Saturday, 31 October 2009
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
In announcing her support, the London Green MEP said, “This scheme clearly has regional repercussions in terms of its scale, because of questions of compliance with the London Plan, issues regarding traffic pollution and transport infrastructure. There are also unanswered questions about the planned waste disposal process and its impact on health. I fully support the Coalition’s call for a full Public Inquiry so that an informed and robust debate can take place into such a major and controversial development.”
While support for the Coalition continued to build Barnet Council was forced to contemplate the possible collapse of the whole project. A report prepared for their cabinet admitted that there would be no return for developers in the delayed first phase of the development and that the first rent revenues for the Council would not be realised until 2018. They drastically slashed the number of guaranteed housing units to 795 units against the overall total for the project publicised by the developers of 7,500 units. It is clear that after the first phase nothing is certain and there is still a risk of developers pulling out.Much more information is available on the Coalition's blog HERE.
No wonder the Barnet cabinet discussed face saving strategies in the event of the whole project collapsing.
Monday, 26 October 2009
What is important is that an area of peace, beauty and natural diversity will be threatened by the impact of housing, a new road, increased lighting and noise, and the loss of habitats.
The application has been made by the Greenhouse Garden Centre and is for 71 dwellings and hard-standing and access road on the Greenhouse site and the adjacent disused Woodfield Garden Centre site. The latter site had been ear-marked for possible Greenhouse expansion.
A display about the proposed development is tucked away unadvertised at the back of the Greenhouse, rather than at the front, but nontheless has attracted many entries in the Comments Book - most of them extremely critical. Among them are heartfelt appeals to save this unique corner of Brent and vows to fight the development as fiercely as previous attempts to build on the land and close down the Education Centre have been fought.
The development will be close to the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre and its extensive grounds, and the Birchen Grove allotments. In the manner of these things if the planning application is granted it may not be long before both these sites are under threat as the 'gaps' between blocks of housing are filled in. As the sites are owned by Brent Council, I have a hunch that it may not be long before they will want to cash in on these assets.
This will of course give them an interest in supporting the application.
See the plans and comment on them HERE
Planning Application No. 09/3220 Planning Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org 0208937 5337
To be decided no earlier than 12th November 2009
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
The terrier-like Coalition continued to bite at the Council's heels by rejecting this proposal as giving two helpings of inadequate consultation rather than one. Instead they demanded a full public inquiry where all interested parties could listen to lay and expert evidence, cross examine witnesses, and ensure that any decision is informed and robust, made in the full knowledge of all the facts. Such a huge, costly and long-term development, affecting much of North West London, cannot be left to a few local councillors only a few months away from their possible demise at the May 2010 local elections.
The delay means that the ever expanding coalition of environmental groups, political parties and residents' associations will have more time to win broad-based support for a full-fledged Public Inquiry.
More on the Brent Cross Coalition Blog
Sunday, 18 October 2009
Spare The Child
The 2009 Trade Union Congress in Liverpool approved a motion entitled ‘Democratic Deficit’ from the top civil servants’ union the First Division Association (FDA). Their job is to process the decisions of Parliament, making legislation workable for us citizens. But they are fed up with trying to implement unworkable, fanciful, highly ideological but mostly illogical laws.
Thus their first demand was that politicians of all democratic parties should “ensure that government policy decisions are supported by objective analysis and consultation.” What an illuminating indictment of the UK constitution this is, to suggest for those with ears to listen that our laws arise otherwise.
Such elemental roots of governmental purpose and methodology have clearly withered in the mother of all parliaments. There is seemingly little grasp of reality or engagement with relevant stakeholders by lawmakers.
Of no sphere is this more true than education, and no greater proof of the FDA’s pertinence is needed than last week’s Ministerial responses to the Cambridge Primary Review.
There simply has not been a more exhaustive analysis of primary schools in England and Wales since the Plowden Report of 1967. It has been edited by Robin Alexander, a former assistant to Chris Woodhead at OFSTED, now Professor at Cambridge University’s School of Education, and chaired by Dame Gillian Pugh. The book’s title is, “Children: Their World, Their Education”.
The Cambridge Primary Review in numbers
20 on its advisory group
28 research surveys
250 focus groups
1,052 written submissions
3 years to complete
608 pages in final report
75 recommendations for change
Yet because it does not fully endorse current practices or suggest changes that suit current prejudices it has been either disregarded or trashed by politicians. They know best.
Labour Minister Vernon Coaker complained that it is already out-dated and that their own review by Sir Jim Rose is superior. He disparaged the review’s findings as “a backward step”. Tories have rejected the calls for a postponement of formalized learning by a year and a changed curriculum.
In contrast National Union of Teachers leader Christine Blower spoke for thousands of school workers, parents and kids when she said that; "It is absolutely extraordinary that the Government has decided to ignore the Cambridge Review recommendations. Any government worth its salt, particularly in front of an impending General Election, would have embraced this immensely rich report as a source of policy ideas.”
The government commissioned its own primary review under Sir Jim Rose, to head off the impact of the likely Cambridge recommendations. Central to Rose’s brief was an instruction not to research the SATs. Yet it is impossible to find one educational professional who believes that SATs are either fit for purpose or beneficial. Some parents may support them because they think that without SATs they would not know how their child is progressing. But no teacher opposes assessment per se. It is both an intuitive and formal component of learning.
The Cambridge Review rightly distinguishes between assessment for accountability, and assessment for learning.
What anti-SATs campaigners have railed against since 1992 has been their non-educational purpose. Author Alan Gibbons wrote in the Times Education Supplement of August 8 2008: “ At best, they have proved largely irrelevant to the task of raising standards in literacy. At worst, they have been an expensive distraction. Endless stale rehearsals for snap shot tests will not improve the situation. We urgently need to change course and concentrate on reading and writing for pleasure. In education engagement is everything. Nothing disengages children more effectively than the current SATs regime.”
Instead the core purpose of SATs has been to provide the crudest of currencies by which a school can be measured in a competitive marketplace. They are narcissistic proof to jobsworth politicians that they are ensuring value for money when committing funds to these particular public services.
SATs are the central cog in the neoliberalisation of schooling. SATs produce the League Tables, which create the demand for places, which puts bums on seats, which determines school budgets, which determine school human and other resources which produce…well, what is produced?
Sir Robin Alexander’s team has now conclusively catalogued the government’s Emperor’s New Clothes deceit that thousands of school-workers, parents and children have known only too well for 17 years.
SATs produce stressed-out kids and staff, with minimal value as a guide to past or future learning. SATs-related work has overtaken the curriculum time previously available for more creative work, languages and sport. The concept and practices of play have been more or less eradicated.
The classical Marxist concept of alienation has not been explicitly cited by the Cambridge Review, but it has recorded all the symptoms of it. Like cars or chocolate bars coming off a conveyor-belt, children have been commodified, reduced to a relation between things not people, reified not even by name but as National Curriculum Level this or that. The teacher-learner relationship has been prostituted.
One consequence for those staff who have not fled this lunacy, bullying has become the default educational management mode because, as the FDA insist, consent is hard to win when the statutory obligations fit so poorly with reality. Madness is a sane response, the inarticulate speech of so many broken hearts.
One of Lady Bridget Plowden’s recommendations forty-two years ago was to outlaw corporal punishment of kids by teachers. We now need to outlaw the mental torture of teachers and students by government.
In particular we need to reverse the push to start formalised learning earlier and earlier in the face of overwhelming evidence from the rest of Europe to the contrary. Finland is the world’s most eminent national educational system. Kids there have a kindergarten education until their seventh year. Yet even normally sharp journalists like The Observer’s Barbara Ellen have completely misunderstood the report’s recommendation to delay formal schooling by a year, believing that it is a middle-class yearning for mothers to stay home with their growing kids. It isn’t. It is a plea for a more humane and socialised sense of child development within a school context.
This is especially crucial for the most needy of families. Alexander puts great emphasis on Labour’s failure, despite all sorts of rhetoric and spin, to relieve the plight of the poor. The last thing that malnourished, hopeless infants need is an OFSTED-policed Early Years skills test.
An additional contradiction of government clap-trap concerns the space given by Alexander’s report to children’s views. They are shown as articulate and aspirational in a full and well-rounded sense, whereas the institutionalised notion of ‘Student Voice’ promulgated by Ministers is a consumerist, restricted version that abhors criticism and celebrates conformism. Thus students are often encouraged to evaluate the success or failure of teachers, but not of testing, funding or curricula.
Another aspect of children’s testimony in the report concerns a sense of worry about the planet’s future. The ecological catastrophe looming before us if ignored by world governments, should have already taught us that there is a fundamental urban estrangement from nature that distorts the general quality of human life. The Woodcraft Folk have known this for eighty years.
The ‘Sense of Wonder’ that US scientist Rachael Carson wrote about in 1964, and what contemporary educationalist Richard Louw systemises as a ‘nature-deficit disorder’ in his book ‘The Last Child In The Woods’, are implicit in the Cambridge Review even though its recommendations about greater access to outdoor space are modest.
What is being done to teachers and schools is also happening to social workers and other childcare professionals. Reactionary witch-hunts in the wake of Baby P - type cases obscure the penny-pinching carelessness of government-imposed systems. Its anti-scientific methods only value research which confirm Ministers’ a priori beliefs, and exclude practitioners from their design because of what is derogatively called “producer interest”.
So let’s re-build the battered confidence of everyone connected to child development. Let’s thank both the FDA and the Cambridge Review for trying to put the brakes on the runaway train of government, crushing the life out of its most innocent citizens. The fact that both voices emanate from deep inside the establishment makes their whistle-blowing that much more shrill.
Friday, 16 October 2009
The automatic repetition of their cherished shibboleths by government ministers and its knee-kerk rejection of the Review cannot match the 28 research surveys, 1,052 written submissions, 250 focus groups, 14 authors and 66 research consultants who contributed to the report.
The Green Party adds its voice to those of the many professional associations who have already endorsed the main thrust of the Review. Let’s reclaim our schools and learning for the sake of the next generation of children.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
A report published in Child Abuse and Neglect of 24 children between three months and 17 years old detained in Yarl's Wood Immigration Centre shows that 73% had developed clinically significant emotional and behavioural problems since being detained. None had previously had any such problems. According to the Guardian's review of the findings:
- Eight children had lost weight since being detained,including a two-year old and a nine-year old who had both lost 10% of their body weight.
- Three children had regressed and refused to feed themselves or would take only milk.
- Most complained of recent health problems including abdominal pain, headache, coughing and vomiting. Two required hospital care.
- Ten out of 11 children seen by a psychologist had begun to experience sleep problems including nightmares and difficulty falling or remaining asleep
- Four children had bed-wetting, although they had previously been dry for a number of years and two started daytime soiling and wetting, indicators of severe stress.
- Four children had regressed language skills, including one child who had become selectively mute.
- All nine parents interviewed reported severe psychological distress, and six out of nine had contemplated suicide. Two were on suicide watch.
In rather deadpan fashion the report concludes that its findings support Australian research which suggested that 'detention is not in the best interests of the child'.
Most importantly the parents and children did not have access to the full range of assessment, support and treatment that they required and which they would have had access to if the children were attending a school.
Brent has one of the highest populations of refugees and asylum seekers and as a Brent teacher I gained valuable knowledge in educating and caring for children who had often gone through the most horrendous experiences. Providing a safe and supportive place for them to talk and work through their experience, as well as access to other agencies, enabled them to benefit from school and because they were the most fluent English speakers in the family, they often acted as interpreters in the family's dealings with the authorities.
I believe that one of the reasons that detention is favoured by this Government, and previous ones, is that schools as institutions have become highly effective at mounting campaigns against the deportation of pupils as well as supporting their needs. Schools are legally required to support racial equality and often have policies committed to social justice. Refugee and asylum seeker's children establish friendships in the school and their families begin to make links with the local community. These friendships and connections challenge negative stereotypes as refugees and asylum seekers become real people, with names, characters, emotions and histories and earn the respect of the host community.
An exemplary approach to providing support for refugee children is provided in Brent by Salusbury World, a charity operating from Salusbury Primary School in Queen's Park. A BBC report on one family's experience can be seen here: Child Abuse by UK Border Agency
Paul Connett, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Chemistry at St Lawrence University New York State, gave an enlightening and condemning talk, after being briefed on the proposed waste plans, including a site visit of the area by members of the Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood (BXC) Plan. He ripped apart the “green wash” claims made by the developers that the plans are harmless and “not incineration” and called the plant a “gasifying incinerator”.
He stated that no gasification plant anywhere in the world has been used to successfully dispose of commercial waste by burning, that the technology is unproven other than for burning wood, that burning waste is not the answer to achieve “zero waste” and that the emission of ultra fine nano particulates by these plants isn't regulated.
Professor Paul Connett said, “These modern new-style incinerators put out more nano-particles than the old ones. The particles are so small that rather than lodging in the lungs they enter the bloodstream. You would have to be STUPID to put one of these things near a community – schools and homes are being put at risk from non-regulated and potentially lethal emissions. We need to protect our citizens from this stupidity. The United States hasn’t allowed any new incinerators since 1995, so why have Barnet? Developers should come clean and give us the information. Barnet need to move from PR to solid answers.”
He added, “After 25 years you would be no closer to sustainability compared to zero waste. An incinerator is one big black box. Aiming for zero waste is hundreds of little green boxes.”
Lia Colacicco, Co-ordinator of the BXC Coalition said, “The Professor’s views have confirmed our worst fears that plans are totally wrong for this area. Not only is it not safe, it’s incredibly stupid. It’s madness to burn waste, crazy to put this so close to a local school, and dishonest to claim it is harmless and not incineration. This is not the right way to deal with our waste, and only confirms that plans for Brent Cross are not in the public interest. If the developers don't believe it is an incinerator, then give us the plans and show us the facts.”
“We are also concerned that Barnet Councillors have been hoodwinked by developers’ PR to believe the plant is safe, when neurotoxins will be emitted. We do not believe that Barnet Councillors and those making the decisions have fully researched the facts or have even visited the site. If they had done so they would be fully aware of the implications of this toxic monster of a scheme.”
Local Councillor Alec Castle said, “Professor Connett’s enlightening talk makes it even more clear that the Brent Cross development would have a catastrophic impact on the environment and the health of local residents if approved in its current form.”
The proposed site for the incinerator is just 200 yards from Our Lady of Grace Infants School in Dollis Hill, Brent. Brent Friends of the Earth had previously condemned the plans over toxic dioxin emissions that developers admitted would be released from the plant, about monitoring of emissions and lack of detail in the plans.
The coalition now consists of twelve residents groups in Barnet, Camden and Brent, three political parties, two MPs, two London Assembly Members, three Friends of the Earth groups, London-wide and local transport campaigners, a cycling campaign, a large local employer and individual local residents. It aims to demand and achieve a public inquiry to prevent BXC being built according to current plans.
Brent Green Party is a member of the Coalition.