Thursday 30 June 2011

Mainly young, mainly female and all determined to fight for their pensions

There was plenty of excitement in Wembley this morning and it was nothing to do with Take That's appearance at the Stadium over the next few days.  Striking teachers and other public sector workers thronged the Torch pub in preparation for the march and rally in Central London,  The mainly young and mainly female workers were often striking for the first time and there was no mistaking their fervour and commitment.

There were some brief speeches before the crowd boarded the tube for Central London and one of the key messages was that the strike was not just about pensions but about the whole  Coalition Government's assault on the welfare state. Gains that had been made as a result of the post-war settlement were under attack and had to be defended.

Brent Labour councillors Helga Gladbaum and Pat Harrison dropped by to offer their solidarity and ex-MP for Brent South, Dawn Butler mingled with the strikers. Shahrar Ali offered support from Brent Green Party.

'Lesson preparation' on the Torch's verandah

Waterloo Road's Grouch adds his support

Determined  teachers from Kensal Rise Primary in the front row

Brent NUT, ATL and Fightback marched together in unity

Wednesday 29 June 2011

We will Rise

Caroline Lucas: "I'll be on the picket line tomorrow"

Commenting ahead of the public sector strikes across the country tomorrow, Brighton Pavilion MP and leader of the Green party of England and Wales, Caroline Lucas, said:

“Many teachers and other public sector workers have contacted me over the past week to express hope that striking wouldn't be necessary – that the Prime Minister would start taking their pension concerns seriously. Sadly the Coalition Government’s relentless attack on this country’s public servants has left them with no choice.

“We know that public sector pensions are affordable – this is really about piling the UK’s debt burden onto the people who did the least to create it. I believe that fair pensions are worth fighting for, so I will be joining the picket lines in solidarity with my constituents who have been abandoned by the other main Westminster parties. 

“This isn’'t something I do lightly. I regret the disruption caused by industrial action and think it must only be used in special circumstances – and would urge trade unions to work hard to ensure support from the wider public.

“Yet when teachers are being expected to pay 50% more in pension contributions, work longer and get less pension when they retire – and when negotiations are failing – targeted and considered action is clearly necessary.”

Brent Schools Closed Tomorrow

Tomorrow's strike is looking pretty solid in Brent Schools. The Willesden and Brent Times published the following list this evening:
According to a list compiled by Brent Schools more than 460 teachers from across the borough will take part in the protests.

Out of the 78 Brent schools, 36 will be completely closed, 28 will be partially closed with 14 defying walk outs to stay open.

The following primary schools have confirmed they will be closed during the strike Anson Primary, Barham Primary, Chalkhill Primary, Christ Church CofE Primary, Convent of Jesus & Mary Infant, Donnington Primary, Furness Primary, Gladstone Park Primary, Kilburn Park School Foundation, Malorees Infant and Junoir, Michael Sobell Sinai Primary, Mitchell Brook Primary, Mora Primary, Oakington Manor Primary, Our Lady of Grace Junior Primary, Our Lady of Grace RC Infant, Park Lane Primary, St Joseph’s RC Infant Primary, St Joseph’s RC Junior Primary, St Joseph’s RC Primary (NW10), St Mary Magdalen’s RC Primary, St Mary’s CofE Primary, St Mary’s RC Primary, Stonebridge Primary.

The following special schools have confirmed they will be closed during the strike The Village School Manor and Woodfield.

The following secondary schools have confirmed they will be closed during the strike Capital City Academy, Claremont High, Newman Catholic College, Preston Manor High, Queen’s Park Community.
The following primary schools have confirmed they will be partially closed during the strike Braintcroft Primary, Byron Court Primary, Carlton Vale Infant Primary, Elsley Primary, Fryent Primary, Harlesden Primary, Kensal Rise Primary, Lyon Park Infant, Mount Stewart Junior, Northview Primary, Oliver Goldsmith Primary, Our Lady of Lourdes Primary, Preston Park Primary, Roe Green Infant Primary, Roe Green Junior Primary, Salusbury Primary, St Andrew & St Francis CE Primary, St Robert Southwell Primary, Sudbury Primary.
The following secondary schools have confirmed they will be partially closed during the strike Alperton Community Stanley Avenue, Convent of Jesus & Mary High, JFS, Crest Boys Academy, Crest Girls Academy, Kingsbury High, St Gregory’s Catholic Science College, and Copland Community School.
At the time this newspaper went to press the following primary schools have confirmed they will remain open during the strike Avigdor Hirsch Torah Temimah, Brentfield Primary, Islamia Primary, John Keble CofE Primary, Kingsbury Green Primary, Leopold Primary, Mount Stewart Infant, Newfield Primary, Princess Frederica CofE Primary, St Margaret Clitherow RC Primary, Uxendon Manor Primary.

At the time this newspaper went to press Vernon House special school confirmed they would remain open during the strike.

At the time this newspaper went to press Alperton Community Ealing Road secondary school confirmed they would remain open during the strike.

The Torch of Workers' Solidarity

Strikers from public service unions and their supporters will be meeting at The Torch pub tomorrow morning at 9.30am for a rally before travelling to central London  The Torch is in Wembley Park opposite the Ark Academy, on the corner of Bridge Road and Forty Lane.

The Green Party Trades Union Group has issued the following statement:
GPTU calls on all its members and all Green Party members to suppot the strikers of UCU, ATL,NUT and PCS in the pensions strike tomorrow. We have posted a message from Sally Hunt of UCU on the GPTU blog which explains that, contrary to media myth, public sector pensions are hardly generous. These pensions are in any case a slight compensation for the low salaries of the public sector where many workers do their work out of a sense of public service. Why should these workers pay with their pensions for a crisis of international finance? 

Tuesday 28 June 2011

More Library Legal Fund Events Coming Up

A message from Brent SOS Libraries who have £15,000 left to raise for their legal action against Brent Council.

  • a second Preston Pub Quiz on Monday, 4 July , 7.30 for 8pm start. £5/3.
  • Meeting with the writer Philip Pullman on 20 July, 7pm at Queens Park Community School. £10. More details later. 

Poem: For the People

Unison commissioned Tony Walsh, poet in residence at the Glastonbury Festival, to write a poem for the public services. His poem FOR THE PEOPLE can be found HERE

Strike for quality journalism

Local newspapers are under pressure because of a decline in advertising and readership as well as because of competition from the internet. However when publishers make cuts this often reinforces the decline with fewer journalists meaning less time for investigations and a tendency to do cut and paste jobs on press releases. Some newspapers end up padded out with stories from neighbouring areas rather than the their own borough.

I am convinced that a robust and active local press is absolutely necessary to hold the local council to account as well as providing a focus that cements local community solidarity.

Newsquest publishes the Harrow Times and Newsquest journalists in South London are to strike again this week in their continuing dispute over redundancies and in support of quality local journalism. Unlike some local newspapers the titles concerned are in profit.

The strike began on  Monday June 27 and is due to end at midnight on Thursday June 30.

NUJ negotiator Jenny Lennox said: “We’ve had a very successful two-day strike last week, and it is worth noting that a dozen journalists have joined the union since the dispute began. This reflects the deep anger which journalists employed by Newsquest at their bosses’ determination to avoid consulting with staff on the future of their papers.”

The NUJ strikers had previously adopted a unanimous vote of no confidence in their top management after a company decision to make an unspecified number of editorial staff redundant while the group’s titles continue to make substantial profits.

The strikers keep journalists and readers informed of developments through a special strike blog

The journalists deserve our support.

Lib Dem Councillor Joins the Greens

This is a statement from Hampshire County Councillor Alan Weeks who has decided to leave the Lib Dems and join the Greens:
When I was campaigning local voters made it clear to me that they were angry about the way they have been let down by the national Lib Dem party. What they were saying was right. I have been a Lib Dem (and Liberal before that) for about 25 years and it is not me that has changed. It is the values of the national Liberal Democrats that have changed. For example, on the tuition fees issue, it was untrustworthy for MPs to break personal pledges that they had made.

It was a tough decision for me to resign and join the Green Party after almost 25 years of service as a Lib Dem councillor. But my heart has to be in what I do and I could no longer support the direction taken by Lib Dem leaders.

Now I am looking forward and I am excited to be joining the Green Party. I realise that Green Party values of putting people and the environment before profit, provision and not privatisation of public services, promoting renewable energy and a high priority for animal welfare are in line with mine.

Parent urges others to rally behind teachers

This is a posting from a parent of  child at Kenmont Primary School in Hammersmith and Fulham but close to the Brent border.
Dear Parents

I am a parent and my son is in year 4. I feel very passionate about building support for our teachers.

Together, Governors, teachers and parents, we were able to defeat the plans of the doom merchants in the Tory council to convert our wonderful school into an Academy. Where they failed with us, they are attempting to do this to other schools.

The government took our taxes to bail out the bankers, and are forcing through austerity measures which will affect the most vulnerable in society and impoverish the rest of us for years to come, which is why they are attacking teacher’s pensions.

David Cameron said we are all in it together. Do you hear the cries of the bankers and their rich friends with their share of the burden? No, because the burden rest with us to keep them in the riches they so don’t deserve

• There are 13 millionaires in the Condemn Government’s cabinet whose wealth is safely tucked away in tax havens abroad and not a drop goes to the Inland Revenue.

• Barclays bank recently published figures showing it had paid 22 percent tax to the land Revenue. Closer examination showed that they included their employee’s income tax in their figures and in actual fact they paid only paid 1 percent of their profits in tax.

If the bankers and their rich friends won’t take the pain they caused, why should we?

Teachers have a right to a decent pension, after all their money goes into paying for it. It’s another way of trashing our teachers and the education our children deserve. Teachers are fighting back and a victory for them is a victory for all of us, especially the most vulnerable.

Kenmont teachers will be meeting with other teachers at Lyric Square which is on Kings Street in Hammersmith at 9am on Thursday morning. At 10am they will be going on a national demonstration starting at Lincolns Inn Fields in Holborn later that morning.

Since the kids won’t be at school for the day, show your support and join our teachers at Lyric Square.

LINK to other London actions on June 30th

Invisible menace threatens children's health

The North Circular at Neasden
I spent more than 10 years teaching at a primary school which was close to the North Circular in Brent. In contrast to other schools where I had taught there were high numbers of children on medication for asthma at the school. Classes often had 6-8 asthmatics compared with only one or two per class where I had taught before. Sports Day could be a nightmare. Although  local GP prescribing policies  may have contributed it appeared that the high level was down to the proximity of a very busy main road.

The impact of London pollution became clearer when we took children on residential trips. Children who had used an inhaler daily at school were able to do without them almost within hours of arriving at the Gordon Brown Outdoor Education Centre in Hampshire or the Youth Hostel in Epping Forest.As the coach reached the borders of London they began to request their inhalers.

New research by the Campaign for Clean Air has found that 1,148 schools in London are within 150 metres of roads carrying 10,000 or more vehicles per day and a total of 2,270 schools are within 400 metres of such roads.

This revelation comes at a time when new scientific research indicates that children exposed to higher levels of traffic-related air pollution at school and home may be at increased risk of developing asthma. Scientists say living near roads travelled by 10,000 or more vehicles per day could be responsible for some 15-30 per cent of all new cases of asthma in children; and of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and CHD (coronary heart disease) in adults 65 years of age and older.

Jenny Jones, the Green Party London Mayoral candidate says:
* parents and teachers must be told when there are high pollution days
*  the Mayor of London has to act immediately to lower fares and reduce the total number of cars on our roads.
* create a very low emission zone which only allows the very cleanest vehicles to enter central London.
*  the Mayor must stick to the promise that all new buses will be hybrids from next year
* reinstate the plans for hybrid taxis which he dropped last year.
A map which shows the schools affected across London, and enables you to see Brent in details can be found  HERE 
or you can download a PDF listing the schools 150metres from a road carrying more than 10,000 vehicles per day HERE

Among the Brent schools listed are Copland High, Gower House, Jewish Free School, Oliver Goldsmith Primary, Our Lady of Grace (Dollis Hill) Our Lady of Lourdes (Stonebridge), Park Lane Primary, Preston Manor High, St Augustine's Primary (Kilburn), Stonebridge Primary,

Simon Birkett, director of Clean Air in London, said:
The government and Mayor Johnson must tackle an invisible public health crisis harming as many people now as we thought during the Great Smog in December 1952.

We need one or more additional inner low emission zones that ban the oldest diesel vehicles from our most polluted roads, and a massive campaign to build public understanding of the dangers of air pollution with advice on how people can protect themselves.

Monday 27 June 2011

Fun at Eco-Cultural Festival on Sunday

Click on image to enlarge

The Brent festival season is  well under way now and I will be in Queensbury with a Brent School Without Walls stall and running parachute games for children. This Festival is a great showcase for local dancing groups.

Sunday 26 June 2011

There's money in muck

With landfill sites rapidly being filled and the tax on landfill rising to £72 per tonne in 2013 local authorities are desperately looking for solutions. Rather than action on reducing waste in the first place, which many local authorities see as the responsibility of government, the emphasis is instead on recycling which is where big business enters the picture. There is a central contradiction here because the more that can be recycled the more money the waste contractors makes, while the more the overall amount of residual waste can be reduced the less they will make.

Presently the West London Waste Authority, covering Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow and Richmond is in the process of awarding a 25 year contract for waste management which could be worth up to £485m (the estimated cost of continuing landfill at present rate). The bidding process is under way and the preferred bidder will be selected in 2013.  There has been controversy over because during public consultation potential waste processing sites were selected, many in Park Royal, without any details of the processes that would take place, raising fears about possible pollution from incinerators. There have been public protest meetings in Ealing about this issue but little action in Brent.  Cllr James Powney is our borough representative on the WLWA.

A similar process for long-term contracts has taken place in South London and North London Waste Authority selected the following bidders in April 2011:
  • FCC Skanska (Formento de Construcciones y Contratas SA and Skanska Infrastructure Development UK Ltd) (consortium)
  • SITA/ Lend Lease (SITA UK Ltd and Catalyst Lend Lease) (consortium)
  • Veolia ES Aurora Ltd. 
The North London proposals have run into  trouble over a proposed plant at Pinkham Way in Haringey, on the border with Barnet and Enfield, with residents concerned about noise, congestion and pollution as well as the building itself. LINK  In South London, Croydon Green Party has been involved in a campaign against a proposed plant which they believe is really an incinerator:

In Brent itself the waste management contract with Veolia has been amended with some difficulty ahead of the new waste management strategy that starts in October 2011. Brent Council's contract with Veolia ends in 2014 and there will be a new bidding process to ensure best value. This process will be overseen by Cllr James Powney.

Veolia, a likely bidder for both contracts, is French multinational with a wide spread of interests including water (in north Brent it previously went under the names of Three Valleys Water), waste management and transport. It has been embroiled in controversy over its activities in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel which include a light rail system and waste management. Campaigners argue that Veolia is complicit in human rights violations. LINK

Despite this Veolia is seen to be in a favourable position for both contracts because of its possession of a depot in Alperton and a potential site for waste processing.  However,  Careys, a local company, set up an 'environmental solutions' company in February and named it after the Roman philosopher, Seneca, who is famous as a Stoic. The company newsletter even quotes Seneca: 'Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end'. Brent Council granted Careys planning permission for a 'super materials recycling facility' at Hannah Close in Neasden (below) in October 2010 with very little publicity and no response from environmental groups including the Green Party. The plant will process 1.1m tonnes of construction and demolition, business and household waste each year. By 2013 an energy producing 'wood biomass facility' will be operational which clearly raises issues over potential pollution.

The Seneca (Careys) plant in Neasden
In March 2011 Careys secured a public relations coup by agreeing to save the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre which had been threatened with closure due to local government cuts. They will pay half the revenue costs for the next two years which I understand is about £50,000. Brent Council leader Cllr Ann John took part in a photocall with John Carey at the Centre. LINK

Further information on these issues:
West London Waste Monitor
 UK Without Incineration Network
Brent Friends of the Earth

Saturday 25 June 2011

A tribute to Alf Filer - Brent activist

I am sorry to have to record that Alf Filer, a  Brent socialist activist, died last night in a car crash. Alf had recently taken early retirement from his job as an FE lecturer in Harrow and moved to Worthing. He apparently  died when a another car crashed into his broken down vehicle on the Brighton-Worthing road.

Alf, a member of Socialist Resistance was active in the Coalition of Resistance and a supporter of the Palestinian cause. He had a long history in Brent going back to the Grunwick strike and was a supporter of Brent Fightback until he moved to Worthing, where by all accounts he shook the place up!  On a personal level he had undertaken the challenging task of bringing up his two sons on his own.

Alf played a leading role in the defence of the Harrow Mosque when it was threatened by the English Defence League and Stop the Islamisation of Europe. He referred back to the Battle of Cable Street to emphasis the importance of mass community mobilisation against the extreme right.

Alf invited me as a Green Party representative  to a student hustings at his college at the General Election and I was able to see at first-hand the regard in which he was held by his students. Students were polled beforehand on their voting intentions and then afterwards when they had heard contributions from the candidates. This very practically demonstrated his conviction  that debate and education could change ideas and change minds.

Alf will be much missed and my thoughts are with his sons Leon and Lawrence at this difficult time.

LINK to Tony Greenstein's tribute

Glossy new buildings in Brent and Brussels

The new Europa building in Brussels (£215m approx)
Brent's new Civic Centre (£100m plus)
Many thanks to JC for pointing out the irony of David Cameron's criticism of proposals for the Europa building in Brussels (top above) in the context of Brent's new Civic Centre. UK taxpayers will contribute about £25m to the Europa building, one quarter of the cost of Brent's Civic Centre.

Cameron's comments may ring a bell:

I am less enthusiastic about the presentation we were given on the new building for the European Council. When you see a document being circulated with a great glossy brochure about some great new building for the European Council to sit in, it is immensely frustrating.

You do wonder if these institutions actually get what every country and what every member of the public is having to go through, as we cut budgets and try and make our finances add up.

Top classical guitarist in fund-raising line up tomorrow

I will be off down to my allotment early tomorrow to harvest globe artichokes, raspberries and black currants in preparation for Sunday afternoon's Brent Stop the War and Brent PSC's summer garden party in Willesden Green.

The fund-raiser takes place in a beautiful garden and the weather forecast is good. Apart from delicious food and a bar, entertainment is also provided by top names including classical guitarist Ahmed Dickinson (above). Other entertainers include Camilla Cancantata, queen of  the squeeze box; Jean Marc, story teller; Alan Johnson, folk singer and of course Ian Saville, socialist magician.

It is not too late to attend the garden party which starts at 5pm and finishes at 10pm. Ring Sarah Cox on
07951 084 101 or e-mail her for tickets.

Tickets are £12 wage/£8 unwaged in advance and £15/£10 on the door.

Friday 24 June 2011

Library Campaign moves into top gear - more than half cash target met

A message from Brent SOS Libraries:

With another six  members joining our six month old Save Cricklewood Library Campaign last night and a visit from the Tokyngton Library campaign (who have submitted a 670 signature petition to Brent Council this week) I cannot remember a bigger  or more active Brent campaign in my 30+ years of living in this fantastic  diverse borough. Can anyone else? We are swamped with fundraising events, volunteers, supportive authors and have six very lively local campaigns underway .

We are now close to the legal hearing, which the Council is insisting is heard in July. This is our final push to raise money - together we are over half way to our £30,000 target .Many thanks to all those who have helped and attended recent events,donated books etc.

Can you help with one more push ?

1 Selling Garden Party Tickets - meet  at Cricklewood Library -MONDAY 27 June at 6.30pm

Join Anna, Edward and other supporters in a final push to sell Garden Party tickets door-to -door - at £5 it is a bargain and we only have 72 tickets left

2 Garden Party   Sunday 3 July   121 Anson Road  3-5pm

Tea, cakes and a beautiful garden - what more could you want ?

Come and meet Helen and the Save Cricklewood team - a must for your social calendar

3 Wear your T shirt with pride

Brent SOS Libraries T-shirts will be available from 30 June - just ring or text me on 07866616492 and I will deliver .Beautifully designed in tasteful red and white - certain to be this years fashion item.Only £10 each .

How many do you want? (only large available - but good for snuggling up with a book in  )

4 Philip Pullman

Yes the record -selling author is coming to speak soon in support of Brent SOS LIbraries.

Provisional date ( to be confirmed) 20th July at Queens Park Community School 

5 Preston Quiz - Monday 4 July

Return of the popular quiz - can Cricklewood go one better and win this time? Just turn up at 7.30pm at the Preston Pub, Preston Road .

6 Cricklewood Music Night

Tapping into the local classical musical talent Sonja is organising a musical evening later in July - contact

7 Any more books ?

We still need book donations l Just let me know and I will collect .There is a picture of Sonja at our Glastonbury bookstall in the local paper this week

8 Protest and Survive

Soon we will be staging a peaceful protest at the court as the library hearing commences - watch this space.

Graham Durham

Seven Harrow schools opt for academy status

In a move that will raise fears of similar action in Brent,  seven secondary schools in neighbouring Harrow have decided to become academies from August 1st 2011.

The schools are Bentley Wood, Canons High, Harrow High, Hatch End, Nower Hill, Park High and Rooks Heath College. Whitmore High is the only non-faith community high school left as a result og the opt-out.

The academy conversion follow a consultation process which saw the local authority plead for the retention of the local authority family of schools and students from Nower Hill walking out in a protest against lack of consultation.

Strike Action is Direct Action

Fair Pensions for All Will Benefit Pupils

Click on image to enlarge
Next Thursday, June 30th, many Brent schools are likely to be fully or partially closed as teachers strike alongside other public sector workers, over government proposals to make them contribute more to their pensions and retire when they are older with a lower pension than they would get now.

As a former teacher and headteacher, and now a school governor, I fully support this strike action. The proposals if implemented would have a detrimental impact on pupils. One major issue that has not been fully covered by the media is that teaching is an intensive job that is physically and emotionally demanding.  Although there are people who perform extremely well into their 60s there are many who do not. I retired at 60 because I recognised that I was no longer performing as well as I should at a front-line job where the interests of pupils and parents required peak performance.

Imagine someone now having to retire at 66 years old, after more than 40 years in the classroom, not as dynamic as they used to be, having to deal with a class of 30 lively 5 year olds or 13 year olds. It would not be a positive situation for either children or teachers.  More damagingly a headteacher faced with an under-performing older teacher and under pressure from Ofsted, may have to resort to capability procedures in order to remove that teacher from the classroom. Such teachers would end, what otherwise would have been a successful career, labelled a failure and feeling dejected. Other teachers in the school would suffer a collapse in morale when they see a colleague forced to leave in such circumstances.

Although there will be short-term inconvenience to parents next week I hope that there will be recognition that if successful the strike action will be to the long-term benefit of pupils and parents.

NUT and ATL strikers and their supporters will be meeting at 9.30am outside the Torch pub in Wembley Park (opposite the Ark Academy) for a rally and will then travel together on the underground to Lincoln Inns Fields to join others from across the country.

Thursday 23 June 2011

How will students change the face of Wembley?

Victoria Hall opposite Wembley Park station, opening September 2011

Wembley Park will soon have more than 2,500 units of private student accommodation.  Some of the accommodation replaces plans for  family housing that has become less viable in the current recession.

Under Construction:
Victoria Hall (Wembley Park) - opening September 2011 436 beds
Quintain iQ (Planning area W05) - under construction, opening 2012 660 beds
Planning granted:
Dexion House, Empire Way - 661 beds
Yet to be finally approved:
Quintain NW Lands- up to 880 beds

Total beds:  2,636

The accommodation, run by private companies, will be aimed at students attending the University of Westminster's Harrow Campus and the central London universities such as Imperial College, Kings, SOAS and the LSE.  The Council argues that it will still be able to meet its housing targets.

The Dexion House scheme also  involves the construction of a community swimming pool on the site - a welcome addition to Wembley amenities.

The Council suggests that the presence of students will boost the local economy and put a figure of £4m on annual living costs and spending of Dexion House students.   Much will depend on whether the students use the accommodation as dormitories and socialise around their college or whether they do that around Wembley. If the latter  there could be considerable changes in terms of restaurants, cafes, pubs and bookshops. The council also argues that the students will contribute by volunteering in the community and will enhance the image of the area as a safe investment.

Politically they could make a considerable difference. Tokygnton ward in which all the accommodation so far will be situated only has a population of 11,800.

Can this be Wembley?

The Green Party has long campaigned against clone towns and domination of  high streets by multinational chains so I give a warm welcome to the Montparnasse Cafe which has just opened in Bridge Road, opposite the Ark Academy. A Patisserie Boulangerie Francaise makes a welcome change from the ubiquitous chicken takeaways and betting shops. I was passing recently and noticed an excited huddle outside the door avidly reading the menu. A young woman with shining eyes turned to me and said. "I can't believe it. This in Wembley! The old place is looking up."

The cafe has French staff: "If you want excellent French food you have to have French people preparing it," said the proprietor. The menu has salads, rolls, paninis, galettes, quiches and omelettes as well as mouth-watering cakes. The coffee and tart I had this morning were delicious. A welcome addition to Wembley's small shops and one in the eye for the coffee chains.

The cafe takes telephone orders and will provide catering and delivery to meetings: 27 Bridge Road, Wembley Park. Tel: 020 8904 3443

Dumping spoils Brent heritage site

Dumping next to the footpath
I bumped into Cllr Ann John, leader of Brent Council and Muhammed Butt, deputy leader and a host of Labour supporters  doing a walk-about meeting residents in Welsh Harp ward last Sunday.

I hope some of the residents raised the issue of fly-tipping on the footpath leading from St Andrew's Road through to old St Andrew's churchyard and Old Church Lane. Old St Andrew's church is the only Grade 1 listed building in Brent and the ancient churchyard has been cleaned up by Community Payback LINK

As I've mentioned before as budget cuts bite  there is reluctance to take responsibility for areas which do not clearly come under council department remits and this seems to be one of them. The footpath is a public right of way but is not actually on a street.  Some of the dumping seems to be the result of open air drinking in the old churchyard, evidenced by orange Sainsbury's carrier bags and discarded beer cans and spirit bottles. As always, once a dump remains uncleared more rubbish accumulates.

Other items seem to be redundant toys that appear to have been dumped over the fence of the privately run St Andrew's Nursery which is situated between the new St Andrew's church and the footpath:

Toys apparently dumped over the nursery fence

 It would be good news if the church, nursery and council got together and cleaned up the area.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Brent officers and councillors warn against fragmentation of education service

Gareth Daniel, Brent Council's Chief Executive warned against fragmentation of the education service when he spoke at the Brent Governors' Conference today. In a reference to academies and free school he said that it was crucial to keep Brent's 'family of schools' together and that it was important for schools to keep sight of the 'bigger picture'. He emphasised the importance of partnership work and said 'we must remember what unites us'.  He stressed the vital  role of the local authority when things go wrong in individual schools He said that his attitude was one of general pragmatism and 'to be blunt we have to follow the money' rather than take an ideological stance. However he said that local politicians were not comfortable with free schools and that he was not comfortable with them himself.

Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families,  urged governors to keep their eyes on the long-term and reflect on the permanent damage that would be caused by a fragmented school system. She said that we must face current difficulties in a rational and principled way.

Cllr Mary Arnold, lead member for Children and Families also stressed the importance of the 'family of schools' and the responsibility to the wider community of terms of special educational needs provision, looked after children and child protection. Links between schools and through the local authority were important in terms of collective provision and so that the most vulnerable could be reached.  She also drew attention to the recently revealed errors in the funding of academies with excessive amounts being diverted from the local authority. 'Top slicing' had cost Brent £1m.

All three also addressed the shortage of primary places and said that they were lobbying with other London local authorities for additional funding to provide places. Gareth Daniel warned that some local authorities would not be able to meet their statutory responsibilities.  Krutika Pau said that the shortage of places kept her awake at night and drew attention to the current consultation (see my BLOG). She cited a 10% increased in reception applications for next year and said she wanted 'excellent provision rather than just a range of bulge classes'. 

The context of government cuts and their impact on the council was a central theme with Children and Families accounting for  £14m of Brent's total of £42m cuts. .Krutika Pau outlined steps that had been taken in terms of amalgamation of departments, reducing management layers and reducing the ratio of managers to workers, On the services that schools buy-in she said that the services would be refined next year and that they would employ a 'full cost recovery method' next year. (I interpret this as meaning that there will be an increase in costs to schools). She warned that in terms of budgets, schools would experience in the near future what that authority has had to endure this year: 'schools will have to make every penny count'.   Gareth Daniel said support services had to provide 'value for money' but those provided by Brent would not necessarily be the cheapest. He said in a free market for such services schools 'wouldn't pay peanuts for monkeys'. He said the authority would be more selective in what it did but would do it well. Supporting a call for schools to be more open to other activities taking place there out of hours he said governors should make schools 'work for their living'.

Outlining the context Krutika said all this was happening while more than one third of Brent children were from low income families, over one quarter were on free school meals, three quarters were in social housing and one fifth in single income households. Social care referrals had increased by 25% and there had been in increase in the number of children with disabilities and the number requiring a special needs assessment.

After muted welcoming applause Sarah Teather gave a subdued speech in which she said the Coalition had two main objectives: raise standards and narrow the attainment gap.  She said they wanted more autonomy for schools but only with accountability but didn't specify how this fitted into academies and free school policy.  Se said that the government would provide guidance on the use of the pupil premium but that schools would be left to make their own decisions. Judgement on the effectiveness of the school's use of the money would be based on outcomes rather than requesting details of what it is spent on.

In a controversial part of the speech she talked about proposals to pare down the number of people on a government body. She said that a smaller body would be more dynamic and effective and that there were too many 'clingers on' who did not contribute. Such governing bodies 'would not be hindered' by having too many voices represented. In answer to a question she said that there would still be space for local authority representation but schools will be allowed to say that they do not want an LA representative but someone with different skills.  She doubted whether the quality of school improvement advisors across the country  justified their inclusion remarking that although some were good other local authority School Improvement Services were poor. She said that there had been an issue in Brent of school governing bodies not being strong enough  to challenge headteachers effectively. She said that the National College of School Leadership  was look at training chairs of governing bodies and giving them the skills to challenge. A key role of governing bodies was to focus on the progress of the most vulnerable children.

Teather was challenged on the early years by Cllr Helga Gladbaum who mentioned that Brent had been unable to open three of the 20 planned Children's Centres because of cuts. Sarah Teather replied that she would champion the early years in her ministerial role. In answer to a question on Coalition expenditure in Libya at a time of financial retrenchment Teather justified military intervention on humanitarian grounds.  Criticised for the Coalition's stance on Pupil Referral Units and challenged to visit Brent units,  she said that there across the country they 'are a very mixed bag - some are appalling'. The Coalition planned to make schools accountable for what happens to pupils after they are excluded.

Monday 20 June 2011

Holland Park Governors Vote for Academy Status - but campaign still building

It emerged today that the Holland Park governors voted for academy  conversion at their meeting last week. However the campaign is still building and there are clearly issues to be pursued about the short notice given to parents, failure to consult  the local teachers associations and the school's presentation of only one side of the academy debate.

It will not be in the interests of the long-term stability of the school and the relationship of the school to the local community, professional associations and the student body if these short-comings are not addressed.

Contact your MP now on Pensions Reform

This government are going back on their promise in the Coalition Agreement, and are forcing 5 million people to wait longer for their State Pensions, with little time to plan. Women born in 1953, 1954 and 1955 are hit hardest, with 500,000 having to wait over a year longer for their pension. 33,000 will have to wait two whole years.

Tonight, we have our first real chance to try to defeat these changes once and for all, when the Pensions Bill is debated in the House of Commons.

The Labour opposition is going to argue that the Pensions Bill should be abandoned, because the proposals on the state pension age are so unfair.

It’s crucial we all get in touch with our MPs to ask them to vote to give the Pensions Bill the chop. Even if you’ve emailed a dozen times already, please email them again – this is crunch time. 

Please sign by going to this LINK

M'Luds won't you help me on welfare reform

Written, sung and produced by Sue Marsh,

Friday 17 June 2011

Woodfield says NO to academy conversion

The governors of Woodfield Sports College having agreed to pursue academy status in May, decided to drop the proposal at a governors meeting on June 13th. 

This followed a secret ballot in which nearly three quarters of the teaching staff voted to oppose the academy proposal. Union members also voted overwhelmingly to take strike action if necessary to keep Woodfield within the local authority family of schools.

I understand that Brent Council also intervened positively in the debate. If this marks a more proactive stance in safeguarding the local family of democratically accountable schools, it is very welcome.

A chance to talk to councillors about Chalkhill improvements

Thursday 16 June 2011


My internet has been down so sorry for the lateness of this notice:

After a "consultation" with parents which consisted of a meeting with parents on Monday evening oh yes, they also had the opportunity to comment online by, Wednesday - they had received the invitation the previous Thursday - and after promising students that they would be consulted, THE GOVERNORS OF HOLLAND PARK SCHOOL ARE GOING AHEAD WITH THE MEETING AT WHICH THEY WILL DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO CONVERT TO ACADEMY STATUS.
The meeting is at the school tonight at 6.30 pm. If you agree that such an important decision should not be taken without proper consultation with all groups - teaching and non-teaching staff and their unions, parents, students, local primary schools and the community - that this consultation should include information and arguments for and against Academy status and that after a FULL consultation there should be ballots of staff, parents and students, please join us to lobby the governors. 

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Save our Gardens

Destruction in Salmon Street
Something that really upsets me is when I see yet another front garden being ripped out and paved over. There's something really brutal about it and it is  regular occurrence in Brent.  Even worse is when there is no attempt to retain even a border or a little container planting:

Car park with house attached, Queen's Drive
 The London Wildlife Trust published a report last week  'London - Garden City?'which recorded the loss of gardens in London. You can download the report HERE .

'As established by this report, London’s gardens cover a vast area. But the speed and scale of their loss is alarming,’ says Mathew Frith, Deputy Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust. ‘Collectively these losses detrimentally affect London’s wildlife and impact on our ability to cope with climate change. It’s never been more important that Londoners understand the value of our capital’s gardens. A well managed network of the city’s 3.8 million gardens support essential wildlife habitat and offer important environmental benefits in response to climate change including sustainable urban drainage.'

The loss is a combination of hard surfacing to provide car parking space - what the estate agents love to call 'off-road parking'; erection of sheds, garages, glasshouses and bottom of the garden studies etc; and the development of back gardens for new housing. Brent suffers from all these and the transformation would bewilder anyone transported to the present from the 1950's: 'What have we done with our cherished front gardens?'

It isn't just front gardens either. A parent I visited recently proudly told me she had converted the back garden into a playground for her children and took me into her back room to show me the garden,  paved completely from house to back fence,  with nothing growing in it at all. As I stared I remembered our back garden in Kingsbury when I was a kid.  We played hide and seek amongst the shrubs, picked the figs and threw them at each other,  built little camp fires to cook sausages and baked beans, searched in the irises to find snails and have snail races - and even planted seeds and nurtured the young plants. What a loss.

All is not completely lost though.  I have already reported on the Chalkhill allotments which are proving very popular but many of the very small gardens on the estate are something to wonder at. When I have leafleted on the estate I have stopped to admire the ingenious ways people have managed to grow flowers, tomatoes, corn, aubergines, runner beans and courgettes in a tiny space, often in their front gardens. Some conservation areas, such as St Andrew's in Kingsbury have managed to retain grass verges and the ban on drop kerbs. The difference is striking:

Well's Drive in the St Andrew's Conservation area

Even on the busy Church Lane it is possible to have a lovely front garden:

Front garden in Church Lane, Kingsbury
The Report says that on average the equivalent of two and a half Hyde Parks has been lost each year between 1998-99 and 2006-8. In the same period the amount of hard surfacing increased by 26% and the amount of lawn decreased by 16%. Overall vegetation in gardens decreased by 12%. On average 500 gardens, or part gardens, were lost to development each year.

Action needs to be taken at a London-wide as well as a borough level. This not only requires stricter planning controls but also weaning people away from cars by providing better public transport.  It could be that the price of oil will do the trick in the longer term. There is also an issue with people's lack of time in this era of long working hours and multiple jobs and also with lack of knowledge about gardening. The former is obviously a wider social issue but it has been encouraging to see the latter addressed. Metropolitan Housing is running gardening workshops on Chalkhill, the Transition movement has been doing some educative work, and Brent Elders' Voice has introduced a scheme for cross-generational support to keep gardens under cultivation.

I do my bit to encourage wildlife in my very small back garden but is is often hard to persuade visitors that I have planted the jungle deliberately! However they are soon entranced by the many visiting birds, including woodpeckers and the busy pond life.

Council Executive delays festival decision but approves everything else in record time

There was a large delegation from Brent's Hindu community at the Council Executive last night to back up their 5,000 signature petition opposing the cutting of funding for Navratri celebrations and calling for the funding to be restored. There was also a petition to save the St Patrick's Day Parade which emphasised that the celebratiuons were for the 'benefit of the whole community'. See my earlier BLOG.

The Executive deferred the item until July.

There were also representations by carers and users over the 'Day Opportunities Strategy'  which involves the closure of the Crawford Avenue Centre and the reduction of adult social care opportunities for mental health.Some of those who attended told me they had little faith in the Council listening and changing its mind but nonetheless were determined to put up a fight.

The strategy was  voted through unanimously  as was everything else on the 16 item agenda and the meeting was completed in 35 minutes.

Teachers Vote Overwhelmingly for a Campaign of Strikes on Pensions

Teachers in England and Wales have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action against government plans to cut their pensions.

Ballot results released this afternoon for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Union of Teachers reflect a high level of anger and resistance.

83% of the ATL voted for a campaign of strikes and the NUT was even higher at 92%/

This is especially significant for the ATL as this is its first ever national strike ballot.

Together with the NUT this result represents the majority of school teachers in England and Wales, in both the state maintained and independent sectors.

Both organisations will now consider these results at meetings in the next two days.

NUT National Executive Member Nick Grant said:

Unless the government makes an immediate and fundamental reversal of its plans to make us pay more, and work longer to get less pension in retirement, strike action will start with one day's stoppage on 30 June.
We also expect colleagues in the University and College Union and the PCS civil servants to join us on strike that day."

We call on everyone who is angry about the unjustified attacks on public services and its workforce to join us on the day at a march and rally from Lincolns Inn Fields, Holborn at 11.30am to go via Whitehall to Westminster for a rally.

This is a fight for the future of properly funded and accountable public services. And it is a fight which is only just beginning

Poor Parental Turnout at Holland Park Meeting

Only 20-25 parents attended the consultation meeting at Holland Park School last night - a very low attendance for a school of more than 1,000 students.  We were able to speak to the parents outside the school because the gates were locked until just before the meeting.  Some of the parents who initially felt there was 'no problem' about conversion recognised that the consultation period was short and that there was the need for an informed debate before they expressed a view.

The senior management team, dressed in what appeared to be identical charcoal-grey suits and white shirts descended on the gate like a flock of crows just before the starting time, seemingly prepared to repel demonstrators. We assured them that we were not seeking to disrupt the meeting.  Nonetheless they refused admission to an 18 year old student because he was not accompanied by his parents.  However they did accept the open letter from students.

During the meeting the school management undertook to have a second consultation meeting for students and other interested parties.  I hope to carry a report on the meeting later today.

Meanwhile a Facebook site 'Campaign to Prevent Holland Park Becoming an Academy'   LINK
and a website supporting the campaign LINK have been set up.

It is perhaps significant that a Google search for the Holland Park letter to parents produces a PDF of the letter linked to ARK, the hedge fund backed organisation that runs the Wembley ARK Academy.

The leaflet is printed below - CLICK ON IMAGE to enlarge

Monday 13 June 2011

Student letter to Holland Park and Council Bosses on Academy


Dear all,

We have recently become aware that plans are afoot to transform Holland Park School into an ‘academy’, in conjunction with widespread changes occur across the education sector. We are aware a consultation process is required for such a sweeping change to the way the institution is run, and assert that as students, we are the primary stakeholders in the education service and therefore deserve not only a voice but an influence over anything likely to affect the delivery of our service.

We maintain confidence that your central objective is to provide a healthy, happy, and focused academic environment for students and staff to thrive in both inside and outside the classroom. This taken into account, we urge you to therefore reconsider this proposal sharply. It is not hyperbole or exaggeration to suggest that academy status could drive a wrecking ball through the positive place that is Holland Park, as it has done in so many other schools across the United Kingdom.

Bear in mind that academies are taking place against a backdrop of a fundamental reorganization of the education sector. On 30th June, four teaching unions are set to strike against an unfair and regressive assault on their pension schemes. Last winter, Parliament voted to raise tuition fees to £9,000. Since then, it has become clear that this will decrease student participation in higher education, will cost the state far more than it saves, and will ‘price out’ many smaller and less prestigious universities. Some universities are announcing course cuts of up to 70%. The scrapping of Education Maintenance Allowance, meanwhile, has been slammed by the very thinktank who wrote the report that the government used to justify their decision to remove it! We have seen schools left in temporary accommodation indefinitely since the Building Schools for the Future scheme was summarily axed. We move, therefore, to say that the Coalition Government based on their current record cannot be trusted with school reform, and are committing untold damage to an education sector built up on talent, academia, and public money over generations.

Yet there are far more specific reasons to oppose the introduction of academies. Listed below are a small number of issues, by no means complete or comprehensive, of the drawbacks of academies.
-       Much of the government’s marketisation of schools strategy originates from a similar system in Sweden. Per Thulberg, director general of the Swedish National Agency for Education, says “This competition between schools that was one of the reasons for introducing the new schools has not led to better results.”
-       Academy providers cannot be trusted with schools. The biggest Academy chain in England is ULT. The government told them they could have no more Academies after Ofsted failed their 2 Academies in Sheffield. In 2002 Edison USA was caught in the stock market meltdown, with its shares plummeting from over $21 to under $1. The company solved this by selling off its books, computers, lab equipment and musical instruments! Edison are already running schools in England.
-       Of the 74 Academies which have entered pupils for GCSE’s for 2 or more years, a third have seenThe National Governors Association, National Association of Head Teachers, National Grammar Schools Association, the Catholic Church, the Church of England have all raised major concerns with the Academies proposals. their results fall.
-       The Academies Bill proposes that schools can become Academies simply by a vote of the governors – no consultation with parents, teachers, support staff or the local community. They are not accountable to the Local Authority, so they are not accountable to the public. Their governors are appointed, not elected. Academies are not covered by Freedom of Information legislation. In short, they are unaccountable and undemocratic.
-       Every Academy can set their own terms and conditions. This proposal will see the end of national negotiations, with headteachers and governors setting pay and conditions school by school.
-       The only extra money available for schools that opt to become academies will be taken from money the local authority holds centrally for support services.

This information is taken from the Anti Academies Alliance, an admittedly non-neutral source, but one corroborated by a range of external and neutral sources.

Holland Park School has a uniquely cosmopolitan tradition. It was the first state comprehensive in London, and remains the only state comprehensive in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; meaning it accepts students from all social and economic backgrounds. It has educated great minds and public personalities from historians and princes to writers and actors. It has improved its examination results year on year consecutively, to well above the national average, and was listed last year in the Good Schools Guide. It has sent a significant number of students to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as other prestigious higher education institutions. To be clear, we are performing very well as an institution, thanks to committed staff and students. We see no reason to jeopardise this success with a structural change that the best evidence suggests will do way more harm than good.

In addition, we resent that this decision-making process is in progress during the pivotal examination period. Speculation it may be, but many feel that this move is intentional, to marginalise participation in the debate around school reform as staff, parents and students are busy preparing for national qualifications. We move to delay the decision process until September, when a more far-reaching and inclusive debate can be had around the subject.

To summarise, we are afraid of the impact academy status will have upon our cosmopolitan tradition, our learning environment, and our staff and students. We see the change as part of a wider ideological assault against public, collectively-accountable education at school, FE, and HE level. If one of the state comprehensive model’s greatest beacons in the country is suborned before the Academy juggernaut, there is little hope left for any other school or institution to resist Gove’s reforms, which are currently popular with no-one but those who would profit from the breakdown of the education sector.

We, the undersigned, implore you to reconsider the decision, and add that it is of the highest urgency that any decision at all is postponed until the coming academic year.

Nathan Akehurst
VI Form Student

Sunday 12 June 2011

Find out more about Free Schools

Since my post about resisting the seductive elements of free schools there has been widespread interest amongst Green Party activists and others. Here are some links that will be of interest and I publish the NUT's FAQs below.

Parents Alliance for Community Schools LINK which arose out of a campaign against a free school in Hammermith and Fulham
A community campaign in Lambeth ' No to Free Schools'  LINK
The NUT pamphlet on Free Schools LINK
The Local Schools Network supporting a good local community school for every child LINK
The ATL have done some revealing research into the groups behind bids to run academies and free schools. PDF available free LINK

Q: What are free schools?

A: Free schools are a new type of school which the Coalition Government is promoting. The Government’s aim is for the first free schools to open in September 2011.

Free schools will receive state funding but:

·                     are not part of the local authority family of schools and not subject to oversight or inspection by the local authority;

·                     do not have to employ qualified teachers;

·                     do not have to follow the National Curriculum;

·                     can determine their own admissions criteria;

·                     are unlikely to provide the same facilities as other state schools, such as halls, IT suites and outdoor play space because they will be set up in disused buildings such as shops and offices.

·                     can determine their own school day and length of the term and school year;

·                     can set their own pay and conditions for teachers, outside of nationally negotiated agreements.

Q: Who can set up Free Schools?

A: An application to set up a free school can be made by any group of parents, teachers, a not for profit organisation, a charity, faith group, private company or partnership of these.

Q: How are free schools funded?

A: Free schools will be funded directly by central government. Their funding will be based on a per pupil funding level and a pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils. It is obvious that free schools will compete with existing schools for government funding.

Q: How will admissions be organised?

A: Free schools will have to abide by the Admissions Code.  However, research from Sweden shows that more educated parents are most likely to use the free schools as they are based in rich, urban areas.  The West London Free School intends to make Latin compulsory and every child to sit at least eight academic GCSEs or IGCSEs, ensuring there will be a certain amount of self selection. The Battersea and Wandsworth Trade Union Council expressed concern that the free school being set up in Battersea would exclude pupils from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’.  It seems clear that when schools are free from local authority control, admission arrangements can be tweaked to favour more affluent pupils.                                                  

Q: What premises will free schools use?

A: Free schools can set up in any type of building such as disused shops and offices.  The Government has ordered a relaxation of planning laws and building regulations and local planning authorities have been asked to adopt a “positive and constructive” approach towards applications to create new schools. Partnership for Schools, the quango that used to administer the Building Schools for the Future funds to refurbish or rebuild existing state schools, which has been abolished by the coalition Government,  is now helping free school groups identify and buy premises using state funds.

Q: Will free schools have qualified teachers?

A: The Government has said that free schools do not have to employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), apart from the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator and the member of staff responsible for looked after children (these two positions could be filled by the same person). Even the Head Teacher in a free school does not need to be qualified!  How will free schools raise standards if they do not have to employ teachers who have been properly trained and qualified?

Q: Will ‘Free Schools’ have to follow Teacher’s National Pay and Conditions?

A: No.  Free schools, like academies, can set their own pay and conditions for staff.  It is clear that the Government wants flexibility on staff pay and are encouraging free school heads to pay what they want.  If free schools don’t provide nationally agreed pay and conditions for teachers they won’t be able to attract the best staff.

Q: Will free schools have the same school day and school terms?

A: Free schools can decide on the length of their terms and the school day. So parents with children in different schools may find their school hours and school terms are different. Teachers will be expected to work flexibly. The Chair of the Stour Valley Educational Trust, the first community-led group in England to get formal approval for plans to open a new free school, has said: “People are going to have to teach two subjects and bring something else as well, whether it’s the Duke of Edinburgh award or playing the piano. We’re pushing the boundaries in terms of what teachers are asked to do.”  So not only will free schools be unlikely to have qualified teachers some will also not have subject specialists. This is hardly a recipe for good teaching and learning.

Q: What accountability measures are there?

A: The Government says that all free schools will be accountable via inspections and tests and will be inspected by Ofsted.

However, it is not entirely clear what would happen if a free school was “failing” despite the Government stating that they will not “prop up” failing schools, even free schools.

Free schools are an untried and untested experiment. Do you want the government experimenting on our children?

Q: Are free schools part of the local family of schools?

A: No. free schools are stand alone independent schools. They are not accountable to the local authority even though they receive public money.  Free schools can be set up without the involvement or support of the local authority which makes their role in planning school provision locally more difficult.

Q: Will free schools damage other local schools?

A: Unless free schools are in an area of growing demographic demand they could lead to the closure of existing maintained schools. Even if a local school only loses a small percentage of its students, that could have a damaging effect on its ability to provide a quality education. The ability for local authorities to plan for school places becomes impossible and it is possible that schools may have to close.
Funds for free schools are available because other schemes such as BSF (Building Schools for the Future) and the Harnessing Technology Fund (intended to upgrade classroom technology) have been severely cut or scrapped.  Free schools will also be given a share of the funding the local authority retains to spend on all schools.

Therefore, many services to schools will suffer or no longer be available.

Q: The government says more choice and competition will raise standards – isn’t this true?

A: England already has a diverse schools system. There is no evidence that introducing further choice and diversity will raise standards. It is now almost universally agreed that Finland has the best education in Europe. Its school system reaches the ideal by producing both the highest standards and the best equity. There is no competition at all within the Finnish school system.  Research shows that the priority for policy makers should be improving the quality of teaching. Research also shows that that the choice and diversity agenda exacerbates already existing educational inequalities.

Q: Why do some people say Free Schools could lead to privatisation of education?

A: Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has said that he has “no ideological objection” to private companies seeking profits from running academies and free schools.  In Sweden, three quarters of free schools are run by profit-making companies. Chains are bidding to run free schools and are lobbying the government to allow them to do so on a profit making basis.
The NUT, the largest teachers’ union, believes the free school policy could mark the end of locally planned and democratically accountable comprehensive education, undermining all the gains made since the 1944 Education Act in widening access for all children to high-quality education.

Q: What does the international evidence on free schools show?

A: The idea of free schools has been borrowed from Sweden which first introduced free schools in the 1990s and the USA which has similar charter schools.

According to the 2009 international education survey, PISA: “Countries that create a more competitive environment in which many schools compete for students do not systematically produce better results.”

The latest edition of Research in Public Policy reviews the evidence on free schools in Sweden and concludes that, “it has not transformed the academic achievement of the country’s pupils.”

Sweden’s decline in educational attainment has been well documented since the educational reforms which introduced free schools.

The Swedish National Agency for Education (equivalent to Ofsted) found that educational attainment showed increasing differences in children’s grades linked to their parents’ educational background.

The CREDO report (Center for Research on Educational Outcomes) published by Stanford University in June 2009 is the first detailed national assessment of US charter school impacts. It covered 16 States and more than 70 per cent of the nation’s students attending charter schools. The research gauged whether students who attended charter schools fared better than if they would have attended a traditional public (state) school.

One of the conclusions was that “there is a wide variance in the quality of the nation’s several thousand charter schools, with, in aggregate, students in charter schools not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.”

Over a third of charter schools (37%) showed academic gains that were worse than their traditional public schools counterparts.  Forty-six per cent of charter schools showed no significant difference.

There are also cases of charter schools operating fraudulently.  A member of the Ohio General Assembly said “As lawmakers we were told that these charter schools would rescue central city children.  Instead these scams diverted scarce public school dollars while leaving almost all urban children behind.”