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EDUCATION MATTERS: SCHOOLS OUT FOR THE SUMMER BREAK

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

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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

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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

EDUCATION MATTERS: Issues outstanding

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:24 pm

{nb. this article was written before the start of the new academic year; 99% of our articles are published in the print of the Clarion FIRST – subscribe to get your copy and support our paper}

As we come to the end of  the academic year, it would be good to feel that some of the issues that have given us cause for concern have been resolved. Sadly this appears not to be the case.

Well over a year ago when Nicky Morgan took over as Education Minister, she made a promise to lighten teachers’ work loads.  This promise has not been fulfilled. Another pledge, that school budgets would be kept at the same level as formerly was also broken. These issues were just two that motivated the NUT strike at the beginning of July.

Lack of funding meant that some arts subjects have been dropped and class sizes have increased. John McDonell, addressing the rally declared that those calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation  were “partially motivated by his support for proper education funding.”

TESTING TIMES:

This year new, tougher standard assessment tests were brought in for eleven-year-olds (they were also re-introduced for seven-year-olds after a lapse of several years).  Only about half of eleven year-olds reached the required standard , whereas last year 80 per cent did so.

As we reported in our last issue, teachers and parents alike were vociferous in their condemnation of these tests. And we wondered (cynically perhaps?) whether schools were being set up to fail so that academisation plans could be forced through. These results will depress and demoralise teachers and pupils alike. Mary Bansted of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers  said, “we are appalled by the shambles of the Key Stage Two Sats results.”

LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY:

We have been critical of the Government’s academisation policy for several reasons, not least their lack of accountability. A new report from the National Audit Office shows that there is no accurate record of the billions of pounds of school buildings and property that have been handed over. The incomplete accounting “could take years to put right.”

Meanwhile, Nicky Morgan has promised to publish new figures which will be “robust.”  They were to be published “after the referendum” – but then that was a Nicky Morgan pledge.

MONEY MAKING:

A special investigation in the Observer focused on venture capitalist Mike Duran, who has ambitions to run over 200 schools. Staff at Colchesyer Academy, recently acquired by Bright Tribe Multi-Academy Trust, were informed that auxiliary services – catering, cleaning and building maintenance – were to be provided by a “national facilities management company” called Blue Support.  Eagle-eyed union official, Hazel Corby, spotted that its address was was the same as that of Bright Tribe. Further investigation revealed that  Blue Support’s  parent company was Equity Solutions , of which Mike Duran’s brother was managIng director. Mike Duran himself is also a diirector, one of ninety directorships that he holds.

Today, Duran is worth £75 million. One lucrative deal back in 2004 was a PFI  project at Speke, Liverpool. It included a school, library and leisure centre. The school actually closed in 2014 because of poor academic results. But Liverpool continues to pay a company called “Education Solutions Speke”  (of which Duran is a director and significant shareholder) over £1 million a year in interest payments. By the time the loan is paid off  in 2028 the complex which cost £22 million to build will have cost taxpayers £90 million.

“The story of Mike Duran,” says the Observer “is the story of an English education system that has been thrown open to private business interests  in unprecedented fashion.”

The National Audit Office has been investigating Bright Tribes accounts. The Observer investigation sets out a complicated  trail of companies and parent companies such as Pure Creative, an equity  solutions  company owned by Duran. Meanwhile, the National Audit Office continues to monitor the situation.

WORRYING:

In conclusion , a short but worrying report caught my eye.  A primary school teacher for thirty years, Sue Stephens, has such died from mesothelioma. This incurable cancer is caused by inhaling minute particles of asbestos dust. It seems that in 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available), seventeen teachers died from mesothelioma.

Apparently, 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos and amazingly there is no long-term strategy for its removal.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, called on the Government to act urgently on this vital health and safety issue.

RETURN OF THE GRAMMAR SCHOOLS?

Teresa May’s Cabinet reshuffle has resulted in the departure of Education Nicky Morgan, whose policies were largely a continuation of those of her predecessor, Michael Gove.

Her replacement is Justine Greening. In the Andrew Marr Show on July 17th she said that she was  “open” to the idea of selective schools, but wasn’t going to make any decisions immediately. Theresa May has in the past expressed support for existing grammar schools, and it is reported that she may repeal the ban on new grammar schools brought in under Blair in 1998.

Other members of the new Cabinet including Boris Johnson and David Davis strongly support grammar schools. But policies leading to the establishment of new selective schools are likely to be strongly opposed  by many teachers and parents. Concern was also expressed by Melissa Benn, of the campaign group Comprensive Future, and by Alex Shapland Howes of Future First . He said “The priority… has to be reducing the gap in outcomes between those born in high – and low – income homes.”

RUTH RICHARDSON

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

EDUCATION MATTERS: Dean Academy still seeking new Head & HEALTHWATCH

In R.Richardson on May 5, 2016 at 12:37 pm

In our last issue, we highlighted the woes that had befallen the Dean Academy in Lydney. A new permanent Head was being sought, and interviews took place in February.

But judging from the school’s website no appointment has yet been made. It is still hoped that the new Head will begin the new school year in September, with the present acting head, John Barrett, staying on as part-time adviser. The website outlines the post-Ofsted action plan that has been put in place to lift the school out of “special measures” which is already being acted on. Ofsted will no doubt be visiting in the not-too-distant future, to judge whether the action plan has been effective.

“BRAIN DRAIN” DEPARTURES:

Speaking of Ofsted, its chief, Michael Wilshaw has been commenting on the “brain drain” of teachers to work abroad. He is seeking ways to persuade at least newly-qualified teachers to spend two or three years teaching here. But Ben Culverhouse, a junior school teacher from Somerset, writing in the Guardian, believes Michael Wilshaw is part of the problem. Michael Gove, when Minister for Education, instructed Wilshaw to “raise standards”. Ofsted “suddenly got nasty”. Good schools were deemed to be coasting and any weakness in a school was ruthlessly exploited.

ACADEMISATION:

This policy, of course, went hand-in-hand with the Gove/Cameron objective of academisation.

Any school judged inadequate could be forced into becoming an academy. The belief in the efficacy of a “could do better” approach to teachers and schools is epitomised by a reported remark to the Guardian by Wilshaw in 2012: “If anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low, you know you are doing something right.” Unbelievable! No wonder teachers are leaving in droves. And pupil numbers are set to rise by one million by 2022.

BLOG LINES:

Tim Paramour, a deputy head in a London primary school (pictured above), wrote a blog which outlines his reasons for leaving teaching at the end of this school year after twelve years in the profession. He writes that unless teachers want to get their Head the sack they have to teach to a series of dull, uninspiring tests. “Got a passion for music? Primary teaching is not for you!” He wrote. “Want to inspire children with drama? Go hug a tree, you Corbyn-loving hippie. Teachers want trust, respect and the right to exercise their own professional judgement.”

In our last issue, we highlighted the woes that had befallen the Dean Academy in Lydney. A new permanent Head was being sought, and interviews took place in February.

But judging from the school’s website no appointment has yet been made. It is still hoped that the new Head will begin the new school year in September, with the present acting head, John Barrett, staying on as part-time adviser. The website outlines the post-Ofsted action plan that has been put in place to lift the school out of “special measures” which is already being acted on. Ofsted will no doubt be visiting in the not-too-distant future, to judge whether the action plan has been effective.

Apart from a general teacher shortage, there are shortages in particular areas. 73 per cent of Heads say that they are having to resort to putting teachers not trained in the subject in front of classes. Maths, with 78 per cent of schools using non-specialist teachers, and Science (75 per cent) are the most worrying, and languages (33 per cent) are also having problems.

One of the side-effects of the emphasis on exam results was high-lighted by “Secret Teacher”, an anonymous contributor to the Guardian. She writes of how the A Level and GCSE groups are assigned specialist teachers whilst the others often have non-specialists or long term supply teachers. Key Stage Three (the first years at Secondary School) are the ones who lose out. “If your performance is judged completely on exam groups and you’re creaking under the strain of an unsustainable workload of 60-plus hours a week, you’re going to cut corners, and it’s going to be in Key Stage Three,” writes “Secret Teacher”.

OFF THE MARK:

It seems that our own MP, Mark Harper, is all in favour of tests. Previous expectations have been too low, he wrote recently in the Forester. He approves of the new tests this year for Key Stages One and Two (incidentally Key Stage One tests were abolished around 2000 but are now being brought back). Harper thinks it essential that schools are “held to account” for their pupils’ performance – and that they will be required to publish results. Testing and more testing Mark Harper thinks is bound to raise standards so that “the next generation have the skills they need to succeed in today’s competitive global market.

DEADLINE FOR ACADEMISATION:

It was George Osborne’s budget that dropped an unexpected bombshell. We were told, abruptly, that all schools in England should become academies by 2020 – a change that will affect 15,000 schools. Teachers’ organisations were all but unanimous in opposing these plans – and Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at the annual NUT conference roundly condemned the pan as “an ideological attack on teachers and on local and parental accountability.” He received a standing ovation. Meanwhile, education minister, Nicky Morgan, floundered against a hostile audience in the Commons.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that as Wales and Scotland have control over their own education, their schools will remain firmly under the direction of local authorities.


HEALTH WATCH: Under-funded NHS trusts denied funding

The majority of England’s NHS trusts are in deficit, with no way to claw their way back without making drastic cuts. Yet the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has denied them the means to get back on even keel without cutting NHS services and front line jobs.

According to recent figures, deficits continue to rise with 130 out of 150 trusts in the red, and the number is rising. Barts, in London, heads the list with a deficit of £134 million.

Meanwhile any share of the £1.5 billion “transformation fund” for 2016-2017 are to be denied them.

“BALANCE THE BOOKS”:

Hunt has demanded that trusts “balance the books without compromising patient care” if they’re to get any of the much-needed cash injection. In other words, if you really need the money you can’t have any.

Meanwhile, guidance from the NHS regulator “Monitor” has urged those trusts in deficit to agree action that would include “headcount reduction”. In other words, by sacking staff. How this is compatible with Hunt’s drive to recruit more doctors and to bring in 24-hour cover to hospitals is not explained.

Dr. John Lister, who produces the website Health Emergency writes in response: “Five years of frozen funding under David Cameron’s governments have reduced the NHS to a cash-strapped shadow of the service the Tories inherited when they took office in 2010 …. But the latest call for trusts to balance the books by culling staff is a sure-fire recipe for growing waiting lists, waiting times, trolley waits and all the misery some of us remember from the grim Thatcher years in the late 1980s.”

CARRY ON CAMPAIGNING:

Meanwhile, campaigns in defence of our Health Service and those who work in the NHS continue. In many parts of the country there have been marches in support of the junior doctors who have faced a “take it or leave it” ultimatum from Jeremy Hunt in his insistence on imposing new hours and conditions.

Other demonstrations have focused on declining conditions in hospitals – including those in Gloucestershire. In March campaigners from across the county rallied in a march through Cheltenham in support of junior doctors and to protest against the lack of adequate funding for the NHS generally. Protesters also showed their support for the doctors outside the Gloucester Royal.

JUNIOR DOCTORS TO STRIKE AGAIN:

As we go to press the junior doctors have given notice that they intend to accelerate their campaign against the new conditions being imposed on them by Health Minister Jeremy Hunt.

Further strike action will take place on April 26 and 27 – and on this occasion there will be no emergency cover provided. So what has provoked this hardening of attitude amongst the doctors?

It can be summed up in two words. Jeremy Hunt. It was his decision to break off negotiations and impose a deal willy nilly that in its present form is unacceptable to the doctors involved.

Hunt’s response was to declare that “the matter is closed.” The BMA spokesman for the junior doctors responded by saying that “The Government will bear full responsibility for the first full walkout of doctors in this country.

He went on to point out that the biggest barrier to seven-day cover is “a chronic lack of investment and a shortage of staff.”

And with the intransigence of the Tory Government, this is likely to get worse rather than better.

RUTH RICHARDSON

‘City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp’ by B. Rawlence

In R.Richardson, Reviews on May 3, 2016 at 4:51 pm

LIFE IN THE CAMPS:

‘City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp’ by Ben Rawlence. Published by Portobello Books.

 

Ben Rawlence, the author of this remarkable book, is a human rights watch observer. Over the course of four years he was a first-hand witness of life in Dadaab, Kenya, home to half a million refugees. Dadaab is deep in the desert where only thorn bushes grow, hundreds of miles from any other settlement. Aid is provided by the UN and channeled through an army of charities and aid workers, and the city runs on a grey economy.

Most of the refugees are Somali fleeing from the consequences of the civil war of 2008, when control of most of the country was seized by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida-linked organisation. Others are from Sudan, Ethiopia, or Darfur. Many of them walked for days, often in family groups, to reach the comparative safety of the camp.

cityofthorns

NINE STORIES:

Rawlence interleaves the stories of nine individuals – and touches on many more – into his account of life in the camp. There is Guled, taken as a child soldier, who manages to escape and hitch a lift to Dabaab.  Through his story we learn the hugely protracted process of registering in the camp for aid.

Other characters include Kheyro, a dedicated student pinning her hopes on escaping the camp by means of one of the very few available scholarships. There is Tawane, a youth leader, who organises distribution for the newcomers to the camp and does his best to stay out of trouble.

With so many different nationalities in such an environment, unsurprisingly conflicts arise. And there’s always the risk of infiltration by al-Shabaab.  Indeed, terrorist activity erupts more than once, resulting in the temporary withdrawal of aid workers, so that refugees like Tawane with a measure of responsibility have to ensure that basic services keep running.

LIVING IN LIMBO:

The inhabitants of Dadaab are in limbo. No-one wants to acknowledge that it has become permanent, but some have been there for over twenty years.  A few decide to return to their homes and are given a resettlement package, though war in Somalia is by no means over.  A very few are given papers  for a new life in the western world. And some decide to strike out on the long and dangerous journey to Europe by way of the Mediterranean or Turkey.

THE REFUGEE CAMP MYTHS:

City of Thorns came to my notice through an article by Ian Birrell in the “i” newspaper, entitled “Exposing the refugee camp myths”. Clearly, says Birrell,  these camps are not a humanitarian answer, though it is a convenient one for politicians.

Sir Alan Duncan, then Minister of State for International Development,  said in 2014: “You know where they are  when they are in camps.”  Birrell writes, “What human being wants life trapped in limbo dependent on others for everything?”  What they need, says Birrell, is the right to work legitimately so they can build a fresh start.

“PROPER RESETTLEMENT PLAN”:

There needs to be a proper resettlement plan in which all first-world countries play their part. At present the West is considering a deal with Turkey to contain up to two million refugees within their borders, housed in huge UN funded camps. Anyone who thinks that this is an acceptable solution should read ‘City of Thorns’.  We need investigative journalists like Ben Rawlence to tell it like it is.

Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON