Saturday 30 November 2013

Did you celebrate 'Buy Nothing Day' and resist consumerist pressures?

As commercial companies tried yesterday to foist 'Black Friday on us, an American import supposed to mark the beginning of pre-Christmas consumption, Ad Buster publicised their Buy Nothing Day which took place today. LINK

They stress that the day isn't anti-shopping  as such or anti small shops but about creating awareness about the effect of consumption on the environment and its basic inequality.

This is how they explain the Day:

It's time to lock up your wallets and purses, cut up your credit cards and dump the love of your life - shopping.

Saturday November 30th 2013 is Buy Nothing Day (UK). It's a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from shopping and anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

Everything we buy has an impact on the environment, Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism. The developed countries - only 20% of the world population are consuming over 80% of the earth's natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage, and an unfair distribution of wealth.

Of course, Buy Nothing Day isn't about changing your lifestyle for just one day - we want it to be a lasting relationship with you consumer conscience - maybe a life changing experience? We want people to make a commitment to consuming less, recycling more and challenging companies to clean up and be fair. The supermarket or shopping mall might offer great choice, but this shouldn't be at the cost of the environment or developing countries

I wonder if we should celebrate this at the Wembley's London  Designer Outlet next year?

No clues needed for the timing of Rev's resignation decision

A cheeky card Cllr Krupesh Hirnai placed on his blog
I understand that the Reverend David Clues, Lib Dem councillor for Dudden Hill has officially resigned at last. Clues moved to Brighton in 2011 and both the Labour and Green parties have repeatedly called for his resignation. Local activist Kierra Box accosted him at his Brighton home with unanswered emails and letters.

The scandalous neglect of local residents and dereliction of democratic accountability seems to stem from the Lib Dem's reluctance to fight a byelection at a time of national unpopularity.  Latterly some apologists have argued that by not having a byelection they are saving council tax-payers' money.

Because the resignation is so close to the May 2014 local elections I understand there will not be a byelection. Just the saving of a few thousand on the councillor's expenses.

Friday 29 November 2013

Pavey under pressure at heated Copland debate

Cllr Michael Pavey, lead member for children and families, took part in a heated debate last night on the future of Copland Community High School, which faces forced academisation through a takeover by Ark Academies.

Pavey turned up the heat by stating that Copland had failed all pupils but especially the most disadvantaged for whom education was most important:  Afro-Caribbean , special needs and refugee pupils. That was why he supported academisation. It was his job to make sure Brent children got the education they deserved: 'Pupils come first'. He pointed out that Brent Council did not have the resources to takeover Copland and improve it.

He was immediately challenged by a black member of the audience who said, 'How dare you use the black community to justify your policies. You are not one of us, you do not know our experience from the inside.'

His assertion that 'This is not a "done deal",' brought derisive laughter and he clarified by saying that academisation would happen but that it may not be Ark Academy but another academy chain or provider. When an audience member pointed out that they did not want any academy, Pavey said 'It's the law that it must be an academy' and under closer questioning said he was not prepared to break the law. 'We live in a democracy and the way to change laws is through the ballot box.'

Pavey said that he did not think all academies were great and remarked that Brent has some awful academies.He said that there had been discussions with the Cooperative College over them becoming Copland's academy sponsor but Whitehall had blocked the move. Hank Roberts of the ATL pointed out that this had been before the Ofsted inspection. He challenged Cllr Pavey to demonstrate that it was not a 'done deal' by exploring other possibilities.

Jean Roberts of the NUT, speaking from the floor said the Interim Executive Board (IEB) had put a stop to talks with the Coop, preferring Ark as sponsor. She called on Michael Pavey to look at the Coop as a sponsor because at least it  had emerged from the labour movement. In response Pavey said that he was a member of the Cooperative Party and a passionate supporter but the government had put a stop to its possible sponsorship of Copland.

Roberts gave the example of Snaresbook Primary in Redbridge where a campaign supported by parents, unions and the community, but especially by the local council which was Tory, had succeeded in avoiding being forced to become an academy. She said that the council had never provided that sort of leadership.

Several teachers spoke passionately against what they saw as a politicised attack by Ofsted on the school which Michael Pavey was reinforcing. One said, 'You are Michael Gove in a different suit!' Supported by school students they talked about their commitment to pupils, the hard work they put in and improvements that were already apparent. Pavey said that Ofsted was an independent body and he accepted their report as true.

Jenny Cooper, NUT member and special needs teacher, told Cllr Pavey that it made her angry when it was claimed that teachers were against all change. Of course teachers recognised the need for a change, it is not that they think no change needs to happen but the way  it is gone about. Teachers were opposed to Copland becoming an academy, and particuarly opposed to it becoming an Ark Academy. Academy chains are the fast route to marketisation of schools.

A school student, delivering a powerful speech from the platform, said that pupils had been denied a role in the consultation. They had submitted a petition to the council 7 months ago with no response. The media had made a mountain out of a mole hill with their comments on what was supposed 'light at the end of the tunnel'. Staff gave up their own time to help pupils and understood them. She said that 'unsatisfactory' was an insult to students. Ofsted had come with a mindset and had been biased in advance with an expectation that it was a 'rubbish school'.

One teacher speaking calmly, but clearly controlling her anger, told Cllr Pavey, 'I am working hard. I am working all hours for the children. I don't care what you say - you make the school an academy and I am leaving. You'll have to tell the children it's your fault that I've left.'

Earlier in the meeting, speaking from the platform I had traced the history of academisation in Brent starting from the City Academy which replaced Willesden High School, the Labour and then Lib Dem-Conservative support for the Ark Academy and the competition with other secondary schools that had resulted. Firstly Preston Manor became an all-through school in order to compete, and then, despite earlier denials, went for academy status.  Other secondary schools then followed with the exception of Copland which had always had comprehensive values.

Outlining what would be lost through academisation I spoke about 'post admissions selection' where pupils who did not conform to the school's expectation were spotted and move out through formal exclusion or other means, about the strict discipline which made the school a hostile environment for some pupils, about a teaching force that did not represent the communities from which the pupils come, and a lack of democratic ability which left parents with no recourse to another body to which to appeal.

A black teacher who had attended a discussion about academies with the NUT Black Teachers Group said that the evidence was that black teachers, in the political sense of ethnic minority, were being forced out of academies because their faces didn't fit, they did not match the profile the school wanted. He linked this with Michael Wilshaw's speech to headteachers where he had advocated cracking the whip. He said that the resulting stress and pressure would not help students' motivation. There would be a lack of role models in the academy schools.

A Copland parent, who had been on the previous governing body, told the audience how democratic accountability had disappeared from the school with the imposition of an IEB.  here had been complaints recently that Year11s had been give only 13 days notice of mock examinations that would set out their path for the real exams. English language students had fared worse with only 8 days notice for examination areas last studied in May.  Those studying History had been affected by the end of term break-up of the humanities department (see previous blogs) because during the move their text books and the exercise books in which they had made notes were lost.

His son had been helped y the mentoring department which was available to help the vulnerable, the bullies and the bullied and had been a safe place to talk, had been scrapped.  The student led Gay-Straight Alliance that had received national acclaim had been scraped. The School Anti-Bullying Council had met a similar fate despite the new headship adopting  zero bullying policy.

He said that schools were not all about examinations, they were also about quality of life and preparing young people for a changing world.

In his opening speech Hank Roberts said that the academy issue was all about money. Stanley Fink the hedge fund speculator behind Ark would be welcome to give money direct to Copland School but instead they were helping themselves (as they had in the economic crash) taking public money with an eye on eventually running schools for profit.  Fink was also Tory Party Treasurer and academy chains had people in the upper echelons of Ofsted.

Ark, already with a longer working week, had tried to get teachers to work two weeks longer, but had to give up when it became clear they would not be able to recruit on those terms.

A speaker from the floor summed up the feelings of many asking, 'What faith will young peple have in democracy when they have been treated like this?'

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Debate the future of Copland tomorrow

'EU measures aimed at deflecting attention from benefit cuts'-Lambert

Information you don't often see

London’s Green MEP Jean Lambert has accused Tory PM David Cameron of trying to deflect attention from his own government’s benefit cuts by announcing measures to reduce benefit payments to nationals of other EU countries - over a million of whom live in London.

“This is all about deflecting attention from benefit cuts, and not really about protecting UK benefits and public services at all,” she said.

“People should bear in mind the principle that EU nationals are entitled to treatment on the same basis as a national, including access to social security- so what is Cameron’s message to us, if he’s planning to change the rules? That you will lose your right to benefits if you have no realistic chance (defined by whom?) of finding work after six months? That if you are homeless, you cannot be looking for work and will be punished accordingly?

“’Benefit Tourism’ is a myth - not borne out by the facts at all, as the EU Commission and the OECD have made clear. In fact, those born outside the UK tend to pay more tax, and claim fewer benefits, than those born here – they are, as a group, net contributors to the public purse.

“Overwhelmingly, people come here to work and some come because they feel safer here than in their home-country: both of these say very positive things about the UK. David Cameron prefers not to recognise that - he’s too busy looking for the next set of benefit cuts.”

International Anti-War Conference this Saturday



The international anti-war conference on Saturday 30 November will address the key issues of the 'war on terror', and includes sessions on the history of British imperialism, drone warfare, the scramble for Africa and state attacks on civil liberties.

The discussions will be led by keynote speakers from across the world -- from the USA to Iraq, from Afghanistan to India, from Ireland to the Middle East. They include Jeremy Scahill, Owen Jones, Diane Abbot MP, Manik Mukherjee, Rachel Shabi, Lindsey German, Tariq Ali and Mitra Qayoom. (See full speaker list:

Advance booking here:
A student rate of £5 is available until Thursday 28 November
Free entry for all Friends of Stop the War
Tickets will also be available on the day of the conference


10 - 11am Plenary: Imperialism, war and resistance
Jeremy Corbyn MP (chair), Jeremy Scahill, Diane Abbott MP, Tariq Ali, Lindsey German, Joan Humphreys, Peter Brierley, Andrew Murray.

11.15am - 12.15pm  Parallel sessions

A very short history of British imperialism
with Seumas Milne, John Rees,
Merchants of death: drones and the arms trade
with Ala'a Shehabi, Chris Cole, Jean Lambert MEP

12.30 - 1.30pm Lunch

1.30pm - 2.30pm Parallel Sessions

The new scramble for Africa
with Explo Nani Kofi, Jeremy Corbyn MP

Nato: expansion and war
with Edward Horgan, Steve Bell and others

2.30pm - 3.30pm Parallel Sessions

The Syrian War in Context
with Sami Ramadani,  Jonathan Steele, Kevin Ovenden

Taking liberties: surveillance, the state and Islamophobia
with Shazia Arzad, Shamiul Joarder

3.45 - 5pm Plenary Building the international movement
Manik Mukherjee, Owen Jones, Explo Nani Kofi, Chris Nineham, Mitra Qayoom, Tony Benn, Sami Ramadani, Sarah Colborne

Stop the War Coalition | | 020 7561 4830

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Queensbury Caption Comp: and the winner is....

After reviewing the very high standard of entries, the winner of the caption competition is Anonymous, who posted on Wembley Matters. The winning caption is:

" Right, that's the 'Green' bit deleted. Now for 'Willesden' "

Congratulations to the anonymous captioner. Please would they make themselves known and email to claim their meal voucher for two, kindly donated by The Queensbury Pub. Please claim your prize within 14 days or it may be awarded to another entry.

Thanks to everyone who entered and we would particularly like to thank Councillor Butt for his sense of humour and taking this competition in the light hearted manner in which it was intended.

Below are some of the other entries which came in via Twitter and Facebook. The other comments are under 'Comments' on this blog HERE
No need for a caption. There are times when a picture is worth a thousand words. (Sarah Cox)

Maybe there is some mileage in introducing Butt Bikes, there's an app for that. (Sedley Bryden)

No library,no pub,evictions,impoverishment..and  lots of scary signs.Do I get the David Blunkett award ? (Graham Durham)

Beam me out Scotty. (Monika Hofman)

He is about to press the red button ! (@orfray)

The Queensbury? Now that rings a bell, let me google that..." (@JudithKerem)

23p, 2 Euros and a zloty! Busking is no substitute for council expenses! (@BartonBank)

Think Bungler (@pinemarten100)

Think Burglar - 'Burglary classes and tips from the pros (@MorganCannonDJ)

Always be careful when standing near these signs and a photo is being taken. IT can show you in a poor light! (@Dan_Filson)

Delete N, add R...delete E, add return...sorted! (@BartonBank)

Oih! Someone's pinched me assets! (Martin)

Police investigate new lead in disappearance of books and muriels from local library (Ed)

The catch is the meal is with @CllrButt and @PukkahPunjabi is paying. (@CllrButt) [Ed's note - it's not, we promise]
Thanks to everyone who took part and especially to Cllr Muhammed Butt who took it in a good spirit.

Hands off Copland School - Public Meeting Thursday

The Copland Action Committee, supported by ATL, GMB, NASUWT and NUT have organised the public meeting below as Copland faces forced academisation. This will leave NO local authority secondary schools in the London Borough of Brent.




 Holiday Inn, Empire Way, Wembley, HA9 8DS


A public meeting for staff, parents, pupils and the community


Brent's cycling hopes punctured by Mayor's Office

The Brent Highways Committee, which meets on December 10th, will hear disappointing news about the prospects for cycling highways in Brent. Brent Council was not chosen for the Mayor's 'mini-Holland' scheme and it now appears that secondary projects are also encountering problems.

Brent's initial proposals to the GLA included:

  • ·  The Jubilee/Metropolitan Superhighway - a direct route between Wembley and Willesden to include a “green bridge” crossing over the North Circular.
  • ·  The Jubilee/Metropolitan Quietway - to run parallel to the Jubilee line between Northwick Park and Wembley Park, and again between Dollis Hill station and Kilburn station.
  • ·  The Bakerloo Superhighway - along the Harrow Road between Wembley and Kensal Green towards central London; and
  • An Orbital Quietway - to run along the canal between Alperton and Stonebridge Park, and also along the River Brent 
Despite an initial favourable response Andrew Gilligan the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner,  later supported just two routes. The first was a route following the Jubilee Line  linking Wembley ith Neasden, Willesden and Kilburn and an orbital route paralleling the North Circular, linking to Brent Cross.

Brent Council was interested in promoting local routes while Gilligan wanted routes into Central London.  Brent Council believe the latter would be of only limited benefit to Brent residents.

Officers summarise their reservations over content and progress of the proposals: LINK
Brent officers are very supportive of the Mayor’s cycle initiative. It complements sustainable transport, employment opportunities, public health and regeneration objectives for the Borough as well as contributing to improving cycle safety. At the same time we have some concerns about its delivery. These concerns are as follows:

a)      Officers are concerned that there is a focus on strategic routes into central London rather than more local cycle routes, which is where the greatest growth in cycling is likely to be achieved only a certain population of our residents work in central London and we believe that the proportion that could be persuaded to cycle to central London would not be as great as the number of local cycle trips that we could encourage through local infrastructure investment;
b)      Selection of routes and local priorities does not appear to be as collaborative as expected, with priorities being set and defined by the Mayor’s office rather than being discussed and agreed in partnership with Brent;
c)      TfL have appointed consultants to develop the feasibility and design of local cycle routes, which intimates that Boroughs will not have the freedom and flexibility to commission and develop cycle projects on Borough roads Brent has recently entered into the London Highways Alliance contract, which has the flexibility to enable delivery of consultancy services and we are concerned as to why alternate consultants are being used outside of the LoHAC framework;
d)      We are also concerned about decision making powers and processes by which local councillors and communities will be engaged given that design consultants are being employed by TfL to develop schemes on local roads; and
e)      At present, none of the boroughs have received any of the published funding and there is no indication of how and when any funding will be made available and what the role of Boroughs will be in utilising and receiving this funding. To date all development costs have been borne by the Boroughs and we have been given no indication as to when funding will be made available.

Monday 25 November 2013

Queensbury revised application pros and cons

Fairview's new planning application contains space for a pub or wine bar as well as for community use. The latter details are set out in this statement LINK and Busy Rascals (and any sub groups) are named. A minimum of 15 hours weekly is given and rents will be comparable to similar local facilities. The table below shows the amount of non-residential floor space.

The level of affordable housing in the development is tiny (14% of the total housing) and appears to be little more than a gesture. It is set out in the application LINK

Here is the table indicating the floor space:

Campaigners will need to consider whether this revised planning application meets the aims of their campaign. On the one hand there will be a public house or wine bar on the site, although its precise size will need to be looked at, and some community use is retained. On the other hand the original building will be lost and there will be ten storey block/s and very little social housing.

Celebrate Teaching Assistants on Friday

Developer submits new Queensbury pub plans

Fairview Homes have submitted their new plans to demolish The Queensbury. See them HERE

The proposals still involve a tower block but also include a space for a  drinking establishment (A4 in planning jargon) on the ground floor.

The Save The Queensbury Campaign is meeting next Wednesday, 4 December at 7.30pm at the pub to discuss a response. All welcome.

Gauntlet thrown down for councils implementing Coalition cuts

As local councils across the country devise their budgets for 2014-15, with some such as Brent expecting an even worse outlook for 2015-16, they are faced once again with the extent to which they should do the Coalition's dirty work for them. When is the breaking point when you know that by making cuts you are hurting the most vulnerable and contributing to child poverty and homelessness? Can the mantra that our cuts are somehow more humane than if they were implemented by the opposition or council officers continue to hold water, and more importantly convince those at the receiving end?

It's an issue faced by councils regardless of political complexion and of course include the minority Green adminstration in Brighton.

This weekend the Labour Councillors Against the Cuts issued an updated statement which sets out their position and I wonder if any of our local Brent Labour councillors will get behind it. It would also be worth hearing from  the short-listed candidates for Brent Central for their position on the issue: It will be a live issue at the Green Party Spring Conference in Liverpool in February.

Here is the statement LINK
The cuts that will be demanded of local government over the next 2 years will be “the end of local government as we know it.” says Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council. Sir Merrick Cockell, Tory Chairman of the Local Government Association, reveals that the latest round of budget cuts would lead to some councils going bankrupt. But what do the proposed cuts mean in human terms?
They mean:
  • Misery for the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost or are losing their jobs.
  • Anguish for the elderly, children and their carers, the poor, the undernourished, the educationally deprived who will lose the right to a dignified life.
  • The loss of democratically accountable services run for the public good to private institutions overwhelmingly motivated by profit-making.
We believe that what the government is doing to our communities is immoral. But we cannot denounce their actions without doing our utmost to stop them.
For years councils have claimed that if they didn’t implement cuts then Pickles’ underlings would come in and take control of the council services. But it is compliance with government cuts and the under resourcing of staff in Birmingham that is giving the Tories the excuse to take control of the Council’s child care services.
We do not accept that the local government cuts are necessary. Not in this era of increasing inequalities of wealth, low tax rates on the super-rich and huge profits for the banking sector and their senior staff.
We cannot simply wait for the general election. Implementing cuts will not help Labour beat the Tories. Instead it will make it harder to mobilise working class votes if Labour-led councils are:
  • handing out masses of redundancy notices and
  • cutting services or implementing charges that make it even harder for ordinary people to make ends meet.
We pledge
  • To fight the cuts demanded by the Tories and not just criticise them
  • To campaign alongside unions and the rank and file of local government workers in explaining to the public why these cuts are unjustified and to mobilise in opposition to them.
  • To support local government workers in their fight for jobs and for the protection of local government services.
  • To defend the living standards of working class communities by refusing increased charges or taxes.
  • To refuse to vote for budgets that will lead to an attack on jobs or reduce services.
We call on trade unions and the Labour Party nationally to support both councillors in the council chamber or workers in the workplace that oppose these cuts.
We call on the Labour Party to pledge that if successful at the next general election they will restore local government funding so that councils can do the job that was expected from them – providing care, education, housing, and other services for our people regardless of income and outside the grasping hands of companies driven by profit.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Why we cannot let Gove get rid of our teaching assistants and instead should celebrate them

The role of Teaching Assistant (TA) has been transformed over the last decade or so. The role has been extended and professionalised from the old days of washing up the paints and tacky backing work cards.

Now TAs are involved in teaching 1:1 and in small groups, often through 'Intervention Programmes' for phonics, literacy and maths. Others may carry out speech therapy and physiotherapy with pupils after being trained by the professionals who no longer deliver the programmes themselves. Some act as mentors or counsellors to pupils experiencing problems.

TAs take part in education and training and qualifications such as NVQ :Level 3 or equivalent are required. A recent phenomenon has been graduates taking on the role in order to gain some experience in teaching before undertaking a post-graduate training course.

What they have in common is low pay and usually a 'term-time only'  contract. The cliché 'overworked and underpaid' really does apply: along with 'undervalued'. As spending cuts bite and schools look for 'savings' TAs are more easily dispensed with than teachers and Government questioning of their effectiveness doesn't help.

A further strength, often overlooked but one that I valued as a primary headteacher, is that they are usually part of the local community, know the families out of school as well as in school, and are the public face of the school on the street when often, particularly in cities, teachers live some distance away and commute to work.

Now Unison and the website TeacherRoar have launched a campaign to celebrate the contribution of TAs and, based on my experience in schools and the many wonderful TAs that I have seen in action, one that I am pleased to back. @TeacherROAR has been tweeting TA celebratory stories which will culminate in a Day of Celebration of TAs on Friday November 29th.  Further information can be found on the Unison website HERE and on the TeacherROAR blog HERE

I am grateful to TeacherROAR and Sarah who normally blogs HERE for permission to reproduce an account of her mornig's work as a Teaching Assistant.  Here it is: 
I received an email yesterday from my union. I am a member of Unison and the email was to tell me about a day - 29th November 2013 - a day to celebrate Teaching Assistants. Now why would they be wanting to do that? Why celebrate Teaching Assistants? Well, the reason is because if the UK Government has its way there might not be any Teaching Assistants in schools in the future.

Unison is fighting to save Teaching Assistants. The Government has decided that Teachers can do the job of Teaching Assistants. We are an expensive luxury.

So, let me tell you a little bit about my day and you can decide whether I am an expensive luxury and whether my Teachers can do my duties instead.

I am paid, as are my colleagues, from 8.50 am. I actually arrive each day at 8.25 am and start to prepare for my day. I help my Teacher welcome the Year 1 children and look after any of them who are upset or wobbly that day. I am there for any parent who wants to chat. If a parent needs to chat to my Teacher, I take the children in so they don't have to stand in the cold.

I have organised a rota for myself, (in my own time,) so that I can fit in all the children who need extra help. Working from information collated by my Teacher I have organised the children so that all of of them can reach their potential. By 8.50 I have started 1 to 1 work on phonics, handwriting, reading, number work.At 9.05 I bring out my 2nd group for 15 minutes, catching up on phonics, High Frequency Words. During this time the Teacher has taken Register and is into the Phonics session.

All the time I am listening to the lesson in the classroom, ready to go in if needed, because there are children who have Special Needs and I might be needed to sit with them. In Year 1 children very rarely have been statemented yet so there is no funding for 1 to 1 support. Therefore the General T.A (me) has to be there for them.

By 9.15 the Literacy Lesson starts and I either sit on the carpet with particular children to support them or spend time writing up my interventions so far that morning ( because I have to provide evidence of the work done with the children). Then I start checking reading books. I either change them or initial that the record has been checked. When the children go to their tables to work I go with them. I know which table because I have spent time (my own time) reading the Teacher's detailed plans, emailed to me each week.

Most of the time I work with the children who find school tricky. The Teacher and I alternate daily with the groups so that she spends time with all the children. There are children who find it so hard to sit still, concentrate, form letters. I am there to encourage, push, support, explain.

It's amazing the number of ways you can find to explain a single thing! And it's amazing how many children find the simplest thing (to you and me) impossible to grasp. If I or the Teacher wasn't sitting with them they would not know what to do, how to start. One of my greatest skills is patience. To find yet another way to explain something, but to do it with kindness and humour is what I love to do. And at the same time as I am helping this child there are another 5 on the table who need me too.

Of course the Teacher could sit with them ... but what about the other 25 five year olds?

By 10 am its time for Assembly and I keep a group back to read with. I read with every child in the class at least once a week, assessing their skills and giving them tips and encouragement as we go along. Whether that child gets lots of support at home and loves to read or receives minimum support and finds reading hard, hard, hard -  I find the way to help them achieve their best, help them enjoy reading. The joy of seeing a child move up a level or get excited about a book is just wonderful.

After break (10 minutes) I read the story while the Teacher reads with another group (they try to read with every child once a week too).

Then it's Maths and the same sort of support as I have given in Literacy. My last group goes out with me at 11.50 for a quick recap on numbers - formation, number lines, counting. Then at 12 it's time for home ...

But we don't go home do we? Most T.As in my school stay and get the jobs done that they couldn't do in the changing reading books, putting up displays, changing the role play area, filing ... It's a rare day that I go home before 12.35 and some days I stay until 1pm, an hour over my paid time. Obviously this is up to me. It's my choice that I stay, but then that's the sort of people T.As tend to be. We don't do our job for the money, we do it because we love it, love the children.

An ordinary morning is what I have described above. I haven't told you about my playground duties, my chats with children whose parents are breaking up, whose granny has died, who have seen their dad beating up their mum... I haven't told you about the chats with parents who are worried or don't "get" phonics. I haven't mentioned helping children who have wet themselves or been sick everywhere or had a massive nose bleed.

Of course the Teacher could do all these things too. She gets into work at 7.30 and stops for lunch at 12.55 ( 15 minutes break ... soooo lazy!!) then works through until 5.30 when she goes home sorts life out for her own children and then carries on with school work. The thing is though that if she did my job, the things I do, then when would she actually be teaching? Or maybe we should just forget about all the small groups I take out, forget about reading with the children?

There are Teaching Assistants in my school who work 1 to 1 with children who are autistic or have long term illness, children with behavioural problems who, if left to their own devices could be dangerous both to themselves and other children. Without their T.As these children would be lost. As it is, their parents have to fight for help. How could they access education without the care and 1 to 1 support of a Teaching Assistant? T.As deliver physiotherapy programmes, Speech and Language interventions, administer medication...

Teaching Assistants are the unsung backbone of the education system. We work for just over minimum wage and we work because we choose to give our best for the children in our care. In my school the T.As are hard working, intelligent (many are Graduates) and very caring. Often it is the T.A who has the time to sit and listen to a child, who picks up on the underlying problems a child faces. We are part of a team, with our Teachers, trying to create an environment where children can learn and enjoy learning.

Teachers work incredibly hard already. If we were not there to do the things we do then I really hate to think what would happen to the children who need us. Teachers cannot physically do their own jobs and ours. It's impossible. I despair at the short sightedness of the UK Government and their plans.

If you have a child in school then please celebrate how fortunate they are, not only to have Teachers who work their socks off, but also Teaching Assistants who do their best to support, care and guide. It has been a long time since all we did was wash up paint pots.

You can support the campaign by putting a 'Twibbon' on your Facebook or Twitter profile picture. Follow this LINK

Friday 22 November 2013

Willesden Green residents and shops targeted by UKBA

Giving out 'bust cards' at Willesden Green station today
Brent Council may have targeted Willesden Green this week for probably (I hope!) good reasons, but I didn't expect the UK Border Agency's officers to join in.

UKBA officers were spotted in a Willesden Green cafe this lunchtime. They told a customer they were due to do an 'intelligence led' stop operation in cooperation with local police at the station later. They disappeared into the SNT 'shop' which is close to Sarah Teather's office.

Immediately Brent anti-racists organised a group to give out 'bust cards' which advise people of their rights if stopped by the immigration police.

It soon became clear that this was not the first UKBA visit this week. We were told by local shopkeepers of a raid two days ago when shops were the target. Officers blocked shop doorways while officers went inside to question staff on their immigration status and take photographs. Customers were put off by the heavily built officers with their all black uniforms and taciturn manner. Shopkeepers found their presence threatening and one said that he had lost 2 hours of custom as result of the raid.  We were told that there had been at least one arrest.

A young man, seeing what we were doing,  hovered near us and eventually plucked up the courage to speak to us.

He told us about a 6am raid, at his nearby address, by what sounded like combined a UKBA/local police unit. He and his friends were woken by police who had come through the front door and were battering on their door. The police said if the door was not opened they would break it down and then proceeded to do so.

The flatmates, all Italian and in their early 20s, were terrified as anyone would be in such circumstances. Their papers were demanded and checked.  They were told that intelligence had suggested there were illegal  immigrants in the flat.  The tenants are hoping that the landlord will repair the smashed door. Meanwhile they are extremely nervous and shocked by the experience.

As we were giving out the cards several people came up to express concern about what they saw as 'police state' tactics.

In the event, perhaps because of our presence, by 5pm no UKBA officers had turned but instead carried out an operation in Willesden Lane.

Motorists were stopped by the police using the ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system and then handed over to immigration officers to have their identities checked. The legality of this is questionable - immigration officers MUST have intelligence indicating an immigration crime has been committed otherwise they do not have the power make anyone answer questions - people have the right to walk away and not answer their questions. Were the people being questioned told that they were not required to answer questions?

On speaking to some of the shopkeepers in Willesden today it appears that some Council officials were present during these operations. After Councillor Butt's outspoken (and welcome) criticism of the racist van a few months ago it would be very disappointing to hear that Brent Council is colluding with the Home Office in these highly dubious and possibly illegal activities.

Is this all part of Brent Council's Willesden Week of Action? If so, it is far more sinister than we thought.

Shahrar Ali, the Green's 2010 parliamentary candidate for Brent Central said:
This is the week when a sign stationed in Willesden Green read, 'How safe is your home or business, Think burglar,'

To the contrary, local residents and shopkeepers have suffered the shocking tactics of random interrogation and smashed in doors:
'Think UKBA'
The people of Brent will not stand for it.

Queensbury Campaign invites your caption competition entries

Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt in Willesden Green
Brent Council is carrying out a Week of Action in each ward where ward councillors and officers seek to engage with local residents about local issues.

Willesden Green has been on the receiving end of this initiative where local people are particularly sore at losing the Willesden Bookshop, the open space outside Willesden Green Library (which has just been demolished); the threatened loss to developers of the popular community hub pub, the Queensbury; luxury flats being constructed on council land that has been given to developers being marketed in Singapore with the guarantee that there are no affordable homes or key worker homes on the site; and the failure of  Brent Council to mount a  campaign against the forced academisation of Gladstone Park Primary School.

The Week of Action does not of course have anything to do with all this and neither is it a reaction to the recent launch of the Make Willesden Green election platform LINK where independent candidate for the 2014 council election, Alex Colas, has high-lighted the 'democratic deficit' in the area.

The Queensbury Campaign invites your caption for the above photograph. Post your entries for the caption competition as comments below or tweet to .@QueensburySOS

Wit appreciated and there is a meal for two as a prize.

Brent Council deny Twitter feed censorship

I published a story earlier this week suggesting that critical Twitter comments were not getting posted on Brent Council's Twitter feed during the live webcasting of Monday's Council Meeting. LINK 

The feed displayed simultaneously displayed on the Council website beside the webcast appeared to be dominated by council friendly tweets including those from @BrentLabour and Cllr James Denselow.

I also suggested that the Council's 'House Rules' included a catch-all sentence that seems to rule out critical comments about the council itself.
If you’re offensive about the council, or anyone who works for us, or runs the organisation, we will remove your comments. Comments that are likely to bring the council into disrepute will be removed
Since then there have been various suggestions about how this happened including the feed not recognising the hashtag #BrentLive if it was not capitalised. It was pointed out to me that some of my comments did get through to the feed and thus it was clear there was no censorship - but others did not. I put this down to the censorship not being carried out very efficiently but now a Council spokesperson has issued the following statement:
We are very excited to be the first London council to integrate webcasting and Twitter for important meetings. Social media is providing new ways of making local people aware of what their representatives are discussing and enabling them to join in the debate.  

More than 300 people watched this successful first Full Council webcast and Twitter feed, more than normally attend council meetings, so this initiative has already made local democracy more open, and we hope more people will watch and comment in future. 

Brent did not censor or stop any tweets from going out on We have investigated and this is down to an unexpected technical problem with Twitter itself, a problem other users have reported here

We are working to have this fixed for the next Full Council meeting. 

The house rules are designed to support discussion of the council and its policies regardless of whether tweets are critical or not. The aim is to stop anyone abusing the Twitter feed by, for example, trolling individuals or bombarding it with tweets unrelated to the debate.

There were some problems with the councillors' microphones which will be fixed for the next Full Council meeting.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Lucas: PM's 'green crap' comment betrays his contempt

Commenting on reports that the Prime Minister has dismissed fuel bill levies that fund energy efficiency measures, as “green crap”, Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said:

“These levies include funding for energy efficiency measures which help low income households cope with soaring energy prices.

“Whatever language the Prime Minister has used to describe them, his determination to roll them back says everything about his contempt for the most vulnerable, and his lack of interest in serious action to tackle climate change, or to bring down fuel prices in the long term

“By focusing the debate on green levies, which represent only a fraction of energy bills, the Government is obscuring the real reason for rising costs – which is the increasing wholesale price of gas, and the profits of the Big Six energy companies.

“If the Prime Minister really wanted to help families with their fuel bills, he’d be investing in a major energy efficiency programme to super-insulate the country’s housing stock.  This would bring nine out of ten homes out of fuel poverty, quadruple carbon savings, and create up to 200,000 jobs.”

London Green MEP Jean Lambert also  added her voice to the debate.

Ms Lambert has challenged the Prime Minster to set out some alternative proposals for reducing energy use and helping fund the next generation of clean, renewable power generation.

She said: "Given that the green taxes Mr Cameron is today reported to have described as 'green crap' are designed to reduce energy use and help pay for the next generation of power through clean renewable sources, the question is: how will he achieve those goals by other means?

"As over 60% of the rise in bills is due a rise in wholesale prices of energy from 2010 to 2012, how will bills be reduced if there is no comprehensive effort to reduce energy consumption and provide alternative, domestic renewable resources?

"There is much the Government could do to improve the way in which this money is spent in order to reduce the amount of energy people use and they should concentrate their attention there, not on cutting revenue for essential measures - unless they plan to pay for them in other ways, in which case - let's hear those proposals, if they exist."

Fundraiser: Walk the Walk to enable Copland to Talk the Talk

The Anti-Academy Working Party at Copland School has organised a pub walk to take place on Friday 22nd November around London Bridge.

The purpose of the walk is to raise £300 to book a room for a public meeting.

Those wishing to take part should gather in the Old King's Head (King's Head Yard, 45-49 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1NA) from 6 o'clock on Friday.  The walk will start at 7 o'clock.

There will be a Dickensian theme to the walk as participants will visit some of the places mentioned by Dickens in Barnaby Rudge, Little Dorrit and The Pickwick Papers.

Places familiar to Edmund Burke, Geoffrey Chaucer, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Pepys and William Shakespeare will be visited.

The walk will finish beside London Bridge tube station.

There will be a cost of £5 for joining the walk

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Selective microphones and selective twitter feed threaten to bring Brent Council into disrepute

Last night's livefeed of the Brent Council Meeting was hailed as a breakthrough but was characterised by breakup of the sound. On Twitter Cllr Denselow, the Executive's own 'techie' blamed exhausted batteries for the failure of the microphones, but today said that wasn't the problem and the microphones would 'have to be sent back'.

The problem particularly hit Cllr Paul Lorber, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, while Labour microphones generally worked well, although during a particularly fine speech on Violence Against Women, former leader Cllr Ann John was at times inaudible.

The problem comes on top of IT and telephone problems, as well as a shortage of 'hot desks' that leaves some staff finding it easier to work from home, which some says, despite the £100m cost of the Civic Centre, was the plan all along. I hope the Council give the home workers an allowance for their winter heating.

Some may claim that there was a political bias in the microphone cut-outs, but there was more substance in the claim that the twitter feed on the Council website during the meeting had political bias. Many of my comments failed to appear on the Council feed, although they were available on the hashtag #brentlive in the public arena.

The result was a preponderance of pro-Council and pro-Labour tweets, which as I tweeted (but not published on the Council feed) rather made a nonsense of the idea of a public debate using social media.

In fact the Council's House Rules on Social Media severely restrict what can be said LINK with several catch-all rules including:
If you’re offensive about the council, or anyone who works for us, or runs the organisation, we will remove your comments. Comments that are likely to bring the council into disrepute will be removed
Personally, I think a selective twitter feed itself brings the Council into disrepute.

Now this Party knows how to react to unaffordable luxury housing!

As luxury flats, marked to foreign residents and investors, go up across London, including here in Brent at Willesden Green Library and in nearby Barnet at West Hendon, renters are taking action as local people are priced out of the market:

Pavey paves the way for privatisation

At last night's full Brent Council Meeting Cllr Michael  Pavey, lead member for children and families, moved even further towards a pro-academy stance, even though his Labour colleague Krupesh Hirani shortly afterwards castigated the privatisation of the health service.

Pavey read from Ofsted reports on Copland Community High School and Wembley Ark Academy, contrasting the dire nature of the former with the glowing remarks of the latter. What he didn't tell the councillors was that the Copland report was very recent and that Ark's last full Ofsted was in 2010.

He also didn't tell them at the time of the 2010 report Ark Academy only had a few year groups in the primary school and was only just admitting the first cohort of Year 7s in the secondary school. Ark Academy was inspected under the old Ofsted framework and Copland under the new stricter framework.

Brent Council wants to leave Council Tax Support unchanged despite summonsing 3,300

The demonstration outside Willesden Magistrates Court
Some Brent Council consultations get more publicity than others. This one on the Council Tax Support Scheme seems a little hidden away so I thought I would bring it to your attention. The present system resulted in 3,300 people being summonsed to Willesden Magistrates Court by the Council for non-payment and a demonstration outside the court which received wide publicity. Some of those summonsed incurred extra court charges of £90 or more on top of the amount owed.

This consultation started without fanfare on November 11th and ends on December 12th.

Now believe it or not the Council, with minor changes, wants to keep essentially the same scheme despite Muhammed Butt vowing that Labour would protect the vulnerbale at last night's Council Meeting.

Below is an extract from the Council website. You can see the full consultation portal and submit your views HERE

Monday 18 November 2013

Budget cuts, Veolia, Copland, racist letting agents and violence against women on Council agenda tonight

The most important item on tonight's Brent Council Agenda is probably the first reading of the budget which includes the cuts already listed on this blog LINK

Executive members will give reports as follows:

1. The opening of the LDO and update on appointmentof Ben Spinks (Cllr Butt)
2. New Public Realm contract (Cllr Mashari)
3. The future of Copland school (Cllr Pavey)
4. Integrated Care Pioneer bid and conference on adult safeguarding (Cllr Hirani)
5. Action taken on racial discrimination by local letting agents and private rented
 sector licensing (Cllr McLennan)
6. The live-streaming of Council meetings (Cllr Denselow)
7. Conference on khat (Cllr Choudry)
8. An update on parking (Cllr J Moher)
9. Regeneration tour of the borough by Deputy Mayors of London (CllrCrane)
10. Visit from the Mayor of Johannesburg (Cllr R Moher) 

Each party group has tabled a motion for this evening.  They are:


Tackling violence against women

This Council commends the work of the members’ task group on Tackling Violence against Women and Girls in Brent. This task group is committed to ending harmful practices by raising public awareness of issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriages and honour-based violence. These practices, and all instances of violence against women, constitute illegal, intolerable acts and human rights violations.

This Council notes the positive influence members can wield within communities by encouraging individuals and groups to speak out against harmful practices, which impact on the wellbeing of women and girls in Brent. To ensure that members are fully informed on all these harmful practices and how to deal with them effectively, there will be a member development event held on Thursday 21 November 2013. Sessions will be led by the expert organisations FORWARD and the Asian Women’s Resource Centre.

Members also note the work of the White Ribbon Campaign day- a charitable organisation started by men which seeks to end violence against women. Members whole-heartedly support this cause and will sign the White Ribbon pledge to affirm that they will never condone or remain silent about violent acts against women. A Brent Council event marking White Ribbon Day – the internationally recognised day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – will be held in the Civic Centre on November 25.

We call on all members to unite in the fight against these harmful practices, and resolve to end all practices which cause physical or emotional distress to women and girls in Brent within the 5-year target set by the Government earlier this year.

Councillor John


Cleaner streets in Brent

Council notes that Labour councillors have targeted street cleaning and waste collection for service reductions by:

        i.            Reducing the frequency of street cleaning in many residential streets from three times a week to once a week

      ii.            Reducing weekend street cleaning in High Streets

    iii.            Reducing refuse collections, even in areas with poor storage facilities for residual waste

     iv.            Introducing curtilage collections

       v.            Axing the streetwatcher scheme

Council further notes:

        i.            It is two years since Brent Council hit its target for tonnes of waste sent to landfill

     vi.            In five out of the last six quarters Brent Council failed to hit its target for the percentage of waste sent for recycling

   vii.            Brent Council has never (since the target was adopted as a KPI) met its target for Flytipping Enforcement: number of inspections and investigations

 viii.            Reported fly-tipping increased after Labour's street cleaning cuts, as dirty streets encouraged more people to dump waste

     ix.            There is considerable public concern about the cleanliness of our streets and the amount of fly-tipping in Brent

       x.            The failure to meet recycling targets has significant financial consequences

Council calls on the Executive to:

        i.            Improve Brent Council's recycling performance

      ii.            Step up enforcement in order to target more effectively those who disfigure our streets with litter and fly-tipping

    iii.            Use the resulting additional finance to increase street cleaning where it is most needed and work intensively with residents and managers of blocks of flats to address litter, fly-tipping and waste collection issues.

Councillors Lorber, Brown and Hopkins



This Council notes that the parking policy of this Labour administration is hurting Brent's economy as high parking charges on the local high streets and the abolition of visitor parking scratch cards continue to drive visitors away.

This Council also notes that as a result of these ill-thought out policies, shoppers are deserting Brent in favour of the cheap, easy and free parking that is on offer at Brent Cross and in neighbouring borough’s. 
This Council resolves to:
-          Introduce half an hour free parking on our High Streets
-          Ensure that event day parking restrictions only apply for 1hour before the event at Wembley Stadium
-          Continue the use of visitor scratch cards indefinitely,

Councillor Kansagra

You can watch a live feed of the meeting on computer, tablet or smart phone from 7pm HERE and tweet #brentlive