospital for £70.

It’s not surprising that it has its critics. “This is privatisation of the worst kind,” declared  Alan Taman for “Keep our NHS Public”.  “Not only is it substituting for what should be freely available to all – a GP appointment in a decent time – but it’s doing so at a time when GP services are on their knees.

“This creates a three-tier service – a fully privatised version for those willing to pay, a deteriorating NHS service for those who cannot afford to pay, and now this – a queue jumping scheme parasiting off the NHS while getting people to dig into their pockets.”

RUTH RICHARDSON

REVIEW: Paper Tiger – Inside the Real China

In R.Richardson, Reviews, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:31 pm

THE REAL CHINA:

“Paper Tiger – Inside the Real China”, by Xu Zhiyuan (published by Head Zeus and translated by Nicky Harman and Michelle Deeter. Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON 

“Paper Tiger” is a phrase coined by Mao Zedong  which originally referred to American imperialism. He said, “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tigchairman_mao1949er.”

Xu Zhiyuan uses the phrase as the title of his book of essays, but with slightly different connotations. He believes that China gives the appearance of a transformation into the 21st Century, but “under the bright shiny service lies a political and social crisis.”

Xu is a journalist in his 30s and much of his writing is published outside China. He writes of the contradictions of modern China, the dominance of consumer values above any real commitment to social justice. He paints a picture of the elite who live and work inside air-conditioned blocks covered in one-way mirror glass. Salaries in the financial companies are huge and financiers’ “whirlwind  lifestyle takes them to New York one day and Paris the next”.  But, says Xu, they are unwilling to transform their wealth into wider social improvements.

RELATIONSHIP WITH FATHER:
An interesting essay concerns Xu’s relationship with his father, now in his sixties, who has lived through the Cultural Revolution and seen China’s huge economic boom. “Don’t let your tongue run away with you,” he advises. Xu’s  father always cared about his son’s future, but he worries that journalism will get his son into trouble. He is afraid that voices of dissent will disturb the peace.

“It is difficult,” writes Xu, “for him to believe that an individual’s right to enjoy free speech is just as important as his right to an adequate standard of living.”

EDUCATION: THE WAY IT’S DONE:
I was particularly interested in Xu’s essay on education. Unsurprisingly he is critical of the strict discipline and the exam-orientated regime. The one aim is to gain pupils places at top universities. Linchuan Number One  school, which Xu visits, has 14,000 students. Their curriculum comprises maths, science and formulaic essay writing.

Rows of bookshops near the school’s entrance are full of revision materials; there is no poetry, nothing reflecting  China’s cultural heritage. The school’s library is no longer in use and Xu sees thick layers of dust piling up on the books. When we read what amazing results Chinese school children achieve, we would do well to ponder on how they come about.

FREEDOM TO CRITICISE:
Xu does not call for the overthrow of the existing regime in China, but he wants more freedom to be able to criticise it. The media should be able to expose injustices  and call corrupt officials to account. Xu writes, “We will only have security, democracy and individual freedoms if everyone fights for them. Freedoms that are bestowed never really belong to us.”

Most essays deal with China under its previous leader, Hu Jintao, but in 2012 Xi Jinping took office. Most observers feel that under him a stricter regime has been imposd, and academics, lawyers and journalists are under more pressure to toe the line. It will be interesting to read Xu Zhiyuan’s observations on the current regime. I am sure that he will not be easily silenced.

Ruth Richardson