Thursday 30 May 2013

Trade Unionists confront the climate crisis on Saturday June 8th


The conference aims to put the climate crisis at the centre of the debate about how to deal with the economic crisis. We need to find alternatives to the government's austerity programme designed to deliver jobs and move us in the direction of a low carbon economy.
This is part of an interview with Graham Petersen, the UCU's national environment co-ordinator, on the current Red Pepper website. The full interview can be found at

Graham is one of the many trade unionists who will be contributing to the "Confronting the Climate Crisis" conference on June 8th. Others include officers and rank-and-file members the CWU, FBU, PCS, TSSA, Unison, Unite, and several other unions.

They will argue that in its impact of the price of food, the prospect of harsher winters and larger fuel bills, and the potential for creating climate jobs, climate change is already, in Graham's phrase, a "core organising issue" for the  unions. But there is a larger issue.

In the past the trade union movement was in the forefront of campaigns on the great moral causes of their age, from the anti-slavery movement in the nineteenth century to the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980's. The First International was launched by trade unionists to support the cause of Polish independence.

The challenge of not leaving to our children and grandchildren a planet devastated by climate chaos is the great moral cause of our age. In the words of Suzanne Jeffery, Chair of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, the June 8th conference is an opportunity for today's trade unionists to "step up to the mark" as our predecessors did.

Register for the conference now at  WWW.CLIMATETRADEUNION.EVENTBRITE.COM. Alternatively send your details (including return address) with a cheque made payable to Campaign against Climate Change, to Martin Empson, Canon Green Court, West King Street, Salford, M3 7HB.

You can also join our facebook event at https://www.facebook.com/events/156810361152225/ and help to generate interest in the conference by tweeting your comments using the hash-tag #ctcc2013.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Pavey washes his hands of 'failing Copland' and prepares to hand it to academy chain

Michael Pavey
Michael Pavey, Brent lead member for children and families, has responded to criticisms of his stance on the forced academisation of Copland High School with a blog LINK

He says:
I dislike the Academy system. There is no evidence that Academisation leads to improved educational outcomes. Academies fragment educational provision – when it should be based on local co-operation. And worst of all, Academisation is a step towards marketisation of education.

I was extremely disappointed when the overwhelming majority of secondary schools in Brent volunteered to convert to Academy status, in response to a short term Government funding bribe.

But Copland is different. Copland is a school which has failed its pupils....(he gives details on why he thinks this is the case)

I am no fan of Academies, but the status quo is simply unacceptable. It is failing local children. Against this record of failure, I made the decision that only a radical new beginning could turn this school around.
An Academy conversion is the only credible step.
Pavey claims that government cuts mean that Brent Council does not have the resources to support a school  facing 'such deep problems'.  He does not mention the Council's role in previous years in terms of financial monitoring which failed to discover the financial mismanagement which destabilised the school.  the neglect of the building or the failure to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

Perhaps most perplexingly he does not give any reasons why he thinks becoming an academy will solve these deep-seated problems or what evidence on the efficacy of academies he has used in reaching his decision.

It cannot be enough to wash his hands of the problem and hand staff and pupils over to an unproven and uncertain future.

Brent Council face united challenge on imposition of IEB at Copland School

The governing body of Copland High School has joined with unions in challenging Brent Council's intention to  impose an  Interim Executive Board at the school following Ofsted's judgement that the school is failing.

Interim Executive Boards (IEBs) are appointed by the local authority and replace the usual governing body that includes elected parent and staff representatives, community and local authority governors. They are often appointed when the governing body is deemed to have failed but also when the authorities, local and central government,  encounter opposition to plans to forced a school to convert to academy status.

In letters to Dr Krutika Pau, Director of  Children and Families at Brent Council, they argue that an IEB is not necessary and may well be detrimental to the school's interests. The school has already experienced an IEB which was appointed following the loss of senior staff in the wake of the financial mismanagement scandal..

Dima Khazem, Chair of Governors,  writes:

Imposing a new IEB now will probably face opposition from staff at a time when the current GB has worked well in tandem with the JCC to put into effect a voluntary redundancy programme which will see staffing reduced drastically and will achieve significant budget deficit reduction alongside removal of ineffective staff. We are worried that this will delay the momentum of positive change and cause an upheaval which will harm the school, its pupils and the LA at a time of great change for all.

Moreover, research by Browne Jackobson has shown a generally low success rate for the 80 or so interim executive boards that have so far been introduced in maintained schools. LINK

We feel that interim executive boards are unsuccessful because of their interim and undemocratic nature and we therefore are not convinced that this is the best intervention that the LA can make in this instance, especially that it does not mirror what the OFSTED report has recommended.
Khazem concludes:
What this GB has tried to do, with increasing success recently, is to overcome barriers of distrust and build bridges of understanding and a culture of accountability across the school. Yet again, there is a limit to what this GB can do in the time frame it had and the textured, complex and widespread problems it faced. Based on the above, we are in disagreement with the LA that installing an IEB right now is the best course of action. It would be a real shame that when this GB started to understand and exercise its role and remit effectively, it is threatened with removal and gets blamed for a decade of neglect and negligence within and outside the school.
Writing to Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt, and the new lead member for children and families, Hank Roberts National President of the ATL and Brent branch secretary poses a number of questions:

Before you might act in haste to support this (Krutika Pau's proposal for an IEB)  I would ask you to respond to these questions.

1) What actual educational evidence, other than Government propaganda, do you have that turning a school into an academy improves teaching and learning?
2) Why would you seek to ignore the Ofsted Report's recommendation that there be “an external review of Governance” at Copland, which is not an imposition of an IEB?
3) How do you answer the detailed points raised in the Chair of Governors letter, written on behalf of the Governing Body, explaining what had been done and crucial background information?
4) If Brent is claiming to be acting in the best interests of pupils' education then will you be asking the Governors to call a meeting of parents and carers to actually establish their views, or do you intend to have no consultation with parents?
5) As the last IEB at Copland failed to overcome the school's problems, what leads you to believe, and what evidence do have, that it will succeed this time, especially if the staff did not want to co-operate with this imposed undemocratic body with no proper staff or parent representation?
6) Why would you and a Labour Council be acting to implement Gove's policies and do his 'dirty work' for him?


Tuesday 28 May 2013

10 lessons for social landlords on the bedroom tax

Brent Housing Action campaigner at Chalkhill on Saturday
Brent Housing Action has circulated the following useful item from the Guardian which was provided by Jennie Bibbings of Shelter Wales LINK

Lesson 1: Communicate with tenants
We have clients who have still not had any communication from their landlord about how many bedrooms they are considered to have and whether they are likely to be affected. The lack of information from their landlord, combined with the extensive media coverage of the bedroom tax, meant that our clients became extremely confused about their situation.

Many housing benefit teams are sending out letters detailing appeal rights. However, some are failing to include information about how to challenge decisions – which is crucial, since tenants have only one month to challenge from the date they are notified.
 
Lesson 2: Ensure data on property size matches tenancy agreements

Compiling accurate information on property size has been a challenge for some landlords. We have numerous clients whose landlords have told them they have more bedrooms than appear on their tenancy agreements. One social landlord in south-west Wales only compiled a list of property sizes in September 2012 and relied on the local authority to tell it which tenants would be affected.
 
Lesson 3: Housing benefit departments need to process discretionary housing payment applications quickly

When we rang to apply for discretionary housing payments for a disabled client living in an adapted home, the housing benefit officer specifically asked whether our client was disabled. The application was dealt with as a priority and the award was made within two weeks.

Unfortunately our clients have not had such efficient service everywhere. In some areas applications are taking six weeks or more to be processed. Although landlords are showing willingness to delay eviction proceedings until decisions have been made, the length of time is still leading to significantly more arrears being accrued.
 
Lesson 4: Be sensitive to tenants' needs – and don't make them feel bullied into leaving their accommodation

We have a client who is a tenant of a small housing association. Following the breakdown of his relationship, and his children growing up and leaving home, he is now the sole tenant of a three-bedroom house. He told us that he was strongly encouraged to sign a notice to quit at the landlord's office as he would not be able to manage the shortfall caused by bedroom tax.

Lesson 5: Now is not the time to start demanding the first month's rent in advance from housing benefit claimants
One large social landlord is now demanding the first month's rent in advance before accepting new tenants, even when a person is transferring to smaller accommodation due to the bedroom tax. This approach is a barrier to people on housing benefit being able to access social housing, and is going to prohibit tenants from downsizing.

Lesson 6: Extra help for tenants can make a big difference
Many landlords are employing additional staff and setting up assistance funds to help tenants manage the impact of the bedroom tax. Pembrokeshire Housing Association offers tenants up to £500 to cover moving costs or reduce arrears to allow them to move to accommodation more suited for them, while Powys county council offers up to £1,500 to assist older people that are under-occupying with moving costs.
 
Lesson 7: Exercise flexibility in allocations

We had a homeless client who was eight months pregnant and looking for accommodation in south-west Wales. She came out top of the list when she bid for a two-bedroom property. However, the landlord refused to allocate to her as, until the baby was born, she only qualified for a one-bedroom house. Before a formal challenge could be made, the landlord had already allocated the property to someone in a lower band.
 
Lesson 8: Ensure transfer policies do not prevent people from downsizing

Not all landlords have changed their transfer policies to allow people in arrears caused by the bedroom tax to downsize. Some of our clients are in a catch 22 situation with rising arrears but unable to downsize due to restrictive transfer policies.
 
Lesson 9: Housing benefit should not place onerous burdens of proof on claimants

In south-east Wales we have clients who are a disabled couple, living in an adapted property with one spare bedroom. Neither has the capacity to care for the other at night, so they have overnight carers for six nights a week. The local authority is requesting numerous pieces of evidence before they will accept that the couple need the extra room for a carer. This is despite the fact that they already have proof they meet the relevant disability living allowance and attendance allowance criteria.

Lesson 10: The courts may not be on your side

Our caseworkers have encountered a local district judge who is suggesting he may refuse possession where there are bedroom tax arrears, but instead may take other measures such as inviting the press and public into the court and using Human Rights Act legislation to deny possession. Landlords need to be aware that not all judges will look favourably on possession proceedings.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Join in Brent Housing Action this weekend


 The recently formed Brent Housing Action Group, a broad based organisation addressing the current housing crisis will be out and about this weekend:

SUNDAY MAY 26th Leafleting and petitioning on Chalkhill Estate
Meet 12 noon at the bus stop on Forty Lane outside ASDA, opposite Brent Town Hall
Please text Sarah on 07951 084 101 if you are coming.

MONDAY MAY 27th Picnic and street party in support of the Counihan-Sanchez Family Campaign 11 am - 1 pm 15 Rose Gardens, Ealing, W5 4JU

Friday 24 May 2013

Designated pubs for this weekend's football in Wembley

The Met Police have asked the Football Supporters Federation  to pass on information regarding the Championship and Champions League finals at Wembley on Saturday 25th and Monday 27th May. Pubs in the area of Wembley Stadium will be designated to specific sets of supporters. If you're travelling to Wembley check out the information below to avoid any pub-based confusion.

Watford/Borussia Dortmund have been given the east side of the stadium, those pubs include:

The Torch
- 1-5 Bridge Road, Wembley, HA9 9AB
Crock of Gold - 23 Bridge Road, Wembley, HA9 9AB
Moore Spice - Wembley Retail Park, Unit 2, Engineers Way, HA9 0EH
Watkins Folly - 1 Empire Way, Wembley, HA9 0EW
Blue Check Café - 12-13 Empire Way, Wembley, HA9 0RQ
Alisan Bar - The Junction, Wembley Retail Park, Engineers Way, HA9 0EG
Crystal Club (Silverspoon) - South Way, Wembley
The Parish - 120 Wembley Park Drive, Wembley, HA9 8HP
First Class Sports Bar - 125 Wembley Park Drive, HA9 8HG
The Wembley Tavern - 121 Wembley Park Drive, HA9 8HG
Cheers Bar - 45 Blackbird Hill, NW9 8RS
 Crystal Palace/Bayern Munich have been given the west side of the stadium, those pubs include:

The Green Man
- Dagmar Avenue, Wembley, HA9 8DF
Blue Room - 53 Wembley Hill Road, Wembley, HA9 8BE
JJ Moons - 397 High Road, Wembley, HA9 7DT
Thirsty Eddie’s - 412 High Road, Wembley, HA9 6AH
Flannery’s - 610 High Road, Wembley, HA0 2AF
Innisfree  - 30-32 Harrow Road, Wembley, HA9 6PG
Mannions - 313 Harrow Road, Wembley, HA9 6BA
The Copper Jug - 10 The Broadway, Wembley, HA9 8JU
Fusilier - 652 Harrow Road, Wembley, HA0 2HA
Powerleague - Olympic Way, Wembley
The Greyhound - 324 Harrow Road, Wembley HA9 6PG
Liquour Station - 379 High Road, Wembley, HA9 6AA

For updates - follow the Met's Football Unit on Twitter @MPSFootballUnit

Brent Council accepted Michaela Free School as a 'fait accompli' in letter to DfE

In Brent Council's  letter to the DfE regarding the application by Michaela Community School to set up a secondary free school in Wembley, Krutika Pau reported on the views that came out of a meeting of a group of Brent headteachers, councillors and council officers who met with the Michaela proposers. She said  that Katharine Birbalsingh's 'highly laudable intention to provide excellent education' in a way that 'helps them overcome social disadvantage' accords with the aims of existing Brent secondary schools. However concerns are expressed about the 'experimental character' of the school and the risks arising from this and the fact that it does not have a track record.

The position of Arena House and the facilities offered, even after refurbishment, also concerned the Council and particularly the need for external play space.

In a key sentence Pau accepts that the school is a fair accommpli despite the fact that the results of the very poorly attended public consultation have not yet been reported:
It is fair to say that this local authority would not have invited the Michaela Community School into the borough as part of its school expansion plans but given that its opening is a fait accompli, we plan to work with the school both constructively and with vigilance.
In another (redacted) document released as a result of my freedom of information request, Sara Williams, Assistant Director, reports on her meeting with Tome Legge and Katharine Birbalsingh of Michaela Community School. The report is undated but before March 2013:

·         The purchase of Arena House has gone through

·     The school will open with 4 forms of entry in September 2014.  They will open in Year 7 only though they are open to suggestions for provision in Year 10 if we need it

·      Under the free school legislation, there has to be a period of consultation (Section 9/10?).  The timing of this hasn’t been nailed down yet.

·     Tom has agreed that the school will do a presentation to a group of Brent stakeholders as part of the consultation:  I will organise this once we know the timeframe of the consultation.  It needs to be handled carefully (including the invitation list) but will be a good opportunity I think.

·      The school will enter the authority’s admissions process

·      It will sign up to the Fair Access Protocol

·      They will send their admissions policy for us to vet

·      They want to balance the intake through banding like Capital City (good practice in my view)

·      They are interested in an admissions ‘node’ in the south of the borough (like Ark).  We are suggesting near QPCS as that school is very oversubscribed yet the transport routes to the undersubscribed schools are not good.  Carmen will talk to Mike Hulme about this to give him the heads up.

·      They will admit SEN pupils like any other school and aim to be inclusive

·      The curriculum will be depth before breadth – extra Eng, Ma, Sci with no D&T or ICT as discrete subjects

·      Music and art will be included in the curriculum

·      There will be an extended school day

·      They will look to rent PE space from other schools

·      They will recognise TUs if their staff want to be members

·      They will require QTS (Qualified Teacher Status)

·      They will have an LA rep on their governing body

·      They will have parents on their governing body

·      They will share performance data
They will let the premises to the community and encourage suitable community uses
 Williams notes:

The consultation is not a process whereby the local authority can realistically prevent the school opening – or this is my understanding from reading up on it.  Jean can you look into it and give me some wording on the legal position? 
LINKS

Krutika Pau's full letter with additional information on banding and catchment HERE

Sara Williams' full notes HERE

Pavey attacks Copland strikers and accepts the school's academisation


Copland High School was closed yesterday by a strike involving members of the ATL, NASUWT and the NUT. The strike followed the DfE's decision that the school should become a forced academy following a Grade 4 Ofsted report.

If the school become an academy the staff's employer changes along with their pay and conditions.

Michael Pavey, the new lead member for children and families, despite the fact that pupils taking national examinations were able to do so, tweeted: 
To those teachers who went on strike today: children's needs must always come first. Striking during exams harms kids’ education.
Logically his comments means that teachers should never strike which is a strange position for a Labour politician to take. It presupposes that strikes are never in the interests of children which is clearly an assumption that can be challenged. Striking against academisation is striking against privatisation of education with money being diverted from educational provision to fat salaries for academy sponsors, as well as worsening conditions for teachers which give less time for lesson preparation and marking and longer hours, and enabling the employment of unqualified teachers. I would argue that striking against those changes IS striking in the long-term interests of children.

 Pavey went further at the Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party meeting last night saying that he had 'become convinced' that the only way to 'save' Copland was through academisation, while admitting that it was no 'silver bullet', dashing hopes that his ascent to the children and families position would mark a change in the Labour Council's acquiescence to academisation.  Copland's conversion would mean that all Brent secondary schools are academies or faith schools. This is in marked contrast to neighbouring Camden where there is only one academy.

Cllr Pavey went on to assure Labour Party members that he wanted to work with the unions. It will be interesting to see how he will go about this given his comments.

Meanwhile Jenny Cooper, Health and Safety Adviser to the Brent Teachers Association has drawn attention to the impact of the poor state of Copland's building on the quality of the school students' learning environment - an issue that the Ofsted report particualrly focused on and an issue out of the control of teachers.
News of the outcome of the Ofsted inspection at Copland school makes for very sad reading. Inspectors placed great emphasis on the state of the school building which, many of us agree, is a very poor physical environment for its students and staff. Previous risk assessments and safety reports have highlighted poor conditions, maintenance and the presence of risky asbestos.



Isn’t it ironic, then, that the week that this Ofsted report was published coincided with the physical handover of the new Village School building and the grand opening of its Short Break Centre. After years of campaigning, by unions and the schools, Brent Council recognized that the former Hay Lane and Grove Park school (now The Village) buildings were not fit for purpose and were riddled with dangerous asbestos. These were demolished and we now have one of the best school buildings in the country for some of our most vulnerable children in Brent.



Just the week before, it was announced that the Village School had achieved its “Good” report from Ofsted. What a complete travesty and dis-service to the children of Brent that the abolition of “Building Schools for the Future” meant that Copland missed out on its promised rebuild and was left to struggle on in an environment not fit for the 21st century.



We must all get behind the teachers and students of Copland and make sure that the real story behind this school is heard.
 Will the local authority and Michael Pavey 'deliver' on that last sentence?

12 year old Khadija drew David Cameron's attention to the poor state of the Copland building in March and this was followed up by the World at One on which Khadija was interview by Martha Kearney. The World at One's Facebook page carried picture of the state of the school building which should have shamed the government.

Martha Kearney interviews Khadija


Thursday 23 May 2013

Muhammed Butt urges mutual respect and support after Woolwich

Muhammed Butt, leader of  Brent Council has issued the following statement after yesterday's killing in Woolwich:
On behalf of Brent Council and Brent residents I would like to express the dismay felt by all at the brutal murder that took place yesterday in Woolwich.

As a Muslim I know that there is no basis in Islam for this kind of barbaric action and my thoughts and prayers, as I know yours are as well, are with the family and friends of the young soldier who died yesterday.
Here in Brent we have strong communities that come together every day to live and work, and I urge all of us to continue to respect and support each other during this time of unease.

Beware: Sham consultation ahead

Guest blog by Save Roke Campaign, Parents at Roke Primary in Croydon have been campaigning against their children's school being forced to become an academy. They have been working with the Save Gladstone Park campaign. The process at Roke is further along the line and Harris Academies (run by Lord Harris the Carpetright millioniare and Tory Party donor) has been chosen by the DfE as sponsor. Harris have been carrying out a 'consultation' with parents...


The results of the Harris consultation have finally been published. It is a government commissioned document that will enable the Secretary of State to make his final decision on Roke. The consultation cost £5k of taxpayers money. Yet it contains biased reporting of statistics and omission of data that is unfavourable to Harris. It is alarming but not surprising because the consultation was not run by a neutral or independent arbitrator but by Harris themselves.

Harris have twisted their stats making it look like 62.5% parents support a Harris academy, when in fact only 19% of respondents said this, meaning that 81% did not voice support for them!

So how strong is the support for Harris at Roke? Support is miniscule. Only 15 parents from a school with 442 pupils voted for a Harris academy. If we go by one vote per child, this is a measly 3% of parents. This means 97% of parents were either against, undecided or did not bother to express an opinion by abstaining from the vote. Many parents felt it was a fait accompli and a fake consultation. They did not believe that we would be listened to, so they did not bother to fill in their consultation forms.

Harris will argue that there only 80 people returned their forms. They will state that only around 17% bothered to vote and will deduce that most parents are indifferent. We beg to differ. Of course there is always some indifference or apathy, but we think this figure actually captures two things: 1) the powerlessness parents feel at controlling the outcome and 2) the fact that no one has actually explained in an accessible way what academisation actually means. There were no verbal presentations or explanation. Some parents just don't feel informed enough to have an opinion. What is clear is that there was absolutely no ringing endorsement of Harris.

Given that there has been such a spirited campaign against the forced academy at Roke, this was the opportunity for pro Harris parents to really make their voice count in an anonymous ballot, the fact that only 3 % came out to support Harris- speaks volumes about how welcome they are at Roke.

Incredibly, Harris manage to present the results in such a way that makes it appear that 62.5% of parents support them sponsoring Roke. They achieved this by only including the responses of the 24 parents who voted 'yes' to a question asking if they supported academisation at Roke, of these just 15 went on to say they supported Harris as sponsor. These are tiny numbers. Harris completely ignored the opinions of parents who voted 'no' to an academy. Their opinions on whether Harris should sponsor the school were not included in the analysis. It means everyone who voted that they did not want to be an academy - had absolutely no voice about whether or not they wanted Harris to be the sponsor.

The school ran their own poll to gauge parent opinion which had a much larger response than the Harris poll (129 families- only one vote was allowed per family), probably due to greater faith in the way the poll was being run. As a final blow to transparency, only half of these results were included in the consultation report, despite these being submitted by both the school and the Save Roke committee. Results pertaining to whether parents wished to become an academy were included, but a question about whether parents supported Harris as sponsor should we become an academy, was completely omitted. We can only think that they were omitted because the results were clearly unfavourable to Harris. It showed that 83% of respondents were against a Harris academy and preferred Riddlesdown Collegiate as sponsor. We know which survey we trust. We are dismayed that Harris have completely written out Riddlesdown as a legitimate alternative, from the consultation.

Here is the missing information.
Q2 If the school does become an academy, who do you want as the sponsor?

Riddlesdown Collegiate 83%

Harris Federation 17%


Increased police presence in Wembley as Harrow soldarity rally planned for Woolwich victim

There is an increased and highly visible police presence on Wembley High Road today following yesterday's killing in Woolwich.  The Pakistani Society of Harrow and the Harrow Central Mosque will hold a solidarity rally at 2pm on Saturday to mark their solidarity with the victim and his family and their condemnation of the killing.

Police were in attendance outside the mosque this morning.

More HERE




Wednesday 22 May 2013

Two more secondary free schools in Brent approved by Gove

Michael Gove today approved two secondary free schools to open in Brent in September 2014.  This is in addition to Michaela Academy which was approved in the last wave.

The Gateway Academy will be in the Wembley Central area, possibly in Madison House in London Road, off Wembley High Road. This is a close to Copland High School which is going through a difficult period at the moment and thought likely to be subjected to a forced academy. My previous posting on Gateway can be found HERE

The rather meagre details about the new school can be found HERE

Gladstone School does not yet appear to have found premises in the Gladstone Park/Cricklewood area. Crest Boys and Crest Girls Academies presently serve that community. The sponsors answered my questions about the proposed free school HERE

Details can be found on the school's website HERE 

Both sets of proposers are thought to have been in talks with Brent Council officers. The issue of free schools has been controversial within Brent Labour Party and concern about it is said to have been a factor in Cllr Michael Pavey replacing Mary Arnold as lead member for children and families in the recent Executive elections.

 Meanwhile the Mayor of London has admitted that he supports the funding of free schools even in areas where there is “not necessarily a shortage of places”. London Councils are lobbying the Government for funding to cope with the estimated 118,000 extra school places in London by 2014/15.

Darren Johnson, Green Assembly Member for London said:
We will have new schools funded in areas of London which don’t need them and no new schools built in areas of high demand. The policy is irrational and based upon the principle of the parents who shout loudest getting their own way. With a dire shortage of funds for new schools, the Mayor is effectively saying that a new free school has priority over a child in another part of London who has no school.
The Mayor can’t say that he is simply following Government policy on this, as his deputy Mayor for culture also admitted that properties belonging to the fire or police authorities may be sold to free schools at ‘red book’ prices, rather than through competitive tendering. The looming shortfall of 118,000 school places in the capital would be far better addressed through the Mayor's co-operation with local authorities in a properly planned programme of school building rather than the hit and miss approach of Free Schools.

 

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Boris Johnson admits new free schools may not be in areas of school places shortage

Boris Johnson confirmed at Mayor's Question Time today that free schools he is backing in London may not be in areas of school places shortage. At present the DfE requires that any new school should be an academy or free school. This means that where sponsors do not come forward such areas will be left without a new school and the money will go instead to build schools areas where there are sufficient places or even a surplus. Instead LAs will be forced to expand existing schools often on unsuitable sites and cutting back on children's play space and creating 'super-size' primaries.

Yet more evidence of government money being spent on Gove and Johnson's ideological projects while depriving local communities of much needed resources.
Question from Darren Johnson (Green AM)

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?

Answer by Boris Johnson (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.

The end of the public sector ethos and democratic accountability in Barnet as Capita take over

From Barnet Unison

Yesterday staff were told at a series of briefings that Capita Symonds is the preferred bidder to deliver a whole range of Council Regulatory services to Barnet residents and businesses.
 The services to be handed over to Capita include the following:
Trading Standards & Licensing, Land Charges, Planning & Development, Building Control & Structures, Environmental Health, Highways Strategy, Highways Network Management, Highways Traffic & Development, Highways Transport & Regeneration, Strategic Planning & Regeneration, Hendon Cemetery & Crematoria
Barnet Council has a number of statutory responsibilities to monitor the private sector in order to ensure the health and safety of their residents. The recent high- profile national public-health scandal about the use of Horsemeat in processed foods emphasises that private companies do not adequately monitor their own activities, leaving the public at risk. If Barnet Council is allowed to privatise these services, it will set a dangerous precedent for other councils.
Barnet Council has been promoting itself as an innovator for the future of public services by adopting the Commissioning Council model. In the last 12 months the Council has overseen a significant number of services outsourced to other providers. The full list of services are HERE.
John Burgess UNISON Branch Secretary said:
Barnet Council is making a huge mistake in handing over these critical services to the private sector. It is not just about the risks this brings but what it means in term of democratic accountability. Next year we have the local elections in May 2014. What options will there be for the electorate if all the council spend is tied up into complex contracts? As for all the remaining staff the message is stark: no matter how loyal you are, no matter how hard you work political dogma is dictating all services are to be outsourced. Today a number of our members have chosen to wear black armbands/ black clothing as a sign of the demise of the public sector ethos in Barnet Council.

Copland teachers: Why we are striking on Thursday


Copland Community School in Wembley has been told by the DfE that it must become an academy. Unless agreement can be reached for a way forward for the school ATL, NASUWT and NUT members at Copland will be on strike on Thursday 23rd May 2013 after they voted overwhelmingly for action.



When Ofsted inspected the school in March they put the school in category four; inadequate. This despite the Report stating that, “The building remains in very poor condition. This ... reported ... 2006, 2009 and 2010 inspection reports … classrooms provide a completely unacceptable environment in which to teach and learn. The budget deficit … still stands at around £1 million. The reduction in student numbers ... further budget cuts. The building and the budget are adversely affecting the school’s capacity to provide an adequate education for students.”



Hank Roberts, ATL National President and local Branch Secretary said:
Copland school has suffered enough. If Gove really wanted to help us he would have given us the new school we were promised and which he took away.

We have waited over fours years for the trial of our ex headteacher and other managers who allegedly took £2.7 million from school funds. The trial is in September. Surely they can wait for the judgement? If we got the money back this could be used to help rebuild the damage done to Copland's pupils.



Tom Stone, NASUWT Brent Assistant Secretary said:
Copland school, its pupils and its staff deserve a much better deal. What has happened in the past at Copland is a disgrace and needs addressing properly by the LA and Mr Gove. A total rebuild of the school would be a good start.

 Lesley Gouldbourne Joint NUT Secretary said:

Teachers at Copland have loyally supported their students through years of uncertainty and reduced finances and in appalling learning conditions. Students in return have supported their teachers. There is a future for Copland built on mutual co-operation and support if only the LA and Government will play their part.

Jean Roberts, Joint NUT Secretary said:
The Unions have given an assurance that there will be no disruption to any exams taking place on Thursday. This strike is not against the school and is pupils but in support of them. It is against Michael Gove and the DfE who are undemocratically forcing schools to become academies. A motion of no confidence in his policies was passed by 99.3%  of delegates at the NAHT conference on Saturday. As their President said, 'We cannot tolerate ..the completely unacceptable bullying of heads and governors to turn their schools into academies'.

Monday 20 May 2013

Get down to Kensal Green on Tuesday to help save the library

A message from the Save Kensal Rise Library Campaign

Public Meeting Reminder!
 
A reminder that we are holding a public meeting at 7.30pm on Tuesday 21st May in St Martin’s Church, Mortimer Rd, Kensal Green (first street on the right from Kensal Green Tube as you walk up College Rd, about 1 minute walk).
 
The Leader of Brent Council Cllr Muhammed Butt will be there and local councillors and we hope that Roxanne Mashari, the new Lead Member on the Executive responsible for Libraries will be able to make the meeting.
 
Roxanne came to a meeting of SOS Brent Libraries (the umbrella group of the campaigns attached to the closed libraries in Brent) on Sunday and stated most strongly that she wanted to have a dialogue with us and envisioned a partnership between the council and our community.
 
It is really important to let both the Leader of the Council and Cllr Mashari know how strongly this community feels about the loss of our library and the importance of the Kensal Rise Library building as a library and community space, a space that we will lose if the building is turned into flats.
 
To achieve this we really do need as many of you as possible to come to the public meeting.
 
We are still fighting after nearly three years and they need to know what we are fighting for and what we value in this community.

Princess Frederica debates the pros and cons of expansion

The Brent Executive this evening approved the plans for school expansion with the new  lead member for children and families, Michael Pavey, challenging the view (which is also my view) that very large primary schools are not beneficial to small children. Quoting his experience as Chair of Governors of Wembley Primary (an 840 pupil school) he said that he thought large schools were not necessarily cold and impersonal and could offer a warm, caring environment.  He thought large schools were good for Brent. Wembley Primary had a complete rebuild in extensive grounds to accommodate four forms of entry. Schools which are expanded by adding extra buildings often lose play space as a result as well as the space being used by additional numbers of children. Often the school hall is too small to accommodate all the children in assemblies or performances.

Coincidentally plans to increase the size of Princess Frederica Voluntary Aided Primary School by one form of entry (210 children) has provoked debate. .In order to address some of the concerns raised the school governing body has posted information for parents on the school's website LINK

There are briefings and Q&As as well as this statement from the Chair of Governors:
As many of you will be aware, we dedicated the March meeting of the governing body to the school expansion proposal and invited in parents/ carers and the public to express their views. This is because the governing body takes very seriously its responsibility to make a decision about the proposal to expand the school and wants to ensure that everyone has a voice.

Brent Council asked the Governing Body to agree to open a statutory consultation on expanding the school at the meeting on 21 March. We decided we did not have enough information proceed with such a consultation.

During April and May representatives from the governing body and school met with the Brent school expansion team. We discussed the key issues about expansion, as outlined on this page. Following this meeting, Brent LA have produced a detailed report about what expansion of Princess Frederica might look like.  The governing body will be meeting on Thursday 23rd May, 2013 to discuss this matter and decide whether we now have enough information to agree to a statutory consultation. It is very important to note that if we have a ‘yes’ vote, we are still not obliged to proceed. As a governing body we are committed to ensuring that our questions are answered before we say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to expansion.

I would urge anyone with an interest – including those within the school, as well as neighbours – to make their views public on the website via the questions and comment function. Alternatively, you can email me at admin@princessfrederica.brent.sch.uk subject line: FAO Chair of Governors or drop a letter addressed to the governors into the office.

A Moss (Chair of Governors)

Sunday 19 May 2013

More Brent schools to expand as Gove restricts new LA school builds

Michael Gove receives a vote of 'No Confidence' from headteachers but at the same time his Tory leadership bid, launched last weekend regarding Europe, seems to be going well. The New Statesman this week carries an article suggesting a Tory leadership combination of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove ('BO-GO'). Enough to give you nightmares.

But the nightmare is already with us because Gove's policies are wreaking havoc. Most obvious at the moment is the ludicrous requirement that any new school must be academy or free school - despite the latter being mainly set up in places with a current surplus of places. Local authorities such as Brent are denied the opportunity to rationally plan new local authority schools in areas where there is a shortage.Instead they have to wait for the market to provide and meanwhile add extra classes to existing schools, or even annexes or 'satellites' to escape government restrictions. Boris adds his tuppenyworth by ear-marking any surplus GLA buildings for possible use as free schools.

Some primary schools are increasing in size to more that 1,000 5-11 year olds, an issue that I have raised several times on Wembley Matters and taken up on Saturday by the Guardian(1,000 pupils and rising - primary schools go supersize LINK )My view is that these are just too big to provide the care and contact that young children need but others think that given the right internal arrangements and ethos these difficulties can be overcome.

Meanwhile the new Brent Executive will tomorrow consider the latest report on primary school expansion which will be presented my Michael Pavey, the new lead member for children and families, and himself Chair of Governors at one of Brent's largest primary schools, the four form entry Wembley Primary.

Some schools have already doubled in size to cope with the shortage and in some cases have lost valuable play space or halls, music rooms or IT suites.  The report LINK includes for 2013-14 the following possibilities:
  • 7 primary classes housed in modules at Kingsbury High with the children eventually transferring to Kingsbury Green Primary when it expands. 
  • 15 primary classes at the Centre for Staff Development (Gwenneth Rickus Building) in Brentfield Road ) next to the Swaminarayan Independent School. This building will be vacated when the few staff that remain transfer to the Civic Centre. Originally it was ear-marked for secondary places but the required building money is not available.Both Mitchell Brook and Brentfield primary schools are close by but I have heard it may become a satellite of Leopold Primary in Harlesden.
  • Use of temporary classrooms previously used by Preston Manor and Brentfield schools and creation of more 'bulge classes' - one off additions to a school rather than a change in the numbers of forms of entry.
There are schemes suggested to provide full new capacity by September 2014 at:
  • Wembley High School - a new building providing a 4 form of entry (840 children) primary school making Wembley an 'all-through' school along with Ark and Preston Manor.
  • Uxendon Primary - an additional 2 forms of entry (420  children)
  • Harlesden Primary - an additional 2 forms of entry (420 children)
  • Preston Park, Princess Frederica and St Joseph Primary will all add 1 for of entry (210 children)
  • Vicar's Green in Ealing but serving many Brent children will add 0.5 forms of entry (105 children)
These schemes would provide new capacity between September 2015:
  • Elsley Primary - an additional 2 forms of entry (420 children)
  • Stonebridge Primarary - an additional 1 form of entry (210 chilren)
  • Malorees Infant and Junior - an additional 1 or 2 forms of entry (210-420 children)
  • Oriental City Primary - 2 forms of entry (dependent on Section 106 agreement - not clear re governance)
Other longer term sites in case the need continues have been identified.  These include the Wembley Quintain site for a 2 form entry primary school (420 children), Our Lady of Lourdes (Stonebridge) additional 2 forms of entry (420 children), John Keble and St Francis and St Andrew additional 1 form of entry (210 children) each.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Defend London's NHS demo in pictures

Brent had a good showing for the Defend London's NHS demonstration today. Fightback supporters were out in force along with a least seven Brent Labour councillors including Muhammed Butt and Brent Central parliamentary hopefuls Sabina Khan and Patrick Vernon.

London Green Party also mobilised for the event and were in evidence throughout the march. Front de Gauche were with us at the start of the march.

from Coalition of Resistance

Friday 17 May 2013

E-ACT scandal should make Brent Council pause for thought on academies issue

As the Ark academies chain announces its takeover of Kensal Rise Primary School, renaming it Ark Franklin Primary Academy and appointing a new headteacher fresh from Dubai, LINK there is news of another academy chain, E-ACT,  which runs the Crest Girls' and Boys' academies in Neasden.

I would hope that the report below will give headteachers, governing bodies and councillors pause for thought before rushing into academy conversions or supporting forced academies. Conversions are often undertaken for financial reasons with governing bodies and headteachers saying they would let pupils down if they did not go for the extra academy funding - instead much of it may end up lining the pockets of the sponsors through high salaries for the chain bosses or 'extravagant expenses'.

This report is from the BBC:

A leading academy chain has been criticised for widespread financial irregularities in an official report. The Education Funding Agency report highlights a culture of "extravagant" expenses, "prestige" venues and first class travel at the E-ACT group. The report obtained by the Times Educational Supplement and seen by BBC News adds that E-ACT spent public money on unapproved consultancy fees. The group currently runs 31 state-funded free-schools and academies around England that have opted out of local authority control.

E-ACT was set up in July 2009 as an independent educational charity and company with the principal purpose of "establishing, maintaining, managing and developing schools colleges and academies". Its director general, Sir Bruce Liddington, resigned last month. The report found that E-ACT's systems of internal financial control were "weak" and lacking "rigour" - and noted that the governance of the group was "unusual". In particular it notes that "the controls around expenses for trustees are weak".

"Expenses claims and use of corporate credit cards indicate a culture involving prestige venues, large drinks bills, business lunches and first class travel, all funded from public monies," says the report. The report says the director general's expenses may not have been "subject to proper scrutiny". "Expenses claims and card payments by senior managers in E-ACT have occasionally stretched the concepts of propriety and value for money. Controls have been lax and some payments have tended to extravagance... however we found no evidence of fraud."

The report also highlights a wider "culture of acceptance of non-compliance with E-ACT's own policies for awarding contracts." The investigation found that hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money was spent by E-ACT on purchases that were not in line with its own spending policies. Many purchases were made by Sir Bruce himself. "Our review of the director general's cost centre indicates that £361,000 has been spent on consultancy fees from 2008-9 with £237,000 of this not having an order," note the authors.

The report also raises concerns that trustees on the E-ACT board were paid for consultancy work, stressing that "payment to trustees is unusual in the charitable sector, where the basic position is that trustees should not benefit personally from their position so that they can exercise independent scrutiny over the charity's operations." ”Around half of the 13 current board members have or have in the past had contracts for service or services provided." The investigation came after the group's auditors KPMG raised concerns that its financial administration was "playing catch-up" with its rapid expansion.

In particular the report notes that some of the group's financial practices were inappropriate for an organisation with a turnover of many millions of pounds and that the boundary between E-ACT and its money-making subsidiary E-ACT Enterprises Limited (EEL) was blurred, with some EEL expenses being paid out of public money.

E-ACT stresses that it has taken swift action to address the report's concerns. Chairwoman Ann Limb, who joined the group a year ago, said: "We have overhauled both the governance and the culture of E-ACT to ensure that this can never happen again. As well as the departure of the director general, the finance director and two trustees have also left the organisation. E-ACT is about educational excellence and the changes we have made will ensure we have operational excellence to support that.

"We are implementing a robust action plan which addresses all concerns raised and are working closely with the Education Funding Agency to ensure these changes are embedded throughout the organisation."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said "Any misuse of public money meant for schools is completely unacceptable. Academies cannot hide from their responsibilities. All their accounts must be externally audited and they are held to account by the Education Funding Agency so any issues of impropriety are immediately investigated.

"That is exactly why the EFA has written to E-ACT requiring them to take swift action to improve financial management, control and governance. We are monitoring the situation closely and will take any further action necessary."

Green MEP Jean Lambert calls for halt to London A&E closures on eve of NHS March


I hope to see London Greens out in force tomorrow at the Defend London's NHS protest  as well as some of the new Brent Council Executive A contingent from Brent Fightback will be there. They will be meeting on the Southbound platform of the Bakerloo line at Baker St at 1130 tomorrow to travel on together to the demonstration at Waterloo.
 
London  Green MEP Jean Lambert has called on the government to halt the closure of up to nine accident and emergency wards in hospitals across London.


The wards are scheduled for closure, as well as thousands of hospital beds, in what the Keep Our NHS Public coalition has described as ‘the biggest attack on our NHS in a generation’.


Lambert, who will join thousands of people from across the UK in a march to the Department of Health to protest against the closures – and the threat of hospital and community health services being taken over by private companies, said:


This Government promised to defend the NHS – but the reforms it has introduced have done exactly the opposite.

As well as privatising services – allowing Tory donors like Care UK to offer public health care - its cuts and austerity program has caused plans to close hospital wards across the capital.

Greens believe in an adequately-funded publicly-provided NHS, run in the interests of people – not profits – and I will be proud to march tomorrow alongside some of the millions of NHS workers and patients who agree.”

Weekend of action over Guantánamo's 100 Days of Shame



Guest blog from Aisha Maniar, courtesy of 'one small window' where it was first published

What does a person have to do to get noticed nowadays? In the twenty first century, enduring more than a decade of torture and arbitrary detention without charge, trial or any prospect of release is not enough. A mass hunger strike, involving the use of torturous force feeding methods, the firing of plastic bullets, and intrusive body searches, such as that currently taking place at Guantánamo Bay, entering its 100th day on Friday 17th May, might get you a little further. A life-and-death scenario is what it takes to remind the world of the injustice that is Guantánamo Bay.

The US military has yet to admit the full scale of the situation, with the current numbers reported to be on hunger strike at around 100 of the 166 remaining prisoners and over 30 reported to be force fed, including British residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha. This follows weeks of denial by both the US authorities and the mainstream media, only becoming newsworthy when violence entered the scene on 13 April.

The use of force to quell a hunger strike that arose on 6 February in response to the deteriorating treatment of prisoners, including the use of rubber bullets against them in January, appears to be a counterproductive method of dealing with the issue at hand. There has been no effort whatsoever to engage with or respond to the demands of the hunger strikers or to bring it to an end.

The hunger strike has undoubtedly brought Guantánamo Bay back into the public eye, even prompting Barack Obama to state “I’m going to go back at it [closing Guantánamo] because I think it’s important.” One of the triggers for the mass hunger strike was despair at his failure to keep his promise to close Guantánamo, and the prisoners’ fear that the only real way out is in a coffin.

Perhaps the latest political rhetoric is just a test to see who has been paying attention. In the past few months, Barack Obama has authorised the use of force feeding rather than end the hunger strike, and plastic bullets, which can be fatal. Furthermore, just one week before the hunger strike started, the newly re-elected president closed the office he had opened to work on closing Guantánamo.

The recent debate on Guantánamo Bay has largely recycled old, circular arguments. Congress is allegedly a sticking point, blocking progress on the closure of Guantánamo but may agree to a $200 million renovation of the prison.

The debate on force feeding hunger strikers is non-existent; medical and legal ethics do not allow it. The UN has described the practice at Guantánamo as “torture”. This has not prevented the US from force feeding hunger striking Connecticut prisoner Bill Coleman in the same manner for five years. The issue of possible recidivism in releasing cleared prisoners, a favourite of proponents of Guantánamo, is also moot; one has to have offended in order to reoffend.

Barack Obama once described Guantánamo Bay as a “misguided experiment”, except that on so many levels he knows that is not the case. A successful social experiment in peddling the politics of mistrust and fear, it is perhaps the greatest symbol of the abuse of power this century. The US keeps Guantánamo open because it is expedient, because it can, because it is a two-finger salute to the rest of the world: “screw with us, and you will be next”.

A legal monstrosity exists, yet Barack Obama has long known what he has to do to close Guantánamo. The question is not so much how, but when? Will it take further fatalities of innocent men to come closer to an answer? The situation at Guantánamo has been an emergency for far longer than 100 days. There is no place for rhetoric: there are no popularity contests or elections to be won, just lives to be saved.

If there is a debate to be had, it does not appear to be happening. The same applies to the US’ allies, such as the British government. In a backbench debate in Parliament last month on the case of British resident Shaker Aamer, the Foreign Office gave the same noncommittal answers to relevant questions by MPs it has given for years. It is highly unlikely that Mr Aamer’s case, or the hunger strike, were raised during David Cameron’s visit to Washington earlier this week, in spite of government assurances it is actively pursuing his case.

Hunger strikes are an ultimate act of desperation by those who have no other means to protest injustice. It is a reflection of the clear failure of all those who could make a difference and have not over the past 11 years. Former Guantánamo military prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis stated “A large part of [the] Obama legacy depends on how this issue breaks. It’s his choice to lead or lose.”

The hunger strike has not missed the attention of everyone, and for the past three months, campaigns such as the London Guantánamo Campaign in the UK and organisations such as Witness Against Torture and World Can’t Wait have been holding protests and solidarity actions about an emergency the world would still rather ignore. The hunger strike will enter its 100th day on 17th May and shows no sign of ending. Six prisoners have been on hunger strike and force fed for over one year; left to their own devices, they prefer death over indefinite detention. Hunger strikes can be fatal in the longer term; seven of the nine deaths at Guantánamo Bay, allegedly suicides, were prisoners who had previously taken part in hunger strikes.

To mark this 100th day milestone and given the emergency of this situation, individuals and groups from around the world have come together to organise a weekend of protest on 17-19 May, calling on people to take action and fast for 24 hours if they can. A successful petition with more than 200,000 signatures gathered in around a fortnight put together by Colonel Morris Davis will be delivered to the White House on Friday 17 May. Protests will be held in various cities and towns across the world, with at least five planned across the UK, including a demonstration outside the US Embassy in London. The hacktivist group

Anonymous is also planning online actions over the weekend and others have Twitter storms planned over the three days using the hashtag #OpGTMO. Citizen actions around the world are an opportunity to show solidarity with the hunger strikers in different ways in different places. With lawyers visiting the prisoners reporting their worsening health and physical conditions, later may be too late.