Friday 30 November 2012

Join the Brent contingent on Climate March today

As often happens at the weekend  I am torn about which of the several events happening Saturday  I should attend. The Counihan Family March takes place in Kilburn High Road at 1pm, the Chalkhill Community Festival from 1-4pm and a crucial conference on the future of primary education is being held in Lambeth. All these events are important and worth supporting.

The Campaign Against Climate Change March in taking place in Central London. The threat posed by climate change is huge, so huge that it is almost impossible to comprehend its impact, and therefore so tempting to turn to something more manageable. It is almost like knowing we our all going to die eventually - too difficult to really take in so we ignore the inevitable and carry on living day to day because worrying about it will do no good.

Well, I believe we can do something, although the window of opportunity is shrinking rapidly. We have to shout from the rooftops about the issues and demand action from governments across the world. Tomorrow's march is a tiny part of that campaign.

Reasons to march tomorrow:
  • The rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap.
  • Floods and droughts driving up food prices and world hunger.
  • Hurricane Sandy the most powerful Atlantic tropical storm since records began.
  • Over 200 Flood Warnings and one Severe Flood Warning in Britain recently.
  • Climate change will worsen the economic crisis as food prices soar and land is used to grow fuel instead of food
  • Food and water shortages will cause armed conflict between countries
  • Mass migrations will take place from affected areas with homes and livelihoods lost.
  • The greed for fossil fuels will see oil companies turning to more and more dangerous extraction methods  that damage the environment.
Whatever the outcome of the UN talks in Doha, we have to step-up the pressure on governments to take the necessary action NOW to limit climate change.
Assemble 12.00 noon in Grosvenor Square
Join the Brent contingent at the entrance to Willesden Green tube at 11.15am  
12.00 -1.30 Assemble Grosvenor Square and build the "Grosvenor Square Keystone pipeline" from the Canadian High Commission to the US embassy !
1.30 - 3.30 March to Parliament
3.30 - 4.30 Build a giant mock fracking rig outside parliament !

Come to the Chalklhill Community Festival on Saturday

This Saturday 1st December there is a Community Festival from 1-4pm at Chalkhill Community Centre with 35 stalls and activities offering the chance to try out and meet many of the groups and activities in Chalkhill including:
  • Team GB Olympic fencer James Honeybone
  • Magician
  • Jewellery making
  • Pilates
  • Singing
  • Free hot lunch from 1-2pm, choice of Caribbean, Asian, British and African with halal and vegetarian options
  • fire engine
  • football skills
  • taekwondo
  • pampering
The choir of Chalkhill Primary school will be performing.

The event is completely free and for all ages.

113 Chalkhill Road,  Wembley, Middlesex HA9 9FX

Thursday 29 November 2012

"A farrago, a sham, an utterly dishonest exercise"

It reminded me of those Victorian pictures of the ragged, scrawny child, barefoot in the snow, with nose pressed against a restaurant window staring at the big-bellied rich tucking into their suppers in a warm glow of complacency.

We were in the opulent surroundings of a ballroom in the Hilton Metropole, Edgware Road trying to tell the smooth, expensively suited gentlemen from NW London NHS on the platform just what untold damage their 'Shaping A Healthier Future' (SAHF) proposals would do the people of Harlesden and Stonebridge, two of London's poorest wards. The whole consultation exercise to reach a foregone conclusion has cost £7,000,000

We were presented with a IPSO/MORI consultation report that ignored the thousands who had signed petitions against the proposals but instead went on to suggest that that the far fewer people who had submitted a response to Options A, B or C (all rejected by the petitioners) somehow represented some kind of democratic endorsement. 66,000 signatories on 18 petitions were apparently counted as 18 responses.

Andy Slaughter MP summed it up:
This is a complete farrago,  a complete sham, a completely and utterly dishonest exercise!
This was the beginning of many exchanges about the consultation which I felt rather let IPSO/MORI take the fire that should have been aimed at NW London NHS for the inadequacy and downright dangerousness and dishonesty of their proposals.

Ann Drinkell, put her finger on the dangers towards the end of the Q and A session. She claimed that SAHF had been dishonest about the ability of community care being suddenly able to pick up on the slack when fewer people were admitted to hospital or stayed for a shorter period.
Everyone know we aspire to good community care, good palliative care, but everyone also knows how difficult it is.  It is disingenuous to suddenly think it will be unproblematic. The impact of restructuring and budget cuts on community care and social care will be enormous. You are treating us like children.
Dr Mark Spencer then proceeded to do just that, treating us to a couple of anodyne PowerPoint slides on the 'Programme of Work' and 'Clinical Review of Responses' that would now begin. We were not allowed to ask questi9ons about this.

After a buffet supper (those ragamuffins in my head again) we went into 'Stakeholder Workshops'. These were introduced by Lucy Ivimy, Chair of the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, a Conservative councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham.

She said that the initial impetus for the proposals had been the rationalisation of Accident and Emergency wards in the area and the fall out was a consequence of this, The virtual closure of two hospitals had been hidden deep in the plans, Given the wide geographical area and the propensity of people wanting to protect their own local facilities it had not been possible for the Committee to reach agreement.

She said that there were two main concerns:
1. SAHF was premised on success of the out of hospital strategy. This had been promoted for years but in real life admissions had continued to rise. We need more evidence on the strategy and a firm path to follow.
2. Transport was a big issue. Although there was a claim from the ambulance survey that there was little impact on the 'blue light' journeys the majority of journeys to hospital are by other means including public transport. There had been no analysis of these journeys.

A skirmish followed about whether this represented the committee and it emerged that an initial very critical report had been replaced by a much sifter version which was the 'official report'.

The workshops that followed were actually very interesting and dealt with issues that should have been discussed prior to the formulation of the plans. The public were feeding back on their real lived experiences - not going through a desk-top exercise. The world turned upside down.

In the workshop I attended I protested once again that schools as stakeholder had not been consulted at all and that children had been left out at a time when the child population is rising and they will be making demands on the health service. Gurjinder Sandhu, a specialist in infectious diseases, working at Ealing Hospital backed this up describing the importance being able to access hospitals and their presence aiding recovery, how A&E picked up child protection issues and that the difficulty schools would have in trying to deal with fragmenting services.  A&E had a role in detecting TB which was very high in Southall and Ealing - not to mention  HIV.

In the workshop on Urgent Care Centre a disagreement became apparent between practitioners about how reliable UCCs were with a suggestion that staffing levels and expertise were poor and that this represented a risk to patients. This was even more so when there was no A&E on the same site as will be the case with Central Middlesex Hospital.

The strong underlying thread was that health services and access to health services would worsen for the most vulnerable. The ragamuffin has been left out in the cold.

Consultation feedback below:

Brent forms Waste Warriors team to beat fly-tippers

Following an increaser in fly-tipping this year Brent Council is to create a 'Environmental Crime Prevention Team' to tackle graffiti and fly-tipping. There will be a refreshed focus on waste enforcement, dealing particularly with fly-tipping and business waste.

A report going before the One Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee on December 5th admits that one reason for the increase in fly-tipping is the 'council's new household waste collection arrangements that restrict the volume of waste that is collected'.

The council no longer collects additional sacks that are left next to the bins. They say 'this has led to residents dumping excess/uncollected waste on footpaths and near litter bins in some areas'.

A second reason is to do with the street cleansing cuts introduced last year. The report says that less frequent sweeps mean items are left for longer and more likely to be reported.

A third reason is increased commercial waste disposal charges which has led to 'dumping by unscrupulous trades who wish to avoid these charges'. The report notes that commercial waste disposal cots rise each year and 'can be particularly burdensome' for small and medium-sized businesses in difficult economic times.

If the 'no side collection' rule is causing more fly-tipping there is likely to be pressure from some quarters for this rule to be relaxed. 

These impacts were predicted by campaigners at the time the new recycling system and street cleaning cuts were introduced last year.

The immediate impact of the £2m cut in street cleansing has been addressed through various measures including paying particular attention to known problem areas and 'bespoke' arrangements around very difficult areas such as Harlesden town centre. Veolia have now introduced a 'recycling pick-up of waste dumped in town centres which ensures a second additional early morning clearance in those areas.  A concerted anti-litter campaign is being considered.

On a more optimistic note  the council claim that the measures they have taken to increase recycling have resulted in an average of 45% for 2012-13 compared with 32% in the same period last year. The target is 60%.

Swaminarayan to bid to become a free school

 The independent, fee paying,  Hindu,  Swaminarayan School in Neasden is considering becoming a free school. The school for 4-19 year olds currently charges between £2,600 and £3,600 per year according to the pupil's age.  A few scholarships are available for those unable to afford the fees. The Swaminarayan is rated as one of the top performing independent schools in London and emphasises the 'best of English education combined with Hindu tradition'.

The Swaminarayan School was founded in 1991 and is housed in the former Sladebook High School building in Brent field Road, opposite the Swaminarayan Mandir.

The school's admission information states:
In order to qualify for entry, a child must reach a certain academic standard in the Preparatory School entrance examinations in English and Mathematics. He/she will have to pass an oral and written examination. Although Kindergarten/Nursery children are not tested academically, an informal interview is arranged between the parents, Head of Nursery and Head of Preparatory School. Assessments of the following areas will be carried out: child’s spoken language, vocabulary, nursery rhymes, ability to listen to instructions, solving simple puzzles, social skills and hand-eye co-ordinations are carried out
Free school status would mean that the school would become directly funded via the Department for Education. It was the first 'all-through' school in Brent combining primary (or Prep as the Swaminarayan call it) and secondary departments, and was followed by the Ark Academy and Preston Manor.  I doubt that the school could keep the admissions procedures if it becomes state funded - nor should it.

I understand that some parents are concerned that direct funding would result in class sizes becoming larger and I am not sure whether the regulations allow for some residual fee charging to enable school class sizes to be retained.  Parents, particularly those with several childrem, will save a considerable amount of money if the bid is successful.

I asked the Principal to comment on the reports about a possible free school application and also on rumours that the school might buy the neighbouring Centre for Staff Development when Brent Council vacates it next year.

Mr Mahendra Savjani, Principal of Swaminarayan School said:
The Swaminarayan School is considering applying for Free School status. Whilst we have not found a site, we would wish to locate to a site in the heart of the Hindu community. The excellent education that the school provides at present will be open to all.
There were rumours several years ago when Brent Council was looking for school sites that the Swaminarayan may move to Harrow but these reports were denied. Brent is expecting a shortage of secondary school places in the future as the swelling primary school population moves through the system.

The previously independent fee paying Batley Grammar School converted to free school status last September with much flag-waving from the government. LINK

Brent Council has decided that it will actively seek free school partners to address the shortage of school places.

There are a considerable number of small fee paying prep schools in Brent that might consider a similar move.  St Christopher's in Wembley upset parents a few years ago when it announced at short notice that it would be unable to run a Year 6 class the following academic year because numbers were not viable.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Boris Johnson fails to answer key questions on his free school policy

Following Boris Johnson's announcement that he wanted to encourage more free schools in London and find GLA surplus property for them, Darren Johnson Green Assembly Member put a number of questions to him in order to delve deeper into his policy which could threaten equality of access for children with disabilities and special educational needs as well as reduce public accountability of schools.

The answers indicate that in fact there is no depth to the policy and that it has not been thought through. Londoners deserve more than 'off the top of the head' thinking when it comes to educating our chidlren. Today's league tables for regions and local authorities show London local authoirty secondary schools are rated higher by Ofsted than the England average.

Here are the questions which Boris Johnson apparently found too hard to answer:

Accountability of Free Schools
Question No: 3469 / 2012
Darren Johnson
How will you ensure that free schools you support, financially, with sites or otherwise, are democratically accountable to the local community as well as to the Secretary of State for Education?
Written response from the Mayor
Policy on free schools is set nationally. Please contact the Department for Education for information about free schools and accountability. More information about free schools is available at
Free School policies (1)
Question No: 3470 / 2012
Darren Johnson
How will you ensure that there is fair access to free schools for pupils with special education needs, disabilities or on the free school meals register?
Written response from the Mayor
Policy on free schools is set nationally. Please contact the Department for Education for information about free schools and Special Educational Needs, disabilities, and Free School Meals. More information about free schools is available at
Free School policies (2)
Question No: 3471 / 2012
Darren Johnson
How will you ensure that all free schools you support, financially, with sites or otherwise, commit to a close working relationship with the local authority in order to maintain an appropriate focus on borough-wide priorities, including local authority nomination of a member of the governing body and a commitment to sharing performance information?
Written response from the Mayor
Policy on free schools is set nationally. Please contact the Department for Education for information about free schools and their relationship with local authorities. More information about free schools is available at
Free School policies (3)
Question No: 3472 / 2012
Darren Johnson
How will you ensure that all free schools you support, financially, with sites or otherwise, commit to appropriate staffing arrangements to ensure high quality teaching and learning from qualified staff and good employment practices, including in relation to support and contracted staff?
Written response from the Mayor
Policy on free schools is set nationally. Please contact the Department for Education for information about free schools and staffing. More information about free schools is available at
Free School policies (4)
Question No: 3473 / 2012
Darren Johnson
How will you ensure that all free schools you support, financially, with sites or otherwise, commit to community access and use of facilities through agreed extended opening and lettings policies?
Written response from the Mayor
Policy on free schools is set nationally. Please contact the Department for Education for information about free schools and community access. More information about free schools is available at
Free School policies (5)
Question No: 3474 / 2012
Darren Johnson
Will you rule out financial support and the provision of GLA group owned sites for free schools that teach creationism as scientific fact?
Written response from the Mayor
The Department for Education has made very clear that it will not grant approval to any free school application that plans to teach creationism as scientific fact.
Building new community schools
Question No: 3467 / 2012
Darren Johnson
Will you press the Government to allow London boroughs to build new community schools in areas where there is a shortage of school places?
Written response from the Mayor
London is facing a severe shortfall of school places and I am grateful that the Government has doubled its funding for basic need addressing the shortage left by the previous Government. I will continue to make the case for London to the Treasury as I have previously successfully done when making joint representations with London Councils. Government funding for new schools, including free schools, presumes that they will be academies. I also want to encourage a new generation of free schools in our capital, to help address the shortage of school places and give parents more genuine choice.
Building schools where they are most needed
Question No: 3468 / 2012
Darren Johnson
What steps are you taking to ensure that public funding for new schools is directed towards areas of London where there is the largest anticipated shortfall in school places?
Written response from the Mayor
The GLA currently runs a pan London school roll projections service for boroughs. I will explore how we can expand this to cover all boroughs, and how we can work more effectively to develop an improved, strategic picture of school places in the capital. I will also support the creation of new free schools where there is strong parental demand though not necessarily a shortage of places.

'Super primaries' behind 'village' free school proposal

Mary Seacole celebrated on a Jamaican stamp
 Another free school proposal is being pursued in the Queen's Park, Kensal, North Kensington area. This school, Seacole Primary Free  LINK, presumably named after the Jamaican nurse heroine of the Crimea War, is being marketed as a 'A Village School in the heart of London'.

Although the shortage of primary places in the area is cited as making a new school necessary there are links to parental criticism of the increasing number of very large primary schools, some of which will have more than 1,000 pupils:

On this blog I have predicted that Brent Council's expansion of primary schools into much larger units could produce proposals for smaller primary schools where children feel secure in a family atmosphere and parents find staff readily accessible. My arguments against free schools are set out HERE but I have sympathy for those who find 'super primaries' alienating. The answer should be the building of more community local authority primary schools of a modest size but this is made almost impossible by Coalition policy.

The Seacole Primary proposal is set out below:
SEACOLE PRIMARY SCHOOL will strive for academic excellence and an all-round education that allows every child to flourish. Here’s how:

Class sizes:
small classes – no more than 24 pupils – so that each child is supported to achieve their full potential.

Curriculum: a strong foundation in core subjects like maths and English complimented by art, music, drama and regular sport.

Collaboration: we believe that a good education is built on a partnership between teachers and parents. We will aim to assist working parents with breakfast and after-school clubs.

Community: each child should feel happy at school to instill a love of learning, confidence and good behaviour. We want to build a school that is a community.

In the Queen's Park, Kensal Rise and North Kensington area there is an acute shortfall of primary school places. A group of local parents are applying to open a mixed, 4 to 11 free school.
We are applying for permission to start with classes from Reception up to Year 4. If our application is approved the school will open in September 2014.

Friday 23 November 2012

Focus on Israeli house demolitions on the West Bank

Salusbury Primary avoids having academy sponsor foisted on them by choosing their own partner

The Brent and Kilburn Times LINK is reporting that Salusbury Primary School has found a partner (unrevealed) and will convert to an academy. The school which received a poor Ofsted report was faced with the possibility of being forced to become an academy by Michael Gove who would himself have found a sponsor.

It appears that the governing body moved quickly so they at least had a say in who would be their partner. Downhills Primary in Haringey,  who fought hard against academy status were eventually faced with a similar situation ended up with Lord Harris of carpet fame being chosen by Michael Gove as their sponsor.

Cuts to Services to Schools treat staff shabbily and pose risks for Brent's children

The full extent of the reduction in Services to School provided by Brent Council through the Children and Families Department is made clear in a report going before Brent's General Purposes Committee on Tuesday.

This is the latest reduction in council services and follows out-sourcing of school meals and cleaning to private companies many years ago, the ending of the Brent Council Supply Teachers desk with that role going to competing agencies  that take a large cut out of the fee schools pay, and the recent news that Brent Council will no longer provide a payroll service. Schools will have to find another provider by April 2013. The Council deemed the pay roll service non viable after may schools opted out, employing 'cheaper' private companies instead. Many of the payroll companies also provide a human resources service so  Brent HR may also be under threat in the future.

The reduction in Services to School is linked to the overall cuts in the Brent Budget, Coalition policy encouraging great school autonomy, the ending of ear-marked grants which the council previously administered, the loss of council revenue caused by schools becoming academies and upcoming changes in the way schools are funded.

As I have argued before on Wembley Matters as cuts are made by the council and services are provided by fewer staff - more work by fewer people for less pay - the quality of the service deteriorates and schools feel forced to consider sourcing from other providers.

Headteachers through the Brent Schools Forum have opted to set up a Brent Schools Partnership which aims to provide support and development between schools which will also buy-in to services provided by both the council and private providers.

Schools' Forum has also decided that much of the money currently retained by the council to provide services will instead be paid into individual school budgets. The budget for these services of £1,119,626 will now go to schools.

Services to Schools are funded from various sources:
  • The Council's General Fund
  • The Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG)
  • Income provided by schools purchasing services
  • Specific programme grants provided by health bodies and the Department for Education
This results in an indicative budget for 2013/14 of £1,579,800 compared to £2,130,000 this year, a reduction of more than half a million pounds. The report proposes a 'core school improvement service' with 7.47 full-time equivalent posts funded from the Council's General Fund and 13.2 fte posts funded by the DSG.

Apart from the core services the Schools' Forum also decided that the following services would be retained by the LA
  • Early Years Quality Improvement Service £577,000
  • Early Years  Special Education Needs and Disability Service £167,444
  • Learning Zone at Wembley Stadium £81,000
  • Specialist  Educational Need staff £162,959
Those no longer funded include the ethnic minority achievement and support for travellers, refugees and asylum seekers service  (£754, 830) and continuing support  for the reading recovery programme. Both these services have played a major role in the raising of standards of achievement in Brent schools. Surely this raises major equality issues?

The education welfare service which supports schools and parents in ensuring children attend school regularly and on time; the pre-exclusions teams which works with schools, pupils and parents to prevent them from being excluded, and the behaviour support team will no longer be managed from with the Services to Schools department and will 'be located elsewhere in Children and Families' alongside the Pupil Referral Units and other services for vulnerable pupils. However it appears that staff employed here cannot relax about their jobs as there will be a staffing reorganisation for them in 2013.

The report states that a total of 28 posts will be affected by the proposals. 11 are vacant and 17 currently filled. The report says there is a potential indirect discrimination as regards women in the proposed redundancies but suggests that this could be rendered lawful if 'any potential discriminatory effect is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.  A predictive Equalities Impact Assessment identifies that the majority of the staff affected are female with a significant proportion over 50. The report suggest that all 'reasonable' steps be taken to obtain alternative posts in 'Brent schools or around the council' for them..

Apart from job losses the new core service will also mean changes for those left behind (the 'more work by fewer people for less pay' principle).  The structure includes:

 ...generic posts whereby each school improvement lead will be expected to undertake some common general duties as well as to provide specialist leadership in one or more of overall co-ordination of the work of the team:
  • Special Educational Needs
  • Ethnic minority achievement and equalities
  • Statutory assessment
  • Behaviour, safety and well-being
I am concerned about these proposals for a variety of reasons:
  •  The present team is successful with Brent schools achieving above the national average now, having been seen as failing in the past
  • Experience shows that such teams once lost are extremely difficult to rebuild
  • The proposals, taken alongside the development of academies and free schools in the borough, will further weaken the local authority
  • The statutory role of the council in overseeing the interests of children and young people in Brent will be made more difficult by the proposals
  • The performance of schools can change suddenly as a result of social and economic conditions as well as key staff changes and the council will lack the resources to deal with this
  • The strategic guidance for schools provided by the School Improvement Service will be reduced and may not be strong within the proposed and untested Brent Schools Partnership
  • The Brent Schools Partnership decisions were made without the agreement of school governing bodies who are responsible for strategic decisions
  • The Partnership may take up the time of headteachers in terms of planning and administration that would otherwise b devoted to the improvement of teaching and learning in their schools
  • Mutual support may be difficult for smaller schools or schools that are struggling to improve or dealing with reorganisation or major building works
  • Although surviving staff will transfer to the Civic Centre with a Staff Development Centre as a facility survive and will the Brent Schools Partnership as a separate have to pay for training space
  • The decline in the role and services of the local authority will provide ammunition for those arguing for conversion to academy status - 'What benefit is there in us staying an LA schools?'
To sum up I think we are taking a huge gamble which could put at risk our children's education. I also think that this is a shabby way to treat dedicated staff who have done so much for Brent children and their schools.

I'm Barry - Fly Me!

Today's Independent draws attention to the number of flights and expenses paid trips undertaken by members of parliament LINK 

242 MPs declared an average of £6,500 for 'fact finding missions' and trips.

Barry Gardiner MP, who ironically is Ed Miliband's Special Envoy on Climate Change got a special  mention:
Barry Gardiner, the MP for Brent North, has accepted £52,071 in foreign trips since the election, spending a total of 73 days out of the country as Vice-President of Globe International – an international group representing parliamentarians.

Support local democracy - buy the Kilburn Times

 Regular readers of the Brent and Kilburn Times will have noticed that the paper has been a lot slimmer recently.  This is the result of cost saving measures that also include a reduction in reporting staff. The Archant Group, along with other local newspaper groups such as Trinity South who produce the Wembley and Willesden Observer, are facing economic difficulties as a result of the loss of advertising revenue in the  recession and declining leadership.

The increase in free distribution of titles is one way of boosting circulation and thus making the papers attractive to advertising. As the remaining pages have to carry the advertisiments this reduces space for news item. The Letters Page has been a casualty of this squeeze on space in the BKT recently so it is good to see it back this week - not just because a letter I wrote about Central Middlesex A&E and schools was published! There was no editorial his week, presumably to squeeze in more letters, but it would be a shame to lose this feature as in my opinion they have been very influential in the past.

Letters pages in local newspapers are part of the lifeblood of local democracy and vary a great deal. The Ham and High and Camden Journal in our neighbouring borough have particularly lively pages and are often the first pages turned to by readers.

So far the slimmed down BKT has continued its high standard of reporting and they continue to originate stories and break exclusives  rather than recycling press releases which unfortunately is the role of many local newspapers with reduced reporting staff.

Our local newspapers  are particularly important in these times when both council and government cuts mean community is losing vital health, police and fire services and many families face hunger and  homelessness. With a weak opposition in  the Council the BKT has a vital role in holding our local politicians to account.

Help keep them going: buy it and advertise in it.

Slippery statement from Brent on leaf clearance

Last autumn Brent Fightback launched a campaign to reverse street cleaning cuts.  Amongst the concerns was the ending of the seasonal autumn leaf clearance. Instead, responsibility for cleaning leaves this was to be combined with normal street cleaning of litter with street sweepers now cleaning streets less regularly.

A section of the petition to the council stated:

The ending of the seasonal leaf service will result in hazardous conditions for pedestrians as leaves rot and will open the council to compensation claims for injuries. (September 2011)
The impact depends a lot on conditions - dry weather results in crisp and crunchy leaves but wet conditions and frost result in slimy, slippery leaves that rot on the street. Last year conditions favoured the council but this year there has been wet weather which has produced complaints from residents and criticism from Cllr Daniel Brown at the council meeting earlier this week. In response Cllr Jim Moher seemed to imply that residents should clean up their own leaves.

Brent Council issued this statement:

We are operating a reduced leaf clearance programme in 2012. In previous years we deployed extra, seasonal resource to clear leaves. That resource was removed this year.

The onus is now firmly on street sweepers to clear leaves as they go about their normal duties.

Dealing with this extra workload is obviously more difficult, especially as litter clearance remains our firm priority.

We must reasonably expect that leaves will take longer to remove this year and full clearance will only be done over a number of weeks.

We are coming to end of the period of 'leaf fall' so things should start to improve.
For a reminder of last year's campaign watch this video: (apologies for the horrible pic of me on screen - can't get rid of it!)

Governors torn over Preston Manor academy decision

Guest blog from someone who attended  Wednesday's meeting about Preston Manor's possible conversion to a Co-operative Academy.
Both Matthew Lantos, the headteacher, and the education unions made presentations to staff and parents.  No-one spoke up for an academy. The financial argument about the loss of money if the school didn't convert was put as a key reason by  Lantos for converting now and not waiting.

Not many parents attended, the weather not conducive but also, as one parent said,  many had decided  'its a done deal so why bother'. However there was a good debate with the parent governors and those from the PTA plus some other parents. They asked Matthew Lantos detailed questions about finances, quality of provision, potential use of unqualified teachers, changes in the curriculum and what powers the governors would have if the secretary of state had the ultimate say. 

Everyone agreed that no-one could predict what will happen financially. There was a large deficit of £1bn  in the DfE academy budget. The unions said that this was why both staff and parents should say no to an academy. Things may be OK in the short term but if a certain point was reached with a large number of schools converting - currently only about 10% of all schools in England have converted - then Gove could decide to take over individual converter academies and make them part of a chain. 

The move by Gove to have schools run for profit had already started.  The Co-op principles were seen as very important by the Governors as they would be enshrined in law in the articles. This would make it very difficult to change them. It was clear that governors are very torn and have a difficult decision to make. Do get back to me if you need anything else.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Break up of Brent's local authority school system continues

The headteacher of Preston Manor was annoyed at me when during September's Education Debate at Copland High School I included Preston Manor in a comment about academies. 'We are not an academy,' he said and then got more upset when I responded, 'Not yet!'. 

Anti-academy campaigners in Brent were always concerned that when schools became Cooperative Trusts there would be an almost automatic progression to becoming Cooperative Academies. This was denied by the Cooperative College when they spoke to local schools and trade unions.The Cooperative Trust model was sold as a way of staying within the locally funded network of schools but in a more cooperative way and alternative to private sponsorship.

Preston Manor is currently a Cooperative Trust foundation school but is consulting on becoming a Cooperative academy. The consultation started in November and will finish in on December 7th.  A meeting for parents took place yesterday evening.

In a letter to parents the headteacher said:

Earlier this term I wrote to explain that the Governors had agreed to my recommendation to apply to the Secretary of State to be considered for conversion to Co-operative Academy status. I stressed that over the last eighteen months Governors have discussed the potential benefits and any drawbacks or risks of conversion to Co-operative Academy status as well as listening to the views of staff, students and parents.

The Governors thinking has always focused on the best interests of the students and children at the school;  they are adamant that if Preston Manor does convert to Co-operative Academy status it woulcontinue to offer inclusive and comprehensive education to our students and children but would have the benefits of greater curriculum freedoms;   continue to embrace the Co-operative values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity; continue with the same admissions policy; retain national and local terms and conditions for all existing and future staff;  utilise the additional finances to improve the school even further, with a particular focus on teaching and learning, standards and progress;  continue to work collaboratively with other local schools to benefit students, children and staff;  continue to have a majority of Governors who are parents or staff; and  keep our school day and school year within the local context.
The joint education unions in a letter to staff and parents said:

The joint education unions welcome Preston Manor Governors commitment to having a full consultation over the possible move to academy status.

As supporters of locally accountable comprehensive state education, we view with grave concern this Government's plans to privatise the whole of the education system through academies and free schools. We expressed these concerns when the school was consulting over the move to Co-operative Trust status .

We hope that where our members oppose conversion the Co-op would respect this. The NASUWT has a good relationship with the Co-operative movement but remains opposed to Academies . As the Unions representing the overwhelming majority of staff we are concerned the impact that such a change of status could have on the children's education and the conditions of service for the employees.

Preston Manor is a good and improving school. Why does it need to change?

This proposal has nothing to do with improving education for pupils. If it was, your child's teachers would all have been calling for these changes . They have not, and are not.

Academies , though state funded, are in the independent sector- the tax payer pays but academies are democratically unaccountable locally. Academies are accountable directly to Michael Gove, Secretary of State. The whole of the TUC and its affiliated trade unions are opposed to academies .

As you know the teaching and support staff at the school are dedicated and committed to providing the best education for the pupils at the school. They believe that any change to the school  should  be one which makes a positive difference to children's educational attainment. There  is  no  evidence  to  show  that becoming an academy would raise educational standards . Rather, in the long term, we are convinced it will be the reverse and lower them.

Private companies are lining up to take over the provision of school services - and in future to provide and run all schools to make  a profit. They may price cut at the start but increase costs later. We see the Government's true privatising colours in raising tuition fees to £9000 and are now supporting private universities. Gove's long term intention is to privatise the running of schools and education
Though the current Head and Governors may promise things will not change, when  they  move  on  as happens over time , any new leadership can change things very quickly if the school is an academy . These would include for example determining the curriculum, pay, conditions and varying duties.
The only guarantee that national pay and conditions will continue to be applied to staff would be if Preston Manor did not become an academy .

Is there a financial advantage to becoming an academy?

If Preston Manor becomes an academy it initially receives some extra funding but only for only a short period of time . The Department for Education has stated that; 'the government is clear that a school converting to an academy will not have a financial advantage or disadvantage '.

We have requested a copy of the Preston Manor business plan but as yet it has not been forthcoming . We would urge the Governors to ensure that the financial implications are fully explored . Some heads present academy status as a short term funding expedient, but the consequences for the school are long term and serious. In the funding context , academies undermine the  key principle of accountability in public funding - they  are publicly funded , but not subject to the same reporting requirements as maintained schools.
 If Preston Manor becomes an academy it will leave Copland High School as the only community secondary school in Brent.

The shape of Brent secondary education will be:

South of the North Circular Road:
Newman College (Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided), Capital Academy (private sponsor), Crest Boys and Crest Girls (private sponsor), Queens Park (Cooperative Academy), Convent of Jesus and Mary (Converter Roman Catholic)

North of the North Circular Road:
St Gregory's  (Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided), JFS (Jewish Voluntary Aided applying for converter status),  Ark Academy (private sponsor all-through) Kingsbury High (Converter), Wembley High (Converter), Alperton High  (Cooperative Academy), Preston Manor (Cooperative Academy - all-through), Copland Hugh (foundation school)

Amongst primary schools Sudbury has become the first academy. A question mark may hang over Preston Manor's partner schools once it becomes an academy.  They are Oakington Manor Primary,  Preston Park Primary and  Woodfield Special school.

The break-up of the network of local authority, democratically elected secondary schools is almost complete. I expressed fear that Preston Manor's expansion into primary provision as a result of the Ark Academy would  inevitably lead to Preston Manor seeking academy status. To its credit it hasn't taken the private sponsor route and appears to be holding a fair consultation process but the decision, if it goes ahead, will still undermine the local schools system and open the way to further disintegration.