Tuesday 30 November 2010

Hard Times Ahead for Education in Brent

Brent Council, faced with having to make 'savings' of £90m by 2015 is undertaking a 'fundamental review of purpose' headteachers and chairs of governors were told at a briefing last night. Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families, said this would involve deciding what services the council will continue to offer, reduce, stop or provide in partnership with others.  The council's 'One Council Programme' was designed to both reduce costs and protect front line services. What counts as 'front line' will need to be reviewed.

The Children and Families Department will lose £1.8m in-year grant reductions. Grant information is not yet available and school budget figures for 2011-12 will not be available until February or March 2011, only days before the start of the new financial year. This will make forward planning by governing bodies extremely difficult.

Capital spending for buildings will be reduced by 60% over the next 5 years and will be limited to spend on demographic pressures (additional children) and maintenance - not new build or rebuild.At the same time Brent  is facing an unprecedented increase in pupil numbers and a 55% increase in referrals to Children's Social Care. 1,000 additional children have needed school places in Brent since August.

Clive Heaphy, nine weeks into his job at Director of Finance and Corporate Services, presented the picture on funding. The DfE will receive cuts of 10.8%. Funding for the schools budget will increase by £3.6bn in cash terms by the end of the Spending Review period, a 0.1% increase in real terms each year. However pupil numbers will increase by an average of 0.7% per year equalling a cut  in spending  per pupil of 0.6% per year, a total of 2.25% over the five year period. The  'increase' will also have to cover the  £2.5bn pupil premium.  Schools wil be expected to find procurement and 'back office' savings of around £1bn. The public sector pay freeze is expected to 'free up' another £1bn.

The ring fences around previously centrally allocated budgets will be removed and hard-pressed schools may have to use the funds for basic purposes. These headings include:
  • One to one tuition
  • 'Every child' catch up programmes including Every Child a Reader
  • Extended schools
  • School lunch grant
  • School Standards Grant
  • School Development Grant
  • Special schools grant
  • Ethnic Minority Achievement grant
  • National Strategies budgets
  • Dedicated schools grant
  • Academies running costs
The council will be reviewing Children's Centres. some of which have only just been opened, as SureStart funding is likely to be reduced. Krutika Pau said that funding will now target the most vulnerable Under 5s and that there will be a need to 'redefine Children Centres' core offer'. A new provision that will need to be funded is the allocation of 15 hours free nursery education per week to the 'most deprived' 2 year olds.

Questioned on academies, Kruika Pau said officers would remain neutral in terms of the debate but she promised to model what would happen to funding of Brent schools if some became academies. As academies attract funding that would otherwise go to fund central services there will obviously come a tipping point where there will insufficient funds to run effective central services. The services would become too expensive for schools remaining in the local authority 'family' when other school pulled out, and the services and those functions of the local authority would no longer be viable. Cllr Mary Arnold said she had already made her position on academies clear at a previous meeting but didn't seize the opportunity to 'rally the troops'. However, members of the Teachers' Panel who attended the meeting as observers were able to give out a leaflet about the issue.

Rik Boxer, Deputy Director of Children and Families, gave a briefing on the achievements of Brent LA. At the end of the reception year Brent children were below national and London  averages, but by the end of Key Stage 2 (11 year olds in Year 6) they were above the national average. At GCSE  Brent children are 6 percentage points above the national average. He said that much needed to be done and that there would be a strong focus on schools moving from an Ofsted rating of 'satisfactory' to 'good'.  He said current proposals on academies and free schools presented a real danger of fragmentation and emphasised the need fop overall coherence, strategic planning, collective responsibility and collaboration.

Added to the financial and organisational uncertainties, and a basic lack of concrete information, are the 'reviews' that the Coalition government have announced. These cover child protection, early years, capital spending, child poverty and early intervention. Alongside this schools and governing bodies have to cope with 'policy on the hoof' which I feel are really stabilising. Over the last few months there have been several policy changes on Academies which  the Anti Academies Alliance summarised:
  • On the 4th November Michael Gove announced that the government would use its powers to turn schools in Special Measures into Academies.
  • On Friday 12th November the FT reported that the White Paper, expected during November, would pave the way for every school to be directly funded from the government,meaning every school would effectively become an Academy.
  • But then on Wednesday 17th November the press reported that Gove was inviting every school to become an Academy, as long as they were partnered with an ‘Outstanding’ school.
In addition the announcement that in future the government would fund schools directly, by-passing the local authority, was quietly reversed last weekend.

Schools face a difficult task as it is and all these uncertainties need to be sorted out quickly so that they can get on with their central task of educating the next generation.

Monday 29 November 2010

Audacious action on cuts

David Cameron will get his "big society" quicker than he thinks, judging by the huge attendance at a conference called last Saturday 27 November by the Coalition of Resistance to Cuts and Privatisation.
Over 1200 delegates packed the conference, which brought together MPs, trade unions, campaigning organisations from across the country, student activists, representatives from pensioner groups -- all corners of societyfacing government plans to cut public services to the bone.
Speakers at the conference -- from MP John McDonnell to Len McCluskey, the newly elected leader of Britain's largest trade union UNITE -- all had the same message, the spirit of which was captured by 15-year-old school Barnaby Raine, who joined last week's protests against education cuts:
"If the police think that 'kettling' students will stop us coming on demonstrations ever again, they are sorely mistaken. Students have only two choices: either they lay down and accept what the government throws at them,or they fight back."
The student protests and occupations are inspiring new levels of militancy and audacious action, which will be taken up across all the campaigns to stop the government cuts.
As MP John McDonnell told the conference, we will build a fast gathering, united movement of opposition, which will see strikes, demonstrations, occupations, direct action and campaigns of civil disobedience, on a scale not seen for a generation.
Tony Benn, who was elected president of the Coalition of Resistance, said David Cameron is going to see what a "big society" really looks like.
He spelled out the task we are facing: a government which aims to roll back 60 years of progress, and return to the dark days before the creation of the welfare state, must be stopped in its tracks.
The Coalition of Resistance will support all anti cuts campaigns and is calling for the widest solidarity with the national day of student protests on Tuesday 30 November. A national week of action against the cuts is planned for February 2011 and the Coalition of Resistance is committed to help make the TUC demonstration against the cuts on 26 March one of the biggest protests ever seen in Britain.

Waste Savings and Strategy Challenged

Tomorrow's Overview and Scrutiny Committee (7.30pm Council Chamber, Town Hall) will consider call-ins on the Street Cleansing Efficiency savings and Waste Collection Strategy decisions made by the Council Executive on November 15th.

The reasons cited for the call-in of the Street Cleansing Efficiency Savings are:
  • The decision departs from the principle of protecting front line services.
  • Consider the implications for the cleanliness of local streets.
  • Consider the implications of prompt identifying of dumped rubbish and  their removal.
  • Consider full and effective consultation with local residents on this.
The reasons cited for the call-in of the Waste Strategy are:

  •  To discuss concerns regarding the nature and openness of the consultation and the possibility of full consulting residents.
  • To consider the concerns of residents around the reduction in service and the implications of the increase in the number of bins.
  • To discuss concerns regarding the co-mingling of waste and contamination of waste.
  • To fully review the options available.
  • To consider how to retain public support for recycling and not lose it by scrapping weekly refuse collections.
  • To consider implications of fortnightly refuse collections on housing estates and properties in multiple occupation.
  • To consider the risk of Judicial Review

Sunday 28 November 2010

Brent: Waste Capital of West London?

The West London Waste Authority, covering the boroughs of Brent, Harrow, Hillingdon, Ealing, Hounslow and  Richmond, is seeking to process and dispose of more of the rubbish in its area, in order to meet targets in the 2009 London Plan. It is suggested an extra 20 hectares of processing will be required on top of the existing 17 hectares in the WLWA area.

This will require new sites or the expansion of existing sites so that they process rather than merely transport rubbish. The Harrow Observer recently revealed the lists of sites being considered for this 'intensification'. Four are in Brent and another five in Park Royal, close to Ealing's border with Brent. That covers 9 of the 14 possibilities  (The others are one in Harrow, 3  in Hillingdon and one in Hounslow. There are none proposed in Richmond).

BRENT: Abbey Road, Park Royal; Rail Sidings, Premier Park Road, PR; Alperton Lane Industrial Area, Marsh Road; Hannah Close, Great Central Way, Wembley. 
EALING: Park Royal 8, Coronation Road; Park Royal 9, Coronation Road; Park Royal 2, Chase Road; Park Royal 1, Victoria Road; Atlas Road, Park Royal.

These proposals are for designating land and no details of the processing involved will be available at this stage in the consultation.  Therefore residents will not have access information on the possible health hazards of the processes involved when the sites are given planning approval. Brent sites are favoured because it is claimed they are not close to housing. It is like designating an area for a power station and not syai9ng whether it is coal, oil or nuclear.

Brent councillors were unhappy about the repercussions for Brent when the proposals were discussed. There are concerns that Brent will be handling waste from more affluent boroughs who will avoid any prcessing depots in their borough, increased lorry traffic and pollution. Brent, as the poorest of the boroughs will be dealing with the waste of the richer boroughs - without any financial compensation. It appears that the Alperton depot, owned by Veolia (controversial because of its pro-illegal settler activities in Palestine LINK), is likely to be a favoured option. It won the Camden waste contract largely because of the Alperton depot - Camden had sold off its own.

It is interesting that Brent is the most easterly of the WLWA boroughs. The east side of London was always the site of polluting processes historically because smoke and smells were taken away on the prevailing winds and did not affect the west of the city.

The West London Waste Plan  is behind schedule but key milestones for the contractors are:

March 2011 - Publication of the WLWP document and sustainability proposal
April-May 2001 - pre-qualification of bidders
May-June 2011 - WLWP examination in public
December 2011 - WLWP adopted
January 2012 - short-listing of bidders
June 2012 - possible further short-listing of bidders
September 2012 - final tenders
October 2012 - preferred bidder/tender award

2012-14 Planning
2014-16 Construction of new plants
2015-16 Plants operational

Brent councillors will have to have their wits about them if they are to fight for the rights of Brent residents in this process. We must not be bought off by promises of extra jobs if this is to the detriment of the long-term health and quality of life of Brent residents.

An independent blog-site has been set up to monitor the activities of the West London Waste Authority LINK

Friday 26 November 2010

Agenda for tomorrow's Coalition of Resistance Conference

Agenda for tomorrow's Coalition of Resistance Conference against the cuts at the Camden Centre, Bidborough St, WC1 H8
10:00 - 10:30, REGISTRATION

10:30 - 11:45, OPENING PLENARY - Camden Centre main hall
Clare Solomon NUS, Andrew Murray, Jean Lambert MEP, Bob Crow RMT, Christian Mahieux (Solidaires unions, France), Heather Wakefield UNISON, Rachel Newton (People's Charter), John McDonnell MP, Lindsey German CoR, Ken Loach, Mark Serwotka PCS, Paul Mackney.

12:00 - 13:15, WORKSHOPS

1. YOUTH, STUDENTS AND EDUCATION - Camden Centre main hall
Speakers from school and student protests, Alex Kenny NUT, Jean-Baptiste Tondu (NPA France)

2. ANALYSING THE CRISIS - Camden Centre canteen
James Meadway, Stathis Kouvelakis, Derek Wall, Hilary Wainwright

Range of speakers from anti-cuts and other organisations from around the

Liz Davies, Samir Jeeraj (Green Party), Billy Bragg, Laurie Penny

5. MOBILISING THE UNIONS - School canteen
Alan Whittaker President UCU, Rebecca Allen PCS, George Binette UNISON

6. WOMEN AND THE CUTS - School classroom
Katherine Connelly, Feminist Network and others

13:15 - 14:00, LUNCH

14:00 - 15:15, WORKSHOPS
1. DEFENDING THE WELFARE STATE Camden Centre main hall
Colin Leys KONP, Chris Nineham CoR, Dr Jacky Davis, Eileen Short DCH

2. ALTERNATIVES TO THE CRISIS - Camden Centre canteen
Ozlem Onaran, Richard Brenner, John Hilary (War on Want)

Zita Holbourne, Terry Conway, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Mary Davis (Charter for Women)

4. Coalition of Resistance: HOW AND WHY - School Hall 2
Andrew Burgin, Lindsey German, Joseph Healy

George Thompson PCS, Colin Hampton Chesterfield UWC, Pip Tindall Brighton
Benefits Centre

Chris Baugh PCS, Jonathan Neale CACC, Peter Robinson

15:30 - 17:00, VOTING, ELECTIONS AND CLOSING PLENARY - Camden Centre main hall
Dot Gibson (Pensioner campaigner), Lee Jasper (BARAC), Jeremy Dear NUJ, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Salma Yaqoob (Respect), John Rees CoR, Kate Hudson CND, Chris Bambery (Right to Work), Lowkey, Tony Benn

Kettling lessons - brilliant article

 Video showing mounted police charge on demonstrators (1min 10secs in)

Laurie Penny, writing in the New Statesman, vividly describes the kettling of children in Whitehall

It's the coldest day of the year, and I've just spent seven hours being kettled in Westminster. That sounds jolly, doesn't it? It sounds a bit like I went and had a lovely cup of tea with the Queen, rather than being trapped into a freezing pen of frightened teenagers and watching armed police kidney-punching children, six months into a government that ran an election campaign on a platform of fairness. So before we go any further, let's remind ourselves precisely what kettling is, and what it's for.

Take a protest, one whose premise is uncomfortable for the administration - say, yesterday's protest, with thousands of teenagers from all over London walking out of lessons and marching spontaneously on Westminster to voice their anger at government cuts to education funding which will prevent thousands from attending college and university. Toss in hundreds of police officers with riot shields, batons, dogs, armoured horses and meat wagons, then block the protesters into an area of open space with no toilets, food or shelter, for hours. If anyone tries to leave, shout at them and hit them with sticks. It doesn't sound like much, but it's effective.

I didn't understand quite how bad things had become in this country until I saw armed cops being deployed against schoolchildren in the middle of Whitehall. These young people joined the protest to defend their right to learn, but in the kettle they are quickly coming to realise that their civil liberties are of less consequence to this government than they had ever imagined The term 'kettle' is rather apt, given that penning already-outraged people into a small space tends to make tempers boil and give the police an excuse to turn up the heat, and it doesn't take long for that to happen. When they understand that are being prevented from marching to parliament by three lines of cops and a wall of riot vans, the kids at the front of the protest begin to moan. "It's ridiculous that they won't let us march," says Melissa, 15, who has never been in trouble before. "We can't even vote yet, we should be allowed to have our say."

The chant goes up: "what do we want? The right to protest!" At first, the cops give curt answers to the kids demanding to know why they can't get through. Then they all seem to get some sort of signal, because suddenly the polite copper in front of me is screaming in my face, shoving me hard in the back of the head, raising his baton, and the protesters around me are yelling and running back. Some of them have started to shake down a set of iron railings to get out, and the cops storm forward, pushing us right through those railings, leaving twenty of us sprawling in the rubble of road works with cracked knees. When they realised that they are trapped, the young protesters panic. The crush of bodies is suddenly painful - my scarf is ripped away from me and I can hear my friend Clare calling for her son - and as I watch the second line of police advance, with horses following behind them, as I watch a surge of teenagers carrying a rack of iron railings towards the riot guard and howling to be released, I realise they're not going to stop, and the monkey instinct kicks in. I scramble up a set of traffic lights, just in time to see a member of the Metropolitan police grab a young protester by the neck and hurl him back into the crowd.

Behind me, some kids have started to smash up a conveniently empty old police van that's been abandoned in the middle of the road. "Let us out!" they chant. "Let us out!" A 13-year old girl starts to hyperventilate, tears squeezing in raw trails over her frightened face, unable to tear her face away from the fight - I put a hand on her back and hurry her away from the police line, Her name is Alice, and she is from a private school. "Just because I won't be affected by the EMA cuts doesn't mean I don't care about the government lying," she says, "but I want to go home now. I have to find my friend."

As darkness falls and we realise we're not going anywhere, the protesters start to light fires to keep warm. First, they burn their placards, the words 'rich parents for all!' going up in flames, with a speed and efficiency gleaned from recent CV-boosting outdoor camping activities. Then, as the temperature drops below freezing, they start looking for anything else to burn, notebooks and snack wrappers - although one young man in an anarchist scarf steps in to stop me tossing an awful historical novel onto the pyre. "You can't burn books," he says, "we're not Nazis."

As I look around at this burnt-out children's crusade, I start to wonder where the hell the student activists are. Whatever the news says, this is emphatically not a rabble led by a gang of determined troublemakers out to smash things for fun. In fact, we could do with a few more seasoned radicals here, because they tend to know what to do at demonstrations when things get out of hand. I find myself disappointed in the principled anarchists and student activists I know, who aren't here because they've decided that the best way to make their presence felt is by occupying their own lecture halls. I realise that these school pupils are the only ones who really understand what's going on: even people my age, the students and graduates who got in just before the fee hike, are still clinging to the last scraps of that dream of a better future, still a little bit afraid to make a fuss. These teenagers, on the other hand, know that it's all nonsense. They sat their school exams during the worst recession in living memory, and they aren't taken by the promise of jobs, of education, of full lives and safe places to live.They understand that those things are now reserved for the rich, and the white heat of their rage is a comfort even behind the police lines in this sub-zero chill.

Smaller children and a pregnant woman huddle closer to the fires. Everyone is stiff and hungry, and our phones are beginning to lose signal: the scene is Dante-esque, billows of smoke and firelight making it unclear where the noises of crying and chanting and the whine of helicopters are coming from.

This is the most important part of a kettle, when it's gone on for too long and you're cold and frightened and just want to go home. Trap people in the open with no water or toilets or space to sit down and it takes a shockingly short time to reduce ordinary kids to a state of primitive physical need. This is savage enough when it's done on a warm summer day to people who thought to bring blankets, food and first aid. It's unspeakably cruel when it's done on the coldest night of the year, in sub-zero temperatures, to minors, some of whom don't even have a jumper.

Some of them have fainted, and need medical attention, or the loo. They won't let us out. That's the point of a kettle. They want to make you uncomfortable, and then desperate, putting your route back to warmth and safety in the gift of the agents of the state. They decide when you can get back to civilisation. They decide when the old people can get warm, when the diabetics can get their insulin, when the kid having a panic attack can go home to her mum. It's a way of making you feel small and scared and helpless, a way for the state's agents to make you feel that you are nothing without them, making you forget that a state is supposed to survive by mandate of the people, and not the other way around.

Strangers draw together around the makeshift campfires in this strange new warzone right at the heart of London. A schoolgirl tosses her homework diary to feed the dying flames. "I don't even know you, but I love you," says another girl, and they hug each other for warmth. "Hands up who's getting a bollocking from their parents right now?" says a kid in a hoodie, and we all giggle.

He's got a point. This morning, the parents and teachers of Britain woke up angry, in the sure and certain knowledge that the administration they barely elected is quite prepared to hurt their children if they don't do as they are told.

It's not looking good for this government. This spontaneous, leaderless demonstration, this children's crusade, was only the second riot in two weeks, and now that the mums and dads of Britain are involved, the Coalition may quickly begin to lose the argument on why slashing the state down to its most profitable parts and abandoning children, young people, the disabled and the unemployed to the cruel wheel of the market is absolutely necessary.

Let the government worry about the mums and dads, though - I'm worried about the kids.
I'm worried about the young people I saw yesterday, sticking it out in the cold, looking after one another, brave and resolute. I'm worried about those school pupils who threw themselves in front of the police van to protect it from damage, the children who tried to stop other children from turning a peaceful protest into an angry mob - and succeeded. I'm worried that today, those children feel like they've done something wrong, when they are, in fact, the only people in the country so far who've had the guts to stand up for what's right.

The point of a police kettle is to make you feel small and scared, to strike at the childish part of every person that's frightened of getting in trouble. You and I know, however, that we're already in trouble. All we get to decide is what kind of trouble we want to be in. Yesterday, the children of Britain made their decision, and we should be bloody proud of them toda

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Brent school students kettled for more than 7 hours

Just heard that some of the Brent school students taking part in today's demonstration have been kettled since 12.30pm (it's now 7.45pm) and mobiles running out of juice.  They must be cold and hungry and desperately needing a lavatory. Presumably the police are trying to teach them a lesson....

Here's a solidarity message from Radical Education Summer 1979 (originally created 1973)

Is Big Really Beautiful?

As Cllr James Powney has recently accused me on his blog of trying to wreck the expansion of primary school places in Brent I thought it it might be useful to if I outlined some of the issues that concern me so that readers can make up their own minds.

There are currently many 4 and 5 year olds without school places in Brent and the borough has received 'safety valve' money to provide extra places. This money has to be spent by the end of August 2011 or it will be lost. As a result there are a number of schemes under-way to add extra classes to some primary schools and a proposal for a 2 form entry primary school at Preston Manor High School, creating an all-through 4-19 school of more than 2,000 pupils.

It is the Preston Manor expansion scheme and associated secondary expansion schemes that concern me. The Preston Manor proposal for a 420 pupil primary provision only emerged during August and the consultation has been 'stream-lined' because of the need to spend the money by August 2011. The quality of the consultation has been affected by the need to meet the deadline but also by the impact of staffing cuts in the department concerned and the restructuring which has transferred the department from Children and Families to Regeneration and Major Projects. These factors have resulted in one consultation meeting for residents being held at a time when most residents were still at work; local residents only receiving consultation documents after vociferous protests; a 'consultation' at the Wembley Area Consultation Forum where after a PowerPoint presentation by seven project managers and council officers, only three questions from residents were allowed; and documentation that has already had to be revised twice.

A major weakness has been the lack of educational input into something that represents a major change in local education provision. Instead it has been seen as simply an exercise in creating extra classes or buildings to house children. The Ark Academy in Wembley will eventually provide 'all-through' education from 4-19. Preston Manor is five minutes away from the ARK and in competition with it and now consulting on offering the same range of provision. In addition, Alperton High School, Wembley High School and Capital City Academy have all expressed an interest in expanding to include primary provision and others may follow. Nowhere in the consultation has there been a thorough discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of such all-though schools which will each have a total pupil population of  1,600-2,000 or more.

Nor has there been proper consideration of the impact of such provision on nearby 'stand alone' primary schools. Preston Manor intends to give preference for admission to its secondary school to pupils who attend the primary school. This would represent 25% of their Year 7 intake. If you add preference given to siblings already at the High School this reduces the chance of children from stand alone primaries gaining admission to the High School significantly. Canny parents will want to send their children to the primary school in order to secure admission to the secondary school. In effect this means choosing your child's high school at the age of four. There is a real danger that stand alone primary schools will be destabilised as a result, losing pupils and experiencing high pupil turnover as they cater for an increasing proportion of pupils in short-term transit through the borough. A major consideration should be how this will affect equal opportunity for access to quality secondary education in the borough.

A further consideration is that the proposed expansions, with the exception of Capital City, are all in the North of the borough while much of the demand is in the South. The Harlesden/Stonebridge area lacks a community secondary school and there have been moves by parents to set up a 'free school' there. 'All through' schools in the north will reinforce that basic inequality and further shift the centre of gravity of the borough to Wembley.

To its credit the council has recognised that the rush to expand may affect the quality of the new provision. They should also recognise that the quality and viability of existing primary provision will be put at risk in the long-term if all-through schools become the norm. A further imponderable is the impact of the housing benefit cap on local families with the Council's own senior housing officer predicting that many may be forced to more out of the borough. Indeed there has already been an increase in evictions resulting in more families moving out of London or into short-term bed and breakfast accommodation. If that trend continues we may see a reduction in the number of pupils seeking school places.

The Green Party is in favour of genuine all-through schools which would be smaller and where the form of entry would be the same throughout.  Small schools where the headteacher and staff  know all the pupils have huge advantages in terms of creating a caring, family and community centred ethos. Large schools may be able to offer a wider curriculum and more shared resources as well as economies of scale but lose a lot in the process and I question whether large institutions are good places in which to care for and educate young children.

Brent used to offer a range of sizes of primary schools from one to three form entry but the number of one form entry schools (210 pupils from Reception to Year 6) has been reduced as a result of expansion plans and there are now some four form entry schools (840 pupils) which are bigger than many secondary schools. This process has been taking place over several years and there are legitimate  arguments for and against  which deserve a public airing before 'In Brent Big is Beautiful' becomes our borough slogan.

It may be inconvenient to ask these questions but it is not a wrecking tactic. Important decisions are being made and parents, teacher, governors and residents deserve to be part of the discussion.

Today's Student and School Student Protest

Thanks to Harrow United for this footage

Parents force academy retreat

Parents at Kenmont Primary School are on their way to winning the battle to halt governors' plans to turn the school into an academy sponsored by ARK which runs the Wembley academy.  Following a vigorous campaign by parents a new strategy has been adopted by the governing body which includes recruiting a new headteacher and involving  parent governors.

One of the parent campaigners, Polly Iannaccone, said  "We were determined to defend our right to keep our school they way we want it, which is a true reflection of everything that is positive about state education, and as a fantastic example of harmonious multicultural community life in inner London. Hopefully now we have done just that."

Although Kenmont is in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham it is close to the border with Brent and attended by many Brent children.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Join the Carnival of Resistance

Support the Save EMA Campaign

About EMA

The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is a means-tested allowance of between £10 and £30, paid to 16- to 19-year-olds who stay on in education.

Rolled out nationally in September 2004, EMA is intended to help with the cost of books, travel, equipment or anything useful to the continuation of learning. It’s paid straight into the pupil’s bank account, not their parents or their college, giving them independence and forcing them to take charge of a small weekly budget. The payments are under the condition that they attend classes regularly. If the pupil works hard or achieves good grades, there is the opportunity to earn bonuses.

EMA is available to 16-19 year olds who come from low income families and whose household’s net income is below £30,000 pa. There is an additional grant for those students from families household income is up to and below £20,000 pa. EMA currently exists all across the UK although the administering of it is devolved to the regional parliaments of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

About Save EMA

The Save EMA campaign aims to:
  • Get every party to be as clear as possible about where they stand on EMA;
  • Get those parties who oppose EMA to change their policy;
  • Give a voice to those students currently receiving EMA to enable them to express support for it;
  • Increase awareness of EMA and its benefits.
Sign the Petition HERE

Note:  Next year sees the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Children's Strikes.  Further information (from the BBC) HERE 

    Get REAL about climate change!

    Tuesday 23 November 7.30pm
    Willesden Green Library Centre 95 High Road NW10 2SF
    (nearest tube, Willesden Green)
    Jonathan Neale, Campaign against Climate Change, author One Million Climate Jobs Now!
    Derek Wall, Green Party, author No Nonsense Guide to Green Politics
    Nick Grant, National Executive, National Union of Teachers (pc)
    Ann Hunter, Brent Lib-Dem Councillor

    Monday 15 November 2010

    We must find ways for this project to continue

    The temporary pool
    Seb Coe's visit to the temporary swimming pool at Chalkhill Primary School was a great success with the pupils who excitedly showed him the pool and talked about how much they enjoyed having it at the school. Many have begun swimming as a result of the 10 lesson programme and the pool has also been used by the local community and neighbouring schools.

    It was a shame then that the next day we read in the Evening Standard  that Chalkhill may be the last school to have the temporary pool - at least for the time being. The two pools in the six borough scheme are to be moth-balled because London Swimming needs to find £250,000 to receive match funding from City Hall's £15.5million Olympic Sports Fund. The former is a small amount amount shared between six boroughs so I hope Brent Council will be able to find a way to help the project continue.

    Sunday 14 November 2010


    The Comprehensive Spending review announced unprecedented spending cuts with local government being one of the hardest hit areas. The government has, in effect, outsourced responsibility for spending cuts to town halls.

    The effect on jobs and services in Brent will be devastating.

    The full extent of the cuts in Brent will not be properly known until December when the Local Government Grant is finalised and a more detailed analysis of the Comprehensive Spending review has been undertaken. However, I anticipate that some services currently taken for granted will simply disappear and services which councils are not required by law to provide will be shredded.

    The cuts will cause real pain and anxiety for people who provide the services and those who receive them. Consultants KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers have warned that many councils may cease to become financially viable faced with cuts of this scale.

    I urge everyone – fight to defend jobs and services.

    Phil O’Reilly, Brent UNISON

    In defence of public libraries

    I have been a member of a public library continuously since before I started school (in fact the old Kingsbury Library now replaced). When I move house joining  the library is the first thing I do once the electricity and gas are connected and the furniture in. As one of a large family with parents unable to give me a lot of attention, the library was in a sense my home educator, and librarians actually quite important in encouraging me to widen my reading tastes. Without a library I think I would have not progressed much educationally,

    Currently I see queues of young and older people outside the Town Hall Library, waiting for it to open, not all just to keep warm but somewhere they can advance their education.  Library staff could probably tell you that young children use local libraries after school as a place to do their homework, but also an unofficial safe place to be picked up by their parents when they finish work.

     A lot of the youngsters on the Chalkhill Estate use the library, encouraged by the school and by class visits, and there is also a high usage of the internet there, for learning but also for job seeking. This is essential if we are to tackle the gap between those who have access and those who do not.  They are fortunate in being near a library not down for closure - although it will be less accessible when it is moved to the new Civic Centre.

    However youngster who currently use Barham Park, Cricklewood, Neasden, Tokyngton, Kensal Rise and Preston libraries, all down for closure, will be less fortunate. The proposal for the remaining six libraries to be 'community hubs' with other council services located there does not  replace the local accessibility of these small libraries.

     Brent libraries are also the source of much cultural input including Black History Month events and other activities that bring a diverse community together including language and citizenship test classes. The Town Hall library is currently running a reading club for primary school children and others have homework clubs for children without access to books or computers at home. As the recession bites this will become even more important. 

    As Greens local libraries are important to us because we believe in easily accessible community resources which do not  involve car trips.A local library is a place where children of 10 and over can easily walk to on their own rather than rely on lifts from parents - this encourages one area of independence in a landscape where children are more and more dependent on adults, with few opportunities for independent activity. Libraries even save paper, and therefore trees, through multiple lending of one book rather than individual purchases of many books - and the authors get a steady source of income, albeit it small, from public lending rights.

    Lobby against library closures Monday 6.30pm Town Hall

    Saturday 13 November 2010

    "Escalate peaceful but forceful student protest" - Young Greens

    The Young Greens, the youth and student branch of the Green Party have made the following comment on the student demonstrations.

    Sam Coates, co-chair of the Young Greens, was at Millbank. He said:

    "The anger at Wednesday's protests was remarkable, especially towards the Lib Dems who have left so many students feeling betrayed and unsure where to turn next. Students have begun the fight against the Coalition's dangerous and damaging policies. This is what you get when you condemn a whole generation to a lifetime of debt, unaffordable housing and a lack of decent jobs. Obviously we abhor violence against people, but the events at Millbank were a totally understandable response to pent up anger of young people who feel they are being jilted at every turn.

    "Many of the protesters at Millbank were younger college and sixth form students worried they will be priced out of university by a trebling of fees. Hundreds of people went inside the building and thousands more were cheering from the courtyard. This was a spontaneous action uniting thousands of ordinary students."

    He concluded by calling for an escalation of peaceful but forceful student protests:

    "What happened yesterday generated momentum in the student movement that must be harnessed if these cuts are to be defeated and the movement escalated. We fully support direct action, occupations and other activities that utilise sensible tactics to show the Government we will not accept higher fees, and we will not accept cuts to higher education funding. Manchester University students have already begun a campaign of occupation, and we support them in their efforts to fight cuts to their education.

    "The Green Party opposes cuts to public services and is calling for investment hundreds of thousands of green jobs to kick start the economy on a low carbon direction. With money markets desperate to buy government bonds, there is absolutely no reason to panic about Government debt in the short term. In 1945 public debt was 5 times larger than today and our grandparents managed to build the welfare state. The Tories have always tried to argue that we cannot afford decent education, health and housing, and they've been proved wrong."

    Friday 12 November 2010

    Village Uprising in Roe Green

    Roe Green residents have asked me to publicise their campaign on Wembley Matters:
    Not again! Yes! Brent council has done it again. This time they have completely ignored procedures that should this have been Joe-public they would have descended on them breathing fire and brimstone.

    Brent Council has granted itself planning permission to erect an ill-planned, poorly conceived structure that would shame any area within this Borough’s boundaries, let alone a conservation area.

    The Council, in order to grasp a last-minute grant from the previous Government for an Intergenerational Centre, short-cut the public consultation procedure to secure this money, despite disagreements with the locals as to whether it was necessary.

    The residents of Roe Green Village, one of the last few remaining examples of small First World War settlements just beyond the North Circular, are stunned by what they perceive to have been anti-democratic procedures adopted by Brent Council to put through a planning application for an insensitively proportioned and badly designed block, to be built on the edge of this small enclave of stone-white and mellow brick cottages that have survived all sorts since the First World War. 

    What has come to the fore when this almost project was finally and properly revealed, was the Machiavellian way the Council went about finalising the planning permission for such a building.
     The argument rests whether Brent has the right to erect such a building without following procedures that their Planning Dept would not have correctly considered in other circumstances.
     The present Council has no deep knowledge or understanding of the area and its Senior Officers fail to properly advise them. 

    Once we lose this unique and historical area, there will be no turning back, it will be gone forever.

    Roe Green Village is a circa 1918 garden village styled residential conservation area, situated in the district of Kingsbury, which is part of the northern extend of the London Borough of Brent.
    The Community is supported by a local association, the Roe Green Village Residents’ Association.

    For  further information, please contact:
    Debbie Nyman on debbienyman@talktalk.net

    Monday 8 November 2010

    Governors Go Ahead with Preston Manor Expansion Plans

    Preston Manor High School governors have decided to go ahead with the next stage of consultation on expanding the school to include children from 4 to 11 year. This will ultimately in crease the population of the school by 420 Reception to Year places to give a total population of 1980 places. The pupil entry for Reception will be 60 and for Year 7 252. If the plans go ahead the permanent primary provision will be opened in September 2011. However 60 reception age children will start in temporary accommodation at the school in January 2011.

    The statutory notice confirms that Year 6 pupils attending the primary provision would be prioritised for entry to Year 7 at the secondary school.

    The plans were opposed by residents at their consultative meeting and again by residents and others at the Wembley Area Consultative forum. Opposition is likely to continue at this statutory stage.

    Although the notice says that the consultation period starts from November 4th, the date of publication, the full documentation was not available on the consultation website today.

    Extract from Statutory Notice

    Copies of the complete proposal can be obtained from: Nitin Parshotam, Head of Assets Management, Children and Families, London Borough of Brent, 4th Floor Chesterfield House, 9 Park Lane, Wembley, Middlesex, HA9 7RW.
    Within six weeks from the date of publication of this proposal i.e. by 16 December 2010, any person may object to or make comments on the proposal in writing by sending them to Nitin Parshotam, Head of Assets Management, Children and Families, London Borough of Brent, 4th Floor Chesterfield House, 9 Park Lane, Wembley, Middlesex, HA9 7RW. Email: Consultations.schoolorganisation@brent.gov.uk

    House of Commons Burning Talks

    Environmental groups opposing the Brent Cross incinerator took their fight to the House of Commons on Tuesday of last week.  Together with invited MPs, they heard leading waste experts spell out the dangers of incinerators, such as that proposed at Brent Cross, and the arguments for a “zero waste” alternative.  However, Mike Freer, local MP for Finchley and Golders Green failed to attend.

    Brent Cross Cricklewood Coalition members from local Friends of the Earth (FoE) groups in Brent, Barnet and Enfield were invited to the seminar “Zero Waste – the Cost Effective and Sustainable Alternative to Incineration”.  The meeting, organised by Gloucestershire against Incinerators, part of the “UK Without Incineration Network” (UKWin), was attended by anti-incinerator groups from across the UK, as well as members of Parliament.  Keynote speaker Paul Connett, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Chemistry from St Lawrence University, New York State, had previously visited the Brent Cross site, and also recently addressed the United Nations.

    Professor Connett said, ““The Brent Cross Cricklewood developers need to radically rethink their "energy from domestic waste" plans.  Putting a gasifying-incinerator, emitting unregulated and toxic nano-particles, into a built-up area, near schools and homes is madness.  Gasification is an unproven technology for domestic waste.  This has caused at least one evacuation of local homes in Germany, after which trials were stopped.

    "It beggars belief that the developers continue to claim they are not planning an "incinerator".

    "Instead of burning our domestic waste, we need to move towards a "zero waste system", where rubbish is considered a resource to recycle.

    “Incineration and gasification detract from recycling, since they don’t work without burning good recyclable materials.  They also emit more greenhouse gases than when the organic component is treated by digestion."

    Viv Stein, Brent Friends of the Earth Spokesperson, said, “Incinerators are a dead technology, sold on spin.  No new plants have been approved in the United States since 1995.  The UK is now being targeted by companies keen to make a profit here – at the expense of the public purse, local communities and the environment.

    “Incinerators bind local Councils to costly and inflexible long term contracts which are bad news anytime, but madness when Councils are so strapped for cash.  Councils sometimes even have to pay penalties because they are not providing enough material to burn.

    “Brent Cross Developer Jonathan Joseph and former Barnet leader, now MP, Mike Freer, strongly defended incineration at Barnet planning committee, promising  information was readily available that these plants are safe.  Yet one year on we have yet to see any independent evidence this is the case.  We challenge Mike Freer and Hammerson to tell us why.  If Freer wants to stick an incinerator amongst his constituents, he should have joined us to listen to experts’ concerns.”

    Phil Fletcher, Barnet and Enfield Friends of the Earth Co-ordinator said, “Far from producing “energy from waste”, incinerators are a “waste of energy”.  Electricity from burning waste is extremely inefficient.  It is actually better for the climate to landfill plastic - and not incinerate it - if it cannot be recycled.

    “There is no safe level of toxic nano-particles from the incineration processes.  They are small enough to get into our bloodstream, and can do long-term damage to our health.  The ash created from incineration still has to be sent to landfill [8].  We learnt how monitoring of these toxic particles at hazardous waste landfill sites can be flawed – it depends where detection points are actually positioned.  It was quite shocking to see these are operating as open sites - here in the UK - with clouds of dust visibly affecting the local area.”

    Julian Kirby, Waste Campaigner, Friends of the Earth [9] who also addressed the meeting said, “The UK buries or burns over £650 million of recyclable materials every year.  That’s not just bad for the environment, it’s a massive waste of resources and a huge cost to our cash-strapped economy.

    “Over seventy thousand new jobs would be created if the UK recycled 70% of its business and Council-collected waste.  Given the Belgian region of Flanders exceeds that already, and Wales and Scotland have both set 70% as a 2025 target, why must England be left behind?

    “As the latest statistics show, we are producing less waste every year, and recycling more of it.  That is the direction we need to be heading – there is no need or place for incineration in a genuinely zero waste future.”

    Other speakers at the meeting were Barbara Farmer from Sward, a Gloucestershire group opposing incinerators, and Jonathan Essex from Bioregional who promote reuse of waste, which creates jobs and puts disused land into use.

    This meeting follows recent news that North London Waste Authority – including Barnet - has lost its Government agreement to borrow around £700 million for its seven-borough PFI waste plan.

    Rethink Afghanistan - film and discussion

    Sunday 7 November 2010

    Time for school students to organise?

    In blue lagoons I once did play,
    Tossing the surf,
    Catching the spray.
    Living my life as each day came,
    Never looking for fortune or fame.
    Clever and youthful,
    Strong and brave,
    Carelessly riding the tidal wave -
    but I was only 4.

    From BLOT magazine 1976
     There is a connection between my last blog on SATs and the previous one on young people and the cuts.

    The connection is that the generation now experiencing the cuts, whether through their school buildings not being rebuilt, losing their Education Maintenance Allowances, having Kilburn College sold off from under their feet,  seeing tuition fees increased or facing unemployment, is the generation that has experienced the full force of the target culture in schools. They have been the most tested generation of pupils ever.

    Yes, there has been investment in schools but often of the wrong kind: thousands spent on the SATs regime and national curriculum materials and all serving the purpose of meeting targets..  Throughout, the mantra repeated by the government, teachers and often parents has been, "Keep your heads down, do what the teacher says, work hard and you will end up with good qualifications, a good job and enough money to have a decent quality of life".

    Back in the 70s and 80s I remember when that mantra was blown apart in the face of unemployment and we are approaching that point now. Youth will be arguing "What was the point?"  I remember very well back at that time, when a child in my primary class in Fulham remarked, after I had foolishly repeated the mantra,  "My brother worked hard and got qualified and can't get a job so why should I bother?"

    This is particularly true now because the Blair government, and the Tories before them, have reduced education to individuals getting the employment skills to keep the UK ahead of competitor nations. Having narrowed the purpose of education and reduced schools to qualification factories they will face resentment and rebellion, disaffection and desperation.

    In the 70s school students organised in the National Union of School Students and other organisations. One of their major campaigns was against the use of corporal punishment in schools. The NUSS publicised their activities through a magazine called BLOT and for some time they got a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation. At the height of their influence they had the support of 30 or so MPs.

    Now such magazines are 'last century' compared with social networking sites and their power to mobilise large numbers at short notice. I wonder how many would answer a call such as this (taken from a 1976 edition of BLOT):

    You've got no rights, none at all - you've got no voice. No-one will hear you complain. You haven't got a chance to change a thing - you're too young to hear, speak or think. 

    That's what a lot of people think of us. 

    Well we know different - we know we think and we've got a lot to say but nowhere to say it. No-one to listen. I, me, myself will never be heard. I've got to be louder so I can shout and if we all shout together then we'll be heard.

    Bew Review should end SATs and league tables

    "Too many schools believe that they must drill children for tests and spend too much time on test preparation at the expense of teaching and learning."

    Wow, who said that - the NUT, Green Party, NAHT?

    No, the Department for Education announcing an inquiry led by cross-bencher Lord Bew.

    Schools drill children to pass the tests so as to get a high position in the league table and to keep Ofsted off their backs. The only logical outcome of an inquiry would be to abolish league tables and SATs, something I have long campaigned for.

    Schools are caught in a double bind, particularly in areas such as Brent where there is high pupil mobility, many children newly arrived from overseas and economic deprivation. In order to reach the nationally expected Level 4 the curriculum has to be narrowed, particularly in Year 6, to concentrate on English and Maths and additional support given in the form of 'booster classes' often after school or in holiday time. Year 6 for many children can become an arid experience. If schools don't put children through this programme their results push them down the league tables and they will lose pupils to better 'performing' schools as well as have Ofsted knocking on their door.

    This is not to take away the achievement of Brent schools faced with these pressures. Krutika Pau, Brent's Director of Children and Families, this week issued a circular congratulating schools for 'their work in driving up standards' in the borough. She notes that at Key stage 2 (SATs taken by 11 year olds) scores in English and Maths are above the national average for both Level 4+ and Level 5. The question has to be asked though, is it worth the pain and the pressure on both teachers and children?

    I have likened the boosting to training horses to get over jumps by a mixture of encouragement, threats and cajoling with the addition of half a dozen people placing their hands on its rump to push it over. It can get over the jump in this one off 'snap shot' but...

    There is another issue that is seldom addressed. Both the 11+ examination which used to be used to select pupils for secondary modern, grammar and technical schools and the London Reading Test used to band pupils into ability ranges to ensure a balanced comprehensive intake, used different result tables for girls and boys. Boys needed a lower score than girls to get selected for grammar schools or the top band. This was to correct the perceived differences in maturation of boys and girls at this age. Girls were seen to develop intellectually, as well as physically, earlier than boys. If the results of boys and girls had been treated equally there would have been disproportionate numbers of girls allocated to grammar schools and the top reading band.

    Now they are expected to achieve equally and we have an on-going crisis about 'boys' under-achievement' with all sorts of initiatives including the televised antics of a choir master experimenting with a group of boys in a competitive outdoor classroom with shades of Lord of the Flies. Not so much pushing them over the jumps with hands on rump but pulling them over by tugging on their penises!

    I confess that as a headteacher I shared in the collusion whilst also protesting against it. Perhaps the comment that pulled me up most sharply was the mother of a high-achieving, creative girl who accused me of robbing her daughter of her childhood, because of the additional work and pressure in Year 6.

    In answer to some of the criticisms about the crudity of pure attainment (test results) statistics, a contextual value added score has been added to the league tables. A significant measure is whether children have made the expected progress from Key Stage 1 (results for 7 year olds) and Key Stage 2. To monitor progress the National Curriculum levels are each divided into 3 sub-levels. Normal progress is to move up two sub-levels a year. Better progress than this results in a higher value added score. Apart from giving schools a whole new burden of statistical recording and analysis it can result in the paradoxical pressure on teachers of  Key Stage 1 pupils not to grade their pupils too high so that they can make greater progress measured against a lower starting point. 

    In fact real learning, as most of us know from our own experience, doesn't proceed in a smooth linear progression but there are fits and starts, periods of consolidation, a few steps back before a surge forward - the model assumes a mechanical or even industrial learning process that just does not accord to real life.

    Because of the drilling and boosting, secondary teachers often question children's primary school results, when they arrive in Year 7: is this child really operating at Level 4? Some secondary schools retest their children with standardised English and Maths tests, ignoring the results sent in by primary schools. Copland High School ensures a balanced intake by using a non-verbal reasoning test.

    Following on from last year's SATs boycott by the NUT and NAHT, the Conservatives were suggesting during the election campaign that children should take the Key Stage 2 SATs on arrival at secondary school, rather than in the last year of primary school. It is hard to gauge what the impact of this would be: it could liberate Year 6 teachers and enable them to return to a broad, balanced and creative curriculum or instead mean that Year 6 pupils are 'boosted' right up to the end of the summer term and beyond so as to safeguard the primary school's reputation.

    Anyway as Greens we should welcome the review and urge that both league tables and SATs be abandoned to be replaced by formative teacher assessment that guides future teaching and learning for each child.

    Friday 5 November 2010

    Brent Cuts Briefing

    Councillor Zaffar Van Kalwala contacted Brent Fightback to give his apologies for Thursday evening’s meeting, but sent the attached briefing prepared by him and Cllr Muhammed Butt, deputy leader of the Council outlining the probable effects on the people of Brent from the Comprehensive Spending Review.

    October 2010


    • Brent Council will have 28% cut from its central government grant resulting in a total loss of £65m over the next 4 years
    • Some of Brent’s low-income households face being worse off by upto £10,000 per year (based on increase in rents and loss of benefits)
    • 41,000 residents will see cuts to their Housing and Council Tax benefit payments
    • Freezing of the Sure-Start grant will result in a total funding cut of £1m
    • 4.250 Brent 16-19 year olds will lose their Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)
    • Brent is in the top 20 most income deprived local authorities in the country. It also has the 4th lowest average income levels in London with 16,901 households (16%) having an average annual income of £15,000 or less.


    The Chancellor, George Osborne insists there is no alternative to his huge and unnecessary cuts, detailed on Wednesday 20th October to the House of Commons. That is simply not true. The Lib-Con Government’s reckless gamble with growth and jobs runs the risk of stifling the fragile recovery. Labour is committed to halving the deficit over the lifetime of this parliament but this Government is going much faster and much deeper than is necessary.

    The CSR was meant to be fair with the Lib-Con Government saying ‘those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden.’ However, the £81bn worth of cuts released including significant spending reductions on welfare, housing and education will see some of Brent’s most vulnerable residents impacted on disproportionately.

    The full extent of the cuts on Brent will not be properly known until early December when the Local Government Grant is finalised and a more detailed analysis of the CSR has been undertaken.


    • New social housing tenants face increase in rent with charges of up to 80% of market rates. The average rent for a three-bedroom social home is around £85 a week. National Housing Federation warns that this could triple to a “staggering” £250 a week, an extra £8,500 per year.

    • Council houses for life could also end for new tenants, who might be handed fixed term contracts, under the proposals.
    • Brent’s Council Tax benefit budget will be reduced by 10% from April 2013

    • Cut of 50% to the social housing budget will severely reduce the supply of affordable housing in Brent. As mentioned, the Government wants to charge rents of up to 80% of the market rate and use the extra funds to make-up the housing shortfall. Brent has 23,000 people on the waiting list. These proposals are likely to add further stress to the borough’s housing situation.


    • Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which provides young people from households with incomes of less than £30,000 an incentive to continue in education will be cut. 4,250 Brent youngsters will loose upto £1,100 per academic year.

    • Funding for Sure-Start Centres will be reduced by £1m in real terms as the amount received by Brent is frozen for the next 4 years. For 2010/2011 a grant of £10m was given for the programme.

    • Schools will only see a 0.1% increase in funding. However, if increased demand is factored in and taking out the previously announced Pupil premium this amounts to an actual cut to the schools budget. Brent has 185 4&5-year olds that do not have a school place for this academic year. This will rise drastically to a cumulative total of 500 by 2015. A government spending cut will only exacerbate one of the borough’s most pressing issues.

    • 12% cut to the Education’s non-schools budget. This may involve cuts to areas such as Early Years, support for disabled children as well as grants for free school meals.

    • Educational capital spending will be reduced by 60% putting spending on schools maintenance and development at risk.

    • Adult-Learning funding to be cut by 25%. BACES (Stonebridge) will lose the ‘Train to Gain’ programme and will have to charge adults the full rate for GCSE/A-Level courses.


    • The settlement for local government is a cut of 7.1% for four years. Brent’s budget will be reduced by a total of £65m. This will see every council service area being cut by a minimum 7%. Some areas may have to make further cuts to support priority areas or to continue delivering other key services.

    • Capital programme to be cut by 45% (£66m). This will mean less money for building schools, housing and adult social care.

    • Majority of cuts in benefits and services will be ‘front-loaded’ and made in the first 2 years (2011/12 & 2012/13).

    • Grants from the Department of Transport reduced by 28% which will see less funds available for Streetcare, pavement repairs and gritting.

    • Funding for ‘Concessionary Travel’ which pays for 43,000 Brent Pensioners to have the Freedom Pass will be cut by 10%. Brent has already put in an extra £1.5m towards the scheme this year.

    • Additional income for Adult Social Care will not respond to the increase in demand for the borough’s services.

    • The rate of interest the council can borrow at from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) has been increased by 1% across the board. This will make raising finance for local building and development projects substantially more expensive.

    Young People in the Firing Line

    The Brent Fightback meeting was well attended yesterday evening. Roxanne Mashari outlined the various ways young people are being hit by cuts in Building Schools for the Future, Future Jobs Fund, Education Maintenance Allowances and the trebling of university fees. The cap on housing benefit could also mean young people's families having to move out of the borough or live in smaller, more crowded accommodation. She point out that just under 25% of the Brent population were under 25 and it was important that their voices be heard. She wanted to make the Youth Parliament of which she is co-chair participative rather than merely consultative.

    Cllr Mary Arnold (lead member for children and families) said that the council had to make cuts but would fight for vulnerable children. S he said that only 20% of young people were involved in the youth service and she wanted a better coordinated universal service. Only 4% of Brent youth were NEETS (Not in employment, education or training), which was lower than other London boroughs, but the number would increase with the loss of the EMA and Connexions. She spoke against academies and free schools, which would mean a loss of democratic control and said the authority was arranging a briefing for headteachers and governors on the issue. She said that the housing benefit cap was tantamount to gerrymandering. 

    In response to calls for the councillors to work with local trades unions she said that Ann John would be meeting with the NUT.

    There was some discussion about whether it was right to focus on youth as receiving a disproportionate number of cuts or whether the real disproportion that should be emphasised was that between the wealthy and the rest of society. Roxanne said that she had been asked to speak about the impact on young people and that was what she had done but she agreed that bankers and the wealthy were escaping from bearing their fair share of the cuts.

    In my contribution I suggested that councillors should also meet  with school governors about the impact of cuts in schools. When budgets were reduced governors would be in the front line under pressure to make cuts to balance budgets. He said that cuts already implemented in the council were making some of the services to schools less efficient because of reduced staffing. This then tempts schools to hire private contractors instead and further reduces the economic viability of local government services. 

    Concern was expressed about the impact of cuts on children and adults with learning disabilities and the need to include them in the fightback by communicating effectively. The latest news that the College of North West London was to sell off its Kilburn Campus was discussed and the issue of occupation of the site was raised. 

    Wednesday 3 November 2010

    "A dark day for students of the future" - Caroline Lucas

    Responding to the news that a cap on university tuition fees in England will be set at a maximum of £9,000 a year, Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, said:

    “Today is a dark day for the students of the future – and for Lib Dem voters who have seen, yet again, their Party’s leader make a shameful u-turn on a key election pledge. The Greens are now the only main political party that support free education for all. A cap of £9,000 is simply unacceptable for a country that values social mobility and inclusiveness. This announcement will mean our public degrees will be among the most costly in the world. Many people will be priced out of going to university – and those who do go will be saddled with huge debt. All this at a time when our young people are facing increasing unemployment and anxiety about the future.

    A more progressive policy to address the challenge of funding our higher education would be a business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies, which would generate enough annually to abolish tuition fees and take our public investment in higher education up to the average in other comparable countries. As MP for Brighton Pavilion, I am determined to work hard to protect students and staff at Sussex University from creeping privatisation and devastating cuts.”

    Monday 1 November 2010

    Brent Cross - Flawed Plans and Wasted Opportunity will Destroy Local Communities

    The Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood (BXC) Plan has condemned last Thursday’s decision by a single unelected official at Barnet Council (leader Lynne Hillan -pictured below) to approve the fundamentally flawed planning application.

    Lynne Hillan

    The BXC Coalition fears the demolition of hundreds of local homes and road works on a massive scale will cause devastation to local communities.

    Pauline McKinnell, Chairperson of  Cricklewood Community Forum and Hendon Way resident, says, “This scheme will cause huge disruption to the community for years to come. Hundreds of homes will be destroyed, with residents not knowing where they will be moved to. Home owners, many of whom have lived in the area for years, will be offered shared equity deals if they wish to stay locally, but details have not been worked out.

    “The area is bounded by major roads - the North Circular, A5, A41 and Cricklewood Lane - that already experience frequent traffic congestion.  Adding 7,500 new housing units and 27,000 jobs will lead to complete gridlock.

     Boris Johnson who ridiculed protesters
    “The concentration of new housing in such a small area is ludicrous. The only way you can get 7,500 homes into the area is to build enormous blocks of flats all over the place. Who on earth would choose to live in a tower block overlooking the North Circular?”

    Navin Shah, Labour party Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow says, “The scheme fails to conform to a significant number of key planning policies. It is unambitious, and wastes the opportunity for a successful, green, long-lasting alternative to the car-orientated Brent Cross plans of the 1960s, by exacerbating that outdated vision.

    “The planning process has been a complete shambles from start to finish, and required a much closer scrutiny by Barnet Council, the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State. This has not happened, and as a result the residents and stakeholders of Barnet, Brent and
    Camden have been left exposed to a bleak future.

    “The green light for the project means a huge letdown for my constituents in Brent and
    Harrow, and thousands of residents in other parts of London. Every single authority responsible for the assessment of the planning application has abjectly failed. Barnet Council’s entire process was a complete mess.

    “Super-hub projects such as this are condemned in the recent London Plan amendments, but Mayor Boris Johnson rubber-stamped approval of the application, and the Coalition Government too has shown no vision, and let people down by not calling a public inquiry.

    My constituents are now left facing the prospect of hugely increased traffic and congestion, and an incinerator with a 140m high chimney, equivalent to a 50-storey tower block on their doorsteps.” 

    Eric Pickles
    Dr Shahrar Ali, Brent Green party spokesperson for Environment and Planning says, "Secretary of State Pickles, Mayor Boris and now Barnet Council seem determined to put the building of giant shopping malls ahead of the future sustainability of the planet. This decision betrays the short-termist political ideology of local, regional and coalition government. Local residents will renew their campaign to kick this over consumptive fantasy into the long grass!" 

    Demolition of the Whitefields Estate, Clarefield Park, Claremont Way and the Rosa Freedman Residential centre, one of the biggest day care centres in Barnet, is part of phase one of the development, due to commence in 2014.  Many residents face a highly stressful future because of the developers’ failure to offer adequate compensation for the demolition of their homes and the cost of relocation.

    The Coalition will continue to fight the plans building by building to ensure a sustainable scheme – one that the local community wants – is put in its place.  The developers have now suddenly stated that they want “meaningful engagement” with the local community and the wider area. This is laughable, because it should have happened years ago, before the plans were set in stone.   Instead, we face the existing housing and modern sports centre, and the modern parts of local schools, all being demolished.   We face future light railway and cycling routes being destroyed, with major increases in road congestion instead.  And we face toxic chemicals being emitted every day by the Brent Cross domestic waste incinerator.

    To date, there has been no press release about this £4.5-billion redevelopment from Barnet Council.  Given the enormous impact on the Borough, and the rather minor nature of SOME of their releases, this is amazing.  After all the justified criticism perhaps Barnet is now too ashamed to publicise its folly.