Tuesday 30 August 2011

Pub Quiz to Raise Library Campaign Funds

Click on image to enlarge

Private Tenants Need Protection - Jenny Jones

Responding to the National Housing Federation report projecting a decline in home ownership in the UK, Jenny Jones, Green Party Assembly Member and London Mayoral candidate said:
Home ownership in London has been in decline for a decade, dropping from 60% to 52% of households. This means that more and more Londoners rely on one of the most insecure rental sectors in Europe, where tenants are unable to resist rent hikes and are scared to challenge slum landlords.
Ireland is more enlightened - after six months you get an automatic right to stay for another three and a half years and landlords need a good reason to evict you. In the UK you can be kicked out with two months' notice and the landlord doesn’t need to give you a reason. We urgently need to protect London's private tenants, whether they live there by choice or because they're priced out of home ownership. 

Write to Jeremy Hunt urgently on Brent library closures

Brent SOS Libraries has asked supporters to write to Jeremy Hunt calling for him to use his powers to order a public inquiry into the Brent Library closures. Letters should be sent urgently (address below) as he is likely to reach his decision in early September. Follow this LINK for details and letter writing ideas.

This is the letter I have sent:
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to express my deep concern about the potentially devastating impact on children of Brent’s libraries strategy, which involves the closure of half of its libraries. I urge you to use your powers under the Museum and Libraries Act 1964 [s10(1)(b)] to ascertain whether its closure plans will mean it no longer meets its s7 duties to provide a comprehensive and efficient service to local people.

I am a retired primary headteacher  and Chair of Governors at two local primary schools so I have a particular interest in how these changes will impact on children. I outline below some factors that I think make a public inquiry vital.

Schools in the borough face a formidable challenge in educating their pupils due to Brent’s high levels of child poverty, high pupil mobility and high numbers of children at the beginning stages of learning English. I know from experience that many pupils have few if any books in their homes. Headteachers and teachers need every weapon in their armoury in tackling these issues and easily accessible, local libraries are absolutely essential. Older primary school children are able to go to local libraries independently and this is important when they have a single parent at home with young children or parents who work long hours and are unable to take them to the library.

Children also use these local libraries to attend homework clubs or access the internet for school work when they do not have a computer at home. I visited Neasden Library which is the nearest library to one of my schools on a Friday after school to find it buzzing with a homework club in session, children working on computers and others choosing reading books. The pupil School Council has told me how much they will be affected by the library’s closure. Other libraries will be too far away for them to travel to alone. Removal of these facilities will increase inequality in the borough.

Schools arrange regular class visits to their local library which gets children new to the country familiar with the public library system and encourages the habit of regular reading. These visits will no longer be possible if the nearest library is no longer a walkable distance. During the holiday I met an eight year old child from one of my schools at the local library who was going their every day to borrow books as part of the summer holiday Reading Challenge. Closure of libraries will mean that this extremely worthwhile nationwide programme is not accessible to some of our children.

In the light of the above I ask that in any inquiry you should decide whether:

  1. The Council has properly considered the impact on children of its plans and whether these will impact disproportionately on those from particular backgrounds or from specific geographic locations.
  2. The  Council has adequately assessed the potential impact of loss of access to books and IT equipment on educational achievement and cultural enrichment of young people.
  3. The Council has assessed the potential negative impact on GSCE and A Level grades caused by  loss of quiet study facilities for older children  for research, study  and revision. Many come from over-crowded homes or temporary accommodation where it is hard to study. 

Brent schools have done a tremendous job in improving educational outcomes which are now often above national averages. The closure of local libraries will undermine these efforts.

Yours sincerely,
Martin Francis
Write your letters to:

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP

Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics Media and Sport
Department for Culture Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1Y 5DH

huntj@parliament.ukor e-mail  

MUGA Battles

Residents of the Chalkhill Estate, and particularly local youth, have recently protested that the Council has dropped plans for a MUGA (Multi Use Games Area) in St David's Close.  They see this as an important facility for young people in the area who lack such provision. The Council claim that there were never any plans for a MUGA on that site.

Meanwhile, just up the road residents near Preston Manor High School are protesting about plans to build a MUGA in the school grounds as part of the changes associated with the construction of a primary school on the site. This MUGA will be floodlit and that is the aspect particularly vexing the school's neighbours.

The planning committee originally attached a condition to the planning application that would prevent harm to local amenities from light spillage. The Council is now seeking a 'non material' variation that would allow 'restricted light spillage' to neighbouring gardens.

Residents are concerned about how late the MUGA will remain open and worried about noise.  They claim that the plans are a result of pressure from Sports England to compensate for the playing field space lost through the building of the primary school. They suggest that a sports centre for secondary pupils has been smuggled through on the back of the primary expansion with residents kept in the dark (not for long!). They suggest that a grassed area for primary school pupils to play on would have been a much better use of the space.

MUGAs are a great resource and I support school facilities being open out of hours for the community but there are clearly issues around whether this facility is of the right type in the right place. It is important that the Council, school and local residents engage in a dialogue to find a solution that is satisfactory for all parties.

Sunday 28 August 2011

24 Free Schools Is a Weak Start to Coalition Campaign Against Local Authority Schools

Wandswoth lobby against an ARK free school proposal
24 new 'free schools' are to open in September. 17 are primary, 5 secondary and 2 'all-through'. The government will pay capital costs of between £110m and £130m  for these schools, which will open in a variety of buildings including former shops, offices and libraries. Their running costs will also be provided by the government and they will operate outside local democratic control.  The capital costs are much higher than first suggested and budget issues may have restricted the number approved this year. If the budget is increased it will impact on already  stretched local authority budgets.

The government will try and sell the 24 schools as a great policy success but the number is actually very low in comparison will earlier government claims and the receipt of 323 applications in the first round and 281 in the second.  However numbers are likely to be artifically boosted because the government will insists that any new schools needed to address a rising pupil population must be free schools or academies. They will of course spin that the resultant increase in numbers reflects public support for the policy.

This is a similar tactic to that used under the Labour government to ensure that the new school needed in Brent was an academy: the Tory-Lib Dem Council administration were told that there was no chance of a new local authority secondary school. The same argument is being repeated today as the Labour council struggle to address the shortage of school places. Denied the possibility of new local authority primary schools  the Council will be under pressure to support free school bids. Providers such as ARK will claim they are performing a valuable service by providing for children who would otherwise be without a school place.

In fact, rather than being initiated by parents or teachers the list  includes two ARK primary schools which are run by hedge fund speculators,  while former fee paying Batley Grammar School will now be state-funded giving what one parent referred to as an unexpected 'bonus' when he no longer has to pay fees. The list also includes a significant number of faith schools.

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Redbridge
All Saints Junior School Reading
ARK Conway Primary Academy Hammersmith & Fulham
ARK Atwood Primary Academy Westminster
Batley Grammar School Kirklees
Bradford Science Academy Bradford
Bristol Free School Bristol
Canary Wharf College Tower Hamlets
Discovery New School West Sussex
Eden Primary School Haringey
Etz Chaim Primary School Barnet
The Free School, Norwich Norfolk
Krishna-Avanti Primary School Leicester
Langley Hall Primary Academy Slough
Maharishi School, Lathom Lancashire
Moorlands School Luton
Nishkam Free School Birmingham
Priors Free School Warwickshire
Rainbow Free School Bradford
Sandbach School Cheshire
St Luke's Church of England Primary School Camden
Stour Valley Community School Suffolk
West London Free School Hammersmith & Fulham
Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy Enfield

Monday 22 August 2011

Brent Housing Scams Alert

Brent Citizens Advice Bureau issued an alert on housing scams in the current edition of its Newsletter:

Clients are regularly reporting housing scams in Brent, which have a huge impact on vulnerable clients already struggling to make ends meet. Brent CAB is compiling evidence about these scams to help campaign against them. They include problems with landlords, estate agents and letting agencies.

Deposit scams are a frequent issue. Landlords often refuse to pay tenants their deposit back when they move out. They unjustly say the client has damaged the property or that they will pay the deposit back on a specific date. When the date comes, the deposit is not paid back. The landlord provides another date and keeps delaying the process. The landlord is meant to put the deposit into a special deposit account called a payment protection scheme so that they cannot access the money, but they often don’t. This means the client is forced to go to court to get the money back.

Another deposit problem often arises when clients pay their estate agent the deposit to give to the landlord. When the client leaves the property they ask the landlord for the deposit, but the landlord says the estate agent has it, whereas the estate agent says the landlord has it. The client is in a Catch 22 position and will again have to take court action to get their deposit back – this naturally costs time and money.

Letting agencies often do not fulfill their agreements. One of these provided a client with a contract for accommodation and said that work would be done to fix broken appliances by a certain date. After this date the client moved in but no changes had been made, including a shower which was still not working. The agency abdicated responsibility. This happens frequently in Brent.

Some Brent landlords dishonestly put their name on the client's tenancy agreement as a user of the property. This means the tenant has no security of tenure and can be evicted with very limited notice. In houses of multiple occupancy, if the tenant pays in cash and does not get a receipt each time or write it in a rent book, it is also possible they will lose their deposit as a landlord can claim it, saying they did not pay rent on a specific week, where there is no proof of payment.

Brent CAB has Housing Advisers available to help Brent residents with these problems: 270-272 High Road, Willesden, NW10 2EY Advice line: Monday-Friday 9.30am-5.30pm 0845 050 5250

Saturday 20 August 2011

Harlesden Comes Together After the Disturbances

Brent News Company TV has posted an interesting video of the recent Community Link Up event in Harlesden organised by J-Star (Just Stand Together and Reach) which took place in the aftermath of the disturbances. It includes comments by Ann John, leader of Brent Council on the events in the borough. It deserves wider viewing than it has received so far so I post it below:

Greens: Bring Our Society Together - Don't Push Us Apart

The following was posted on 'Comment is Free' yesterday by Caroline Lucas, Green MP and Jenny Jones, Green London Mayor Candidate

Earlier this month, a spate of terrifying violence and disorder erupted onto our streets. Communities were terrorised, individuals attacked and city centres trashed. Horrendous images on our TV screens of burning buildings and mindless looting created a climate of fear in which people were scared to leave their homes – and in which public trust in the capacity of our police force to respond effectively was shaken.
The Green Party unequivocally condemns the violence and vandalism which has left indelible scars on families, businesses and urban environments across England. We express sincere condolences for those who lost loved ones in the chaos. And we feel admiration for those who took part in the peaceful defence of their neighbourhoods, as well as those came out onto the streets for the clean-up effort.
In the days since, the sheer number of column inches devoted to attempts to understand why the riots and looting took place – and how we might be able to prevent such devastation in future – illustrates the huge complexity of this issue. The honest truth is that there are no easy answers.
As a political party, we believe it is crucially important for the fabric of UK society that the Government and the police strike a balance between keeping our streets safe – protecting people from harm and defending communities against destruction – and upholding the hard won civil liberties of our citizens. And we want to keep things in perspective. We do not believe, as David Cameron does, that British society is ‘sick’.
Furthermore, we are concerned that Cameron’s encouragement of draconian punishments will undermine respect for the law. The harsh sentencing of riot perpetrators to “set an example” is overtly political and wholly misguided. The varying sentences given out so far reveal serious inconsistencies and an alarming lack of proportionality. Overly tough sentencing will lead to costly and time consuming appeals, and add to the sense of unfairness already rife in our society.
The Government should also be clear about the consequences of sending hundreds of young people to jail – especially when prison capacity is at an all time low – with little chance of any proper rehabilitation.
The Greens also completely oppose withdrawing benefits from those linked to the events, and the eviction of families from state-supported housing. Such measures will only exacerbate existing problems of poverty and alienation – cutting off ever further those who we must seek to bring closer. Driving people into deeper poverty will not make the streets safer – nor will it help us build a stronger, fairer society.
Ultimately, underpinning any analysis of the riots should be a recognition of the deep inequality which lies at the heart of British society. So too should we understand the effects of a consumer culture which promotes endless material accumulation, an aggressive sense of entitlement and a demoralising level of status anxiety.
The Coalition Government’s reckless austerity agenda, combined with rising youth unemployment and economic stagnation, is contributing in no small way towards a sense of hopelessness. It’s clear that many people feel disempowered, and that some have become disengaged from their own communities, to the extent that they are willing to attack them without fear of consequence.
In focusing on long-term solutions, the Government must show it is willing to address the shocking level of inequality which exists in our country. Research by UNICEF suggests that the UK is one of the worst places to live as a child or teenager in the developed world – largely thanks to the growing gulf between the haves and have nots.
This is not something which the Government has shown any interest in tackling.
We need policies to create a more equal society. And as the economy continues to teeter dangerously on the edge of disaster, we need urgent action to create jobs and get people into work. The Green Party has long supported, and implemented where possible, the introduction of a Living Wage to begin to address these issues. We will continue to push for this change at every opportunity.
We also continue our call for Government investment in the clean industries of the future, to create millions of new green jobs and help our transition towards a greener future. And we demand bold measures to tackle the scourge of tax evasion and avoidance which allows those at the top of society to loot the public purse with impunity.
In light of the events earlier this month, the Greens are calling for a moratorium on all police cuts until December 2012; in other words, after the colossal policing challenge that is the London 2012 Olympics, and after the various inquiries into the riots have reported back. In the meantime, the police should focus on spending money wisely, and ensuring that police officers are not burdened with administrative tasks which take them away from frontline policing.
Although we reject the idea of any kind of military-based national service, the Greens would support a voluntary national community service programme for young people – particularly one geared towards training and eventual employment. Sadly, such a positive scheme would require a level of funding unlikely to be forthcoming from this Government.
Yet by investing money in intervention now, in programmes to broaden the horizons of young people, address their concerns about the future, offer them a way to participate in public life and have their voices heard, we can save the state money – and save lives – in the long term.
For example, to tackle the gang culture which blights our inner cities, the Greens propose the introduction of Community Initiatives to Reduce Violence (CIRVs) based on the successful model we have seen in Glasgow. The scheme seeks to reduce violent behaviour and provide mentoring, career and employment services, bringing together different social services in an integrated approach. This way, we can make sure that those at the bottom are drawn away from criminality – and are able to gain control of their own lives.
In the meantime, the Greens welcome the inquiries now under way to investigate the complex causes behind the August riots – in particular, the formal commission being coordinated by Nick Clegg which aims to speak directly to people within the affected neighbourhoods about what happened.
We also support efforts to establish “payback” sentencing and restorative justice for people found to have participated in the disturbances. Plans for a “riot payback scheme” would ensure that those who are convicted are forced to mend the damage done via community service work, and to face up to the consequences of their actions through meetings with victims.
If the Government is serious about preventing a repeat of these terrible events, then such solutions must form part of a more balanced, humane and realistic approach – one which can help to bring our society closer together, rather than pushing us further apart.

Follow this LINK for another comment which should stimulate debate

Take action this weekend for Brent libraries

Jeremy Hunt MP, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Olympics and Sport, is due to rule in September on whether Brent's library changes (including the closure of half the libraries) will comprehensively and efficiently meet local needs. Hunt has special powers to order a public inquiry into the planned closures if he is so minded. This is a separate procedure from the judicial review case where the decision is due to be announced when the courts resume in early October.

Anyone who wants to make representations to the Secretary of State to persuade him to order a public inquiry should write to him at:
Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP
Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport
Department for Culture Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1 5DH

or e-mail Dempster.Marples@Culture.gsi.gov.uk

These are some of the issues that you might want to address:
Whether the Council has failed to make a proper assessment of local needs in respect of its Library Services.

Whether there are specific needs for adults that will not be addressed if the plans go ahead, including the specific requirements for older people, disabled people, unemployed people, and those living in deprived areas.

Whether the proposed cuts will hit some groups of people in Brent harder than others and, if so, who they are.

Whether the Council has had proper regard to the needs of the borough’s children generally, and those from particular backgrounds.

Whether the libraries that are linked with particular schools and/or children’s centres ought to be closed and if not, why not.

Whether the distances the Council expects people to travel to alternative services are too great generally, and whether particular groups of people face particular barriers to travelling.

Whether the Council had a clear understanding of the extent and range of services currently being provided in the libraries, including those which are ‘core’ to the service and those which are ancillary, when it decided to make the cuts.

Whether the reduced service would adequately meet the particular needs of deprived communities.

Whether there is a lack of logic around why some libraries were recommended for closure and not others.

Friday 19 August 2011

Jenny Jones investigates Brent cycling issues

Jenny Jones and Shahrar Ali listen to Brent Cyclists' concerns
Jenny Jones, the Green Party's candidate for London Mayor, visited Brent today as part of her fact-finding tour of London boroughs regarding cycling facilities.  Members of the Brent Cyclists' Group and Brent Green Party told her about some of the local issues and took her on a ride from Wembley Park down to Neasden Shopping Centre and Gladstone Park.

One of the central issues was the problems cyclists face in crossing the North Circular at Neasden. The North Circular splits Neasden in half and travelling south the cyclists has the choice between 'Death Canyon'  where the main road goes under the North Circular at the Neasden Stonehenge roundabout and joins another roundabout at the top of Neasden Lane, or the pedestrian underpass to the Neasden shopping centre which is shared with pedestrians. Many users have worries about safety in the pedestrian underpass.  Travelling from south to the north there are even more problems with cyclists having to negotiate fast-moving traffic from a slip road which joins the main road from the left.

Pointing out the dangers at Neasden roundabout
Jenny promised to look into the possibility of a road level crossing at the North Circular for north-south transit and any interim improvements that could be made. I told her that this had been cited as a possible route for children cycling from the south of Brent to the Ark Academy and remarked that this seemed to be a way of reducing the pupil population of Brent!

Other issues covered included the lack of cycling routes in the north of the borough and the intensive use of cars in that part of Brent, the impact of the Brent Cross Regeneration on cyclists and concerns about the changes being suggested for Staples Corner.

Link to Brent Cyclists blog HERE

Challenging 'A' Level stereotypes

From  today's Guardian
It was good to see the Guardian's front page story on A level results avoided the usual images of teenage girls (usually blonde) jumping up and down with excitement clutching their results.

Without taking away from the girls' achievements, with national concerns over the performance of black boys, and all the stereotypes flying around in the wake of the riots, it was encouraging to see a positive image of black male youth's educational achievements displayed so prominently.

Incidentally it is easy to blame the media for falling for the blonde girl stereotype but a journalist revealed on the Radio 4 Today programme this week that schools and colleges ring local newspapers up and say things like, "We have some exceptionally beautiful girls this year" in order to tempt their photographers along.

Meanwhile as results trickle in it looks like a good year for Brent schools so congratulations to all the students and their teachers, teaching assistants and parents.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Highlighting some issues on the primary expansion strategy

An 'urban style' school in Westminster
I attended last night's Brent Executive meeting to hear the discussion on the Primary Places Strategy and was able to make a short presentation on some of the issues that arise.  These are the notes of my contribution:

1.   Recognise the difficulty regarding the shortage of school places and welcome development of a longer term strategy.

2.   Agree need for intensive lobbying of government with similarly affected boroughs – not just a local issue. This should include funding for new 2FE schools in areas of need.

3.   The consultation paper left out fact of submissions from at least two governing bodies – impression they were all headteacher or individuals. In fact a long and passionate discussion involving staff and parent governors took place.

4.   Proposals mean demise of one form entry schools that have their own strengths, particularly in terms of helping vulnerable children in an intimate and safe setting. (Return to that later)

5.    Draw attention to some issues that arise from the suggested strategy – the impact of all-through schools on neighbouring primaries – long-term residents will choose all-through school at 4 because it guarantees a place in the secondary school. May destabilise stand-alone primaries with disproportionate number of new arrivals and high turn-over.

6.   All through schools will reduce the number of secondary places available for pupils from stand-alone primaries. If Alperton and Wembley as proposed become all-through, this with Ark and Preston Manor would reduce Year 7 places available in North Brent by 300.

7.   This would impact on children from the South as they would lose out on the distance criterion. Raises equality issues.

8.   Need clarification of what is meant by ‘urban style’* school mentioned in 3.3 but not followed up.

9.   Need to have strategy on how to maintain ‘primary ethos and character’ in all through provision. Perhaps have a separate governing body to that for the secondary phase or additional governors experienced in early years/primary education.

10.  Possible alienation of small children in large 5 form entry schools (six proposed). Need to research also how to preserve the family-centred ethos through options such as ‘small schools’ within larger ones.

11. In the context of the recent disturbances need to think carefully about the form of our schools so as to reduce the possibility of alienation and disaffection of young people. If one of the ‘causes’ is lack of family support then schools need to be able to provide the safe, supportive structure sometimes missing from children’s own families. Is this better provided in smaller schools? Links with present consultation on  Breaking the Child Poverty Cycle. 
12. As Brent schools become larger ‘free schools’ may step in to provide the small, friendly, family-centred schools –‘where everyone knows your name and you can’t get away with anything’ that many parents prefer. There are signs that free school providers are already homing in on this.

* An officer  said that 'urban style' schools mean schools on 'constrained sites' such as some in Westminster. I take it that means schools with very little space in an urban environment.Soho Parish C of E School for example limits classes to 20 because of space constraints. Quite a few of the older buildings have roof playgrounds to maximise the small amount of play space they have.

In response Cllr Mary Arnold, lead member for Children and Families, said that the Council realised this was a serious issue and that was why they went out to consultation. She welcomed the feedback on the consultation and said that important points had been made, including those about 'small school' solutions within larger units and separate governing bodies for the primary phase of all-through schools. Cllr Lesley Jones echoed concerns about the impact of all-through schools on stand-alone primaries and said this issue had been worrying primary schools in her area. Cllr Ann John, following up comments about the riots and child poverty, said that Cllr Helga Gladbaum had chaired a group looking at an Early Intervention Strategy and that their proposals would be published soon.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Former Lib Dem to stand for Greens in Camden by-election

In a surprise move, which is likely to send shockwaves across Camden politics, the Green Party has chosen former Liberal Democrat councillor and Camden Eco Champion, Alexis Rowell, as their candidate for the Highgate by-election on Thursday 15th September.

Alexis was a leading Lib Dem councillor in Camden from 2006 to 2010, and is widely credited with having significantly raised the profile of environmental issues in the council and across the borough.
But, shortly after winning a national Sustainability Councillor of the Year award, he stood down at the May 2010 elections saying he'd done 80% of what he'd set out to do.

After his selection on Tuesday night by the Camden Greens, Alexis said: "I have been growing increasingly disillusioned with the Lib Dems since the party joined the coalition government. My principal reason for leaving was Chris Huhne's support for nuclear power, but I have also been completely unimpressed with the coalition's overall environmental record and appalled by what their policies and cuts are doing to the social fabric."

Alexis formally resigned from the Lib Dems on Monday, paving the way for his selection by the Greens on Tuesday night.

In his resignation letter to Nick Clegg, he said:
I recognise that any government would have had to make difficult decisions, but I'm still shocked by the fact that you signed the foreword to the bill to privatise the NHS, by the draconian frontloaded cuts to local government, by the free schools policy, by the virtual abandonment of state-funded higher education, by the lack of any action on banker bonuses and exorbitant pay in general, by the decision to fully privatise the Royal Mail, and by a host of other free market or libertarian policies which I didn't vote for and which I can't support.
 The Greens currently have one councillor in Camden, Highgate's Cllr Maya de Souza. In the past the Greens held all three seats in Highgate and are widely seen as the principal challengers to Labour in this by-election.
Cllr de Souza said: "We are delighted to have such an experienced and energetic candidate standing for us in Highgate. It is largely thanks to the work Alexis did last time he was a councillor that sustainability is such a key concern at Camden Council. But he's also got a great track record as a ward councillor responding to residents' concerns. His energy, enthusiasm and hard work will be a great asset to Highgate."

The Chair of the Camden Green Party, Natalie Bennett, said: "At a time when the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are creating havoc nationally, and Camden Council's Labour administration is closing libraries and playgroups, Alexis is a strong candidate for anyone who cares about the environment and progressive issues generally."

The leader of the national Green Party, Caroline Lucas MP, said: "Alexis's move from the Lib Dems to the Greens shows that it is the Greens who are leading the way on progressive and environmental politics in the UK. I encourage all Lib Dems to take a long hard look at what the coalition is doing and to ask themselves whether they really support what's happening."

Summer holiday decision on the future of primary education in Brent

Map showing unplaced primary children  in Brent 
Click on image to enlarge

Tonight the Brent Council Executive will consider a report setting out plans for future primary provision in the borough as a result of the burgeoning child population. The Council expect to be short of 46 reception class places in September after taking into account places at expanded schools and in bulge classes. However overall they expect as many as 513 Year 1 to Year 4 children to be without a school place in September.  Numbers are expected to rise 'dramatically' in 2012-13 with a record shortage of places of 1778 by 2014-15 if nothing is done.

The report proposes a three-pronged approach to the problem:
A robust lobbying campaign to central government, clearly demonstrating the size of the challenge the Council faces and the inadequacy of the available resources. At the time of writing the government has made no firm proposals or commitments to provide additional capital funding to support the provision of additional school  places. The problems are particularly acute within London, and the Council should actively consider collaborative lobbying with other likeminded Boroughs. On 19 July 2011, the Secretary of State announced that the government will provide an additional £500m to fund more new school places for September 2012 in those areas of greatest need. It is Brent Council's priority to make its case towards this allocation as part of our lobbying efforts.

A medium term approach linked directly to the Council’s emerging property strategy, which considers more radical ways of addressing the challenges associated by providing school places and delivering a ‘fit for purpose’ school portfolio. This will involve a review of the entire education portfolio and  consideration of new models for schools, including five form entry primary schools, all through schools and ‘urban’ style schools. The Council’s approach is in line with the government's latest announcement to conduct a full survey of the school estate for a fairer funding model. Such a strategy will take a number of years to come to fruition and will have little or no impact on the existing pressures. However, clearly the cycle of inadequate extensions and bulge classes needs to be broken at some point. The government has announced a new privately-financed school building programme to address the schools in the worst condition wherever they are in the country. The programme is expected to cover between 100 and 300 schools with the first of these open in September 2014 and is expected to be worth around £2 billion in up front construction costs.

A costed short term strategy to maximise the capacity of the existing school portfolio, involving a combination of extensions, expansions and bulge classes, in order to help meet immediate pressure for additional primary school places. This strategy is currently unfunded, and there is currently no government grant available for this. The report sets out the costs associated with the delivery of the short term strategy and suggests possible sources of finance in order to minimise the unsupported borrowing burden to the Council.
The report summarises the result of the consultation on future primary provision which was carried out in July and extended after protests that insufficient time had been made available for detailed consideration of the options.  They say 29 responses were received of which five were from headteachers, nineteen from individual school governors, and the remainder from 'others'. In fact I know that two responses were made from governing bodies but this isn't mentioned.14 (48%) were in favour of expanding existing primary schools as their first choice and 7 (24%) were in favour of creating bulge classes and 4 (13%) expressed a preference for all-through (4-19 years) schools.4 (13%) said that building new schools should have been considered an option and 6 (21%) suggested that the Gwyneth Rickus Building in Brentfield Road (currently the borough's Centre for Staff Development) become a primary school. (This may be an option if the CSD transfers to the new Civic Centre in 2012)

The strategy put forward in the document is not entirely in line with the consultation findings:

Diversity in the size of primary schools in Brent ranging from 2 FE to 5FE. In future, the minimum size of primary schools in Brent should be 2FE. (2 forms of entry is 420 pupils plus nursery and 5 forms of entry 1050 plus nursery))

Continue the move away from separate infant and junior schools and support the amalgamation of existing infant and junior schools.

Develop all through primary/secondary schools as an option within a diverse range of provision but maintain the primary ethos and character within all through provision.

Support the co-location of special schools and mainstream schools.

Within the overall system, maintain the flexibility to commission or decommission school places in response to fluctuations in demand
The move to all-through schools and the establishment of large 5 form entry schools are  both likely to be controversial. The short-list for possible expansion includes the conversion of Wembley High, Alperton and Capital City into 'all-through' schools with twoor three forms of entry in the  primary phase.The separate Roe Green Infant and Junior schools and Lyon Park Infant and Junior are ear-marked for expansion to five forms of entry, along with Barham and Braintcroft.  Byron Court and Preston Park are considered for expansion to 4FE. The 'short-list' is actually quite long with Wykeham, Fryent, Elsley, Chalkhill, Mitchell Brook, Leopold, Malorees Infants, Malorees Junior, St Andews and St Francis and Furness on the list for possible expansion to 3FE.

The report signals the end of one form entry primary schools which I personally find very sad as they can be quite magical places that are amazingly responsive to children and their families.

These are clearly important long-term decisions so it is a pity that the Executive is making them in the middle of the Summer holidays when many people concerned about such matters are away.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Slight setback for free schools

'Free schools' got off to a faltering in  start in February  when the DFE announced that of the 323 proposals received only 41 were approved to move to business case and planning stage or beyond with one proposal subsequently withdrawn. Eight proposer groups were invited to apply through a new application process. The results for all applications submitted since or resubmitted will be announced in September.

A further slight setback for Michael Gove in his rush to get as many built as possible was announced today. The government published new rules for planning which although they say councils should have a 'presumption' in favour of state-funded schools (free schools are funded directly by the state rather than via local government), councils will still be able to veto the new schools on planning grounds. This followed a hostile public reaction in consultation to proposals that free schools could be set up in disused shops, offices, churches and other venues with no requirements regarding play space etc and with no need to apply for 'change of use'.

This will probably just mean delaying free schools, rather than defeating proposals, as far as local authorities opposed to them are concerned. According to the Guardian 'sources close to Michael Gove' said that the government would still be able to be over-turned by the Department for Communities and Local Government and campaigners fear councils will be put off as they may have to pay costs if they lose on appeal.

However delay will give local campaigners more time to assemble the case against free schools when the next tranche are announced in September. It will also give councils more time to find other uses for buildings that free schools were hoping to occupy.

Calling all Brent cyclists - meet Jenny Jones and tell her about local issues

Jenny Jones, Green Party candidate for the London mayoral elections,  will be coming to Brent on Friday to meet cyclists and investigate with them how cycling could be improved.

Her visit will start at Wembley Park station at 10am on Friday August 19th where anyone interested should come and meet her. She will then be able to cycle to any spots in the borough which give cyclists particular difficulties.

Could everybody who decides to come respond to Collette.Bird@london.gov.uk with their telephone number in case of any emergencies or delays.

Brent Council seeks views on tackling child poverty

The high number of children in  most deprived wards
Click image to enlarge

Brent Council yesterday launched a consultation on its draft child poverty strategy. The Government requires each local authority to have such a strategy in place in 2011. The Council is keen to have feedback on any gaps in  the information they provide which will enable them to refine the final strategy. The consultation is aimed at council staff, community groups and young people.

Some key facts:
  • Brent has become more deprived. It was the 35th most deprived borough in 2010 compared with 53rd previously.
  • The highest rates of child poverty are in Stonebridge ward, Harlesden and South Kilburn. There are pockets of deprivation in other parts of the borough including in the south of Welsh Harp ward which was not deemed as deprived four years ago.
  • Overall there  are up to 23,000 children (34.1%) in Brent living in poverty according the the Child Wellbeing Index.
  • The numbers of children eligible for Free School Meals is a good indicator of poverty. The national average is 15.9% but Stonebridge 44.2%, Harlesden 38.7%, Dollis Hill 33.4%, Kilburn 33.2%, Dudden Hill 31% were much higher compared with Kenton at 11.6%.
  • 72% of homeless cases have children or are pregnant. (This is likely to get worse when the housing benefit cap is fully implemented early next year). There has been a recent increase in the number of young Somali people who are homeless.
  • There is lower educational attainment in early years and schools compared with London and national averages and lower attainment evident in some Black African and African Caribbean children.
  • The highest number of lone parents is highest in Harlesden (570) and Stonebridge (560) compared with 95 in Northwick Park and 60 in Kenton
  • Unemployment is highest in the most deprived areas with a Brent average of 9.3% compared with 8.7% in London and 7.7% nationally
  • 7.6% of Jobseekers Allowance claimants are 18-24 years old compared with 6.7% in London and 6.9% nationally
  • The Tellus Survey showed that lack of aspiration and fears about future prospects including jobs, further education and money are concerns amongst most young people and parents.
The consultation report says that Brent Council is responding to this situation by:
  • Completing a child poverty needs assessment
  • Drafting a strategy
  • Consulting on the strategy
The Council gives its child poverty vision as:
For no children or young people to be disadvantaged by poverty by 2021 in Brent. Over the next decade we will ensure that each child has the best possible start in life and not be disadvantaged by family circumstance or background by breaking the cycle of deprivation
The problem is of course in achieving this vision against the back of Coalition policies whose overall impact, despite innovations such as the pupil premium, are increasing child poverty through reducing benefits, the housing benefit cap, and reducing the number of public sector jobs. The Council's own scope for initiative is clearly limited by the cuts in local authority funding and some of the cuts and higher charges they have made as a result will also impact on families and educational provision.

Faced with the statistics and the reality of  Coalition policies the objectives outlined in the consultation document  seem well-meaning but lacking in establishing a clear, practical policy direction. 'But how?' keeps coming into your mind:
Our objectives for 2021
1. To provide a safe and secure environment where all children are respected and cared for so that they grow into successful and responsible people.
2. To ensure all children have a happy life and life style to be able to progress and thrive.
3. To provide children with the best possible education in an environment where they can thrive; socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually.  
4. To ensure all children are happy, confident and ambitious capable to aim high and achieve what ever they aspire to.
The officers concerned hope that by establishing an over-arching framework they will enable different Council departments to produce more detailed plans. The consultation will be longer than usual and will involve 15 face to face meetings with various stakeholders covering the full range of provision.

The diagram below shows the framework:

Click on image to enlarge
The consultation itself is qualitative and asks open-ended questions including What are the causes of poverty? and In a ideal world what actions could be take to a. prevent children from living in poverty and b. deal with those who are already in poverty? There are 13 questions in all so whoever writes this up will have an enormous job to do as some of the questions invite mini-essays in response!

The consultation website is HERE and a PDF of the consultation document is HERE
The consultation closes on September 26th and comments should be sent to andrea.lagos@brent.gov.uk

Monday 15 August 2011

Daily Mail Rules Dave

David Cameron today: "Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline.* Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged - sometimes even incentivised - by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised."
Gang members possibly should, Duncan Smith suggested, receive a knock on the door once a day from the police and arms of government such as the TV licensing offices, tax authorities and DVLA.
Children out late at night would be offered places at newly created young offenders' academies to "take the anger out of their lives".
From today's Guardian LINK 

So the Daily Mail is  running the UK now that Murdoch is in the dog house. Melanie Phillips for Home Secretary? We can't create jobs for youth but we can create jobs to control them. 'Offenders' Academies'- brilliant! I did research back in the 80s into Units for Disruptive Children where all the disruptive kids in an area were gathered in one institution. They learnt brilliant new ways of being disruptive from each other in a competitive environment and some ended up being expelled before they all burnt the place down.

"Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences."......Bankers?

* "Government without brains"?

Saturday 13 August 2011

Making Brent A Dirty and Dangerous Borough

Brent Fightback supporters demonstrated on Kilburn High Road on Saturday morning against Brent Council's proposed cuts in street cleansing and school crossing patrols.

Most residential streets will now be only swept once a week, compared with three times under the previous administration which vowed to make Brent  'a cleaner borough'. The seasonal leaf service will be stopped with even Labour councillors warning of accidents when elderly residents slip on wet, decomposing leaves. Local solicitors should open their files now ready for a rush of custom in October when the cuts are implemented and the leaves (and the elderly) fall.

The Labour council are still reviewing school crossing patrols but intend to cut them forcing schools which want to ensure that their children are safe to pay for the crossing patrols themselves. This is a departure from the basic understanding that road safety is a responsibility of the whole community and provided through that community's local council which residents  fund.

I was just going to add as a joke that perhaps local businesses will start sponsoring lollipop patrols with their logo on the back of high visibility coats - then realised that this Council will probably leap on the idea. Or perhaps we'll end up with 'pay as you cross' with the kids thrusting 10p into the hand of the crossing patrol officer to see them across the busy roads with the ones unable to afford it having to cross at their own risk!

Protecting the vulnerable?

The full report on the street cleansing cuts can be found HERE

Riots: The danger of growing inequality mixing with a culture which puts consumerism above citizenship.- Caroline Lucas

As I posted Barry Gardiner's comments on the disturbances earlier it is only fair that I report what Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP, said in the same debate on August 11th:

We reject and condemn the horrendous violence, arson and looting that we have seen on the streets of Britain. But we must seek to understand why this happened to prevent it being repeated. If we stop at denunciations and crackdowns, nothing will be learned about why sections of our own population feel they can riot, loot and treat their neighbours and communities so appallingly.

The bigger picture has to be considered. Britain is deeply unequal. Last year, London's richest people were worth 273 times more than its poorest. Given the growing evidence, from Scarman onwards, that increasing inequality had a role to play in at least some of the rioting, the government must commit to an impact assessment of any further policies to establish if they will increase inequality.

If individuals are defined as consumers not citizens, there is danger that those who cannot afford to consume feel they have no stake in their community and become more likely to turn against it.

The Prime Minister has said this is 'Not about poverty but about culture.' But it is about both. It is about inequality and culture and how dangerous it is when you mix growing inequality with a culture which puts consumerism above citizenship.

Young Voters' Passionate Debate on the Disturbances

Last night's Young Voters' Question Time on BBC 3 focused on the recent disturbances. The young people in the audience were passionate and articulate. A wide variety of views were expressed and at the end I felt optimistic and a sense of admiration for them. That verve and energy harnessed to promote real change would be incredibly powerful. LINK to BBCiplayer

Friday 12 August 2011

Barry Gardiner's interventions in yesterday's Disorder Debate

Barry Gardiner intervened several times in the debate to question the Prime Minister and Michael Gove.  Has anyone heard anything from Sarah Teather?
Deferred Division: Public Disorder
Barry Gardiner: Despite what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, does he understand the concern not just in the House but across the nation that a public inquiry should be held into the events that have gone on? This has been a national event; it has affected people in every part of the country, and if it is simply left to a Select Committee, they will not feel that it has been properly addressed.
Deferred Division: Public Disorder 
Barry Gardiner: Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that when Parliament resumes, those hon. Members whose constituencies have been affected but who have not been able to engage in this debate due simply to lack of time today will have a chance to revisit the issue and put on record their constituents’ concerns, including about their livelihoods, which have been threatened?
Public Disorder 
Barry Gardiner: Does the Prime Minister accept that the events of the past five nights in London have changed the nature and context of the debate about police cuts? If he persists with them, the people of London will not understand and they will not forgive. Even his own party’s Mayor now opposes him on that policy.

Give Our Kids a Future! Demonstration on Saturday in Dalston

Brent Fightback's demonstration against street sweeping and crossing patrol cuts is now going to be limited to 30 minutes 11am-11.30am (Kilburn Square) so there will be time to get to this important demonstration in North London:

A North London Unity Assembly Demonstration
Give Our Kids A Future!
Saturday 13th August, 1pm
Assemble Gillet Square, Dalston, N16 at 1pm. March to Tottenham Green, N15

Our communities need a united response to both the riots and the causes of despair and frustration that can result in riots.

We call for:

- A culture of valuing, not demonising, youth and unemployed people
- Support for those affected by the rioting, including the immediate rehousing of people made homeless, grants for affected small businesses, and restoration of damaged areas
- Reversal of all cuts to youth services in our boroughs
- No cuts to public services! Instead, investment into community-led regeneration of our communities, including access for all to decent housing, jobs, education and sports facilities
- An independent community inquiry into policing methods in our boroughs, and an end to discriminatory stop and search
- Availability of legal support for all those people arrested by police. Young people face potential sentences that will affect them, their families and their wider communities for years to come. Recommended solicitors are Bindmans 0207 833 4433 and Hodge, Jones and Allen 07659 111192

We are responding to the events of the last few days, in particular the Tottenham protest over the killing of Mark Duggan and the disturbances that followed in Tottenham and Hackney.

By coming together and calling for unity we want to encourage all sections of our local communities, young and old, black and white, residents and workers, to work together to find solutions to some of our long-standing problems.

We know there are all kinds of strong feelings and differing views. We do not claim to represent the whole community, but merely seek to promote unity in the communities in which we live and work.

Simply labelling rioters as opportunistic criminals does little to relieve tensions and provides a poor explanation for the worst riots in decades. While the shooting of Mark Duggan provided the trigger, against a background of oppressive policing, especially towards ethnic minorities, the root causes are deeper.

Our communities have been blighted by high levels of deprivation, poverty and lack of opportunity for decades. Inequality is growing and recent funding cuts to local services, particularly youth facilities, along with rising unemployment, and cuts to EMA and benefits have exacerbated the conditions in which sections of frustrated young people turned to rioting, which unfortunately has resulted in people losing their homes and small/family businesses losing their livelihoods.

Britain is a wealthy country, but with deep inequality. The economic crisis created by greedy bankers and financial speculators is further impoverishing already poor areas like Tottenham and Hackney. The £390 billion of combined wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain should be redirected to fund the services we all need.

In the last few months we have seen mass local protests against cuts, student occupations to defend free education, a half-a-million strong demonstration on March 26th, and 800,000 public service workers out on strike on June 30th.

We need to build on these and other inspiring local and national struggles. Let's work together for a decent society, based not on greed, inequality and poor conditions, but on justice, freedom, sharing and co-operation.

The North London Unity Demonstration has been called by an ad hoc open assembly of 70 community activists on Tuesday 9th August. It is supported by the Hackney Alliance to Defend Public Services, Haringey Alliance for Public Services, Haringey Trades Union Council, Day-Mer (Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre), NLCH (North London Community Centre), Day-Mer Youth, Alevi Cultural Centre, Fed-Bir, Kurdish Community Centre: Roj Women, Halkevi, Gik-Der (Refugee Workers Cultural Association). Britania Peace Council: Hundred Flowers Cultural Centre, TOHUM, Socialist Party, Youth Fight For Jobs, Right To Work, Red Pepper.

There is a thoughtful posting on the recent social unrest on the Haringey Green Party blog HERE

Thursday 11 August 2011

Children's Rights and Responsibilites - a practical approach

Kim Beat, Braintcroft headteacher, and pupils
In the wake of the recent disturbances there has been a lot of discussion about responsibilities - of children, parents, schools and the wider society. The concept of 'rights and responsibilities' is not new in Brent schools and something that is very much part of the ethos of many.  Schools have often drawn up agreements in consultation with children and their parents on everyone's rights and responsibilities.

Braintcroft Primary School in Neasden has gone further in embedding these issues into the way the school is run and in April of this year were awarded UNICEF's Rights Respecting Schools Award Level 1  The award is based on the implementation of the values of the UN  Children's Rights Charter.  The school was visited by assessors who talked with parents, children and staff  and watched the school in action.

Here are some of the assessors' comments:
All the staff and children interviewed by the assessors had excellent knowledge of rights and confirmed that in addition to lessons they learnt about rights through charity work, their allotment and healthy schools. Parents were informed through a booklet on rights and a stall at the Winter Fair. Children took a petition to 10 Downing Street as part of the 1 Goal Campaign which had a big impact on the whole school appreciation of global issues. Teaching and learning takes place in rights respecting classrooms. The children confirmed that they are being encouraged to take learning into their own hands; that they felt empowered to ask for help and to contribute to the planning process. They also confirmed that since Rights Respecting was introduced to the school there is greater engagement with learning as “before everyone just got distracted”.
All classrooms had a negotiated charter and the assessors noted high levels of good practice. The charters emphasised respect as well as rights and responsibilities and the children valued this move away from rules. Teachers used the charters to encourage children to reflect on their behaviour and put things right. Staff and students are modelling the language and behaviour of Rights Respecting in the classrooms. The whole school charter was developed with wide consultation and parents were able to vote with the children to prioritise the rights to be included.
Braintcroft School Council interview Sarah Teather
Braintcroft has a well established student council which has already interviewed Sarah Teather; their MP. The children valued the opportunities offered for voice and understood that; “school council takes your point of view to another level, you know that if you tell the school council it is going to be done”, The children believe that their voice has contributed to practical change in school – like new chairs and playground equipment. It has made school safer for some children and made school more welcoming for new children; “At Braintcroft everyone is welcome”.  The assessors noticed that school council minutes had become increasingly more positive as the school year had gone on. The children we met were confident and they knew that their teachers were helping them to make informed decisions. There is an active newspaper club which produces a school magazine clearly aimed at the general interests of the readers. Children took part in Day for Climate Change and were filmed by UNICEF. Students exchanged places with the teachers and took their responsibilities very seriously. They undertook a learning walk and reported their findings with perception and sensitivity.
Through participation and empowerment of pupils and parents this approach encourage values that go well beyond those of celebrity and consumerism. Of course it cannot cure inequalities in society but it can nurture the skills and commitment that will allow children to challenge such inequalities in a positive and informed way.

Declaration of Interest: I am a governor at Braintcroft Primary School

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Brooms and Lollipops Protest in Kilburn

Brent Fightback are to hold a protest in Kilburn Square, Kilburn High Road from 11am on Saturday.

Supporters will be bringing brooms and 'lollipops' to protest against Brent Council's cuts in street sweeping and school crossing patrols. Veolia, the borough's cleaning contractor will make up to 50 street sweepers redundant in October and details of the numbers of school crossing patrols to be cut is currently under review.

The street sweeping cuts will mean that outlying residential streets will be swept just once a week instead of the three times they were swept under the previous administration.  All street sweeping in the borough will end at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. Council officers said the event days at Wembley Stadium, when local streets are often scattered with beer cans and takeaway cartons, will come under a different budget but details have not been made clear.

The additional seasonal leaf clearance service will also end. Officers said leaves will be cleared in the normal scheduled sweep but as that it only once a week it is unclear whether workers will be able to keep on top of the job. Previously leaves were bagged and sent for composting and again it is unclear whether that will still be done. If it isn't Brent green credential will take a battering.

Concerns have been raised by residents about street safety if rotting leaves are left on pavements and become wet and icy in the autumn months.  Safety concerns have also been expressed about the safety of school children if school crossing patrol cuts go ahead. Both groups of workers suffer from low pay but are vital to the well-being of the community.

Brent Fightback welcomes any support. Please bring brooms and home-made lollipops, plus placards to Kilburn Square at 11am on Saturday.