Thursday 28 February 2013

Now a secondary free school in Wembley Central based on preparation for work

Madison House, London Road, Wembley
I have written before about the lack of detail provided by would be free school starters and that is appeared to be the case with another proposed secondary free school in Wembley.

The Gateway Academy is reported to have found premises in Wembley Central off Wembley High Road. The entire information posted on their website LINK is reproduced below:

A group of experienced educationalists are looking to establish a new free school in the London Borough of Brent to be located in central Wembley offering education to students from Year 7 through to A-Level.

Gateway Academy shall provide a well-rounded education that will equip today’s generation to compete in tomorrow’s world. Education is in many ways an introduction into the world of employment and it is essential that our students leave school fully equipped to deal with the demands and challenges that employment immediately brings. We therefore seek to equip our students with the skills, abilities, knowledge and experiences necessary to prepare them for this transition and this shall be a focus of the school.

The school shall operate on the following principles:

Global citizenship
The Arts
Enterprise & Entrepreneurship
For our school to be considered for operation, we need to show evidence of parental and student demand. If you feel that you as a student, or you as a parent, feel that our new school would provide the type of education that would bring out the best in your child, please do complete our online survey at,
If you have any questions about our potential new school, please do email us to or call us at 020 8966 9900
This would leave plenty of space on the back of an envelope! There are no other pages or details on the website..  I understand that the application is for a three form entry school. It will be close to Copland High School which is the only remaining  local authority secondary school in Brent (the others are either academies or faith schools now)  which has been going through a difficult period and is not full in Year 7. A rival secondary free school could further destabilise Copland.

However, following up the website given on the e-mail I found that this led to the Regency Group LINK which specialises in supplementary education and classes for entrance examinations for  grammar and independent schools.

Their Wembley address is
 Regent Learning Wembley
Madison House, 24-28 London Road
Wembley, HA9 7EX

Madison House is a Brent Council property  with several users including BACES.At one stage the entire office building was on sale for £1.7m.

The description of the school above makes it clear that the school sees education as narrowly linked to employment.  The Managing Director of Regent Group's profile is revealing:
The Managing Director of the Group, Mr Selva Pankaj, graduated from the University of SDA Bocconi, Milan with a Master in Business Administration. He has also gained membership of The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and The Chartered Institute of Management.
His major achievement is the foundation of Regent Group in 2000 and the development and nurture of it into the multi faceted entity that it is today.
His wealth of corporate experience over 20 years includes work at Prudential Financial Inc, Goldman Sachs, Fortress Investments, Grosvenor Property Fund Management, Rockspring Property Investment Managers, Schroders Property Investment Management, Pricoa Property PLC and Legg Mason Real Estate Inc. His notable successes include:
- Involvement in major capital raises amounting to over €1.5 billion of capital alongside Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch
- Restructuring the tax structures of closed end investment companies that invest and manage a diverse portfolio of Commercial Real Estate, derivatives and investments.
- His direct involvement, including negotiating deals and establishing a purchase price, in the acquisition of Legg Mason Real Estate Inc whilst working for Grosvenor Property Fund Management.
- Co-ordinating IPOs in the NYSE, the LSE and European stock markets.
- Has worked in various corporate entities in the United Kingdom, United States and in Europe, in particular Germany, at a range of senior positions.
It appears that this proposal is another step towards our taxes going to groups intent on the eventual privatisation of our schools.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Green Party Deputy's personal experience informs his statement on mental health discrimination

I thought this item was worth sharing as it represents another step forward in fighting the stigma associated with mental health issues:

Will Duckworth, Green Party Deputy Leader, has spoken openly about his mental health experiences.
Mr Duckworth addressed a small meeting at the Green Party Spring Conference, which had been called to discuss the Party's plans to challenge mental health discrimination and stigma.

He said:
I have bipolar condition. It is normally called bipolar disorder but in my case it is more of a blessing than a curse. I have been a teacher for thirty years including twenty as head of maths in a comprehensive school and am now a Councillor and Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.

I was diagnosed as having manic depression more than thirty years ago.  Since then I have had just two manic episodes. I do not take any pills for the condition and am in control of the situation and I can schedule my depressions, so they do not interfere with my work.

I recognise that many people suffer greatly from the condition but for me it is simply that most of the time I am happy and very friendly but every six weeks or so I have to go through a few hours of deep depression and I can even control when that happens.

Many of you may have seen the ‘It’s Time To Talk’ campaign currently in the national media, aiming to encourage people to speak about their mental health, to help other people understand the issues and help destigmatise mental health conditions.

I have chosen to speak out about this because I want to help to dispel the myths and fear that surround any type of mental health issues.

As one in four of the population suffer from mental health issues at some time then it means that a quarter of us are personally affected.

That means that there are probably more than 150 of our MPs and 200 members of the House of Lords who have mental health issues but are restrained from telling people about it.

Many of us have spent years hiding the fact, but now is time for this oppressed minority to ‘come out’. 
'Mental health issues can affect anyone and it certainly does not prevent people from performing well in all sorts of careers but the knowledge that someone has suffered can often prevent them from getting a job. 
After the meeting he added:
I'm speaking out now because it's time to change. It's time to be open. If you had a broken leg you wouldn't try to hide it, and this is no different. It's time to be open and honest. And I would like to thank everyone here, and the Green Party as a whole for creating an atmosphere which is comfortable enough for me to say what I have said.
 The Time to Change organisational pledge is HERE

Campaign to stop Veolia getting its tainted hands on £145m of Brent's money

 Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign is to step up its campaign to get Veolia excluded from the current Brent Public Realm contract procurement process. The contract covers street cleansing, waste management, recycling and parks and BHP grounds maintenance and is worth £145m over 9 years.

The campaign has been escalated following the Procurement Panel's decision after considering detailed evidence from the PSC not to exercise its discretion and exclude Veolia from the process. The evidence gave legal grounds for exclusion on the grounds that Veolia's activities in the Occupited Territories of Palestine constituted grave misconduct.

A letter from Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the West Bank and Gaza Strip,submitted to the North London Waste Authority, where Veolia withdrew from the bidding process, was sent  to the Panel. It said:
It is my view that Veolia’s violations of the UN Global Compact principles and its deep and protracted complicity with grave breaches of international law make it an inappropriate partner for any public institution, especially as a provider of public services.
....I urge you to follow the example set by public authorities and European banks that have chosen to disassociate themselves from Veolia and take the just and principled decision not to award Veolia any public service contracts. Such a measure would contribute to upholding the rule of law and advancing peace based on justice. 
Brent has chosen not to take this 'just and principled decision' and has so far failed to provide Brent and Harrow PSC with the detailed grounds on which it based its decision not to exercise its discretion to exclude.

Petitions will be circulated calling on Brent Council to exclude Veolia and public meetings and lobbies are being arranged.

A copy of the petition can be downloaded below. Please circulate it in workplaces, trade unions, communities and places of worship.   A borough committed to social justice and serving a diverse community should not be handing residents' money over to a company such as Veolia.

Further information can be found on the Brent PSC website HERE

Monday 25 February 2013

Brent budget passed in the midst of indulgent pantomime

Protestors outside Brent Town Hall tonight
 Brent Council tonight approved Labour's budget which includes further cuts.  A last minute amendment moved by Council Leader Muhammed Butt aimed to spike the Opposition's guns by reducing parking charges at the cost of  reducing ward working funds by £210,000. £10,000 for each ward.

A previous last minute amendment at a Budget meeting by the then leader Ann John had doubled ward working funds. This time she spent the entire meeting reading what appeared to be a novel on her Kindle and made no contribution to the meeting.

The Lib Dem amendments which included £500k for volunteer libraries and reduced expenditure on the senior management team of the Council were voted down by Labour.  No Labour councillors challenged the budget despite cries of 'No Cuts' and 'Resign' from the public gallery.

Much of the meeting was taken up by the usual grand-standing speeches and barracking which Councillors seem to enjoy as a sort of Pantomime Politicians' Club but there was a measured, coherent contribution from Cllr Alison Hopkins in her role as Chair of the Finance and Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Her colleague Cllr Hunter drew disbelieving gasps when she appeared to suggest that the way to tackle child poverty in Brent was to  have more effective family planning now that the Council is in charge of public health. The Rev David Clues was not present but Cllr Gavin Sneddon made a sober speech criticising the pantomine and extolling the virtues of cross party cooperation.

When the vote was finally taken there was considerable confusion with some councillors heard to ask each other, 'What are we voting on? and it was certainly hard to follow the Mayor's chairing from the public gallery.

Below the surface of the debate loomed a recognition that next year's cuts of £19m (nearly 12% of the Council budget) will be disastrous. Perhaps, by then, the pantomime will have stopped.

The DfE's 'Big Sister' sends another disdainful missive to Gladstone Park

The lofty, superior and high-handed attitude of 'Big Sister' at the DfE can be seen in her latest letter to the Gladstone Park Primary Chair of Governors.

The letter written by Caroline Cane of the Brokerage and School Underperformance Division (now there's a friendly child-centred name for you) is notable for taking a swipe at the National Governors Association:
Firstly, I would like to make it clear that the National Governors’ Association (NGA) guidance mentioned in your letter is not statutory
As an independent body, the NGA’s views and advice do not necessarily reflect the Department’s position on how Academy sponsorship is brokered
So it is not only the governors at individual schools that are ignored but also their National Association. Remember, these are unpaid volunteers who give up hours of their time and despite the DfE's disdain are held accountable for the strategic and financial management of their schools with an ever-increasing workload. It is hard to discern any respect for this in Ms Cane's missive.

She goes on later in her letter:
With regards to your final point on consultation, the Department’s view on when this is most meaningful was set out in my letter of 24 January.  The legislative position on Academy consultation is defined in the Academies Act 2010, not guidance produced by the NGA.  The legislation states that ‘the consultation may take place before or after an Academy order, or an application for an Academy order, has been made in respect of the school.”
That is a wonderful definition of consultation. If it applied to the NHS the surgeon  could 'consult' with you about amputation after she had removed your leg!

It is clear the Big Sister always knows best:
Where a school is underperforming and eligible for intervention, it is not the case that schools are usually given a choice of sponsors. The Department leads on identifying potential sponsors as we have the complete view on individual sponsor's capacity and capability to deliver.
On the possibility of an arrangement with Queens Park Community School via the Cooperative College her remarks have a sting in the tail:
The Co-operative College is not an approved Academy sponsor and our records show we have not received an application from Queen’s Park School .  As a secondary school wanting to sponsor, its GCSE performance and Ofsted judgement would be taken into consideration.  It would also need to demonstrate that it has experience and a proven track record in working with and improving primary schools.  I note that in 2012 the percentage of pupils achieving 5+ A*-C GCSE’s including English and maths at Queen’s Park was 53%.  This is a drop of 9% percentage points compared to 2011 and means it is currently performing below the national average, so this school faces a number of challenges of its own

Brent Executive to agree Community Right to Challenge arrangements

The Brent Executive is to discuss the borough's policy on the Community Right to Challenge at its April Meeting.

Although it sounds like a right to challenge some of the more dubious decisions of the Council it is in fact the right of specific groups to bid to run current services which came into being under the Localism Act of 2011. It can be seen as a further move to end local government as we know it, introduction of the Big Society by the back door, and an escalation of out-sourcing. However, some Brent services such as the special needs playscheme are already run by such organisations.

This is some of the information already available elsewhere:
Only relevant bodies can make an Expression of Interest in running a service. The Localism Act lists the following as relevant bodies: 
  • A voluntary or community body
  • A body of persons or a trust which is established for charitable purposes only
  • A parish council
  • Two or more employees of the relevant authority
  • Any other person or body specified by the Secretary of State by regulations. 
A voluntary body is defined here as a body that is not a public or local authority, the activities of which are not carried on for profit. It can generate a surplus provided it is used for the purposes of its activities or invested in the community.  A community body is a body which is not a public or local authority, the activities of which are primarily for the benefit of the community. The definitions of a voluntary or a community body are intended to cover a wide range of civil society organisations. They reflect the required characteristics of such bodies rather than referring to your organisational structure. This allows for flexibility to accommodate future forms of civil society organisation. The way in which groups demonstrate community benefit will vary depending on their legal form and the associated requirements. The statutory guidance gives more information.
In fact Brent is behind other local authorities in publishing details on how it will administer the scheme. An officer in response to an FOI request earlier this year said the delay was due to officer sickness.

An example of an Expression of Interest form can  be found on the Haringey Council website HERE

It is likely that in the future this, along with the Community Right to Bid, Community Asset Transfer and Community Right to Build,  may be used by campaigners seeking to save local services but sustainability, as with the library volunteer bids, is likely to be a major issue.

Further information can be found at the My Community Rights website HERE 

Sunday 24 February 2013

Trades Unions vital in the long march to equality- Green Party

The Green Party today put itself firmly on the side of the trade union and working class movement when they passed a motion moved by Pete Murry of Brent Green Party and the Green Party Trade Union Group, on the party's relationship with the unions.

The motion said in part:
The Green Part believes that the Trade Union movement plays a vital role in defending the interests of working people and continues to play a leading role in the long march towards equality and social justice in Britain and around the world. Therefore the Green Party encounters all its members to be active Trade Unionists wherever this is possible.

Lobby Brent Council on Monday-Stop the Cuts

Saturday 23 February 2013

Greens make Social Justice central to the party

A motion changing the Green Party's Philosophical Basis to emphasise social justice achieved the necessary two thirds majority at the Green Party Conference today. The vote was 159 for and 64 against. 149 was need for a two thirds majority.

The amended preamble reads:
A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism.

A world based on cooperation and democracy would priortitise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet's future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption.

The Green Party isn't just another political party. Green Politics is a new and radical kind of politics guided by these core principles: (changed principles below)

1. The Green Party is  a party of social and environmental justice, which supports a radical transformation of society for the benefit of all, and for the planet as a whole. We understand that the threats to economic, social and environmental well being are part of the same problem, and recognise that solving  one of these crises, cannot be achieved without solving the others.

10. Electoral politics is not the only way to achieve change in society, and we will use a variety of methods, including lifestyle changes, to help effect progress, providing these methods do not conflict with our core principles.
The motion received eloquent support from many young Greens who said that the party's stance on social justice was what first attracted them to the party in the wake of the Lib Dem's betrayal on tuition fees and the Green's approach to the financial crisis and austerity. They wanted to give social justice and environmental justice a similar weighting.

People's Assembly against Austerity backed by Green Party

 The Green Party yesterday pledged to support the People's Assembly planned for June 22nd:
The Green Party notes with approval that The Coalition of Resistance (of which it is an affiliate), launched a call for a People’s Assembly Against Austerity on 5 February 2013, to be held on 22 June 2013. The aim of the People’s Assembly is  to bring together campaigns against cuts and privatisation with trade unionists in a movement for social justice to develop a strategy for resistance to mobilise millions of people against the Con Dem government.

The Green Party agrees to send a delegation to the People’s Assembly and to encourage local parties, regional federations and other GP bodies (eg GPTU) to also send delegations and to support future local People’s Assemblies.

Brent Council to deliver some Barnet services

The Brent Executive is to be asked at their April meeing to 'agree the principle of Brent taking over delivery of the Registration and Nationality Service on behalf of Barnet, explore in detail the business case for doing so and agree the formulation of an Inter Authority Agreement.'

Greens backs campaigns against forced primary academies

The Green Party Spring Conference yesterday suspended Standing Orders to take the following motion which was passed with no votes against:
Conference recognises that Michael Gove has recently escalated his policy of forcing primary schools to become academies so that now only one poor Ofsted report is required to trigger such a move. This has currently resulted  in several strong parent-led campaigns in defence of  community schools.

The Green Party believes forced academisation:
  • Undermines the role of local authorities and school governing bodies in school improvement
  • Undermines local democratic accountability of schools
  • Ignores the wishes of major stakeholders including governors and parents
  • Hands over local assets to an external provider without recompense
  • Opens the school to eventually being run on a profit-making basis
Conference therefore instructs the GPEX campaigns coordinator to facilitate a campaign against this policy at national level over the next 6 months and calls on  local parties to take up the issue where appropriate.

Friday 22 February 2013

Natalie Bennett rounds on Labour and the Iraq War

Natalie Bennett's leaders speech (extract) at today's Green Party Conference in Nottingahm

Thursday 21 February 2013

Willesden Green Redevelopment approved

After a 3 hour meeting Brent Planning Committee tonight approved the Galliford Try/Linden Homes (and some would add Brent Council) planning application for the building of 94 one and two bedroomed flats and a Cultural Centre on the site of Willesden Green Library and its car park. 7 members voted for the application, 2 against and 1 abstained.

Members of the public were given extra time to speak and made the objections that by now will be familiar to most readers about loss of public space, smaller overall library space (though this was disputed by the planners and architect), lack of parking space, housing density and height and the future of the Brent Archive.

Cllr Hunter and Cllr Lesley Jones spoke in favour of the redevelopment while Cllr Carol Shaw  opposed and presented a list of 9 issues that needed to be addressed.

A major new issue was the failure of the Council to produce the public register of interests and make it available for inspecting at the meeting. This should have been done under section 12 of Brent's Planning Code of Practice. Philip Grant has argued in an e-mail to Joe Kwateng that as the overall head of the Department which includes Planning and Development, Andy Donald (Director of Regenration and Major Projects), had signed the Development Agreement between Brent Council and Galliford Try. As a result, all of Brent's Planning Officers have an 'involvement' with Andy Donald and should have declared a prejudicial interest.

Chris Walker, head of Planning, said that the processes were kept separate. However the issue remains that the register should have been available for inspection and wasn't made available. This may have potential legal repercussions.

Another new factor was a contribution by Sainsbury's supermarket who expressed concern that the redevelopment with new facilities but with no parking, would put a strain on their car park. They suggested that the agreement with Brent Council should be amended so that they could control the on-street rate for parking in their currently free car park and thus control its use.

Cllr Jim Moher, who was a substitute on the committee, and provided significant ballast, indicated that the Council would consider this.

Civic Centre: Thank you Brent Labour...

I thought readers might appreciate this  posted on Save Preston Library Facebook  page earlier today. Brent Green Party has been raising questions about the £100,000,000 plus cost of the new grandiose Civic Centre for several years now. The prime site is adjacent to Wembley Arena and Wembley Stadium which will make the Civic Centre Public Library unusable by the public on event days.

 To be fair the project was mooted under the previous Lib Dem-Conservative administration and agreed at the time by Labour. There have been doubts expressed by all three major parties since, at various times, usually during elections, but the project (championed by ex Chief Executive Gareth Daniel) lived on.

The fight against austerity a major focus for Green Party Conference this weekend

I will be off to the Green Party's Spring Conference this weekend and hope to see the party strengthening its opposition to austerity, privatisation and cuts and committing to building broad alliances with others fighting on these issues.

In that regard one of the most important fringes will be on Saturday afternoon on Building the Movement Against Austerity and Privatisation with Sylvian Savier of Front de Gauche and Peter Allen of Green Left. An emergency motion will propose the Green Party  support the Coalition of Resistance's People's Assembly Against Austerity which will take place on 22nd June 2013.

Cuts will remain a controversial issue in the light of the decisions facing the minority Green Council in Brighton and Hove and support for Councillors Against the Cuts. There is a fringe on Sunday which will focus on 'the way the Greens (in Brighton and Hove) have sought to resist town hall cuts, the compromises that have to be made and how the wider party in the city has been galvanised into taking the arguments back to Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities Eric Pickles and the city's Tory MPs.'

Significantly the blurb adds, 'This won't be a debate about the merits or otherwise of the council's budget decisions'. It may not happen in that forum but the debate will certainly take place.

I will be hoping to gather support for my own emergency motion on forced academies which I reproduce below:
Conference recognises that Michael Gove has recently escalated his policy of forcing primary schools to become academies so that now only one poor Ofsted report is required to trigger such a move. This has currently resulted  in several strong parent-led campaigns in defence of  community schools.

The Green Party believes forced academisation:

  • Undermines the role of local authorities and school governing bodies in school improvement
  • Undermines local democratic accountability of schools
  • Ignores the wishes of major stakeholders including governors and parents
  • Hands over local assets to an external provider without recompense
  • Opens the school to eventually being run on a profit-making basis
Conference therefore instructs the GPEX campaigns coordinator to facilitate a campaign against this policy at national level over the next 6 months and calls on  local parties to take up the issue where appropriate.
The failure of the Green Party to make much impact in the polls despite the Coalition's unpopularity and Labour's lack lustre performance will merit some soul-searching. The fact that an ex-Green Party parliamentary candidate for Eastleigh, Dr Iain Maclennan,  is standing for National Health Action in the current by-election and gaining broad-based support is also worth discussion.

The Green Party holds conferences twice a year and remains a conference that actually makes and debates policy rather than one which merely  showcases the leaders which is increasingly the case with the major parties.

Residents and developers will battle over Willesden Green at planning committee tonight

The  controversial Willesden Green unaffordable housing and developer's land grab in exchange for a smaller library  battle will come to a head tonight when the planning committee considers the application from Galliford Try/Linden Homes.

Only the main planning application will be decided on. The application regarding the conservation area will go straight to the Secretary of State.

The Keep Willesden Green campaigners will be among the speakers at the committee meeting which begins at 7pm sharp at Brent Town Hall.  It is expected that many KWG supporters will be in the audience.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Further delays in completion of Chalkhill Park

The view from one of the park entrances
Mud and flooding in the children's playground
People attending a planning meeting for the Festival to mark the opening of the new Chalkhill Park were dismayed to hear that there is likely to be further delay to the completion of the park - none more so than the local children who attended the meeting to feed in their ideas.

One begged, 'Can't it be ready for us to use in the Easter holidays?'

It appears not.

The Festival was due to take place on May 3rd and May 4th but the park now may not be ready until mid-June.  At one time it was promised to be ready by November 2012 after earlier delays.

After the wet winter much of the ground is waterlogged as can be seen from the picture of the children's playground (above) which was taken only yesterday.  Sand is being scattered on some flat areas to soak up the water that is covering the clay before turf can be put down.   Turf takes 6 weeks or so to bed in before it can be walked on

Clearly there is a balance to be drawn between rushing to get the park finished quickly and ensuring that turfing and planting takes place in the best conditions - otherwise further problems of flooding and subsidence of grass and asphalt surfaces will be emerge in the future.

Asked for a comment, Cllr Michael Pavey (Barnhill ward) said:
I was shocked to hear of these delays. It's an absolutely terrible shame. I'll be pushing the Council hard to ensure the Opening isn't delayed a day longer than absolutely necessary.


Tuesday 19 February 2013

Should a BANG Free School be supported?

The list of proposed free schools elicited by the British Humanist Association includes a real mixed bag for Brent. They are:
Ysgol Gymraeg Llundain, London Welsh School
BANG Edutainment Ltd
London Ballet School
Sakutu Montessori Organisation School
The London Welsh School already has premises in Stonebridge and the application merely means a change of status.  The BANG Edutainment application is also in the south of Brent and is an interesting proposition which may meet the criteria set by Brent Council for partnership.  However the application has only 76 signatories on its on-line petition. LINK
I am opposed to Free Schools (as designated by the Coalition) on the grounds that they undermine local authority provision, take a disproportionate share of public funding which would otherwise go to ordinnary schools, are not democratically accountable and open the way for privatisation of schools.
I query whether,  given those overarching reservations, free schools can be used for progressive aims. However  it is only fair to let the proposers speak for themselves. I would be interested in what readers think. This is what their petition asks for:
We the undersigned declare support for BANG Edutainment’s proposal for a Free Secondary School for young people in Brent and surrounding boroughs.

The school will offer places to young people with poor choices of schools because of their area of residence.
The school will target those young people whose needs are not fully met my existing mainstream provision and who at risk of failing to achieve academic success and not reaching their full potential.

The school will offer a holistic provision of personal, social, work and life education alongside the established curriculum.
In a way those goals refer back to the free schools of the 1970s and the supplementary school movement both of which I worked with. They succeeded with many children that local authority schools had given up on. One question for me is whether our current schools are still failing to that extent with London schools performing above the national average in terms of examination and test results.. To answer that question we would need to look at exclusion rates, staying on rates and a breakdown of examination entries and results by ethnicity and social class. The statistics quoted by BANG indicate that a problem continues.

The preamble to the petition sets out BANG Edutainment's rationale:
BANG Edutainment is proposing a Free School that will target young people from the South of Brent and the boroughs surrounding. The target areas are characterised by housing estates with some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK. (e.g. Harlesden, Stonebridge and Church End fall within the top 10% of the UK's most deprived wards. Residents in these communities suffer from poverty, deprivation, social and economic exclusion with high rates of unemployment.

Many people are from Black and Minority Ethnic groups with many refugee and asylum seeker families. Children from these communities experience a challenging home life, limited parental support and a lack of effective role model. In 2007 the Learning and Skills Council identified over 8.6% of young people in Brent as Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET); amongst White and Black Caribbean it was even higher at 18.2% and amongst Black or Black British 17.7% against 2.1% for Indians. It is estimated 1 in 16 young people complete year 11 without qualifications, 17% of 16 - 25 year olds have literacy problems, 22% have numeracy problems and the number of 15 year olds identified as at risk in Brent alone is more than 15,000.

For the past 10 years BANG has worked very successfully with young people from these areas; young people considered hard to reach and socially excluded. And we’ve had a 75%+ success rate in terms of qualifications and progression to Further Education with limited resources! Our model of working with these young people includes: engaging them at their point of interest, working with them in small groups, building their motivation and aspiration, one to one support to overcome intensive issues, coaching and mentoring, peer education, building skills through practical and real life work and developing skills to prepare them for life and work. We are successful because we care about every young person we work with, we listen to them and we are flexible in how we meet their individual needs.

BANG proposes to adapt its existing model in delivery of a Free School and in partnership with local partners provide a real route to success for local young people.
The Centre for Staff Development building in Brentfield Road, which is soon to be vacated when staff transfer to the Civic Centre, seems the most obvious site for the proposed school if it goes ahead. I have long supported the idea of a secondary school in the area but always assumed that would be provided by the local authority.
I would be interested to hear your views. Please comment below.

Will Duckworth: Green Party needs to build links with unions to fight injustice

From the Green Left blog (Virtual Water Melon) LINK

The Green Party’s deputy leader Will Duckworth has called for stronger links between politicians, the general public and unions to fight workplace injustice.

Mr Duckworth spoke out after attending a demonstration against a series of forced redundancies at Halesowen College, which is close to his home and the area he represents as a Dudley Metropolitan Councillor.

He said:

Governments in the last 30 years have been working hard to try to destroy unions, and the result is that it’s now too easy for management to bully individual employees, who don’t have the protection they need and deserve. Standing up for workers’ rights is vital, especially during times of economic downturn when increasingly desperate employers look for ways – some of them unfair – to reduce outgoings including wages and sick pay.
The current government is working hard to destroy the collective bargaining power held by unions – one of the only ways employees can safeguard pay and conditions, including basic rights to safety in the workplace. Only by standing together can we protect these basic, necessary rights.
Mr Duckworth joined union members and members of the public to protest against the dismissal of four Mathematics lecturers from the College. He was one of more than 12,000 people who signed a petition calling for the reinstatement of the lecturers.

College management argues that the lecturers have been ‘underperforming’ but many, including union leaders, college students and the lecturers themselves, fear that financial pressures and the lecturers’ union membership may have played a part in the decision.

They also expressed concern about the way the redundancy process has been handled by the College.

Mr Duckworth said: 
We’re very concerned that the proper disciplinary processes haven’t been followed: if the College was unhappy with the lecturers’ performance, it should have issued them with notices to improve before taking this very strong action.
He added that he hoped to build stronger links between the Green Party and trades unions.

He said: 
My attendance at the demonstration was to show support for workers who I believe may have been treated very shoddily. It was also to help to build links between the Green Party and trades unions, so we can work together in future to combat and prevent such injustices.

NW London NHS vote to close Central Middlesex A&E with potentially life threatening consequences

Hospital campaigners from Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham assembled at a chilly 8.30am today outside the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster in the shadow of Parliament's Victoria Tower. They were protesting against Shaping a Healthier Future plans to close A&Es at Hammersmith, Charing Cross, Ealing and Central Middlesex Hospitals.

Their pleas were ignored just as were their letters, petitions and marches and the Trust went ahead and voted for all four closures.

Campaigners warned that the decision will hit many of the area's most vulnerable residents and could result  in life threatening delays for urgent treatment.

The ITN report on the demonstration and decision can be found HERE

Sunday 17 February 2013

A wonderful facility for children - let's see it widely used

Brent has some resources that deserve to be more widely known and used.  One such is the Brent Play Association on the ground floor of Peppermint Heights (formerly Middlesex House) adjacent to the Grand Union canal and opposite Sainsbury's in Alperton. It is close to Alperton Station. The BPA's John Lyon narrow boat is moored close by.

The Peppermint Heights facilities are  used for holiday and weekend play schemes for children with special needs. However, the facilities would be useful for organisations working with young people during the week including play therapy, art therapy, one to one contact, sensory work, group work as well as for voluntary organisations or community groups wanting a meeting place.

I will let the facilities speak for themselves through the images below:

Art Room
Multi-sensory room for stimulus or calming
TV Room
Play area
Large kitchen
Conference space (up to 100)
Small meeting space
Safe outdoor play
As one of the trustees of the Brent Play Association I would like to see these wonderful facilities much more widely used. The BPA would be pleased to show you what they have to offer. Contact details are HERE

Saturday 16 February 2013

Barry Gardiner quizzes Michael Gove on Michaela Free School

A Brent North resident writes:
I thought followers of Wembley Matters  might be interested in the copy letter below. It appears that I was one of several people to contact our MP raising concerns about the proposed Free School at Wembley Park. Barry Gardiner has put our questions to Michael Gove, and has promised to forward a copy of his response as soon as he receives it.
When Gove and David Cameron launched their latest list of approved Free School bids in July last year, it showed that its funding for the Michaela Community School was on the basis that it was to meet demand for a Free School in Lambeth, which it highlighted as a deprived area. I know that Brent has some deprived areas as well, and our schools do need to be fairly funded; but it seems unfair that the money for this school should be taken away from Lambeth, where there is the need and apparently the demand for it, and spent in Wembley Park, where I am not aware of any such demand.
Barry Gardiner's letter to Michael Gove:
Click on image to enlarge

Early signs of Spring in Fryent Country Park

A stroll through Fryent Country Park turned into a slipping, sliding, squelchy, sucking battle with mud today but I was rewarded by early signs of Spring. There wasn't much sign of frog activity yet but birds were busy and that drumming of a woodpecker could be heard across the woodland.

Hazel catkins
Lesser Celandine
Pussy Willow
Gorse flowers
Bluebell leaves emerging

Never mind your heritage - get excited by the shops!

Guest blog by local historian Philip Grant

It seems that we are likely to see the last remaining relic of the British Empire Exhibition, the Palace of Industry building in Olympic Way and Fulton Road, demolished within the next couple of weeks.

Quintain Estates advised me on 14 February that they intend to go ahead with the demolition before their planning application for 1350 temporary car parking spaces on the site goes before Brent's Planning Committee on 13 March. They can do this, as Brent gave them permission as part of the overall scheme for Wembley City some years ago. 

I had asked them to allow the east and north external walls to remain standing until the main redevelopment of the site for a shopping centre goes ahead in several years time. This would not stop them from having all of the car parking spaces they require to fulfil their commitments to Wembley Stadium, and would allow visitors coming to Wembley Park for the 90th anniversary of the British Empire Exhibition in 2014 to see the scale and style of the last of these iconic buildings. They claim it would be unsafe to do this, but have ignored my request (four weeks ago) to have sight of their evidence.

It was intended to ask for the retention of the walls to be made a condition of granting planning permission for the temporary car park. It appears that Quintain Estates have decided not to take that risk, so that the demolition will already be a "fait accompli" when the Planning meeting takes place. As a concession to the proposed BEE 90th anniversary exhibition, which it is hoped will be held in the new Civic Centre in the summer of 2014, Quintain have said that they will give Brent the lion's head corbels from the building.

When I suggested to the Quintain representative yesterday that it might be better to co-operate with local people and Brent Museum and Archives on this matter before sending in the demolition team, I was told they 'hope that the excitement about a new cinema for Wembley, with shops and restaurants accessible for all plus 1500 new jobs will outweigh any "bad publicity".'

Cllr Mary Arnold: Gladstone Park forced academy is 'outrageous'

Cllr Mary Arnold, lead member for Children and Families on Brent Council, has declared support for Gladstone Park Primary School in a message to the NUT:
We are giving the governors a lot of support including approaches to DfE.

It is outrageous that the school is at risk of being forced into academy without a further inspection and a chance to improve their progress – especially as results were OK

Friday 15 February 2013

Cllr Hirani tells Gove Gladstone Park academy conversion 'simply not needed'

In a welcome move Brent Council Executive member,  Cllr Krupesh Hirani,  has  written to Michael Gove regarding the DfE's attempt to force Gladstone Park Primary to become a sponsored academy:

Green Assembly Member backs parents battling against forced academy conversion

Darren Johnson, Green Assembly Member for the whole of London has issued a statement supporting  parent groups in London campaigning against their schools being forcibly converted into academies. He said:
Forcing schools to become academies is deeply wrong on every level, particularly when it flies in the face of what the majority of local parents want. That is why I am giving my full support to the Save Gladstone Park,  Save Roke  and Thomas Gamuel Primary school campaigners in their battle to keep their schools as local authority-run schools,  properly accountable to local people.

Parent spills the beans on life under Harris

A parent from Roke Primary School in Croydon which is being threatened with having Harris imposed as a sponsor posted the following worrying account. Harris have several academies in Croydon and appear to be embarked on an empire building exercise aided by Michael Gove and the Conservative Party. Presumably they look forward to converting taxpayers' money into profits for themselves when Gove frees them to make profits.
From a parent in another Harris Primary school. I asked "How are your kids finding the school now? You ever thought about moving them?" ..... the reply: "I've got to say yes. Before Harris took over the atmosphere was calm and behaviour always good (always praised by Ofsted). The discipline now is much harsher. There's constant telling off and seemingly random punishments - not in line with their own policy. School uniform is constantly picked up on e.g. kids having a logo on their PE jogging bottoms. There's testing every six weeks and the reports that Harris promise you every half term are just a print out of NC levels from the tests. The extra Harris resources we were promised (school improvement teachers) are just being used as classroom teachers to cover the vacancies. Harris will of course promise you the world ...."

How Michael Gove is killing democracy in our schools

This letter to Michael Gove from parents of yet another school that is being forced to become an academy,  demonstrates just how governors, staff and parents are being trampled on:

Dear Mr Gove,

We are a group of parents whose children attend Thomas Gamuel Primary School (TGPS) in Walthamstow, east London.We are writing to object to the Department for Education’s decision to force TGPS into Sponsored Academy status, ignoring the objections of the parents, carers, teachers, support staff and governing body

:• 95 per cent of parents returning a ballot voted against academy status (60 per cent of parents voted)• 85 per cent of teachers voted against converting
• The governing body unanimously voted against becoming a sponsored academy.

We understand that the local authority has this week applied to you 'for consent to constitute the governing body of Thomas Gamuel Primary School as an Interim Executive Board (IEB) in accordance with Schedule 6 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006'. We strongly object to this application to dissolve a governing body that has made a decision the local authority disagree with.

We have met with our local MP Stella Creasy and our local councillor Clare Coghill to try and get some answers. We now write to you to outline our major objections and to ask that you reject the local authority’s application and allow the school to continue on its current path to improvement:

1. We are not a failing school. Ofsted inspected TGPS in April 2012. They rated the school ‘inadequate’, mainly due to an administrative error, informing the governing body two months after the inspection at the end of the summer term. Ofsted allocated a timetable for improvement between June 2012 and April 2013 (nine months). Ofsted’s interim monitoring report in November 2012 (three months into the plan) said the school was making ‘satisfactory progress’ in implementing its improvement plan. The monitoring report specifically noted that the administrative error which had caused the 'requires improvement' rating in April 2012 had now been fully resolved.The DfE states on its website that: 'When schools have been underperforming for a long time, decisive action is needed to raise standards and ensure that the children in these schools are able to achieve their full potential.'TGPS’ previous two Ofsted reports (2009 and 2006) rated the school 'good' with 'outstanding' aspects. We do not understand why one unsatisfactory Ofsted report classes us as ‘underperforming for a long time’

2. Teaching standards are improving. We are aware that teaching standards in the school need to be raised. The parents and carers are confident that this is being achieved. The teachers and support staff, and the governing body are confident, indeed even Ofsted is confident - as it reported in its monitoring inspection in November 2012. Why then is the DfE forcing TGPS to rush into Sponsored Academy status?The DfE states: 'Wherever possible, the Department will seek to find solutions to raising standards that everyone can agree on - as has been the case with the vast majority of the schools that have become academies. Where under performance is not being tackled effectively the Secretary of State does have powers to intervene to help ensure standards are raised.'The School Improvement Plan in place is tackling underperformance - and we as parents can see the visible results of this. We are all committed to this plan and want the DfE to allow the plan to run the course of its original timetable (April 2013).As stated earlier, the parents of children at the school have voted overwhelmingly against sponsored academy status. The school governing body have voted against it. The teachers at the school are against it. How is the DfE seeking to find a solution that ‘everyone can agree on’?

3. We are not being consulted. Since October 2012 the DfE has been consistently applying pressure to TGPS’ governing body to agree to conversion to sponsored academy status. The Local Education Authority is now also applying pressure, regardless of the fact that the improvement plan’s original timetable – agreed by Ofsted – has not expired.The governing body originally voted against making a decision without consulting parents and chose instead to focus on improving teaching standards within the school. When they did consult with us, they listened and voted with us. The local authority is now planning to take away the only body that truly has our children’s best interests at heart.We want the original school improvement plan and timetable – ratified by Ofsted – to stand. The changes that have already been implemented need time to embed.We want to make an informed, unrushed decision about our future status. A proper consultation – with all the facts about what the change will actually mean – needs to take place. We would like a choice of sponsor. There has been a lack of transparency of the criteria used by the DfE/local authority to choose the proposed sponsor.

Thank you again for your time and attention.

Yours sincerely

TGPS Parents Say No 
(Representing the voice of the majority of parents and carers at Thomas Gamuel Primary School)

Thursday 14 February 2013

Willesden Greeen Public Inquiry report ready in '7-10 days'

The Public Inquiry into the application for registration of the open space outside Willesden Green Library as a Town Square finished this afternoon.  Martin Redston and Philip Grant summed up with a detailed response to this morning's submission by Counsel for Galliford Try/Linden Homes and Brent Council.

Concluding Martin Redston said, "(In the 1980s) Brent Council wanted to put the Green back into Wiillesden. Brent residents embraced it."

Paul Brown QC, the inspector who held the inquiry said that he would  priortitise the report and expected his writing up to take 7-10 days and commented that he couldn't guarantee it by Friday of next week, "If it takes longer it is because I want to get it right."

The Special Planning Committee considering the Willesden Green Planning Application has been scheduled for Thursday 21st February, before the report is likely to be ready.

Brown commended the public, who had attended every day of the 4 day inquiry, for sticking it out.

In turn I would commend Martin and Philip for the enormous amount of work they have done in preparing the case and presenting it to the Inquiry. As Paul Brown,said they were doing it in their own time and were up against people whose paid job it was to represent objectors.

The Planning Committee Agenda is now on the council website. I suggest that anyone who was planning to speak should resubmit their request. LINK