Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Education’

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

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

DINOSAUR: Grammar Schools? Back to the past!

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on November 18, 2016 at 1:59 pm

dinosaurI confess that when I was merely a fledgling dinosaur I was sent packing to a grammar school.  Well, back in those days it was something which we had no control over.

Under the “tripartite system”, brought in after the war, schools were divided into three difference types that were meant, theoretically, to suit children’s particular set of abilities. Basically, at the age of 11 years, youngsters were tested to see which kind of school suited their particular talents. Well, that was the theory anyway.

The choice was between the grammar schools, or the secondary modern and the technical high schools. But as the technical schools were to say the least in short supply, it usually boiled down to a choice between the grammar and the secondary modern – and basically if you didn’t gain a grammar school place you were deemed to have “failed”, and were packed off to the nearest secondary modern.

So there I was, my satchel on my back, heading for a small West Country grammar school – but completely unaware of those who were destined for the local secondary modern school. As far as I could see they just didn’t exist.  The set-up basically created a system of social division.

My kids on the other hand went to comprehensive school.  They attended their neighbourhood “comp”, mingling with those from the local community and benefited from a sense of social integration.

Then some bright spark of a politician came up with the notion of what became known as “parental choice”. In other words they, the parents, could send their children to any school within the local education area that they wanted to.  As a result we now had a structure based on social fragmentation.

Goodness knows how we’d describe the system we’ve got now. Me, I’m lost for words. To make matters worse, the Tories (well, some of them) now think it’s a good idea to bring back the grammar schools – a notion that should have been buried decades ago.

Bang to rights!

I’ve been a follower of the radio soap, “The Archers” on and off for as long as I can remember. Its catchy signature tune always evokes a sense of rural cosiness in the community of Ambridge where everyone knows their place.

But occasionally a plot line crops up that shakes the foundations of the old order. The example of Helen Titchmarsh (nee Archer) and her knife attack on her controlling, scheming husband Rob has had millions gripped over many weeks, with Helen in custody and the wicked Rob recovering – and scheming.

Last month we had the grand finale. The trial. With Rob still making plans for his future, the two of them have their time in court. And finally, in an hour long episode, the jury argues its way to a conclusion. She’s not guilty. No doubt there were cheers from millions of listeners glued to their wireless sets.

I thought the conflicting opinions of the members of the jury were particularly well handled – particularly the emerging views of the self-appointed “chairman” who, it’s finally revealed, has a very dim view of women and feels they’re capable of all sorts, in order to keep men in their place. Gradually, however, a more rational set of opinions emerges – and Helen is found not guilty.

No doubt the verdict gained the applause of all those listeners who support women’s rights.  And that’s how it should be. And congratulations to the Archers’ script writers for their handling of this particular story line!

Just curious:

Being a curious sort of dinosaur, a number of questions have crossed my mind recently. For example, in the great purge by Labour’s head office, how many members of the party have been expelled or suspended?  And how many of these found themselves unable to vote in the leadership elections as a result?  Not only that, but how many would have cast their vote for Jeremy Corbyn, and how many for Owen Smith?

Just wondering, you understand

Dinosaur

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

THE TRASHING OF YORKLEY COURT FARM

In A.Graham on May 3, 2016 at 4:33 pm

On March 10th bailiffs and security guards, acting on behalf of local developer, Brian Bennett stormed Yorkley Court Farm. They were there to stage a forcible eviction of the “eco-gardeners” who’d been in occupation of the site for some years.

This was the second attempt by Bennett to evict the occupants – and this time it was in earnest. Farm buildings were trashed, and the iconic tower that stood at the farm entrance was demolished.

Since Mr Bennett mounted his first attempt to take over the farm from the occupants the “eco-gardeners” have gained quite a lot of sympathy from those in the area – many of whom saw the re-vitalisation of the once derelict farm as both a credit to those who’d been working it and an asset to the wider community. Harassment by hired security guards hadn’t helped Mr Bennett’s cause.

SUPPORT:

Indeed, after the eviction was mounted a walk along a right-of-way through the farm’s fields was hastily organised in sympathy with the “eco-gardeners”. The right-of-way had long been used as a route for local folk to take a stroll or to exercise their dogs. But there’s been a number of complaints of threatening behaviour by security guards towards those engaged in such harmless pursuit.

This support was reflected in the columns of the local press. On the letters page of the Forester, for example, Coun. Andrew Gardner (Lydbrook and Ruardean) reminded readers that the occupants at Yorkley Court had been in residence for six years, “growing organic food and following an environmentally friendly lifestyle”.

yorkleyCourtHe reminded us that the previous owners of the farm had died intestate, but that “relatives gave permission for the community to reside in the grounds”. He went on to suggest that a public inquiry into the whole affair “must urgently be implemented”.

Another letter suggested that scenes surrounding the eviction would lead onlookers to think that it was Al-Qaeda in occupation of Yorkley Court.

Over 70 police officers were counted at one point, some in riot gear. A helicopter flew overhead for the best part of two days. A police presence may well have been justified (if only to keep an eye on Bennett’s security guards), but in this case it looked as though the numbers were there to intimidate.

Letters of support for the eco-warriors continued in the following week’s issue of the Forester – with an added news item pointing out that a footpath adjoining the farm had been closed without notice, “at the request of the police” – in order, it said, to help in the eviction of the occupants.

WHAT NEXT?

At the time of writing, the eco-gardeners have left Yorkley Court farm with the defiant message, “our homes are gone but our community will live on.” 16 arrests were made and the homes of the occupants were demolished.


WHO’S BRIAN BENNETT?

BRIAN BENNETT, the man behind the eviction of the occupants of Yorkley Court Farm, is a developer. His major achievement was the transformation of Vantage Point near Mitcheldean into a busy industrial park after the closure of the Xerox works on the site (Xerox, incidentally, once employed over a thousand at its works there. By the time it closed it was down to about 80).

BENNETT INTERESTS:

Over the years Mr Bennett has accrued a wide range of interests to add to Vantage Point. The number of companies he has registered are too numerous to mention here. Some indeed may at present be dormant. But they include the following:

  • Allaston Developments Ltd.
  • “Bee Green Energy Ltd., which was set up to develop wind farms.
  • Whitecroft Properties Ltd, registered in May 2003
  • And, last but by no means least, Yorkley Court Farm Ltd. which was registered on 27th April 2014.

Incidentally, it was on the 29th June 2014 (the same year) that bailiffs and security guards first entered Yorkley Court Farm to try to evict the occupants. On this occasion the confrontation ended in a stand-off, and the security guards were withdrawn. Mr. Bennett, it would seem, has collected a range of irons in his fire.

Education Matters: TROUBLE AT DEAN ACADEMY

In R.Richardson on March 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm

It was back in March that we reported on the troubles facing the Dean Academy in Lydney. Originally it had been Whitecross School, and its transfer to academy status in 2012 had been marked by controversy. It seemed that few parents wanted the change (either of name or status).

Back then the sponsor of the new academy was a group called the Prospects Academy Trust. But then Prospects was required to shed six schools from its “portfolio”, because of the inadequate provision of services.

CHANGE AT THE TOP:

The Dean Academy was one of those that were offloaded. It lost its sponsorship in July 2014, and consequently was left without a sponsor for ten months. But earlier this year, the school acquired its new sponsor, the Athelstan Trust – and its Head, David Gaston, was able to put a very positive spin on future prospects for staff and pupils alike.

SPECIAL MEASURES?

However, following a recent Ofsted inspection, it now seems that the school is likely to go into “special measures” – an Ofsted term which basically means there is cause for grave concern. This will be the second time in four years that the Dean Academy has been placed in special measures. The head, David Gaston, who sounded so upbeat only a few months ago, has now left and there is an acting head.

Councillors have called for a definitive statement from the school, but at this stage nothing has been forthcoming. The school’s website is bland and says all the right things, but there is no way to access the results of any Ofsted inspections. We hope to be able to report more at a future date.

Meanwhile, a recent report in the Forester struck a more positive note. A new “Learning Resources and Literacy Centre” was opened by Mark Harper MP in November. It is, in fact, the re-modelled library and it cost £195,000. It’s true that no additional books appear to have been purchased, but never mind, there are extra laptops, rolling news on screens and under floor heating. Wow! Surely that will boost performance?

PRIVATISATION ACROSS THE WORLD:

An interesting article in the Morning Star caught my eye recently. It concerned the creeping global privatisation of education.

There has always been a small elite who send their children to private schools and pay high fees. But now private schools that target the middle class are emerging in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil.

Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in establishing chains of schools in these countries. Such schools attract children already in government schools whose parents can afford modest fees.

UNDERMINING OPPORTUNITY

But they do nothing to extend access to education for the 58 million children who are out of school worldwide.

Moreover, they undermine government schools, as funding is often based on the number of pupils. One commercial education chain is Bridge International, expanding in Africa at the rate of one new school every three days. It’s funded by hedge fund speculators.

Three recent reports indicate that the Department for International Development is increasingly channeling its public funding towards supporting the privatisation of education around the world.

RUTH RICHARDSON

Education Matters: FREE SCHOOLS GALORE!

In R.Richardson on December 22, 2015 at 4:27 pm

One of the election pledges made by David Cameron was to extend the free schools programme.

Now he has promised that 500 will open over the next five years, with 52 in this term alone.

Like academies, free schools operate outside Local Authority control and do not have to follow the National Curriculum. Gypsy Hill secondary school in South West London, which opens this term, offers a curriculum based on the Ancient Greeks’ “classical trivium”, with grammar, logic and rhetoric as the foundations of learning.

A letter in the “i” newspaper (from a teacher and parent) dubs the idea ludicrous. The Greeks’ intention, according to the letter, was that this curriculum was just for a tiny minority – those who intended a career in politics or the law.  It’s just one more example of a school going its own way free from national curriculum restraints.

no_acadmeny_HereUNIONS SPEAK OUT:
At September’s TUC conference, both Mary Boustead, of the ATL, and Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, made speeches roundly condemning the Government’s policy on free schools and academies.

Schools have been coerced into becoming academies said Christine Blower, sometimes being approached by education “advisers” who may at the same time be working for an academy chain – a quite outrageous conflict of interest. Academy chains of course answer to their shareholders.  “Neither educational excellence nor equity will be their driving force,” said Christine Blower.

Mary Bousted drew attention to the proposed Education and Adoption Bill which would deny parents and teachers any information about the sponsor which would take over the running of their school on its conversion to an academy. Apparently the Department for Education has its own grading system for academy sponsors, but refuses to publish these on the grounds that it is against the sponsor’s “commercial interest”.

PLAN FOR THE MOST NEEDED:

Russell Hardy (General Secretary of the National Union of Head Teachers) has pointed out the need for overall planning for the provision of new schools, particularly in view of the projected  large increase in pupil numbers. School places need to be provided where they are most needed – which is just not happening as the free schools movement is rolled out.

LEAGUE TABLES:
League tables have been part and parcel of the education scene for over twenty years now. The idea is that if schools compete with each other (rather than co-operating?)  They will improve.  The incentive to move up the ladder, so the thinking goes, will be irresistible.

Of course there’s much that goes on in the life of a school that cannot be measured by league tables, but apparently some parents see them as being of over-riding importance.

An article in the “i” by Chris Blackhurst describes the lengths that some parents go to, to get their child into the school of their choice, often moving house or buying a second home in the catchment area. Another aspect of the emphasis placed on league tables was highlighted by the paper’s education editor, Richard Garner. Schools are using community languages such as Polish or Urdu, to gain top-grade GCSE results for native speakers and thus boost their rankings.

In fact for a pupil who is fluent in his/her home language, it might well be more beneficial to study another language altogether – but that might not help the school in its league table placing!

WHAT ABOUT JEREMY?
I hadn’t heard much about Jeremy Corbyn’s policies on education, but on his website there is quite a lot of information.

Corbyn would seek to place academies and free schools back under LEA control and would end the charitable status of public schools. Tuition fees would be scrapped and replaced with grants (just like the good old days!). There would be funding for adult skills’ training throughout life, and Corbyn would also seek to establish universal affordable childcare.
Incidentally, on Jeremy Corbyn’s website, too, is his ten-point “Standing to Deliver” plan, which he first outlined in Scotland in August. It’s well worth reading.

RUTH RICHARDSON