Friday 31 January 2014

Video: Kensal Rise rises up to defend their library

Determined demonstrators defy wind and rain to defend their library

Local people turned out in the wind and rain this afternoon to protest against the demolition  of their pop up community library by agents of All Souls College. It was clear that this campaign still has the energy and determination to carry on the fight despite suffering dawn raids by both Brent Council and All Souls College and fraudulent emails supporting the developer.

The books, rescued by campaigners when security threw them on the pavement, under tarpaulin

Gladstone Free School may wthdraw plans for building on open space

The Harrow Observer's reporter Hannah Bewley has posted a web report LINK quoting a Gladstone Free School spokesperson as saying about residents' opposition to build on the William Gladstone Open Space , 'We will take on board the view expressed (at the public meeting)  but it looks as though we may have to withdraw our ideas before they see the light of day.'

This clearly is not a definitve statement but welcome all the same.

3.30 today Kensal Rise protest against library destruction

Demonstration against library busting book dumping Oxford College 3.30pm today

The pop up library before destruction
There will be a demonstration outside Kensal Rise Library at 3.30pm this afternoon following this morning's dawn raid by Cluttons, estate managers to All Souls College, which saw the pop up library destroyed and books dumped  on the pavement.

Meanwhile Meg Howarth has sent the following message to John Vickers, Warden of All Souls College:

Dear Sir John,

Link below FYI - staggering news of which you may not yet be aware:

Someone must have ordered Cluttons to send in the security guards to destroy the Kensal Rise pop-up library early this morning - unless your property agent of generations chose to act on its own initiative. 

An Islington resident, I contacted All Souls originally on 29 May 2012 in the immediate wake of that morning's shameful - and shameless - 3am raid that stripped the fine college-owned Kensal Rise Library building of its books and Mark Twain commemorative plaque. Clearly someone has learnt from that shameless tactic.

With dismay and regret that such behaviour could be carried out in the name of the once-prestigious All Souls College.


Meg Howarth
Muhammed Butt, Brent Council leader, tweeted:
Dismayed at destruction of pop-up. I've written to All Souls & has been working w/ campaigners at site..

He added that he was arranging for storage of the books.

Oxford College destroys pop up library and dumps books


There is consternation in Kensal Rise this morning following the destruction of the Kensal Rise  pop up library before dawn by security agents hired by Cluttons, the property agents for All Souls College, owners of the library.

The library was unceremoniously torn down and its books dumped.

The pop up library has been on the site since Labour Brent Council closed the library in its 'library transformation' project. Campaigners have bee pressing for a community library space in the proposed new development by developer Andrew Gillick.

Gillick is due to submit new plans  but the investigation into fraudulent emails submitted to the Council about his previous planning application have not yet resulted in any action despite frequent reminders from local residents to the council and the City Police.. Emails in favour of his planning application were submitted from an address that allegedly  he owned and sublet to tenants.

The action has followed quickly on the Friends of Kensal Rise Library's statement yesterday that they would be unable to support Gillick's revised planning application:

 Following refusal of planning permission last September, the developer and his architect are submitting fresh proposals for the library building to the planning committee of the council. Negotiations with regard to the space reserved for the community have been on going since before Christmas in so far as we have been shown and have commented on preliminary drawings. According to the architect these were a 'work in progress'. 
The Trustees of the Friends of Kensal Rise Library voted to agree, in principle, to accept the offer of two thirds of the ground floor, contingent on seeing the final drawings and the developer's planning application and also subject to an agreement being drawn up that would give an assurance that the Friends would be the tenants of the space in which to run a community library. We have also had the support of the Brent Council Lead Member for Libraries, Cllr Mashari, for this. 
Both the College and the Friends contributed to an agreement document that was to accompany the planning application. However, this was not agreed by the developer.

The Friends do not regard it as appropriate to approve a planning application on behalf of the community without first seeing that planning application. Furthermore, they have so far not had an assurance from the developer that in return for their support their tenancy of the library space would be assured.

We have informed both the College and the developer that we have been unable to support a planning application in this way.

Is this the consequence?

Campaigners had taken their case all the way to All Souls College in Oxfo0rd only to see the college engaged in the:shameful action of destroying a community library and its books.

Thursday 30 January 2014

A legal action that shames Brent Council

Another case has emerged where Brent Council has pursued legal action against a vulnerable member of the local community apparently without any consideration of ethical issues. In this case they pursued a recently bereaved deaf gay man for possession of his home.

The story was told by Debra Wilson for Anthony Gold Solicitors on the Lexology legal newsfeed website LINK :

His Honour Judge Lochrane in giving judgment on a possession claim brought by Brent Council was critical of the Council’s approach, in refusing to allow a cohabitee a right to succeed to his deceased Gay partner’s tenancy.

The couple had lived together in a committed relationship for several years. Brent Council relied on a Court of Appeal authority to the effect that in order to succeed to a tenancy, applicants must prove that their relationship is “openly and unequivocally displayed to the outside world”. The couple concerned were both profoundly deaf and were in a homosexual relationship akin to that of living together as civil partners, of which was known to several members of the deaf lesbian and gay community.

The Judge was concerned that the proceedings did not descend into any “unedifying” process of an examination into the private life of the defendant. The council’s lawyers sought to find a way of arguing that the defendant had not informed the local authority that he was in a Gay relationship with his deceased partner. There was a veil of silence to this case as the couple lived a life where their deafness and lack of speech clearly made communications difficult with anyone who was not “within their world”. But, Brent Council disagreed, as it was their view that any couple living together must be “open” with the local authority and not just within their own community.

The Judge made a finding that he considered that Brent Council had not assessed the case with the necessary “delicacy and sensitivity” that it required. The Judge considered that it was incumbent on Brent Council to make proper enquiries before coming to a conclusion because of the potential devastating effect that the Defendant would have been homeless. The case serves to underline that there are various reasons why some couples would wish to hide their relationship, whether because of cultural divides, age differences, disapproval from family and so forth.

Brent Council asked for permission to appeal which was refused. The Council were ordered to pay the costs of the action. The Defendant’s counsel’s parting shot was to warn Brent council that any efforts to overturn the Judge’s refusal of permission to appeal would cause undoubted outrage amongst, not only the Gay, Lesbian and Deaf community but Brent council taxpayers for bringing a case that really should not have been pursued.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Greens condemn Lib Dem support for illiberal 'gagging bill'

Last night the Lobbying Bill passed the House of Lords.One of the votes was tied 245/245 but that procedurally means the government won.

What this means is that the Liberal Democrats have helped pass another illiberal bill (one that they no doubt hope will limit the impact of students who were greatly betrayed by them). Now are we going to see the government take the Royal British Legion, Oxfam or another NGO to Court if any organisation challenges this? Meanwhile the real danger to politics, the corporate lobbyists, will remain largely unaffected.

As Home Affairs spokesperson for the Green Party,  Peter Cranie issued this response:
The coalition has tried to legally gag those who would challenge their appalling record on poverty, the environment, tuition fees and civil liberties. The Green Party will voice those concerns and we urge former Liberal Democrat voters to help us kick out the legs from under the coalition at the European Elections, by voting Green and making completely clear this attempt to end freedom of political speech for charities and campaigning groups was a step too far.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Copland IEB to recommend ARK takeover to Michael Gove despite overwhelming staff opposition

The telling graph from the Consultation Report
The Interim Executive Board has written to staff at Copland Community High School informing them that they have decided to recommend to Michael Gove that the school becomes an ARK academy. This follows five strikes by school staff to secure a democratic ballot over academisation and the ARK takeover.

Grahame Price, chair of the IEB says that they have done 'everything required by the Secretary of State' this does not of course involve a democratic vote, or even taking account of the overwhelming opposition of staff. and students.

This is the letter

Dear Staff

The Copland Interim Executive Board has approved the report summarising the activities that took place during the consultation period.  We spent time reviewing the report to make sure it reflects the feedback we received as part of the consultation. We also spent time considering what Copland requires to ensure the long-term improvement that it needs. 

Under Section 5 of the Academies Act 2010 the IEB was required to consult with staff, parents and community representatives on the proposal that Copland Community School becomes an ARK academy in September 2014. We have now done everything required by the Secretary of State, and are satisfied that the best way forward for Copland is to become an academy. We believe that ARK will build on the work already done by the IEB and Dr Marshall to provide leadership, support and focus for the school, using their proven experience to turn Copland into an exciting place to learn. 

The IEB will write to the Secretary of State to make this recommendation.  

The IEB will now work with ARK, to prepare to open the school as an ARK academy in September 2014.  ARK will therefore begin detailed transition planning, including starting a recruitment campaign for the principal of the proposed new academy. The final of the process is the signing of the funding agreement by the Secretary of State and this would confirm that Copland will become an ARK academy.

I have attached the consultation report.

Best wishes

Grahame Price

Chair of the IEB

The Full Consultation Report is available here: LINK

Battle ahead between Brent Council and Pickles on Gladstone Free School?

Following confusion at yesterday's public meeting about whether the Gladstone Free School school had been in conversation with Brent Council over building on the William Gladstone Open Space and whether the council had indicated its opposition, I have now established:

1. That Brent Council in conversation with school representatives, told them that the Council supported free schools, such as Gladstone, as a way of solving the problem of increased demand for secondary school places over the next two years,

2. That the school had been told that any application to build on the William Gladstone Open Space would not be supported by the Council as it would be in breach of planning policy.

3. The Education Funding Agency, who act as as free schools' 'estate agents',  was given the same response.

The land is designated as Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and Public Open Space. In such land there is a general; presumption against inappropriate development.

Brent Council's Policy CP18: Protection and Enhancement of Open Space, Sports and Diversity  in Brent's Core Strategy (2010) states that open space of value will be protected from inappropriate development and preserved for the benefit, enjoyment, health and wellbeing of Brent's residents, visitors and willife.

The Unitary Development Plan sets out acceptable uses of Metropolitan Open Land:
  • Public and private open space and playing fields
  • Agriculture, woodlands and orchards
  • rivers, canals, reservoirs, lakes, docks and other open water
  • gold courses
  • allotments and nursery gardens
  • cemeteries
  • nature conservation
This advice may not be sufficient to stop Gladstone Free School  pursuing the site and a battle between the DfE (represented by the Education Funding Agency) and the Council is on the cards and it may well become an election issue.

Brent Council will be up against this guidance published in July 2010, soon after the Coalition took power: LINK
New planning principles for councils to consider when determining planning applications for school developments with local support have been published ahead of the Royal Assent for the Academies Bill.
This initiative was designed to allow school promoters to be confident about progressing their proposals and for new free schools to be set up quickly in response to demand from local people. Education secretary Michael Gove has already stated that the Government is committed to making it easier to secure sites for new schools.

Local planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate will be expected to take the statement by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles into account as a material consideration when determining all planning applications for school development.

In determining planning applications, local authorities should:
  • attach very significant weight to the desirability of establishing new schools and to enabling local people to do so
  • adopt a positive and constructive approach towards applications to create new schools, and seek to mitigate any negative impacts of development through the use of planning conditions or planning obligations, as appropriate
  • only refuse planning permission for a new school if the adverse planning impacts on the local area outweigh the desirability of establishing a school in that area. Where a local authority refuses permission on this basis, the Government will ask the Planning Inspectorate to deal swiftly with any appeal that is lodged.
 For a comment on free school consultations see: LINK

Monday 27 January 2014

Saving William Gladstone Open Space for all of us

I am opposed to free schools and academies and so is the Green Party. The Liberal Democrats have gone along with free schools and academies in the Coalition and Sarah Teather changed her position from opposition to support when she became a minister. On that and much else I am passionately opposed to them.

However Liberal Democrat councillor Alision Hopkins has been vociferous in her opposition to the Gladstone Free School being built on the William Gladstone Open Space next to Gladstone Park and I think her reasons deserve a wider circulation.

Here is Alison's Guest Blog which is what she would have said at tonight's meeting. 

I’m really sorry I can’t be at the meeting tonight. I’ve a family funeral in Southampton which clashes.

For me, this is a very personal issue. I grew up at the Gladstone Park end of Dollis Hill Avenue, and played in the park and on the open space as a child. I know it well, and I know its history and value to our community.

Let’s be clear, first of all, about the kind of green space that’s threatened. This land has never been built on. Centuries ago it was part of Lower Oxgate Farm, later, market gardens and then allotments. It is now Metropolitan Open Land, which is the equivalent of Green Belt in London. It is protected by law.

Let’s also be clear that this is not about the school per se, it’s about the proposed location.

Gladstone School has claimed that they wish to build on the site of the old William Gladstone School. That site – where the school buildings once stood – is now houses and flats. The school wish to build on William Gladstone Open Space, which is its proper name, NOT Gladstone Playing Fields. And, for the sake of clarity, it’s in Dollis Hill, not Willesden as has repeatedly been stated.

The William Gladstone Open Space is precisely that. Open, green land that belongs to ALL of us. The school have also claimed the space is disused and run down. Their own press release refers to it as a “near abandoned “space! Perhaps they should tell that to the rugby players, the dog walkers, joggers, commuters and all the other people who use it. Perhaps they should also tell that to the people who simply love looking and enjoying one of London’s precious and all too few green lungs.

Gladstone Park isn’t merely “nearby” as the school claim. It’s part of the space they want, and any road from Parkside to the school would have to go through Gladstone Park itself. The importance of Gladstone Park and the William Gladstone Open Space cannot be overstated.

The school also claims that Brent Council considered building on the Open Space in 2005. That’s being economical with the truth, to say the least. In 2005, Brent looked at every piece of land they owned to identify a site for a second City Academy at Wembley. The William Gladstone Open Space came last on the list and was rejected out of hand as totally unsuitable. Nothing has changed since them.

I was contacted by the school in August last year and I, with another fellow councillor met them in September. I made it clear then that I thought any idea of building on the open space was utterly wrong, would be fiercely resisted and that other options were available. Indeed, I suggested several to them, including other Brent owned properties.

Residents then started to approach me, to express their fears for what is the heart of our community. They are the ones – as it should be with any grass roots campaign! – who are leading this and who have pushed this campaign along. They’re the ones who’ve spent every evening and all weekends knocking on doors. They’re the ones who’ve set up Facebook pages.

Kilburn Cosmos, our terrific local rugby team, would be devastated if these plans went ahead. It would mean the loss of one of their essential rugby pitches. And, by the way, over a quarter of a million pounds was spent on that pitch very recently. When Cosmos applied to build a tiny club house on the Open Space, they were turned down almost instantly by Brent Council.

William Gladstone school was closed due to failing rolls in the early 1990s. This was in part because of poor transport links and also because of the nature of our Dollis Hill feeder schools. Nothing has changed since then.

There are three local primary schools in Dollis Hill. One is Orthodox Jewish, one Catholic and the only non-faith school, Braintcroft is directly across the road from Crest Academy.  Crest is having £40 million spent on it and will be using brand new buildings from September.  Gladstone School tells me that they only approached Braintcroft to assess their interest last week! Neither Our Lady of Grace nor the Jewish school will act as a feeder school to Gladstone. It’s also very unlikely that Braintcroft would, as they feed to Crest and to schools in Wembley. What that means is that the pupils attending Gladstone would be unlikely to be local children who could or would walk to Gladstone School. Again, the 2005 Brent Council report clearly stated this.

The small primary school at the bottom of Parkside does cause some issues with traffic and parking at the beginning and end of the school day, as pupils travel from a distance. That school is, however a very good neighbour indeed and works hard to alleviate the difficulties. However, as part of their own small planning application, further double yellow lines will be put on Parkside.

The proposed site has no access roads. Parkside and Oxleys Road are both cul de sacs. Extending Parkside would mean encroaching into the park, and extending Oxleys Road would mean  traffic, including construction traffic driving directly through a quiet residential housing estate.

The Open Space is not served by tubes or busses. When Brent assessed the land in  2005, it scored the lowest possible mark for transport using the PTAL rating, which measures non car accessibility in general. That study also said that the railway line bordering the site made it difficult for primary schools in the south of the borough to get to the Open Space. , Those are the schools that  Gladstone School has canvassed and where any  interest seems to lie. There are no direct bus routes.  The  226 serves the south side of the park and is infrequent, requiring changing to other bus routes to reach most of south Brent. The 232 on Dollis Hill Lane is also infrequent and serves the St Raphael’s  Estate  and Brent Cross.  There’s a railway line, but that’s a goods and freight service, which also happens to carry waste as well as fuel to Heathrow Airport.

The school also claims they were asked by Brent Council not to campaign for the site and thus stir up local feeling. I find that hard to credit and have asked for confirmation from Brent officers. They also claim to have consulted widely: surely those claims are contradictory?

The school is now petitioning for Brent Council to consult on the proposed school. It actually isn’t down to Brent Council, for once, to consult with residents about the school and its location. That can’t happen until a formal planning application is sent to the council. It’s up to the school to talk to local people, and that’s been sadly lacking. I’m a local resident. I wasn’t contacted. I know that Braintcroft, for example, were only contacted last week. I’ve also been told that Gladstone School has been contacting schools outside Dollis Hill for two years.

As I said at the outset, this isn’t about the existence of the school, this is about proposals to use a location which is not only utterly unsuitable for the school, but deeply damaging to our community. I’ve rarely seen such a depth of anger and disquiet here. We love our green space and want it left for us and succeeding generations. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Chaotic scenes at Gladstone Free School 'consultation'

There were chaotic scenes at the Crown Moran Hotel in Cricklewood tonight when locals clashed with the Gladstone Free School organisers over plans to build on Metropolitan Open Space next to Gladstone Park.

It was clearly a  mistake to combine a meeting for parents about the proposed curriculum and school uniform with a statutory consultation about whether the school should go ahead and sign a funding agreement with the DfE.

Ray Watson, who has worked for the DfE on academy conversion and the setting up of free schools,  and spoke for the governing body on legal issues, found himself in trouble when challenged about whether the consultation was 'clear, concise and transparent' s required, about the length of the consultation, if the free school would deprive local authority schools of funding, and whether a building would be ready in time for the 2014 intake.  He denied that Brent Council had said 'no' to the use of the site for a free school 'for the simple reason that no planning application has been made' but reliable sources have told me that the Council has made it clear in talks with the free school provider that they were opposed to the use of the Gladstone Park site.

A governor fared no better when challenged whether she was 'local' and her reply, 'Yes, I come from Barnet'was greeted with gales of laughter.

A speaker from the floor said he had contacted Crest Academy and Whitefield schools and had found that there were 160 vacancies each for both girls and boys at nearby Crest Academy and for 50 boys and 60 girls over the border in Barnet. He claimed that the argument that the new school was needed because of a shortage of school places was therefore wrong.

Paul Phillips, the principal designate of the free school, who looked increasingly dejected as the meeting went on,  gave an account of the school's small school structure, (120 children in each year group - 3 classes); its commitment to a broad, engaging and 'personalised'  curriculum which went beyond examination preparation, and its provision of a model more akin to what existed in primary schools and that would enable a smooth transition.   He had worked in  the state sector for 27 years and in 11 schools.

The account was listened to carefully but afterwards people felt much of it would be said by any good local authority school.

The issue of the site kept coming back and it was clear that there was real anger from local residents about the threat to their green space and at times this became an argument between prospective parents and residents with accusation that a middle class elite were trying to set up a school for themselves on the community's land.

Asked if the meeting had been deliberately arranged in a pub to discourage Muslim parents the free school oirganisers said 'no' and offered to hold another meeting in non-licensed premises.

Challenged on what would happen to children who were due to start in Year 7 at the Gladstone Free School in September, just 8 months away, if not site had been acquired and there was not building to move into,.  Ray Watson said there had been a similar scenario in Bradford when a free school opening was deferred. He would hope that the parent would have also applied for places elsewhere but that Gladstone would work with the local authority to find the children places. Which would suggest that they may end up in Crest after all.

Eventually the meeting split into two halves with the 32 parent or so, going off to another room to discuss uniforms, curriculum etc while the remainder, mainly residents, stayed being and had an an ad hoc meeting to organise their opposition.

My own position is that I am opposed to free schools on grounds of principle: they fragment the local authority schools system, they are not democratically accountable to local residents, they take up funds that could be used to support local authority schools, they often employ unqualified teachers and in the case of Stem 6 in Islington undermine basic teacher conditions of service. I am also against the loss of green open space in a borough that needs to protect every inch it has.

The green space that may be lost to Gladstone Free School

I thought it would be worthwhile, before tonight's consultation on the proposed Gladstone Free School,  to take a look at the proposed site on the Metropolitan Open Land next to Gladstone Park.

I spoke to Anna, a local resident and Marcia who is the site representative on Gladstone Park allotments. It was very blustery today so please excuse the sound quality. However, the pictures on their own tell the story of what might be lost:

Copland staff declare 'no confidence' in IEB

Last Wednesday, in a joint union meeting, Copland staff passed unanimously the following vote of no confidence in the IEB (Interim Executive Board)  drafted in to run the school by Brent council after the sacking of the democratically elected governing body last July.  The resolution reflects the continuing and growing concerns of staff, parents and students on a range of legal, financial, democratic, procedural and professional matters.
The resolution, a copy of which has been forwarded to the head of the IEB, Grahame Price, reads:
Copland staff have no confidence in the IEB as they:
1. Continued and oversaw a massive, indiscriminate, hugely expensive voluntary redundancy programme in the  summer that took no proper account of the curriculum and failed to protect it to the detriment of pupils' education and the school.
2. Failed to take action to improve the school’s  intake
3. Failed to press action to get any of the money (£2.7 million) returned that was removed from the school under a previous administration, while at the same time claiming every cutback and redundancy was necessary on financial grounds.
4. Secretly applied to the DfE to turn Copland into an ARK academy without informing, never mind consulting, and not even providing a time line to staff or parents.
5. Have refused to allow an independently overseen secret ballot of staff or parents regarding their proposal, or properly negotiate on it,despite the Unions offer to pay for such a ballot.
6. Have engaged in a fundamentally flawed and unfair 'consultation' procedure over support staff redundancies and are seeking such wide scale redundancies both in teaching and support staff that theeducation and well being of the pupils can only be harmed.
7. Have adversely affected the school's finances by drastically reducing the 6th form numbers.
8. Have actively pursued an anti union agenda;
a) unilaterally abolishing the school's JCC
b) declining to formally consult the unions over the ARK proposal
c) unlawfully not allowing school union reps to go on training courses

Staff also voted unanimously :
 That a complaint be made to all relevant authorities and bodies** on the basis of the no confidence motion and any other irregularities that come to light
**E.g. Brent Local Authority, Brent Audit and Investigation Department, The Audit Commission, Teacher unions, Michael Gove, DfE
 That legal action be investigated following the successful judicial review by Barking and Dagenham Council in support of Warren Comprehensive school with a view to taking legal action over the attempt to force academisation without proper information or consultation.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Gladstone Free School accused of land grab

As the infamous case of outstanding Sulivan Primary School's closure to make way for Fulham Boys' Free School  is hitting the headlines, see BBC London News later tonight, Gladstone Free School is accused of a land grab in Brent in this guest blog:

Residents,allotment holders, representatives of Torah Temimah Primary School close to the proposed site of Gladstone Free School (currently allotment,a green open space and a hired rugby pitch (Kilburn Cosmos RFC) alongside the north of the  railway line as it passes through Gladstone Park (at the bottom of Parkside (off Dollis Hill Lane) NW2) will be attending the consultation by the proposed Gladstone Free School on Monday 27 January 2014 at 6pm at the Crown Moran Hotel in Cricklewood.

The land is Metropolitan Open land and Brent Council has already turned down an initial application - however recent enquiries to the Gladstone Free School (LINK )  have discovered that this open land is now the favoured site of the Department for Education and the governors of the Free School.

The Gladstone Free School is scheduled to open in September 2014 and apparently a temporary building is planned on the open land.

The backers of the school claim that there is a need for a new local secondary school - in fact there are many vacancies for September 2014 at Whitefield School NW2 and the newly refurbished Crest Academy ..both schools are within two miles of the proposed free school.

Governors argue that the site is where the former William Gladstone School stood ( until foolishly closed by Brent Council 20 years ago).This is false - the former site of the school is now a housing estate including Campbell Gordon Way.

From the school website. Proposed school is in blue but the open space has been coloured grey rather than green
We are opposed to the loss of our open space because :

- this  is a valued recreational space used by local residents for sports,relaxation,dog walking and gardening

- there is  heavy traffic use in the area caused by the primary school parents and staff 

- a new  road system for the 800 pupil school would destroy the tranquillity of Gladstone Park - used by thousands weekly 

Please come along and make your feelings known.

Free schools were introduced  by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government in 2010 - they are state funded independent schools which do not co-operate with:
      the local Council or other secondary schools.The government hands over taxpayer money to build or convert new free schools and pay their costs.Research shows that Free Schools 
      discriminate against pupils from poor families and have lower levels of pupils on free school meals than their local catchment area.

Further note from Martin (Wembley Matters)

Gladstone Free School website has added a red running footnote at the bottom of the advertisement stating that the meeting is only to discuss the broad principles of the school. 

However the Agenda for the meeting on the panel next to this announcement includes the proposed location:
The plan for the event is:
  • Welcome
  • Background to the school
  • Vision and curriculum
  • School day, uniform, and induction
  • Proposed location and equality assessment 
  • Funding agreement
  • Summary and Consultation questions
  • Breakout groups:
    • curriculum;
    • premises;
    • completing admissions forms;
    • completing consultation form

Let Gove and Wilshaw spit blood - we'll organise for an alternative

Following on from the successful West London Education Question Time last week, I attended the Anti Academies Alliance AGM, and left optimistic that at last the agenda supported by both Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw (their squabble is more about power and ego than policy) is being challenged on a broad front.

The AAA recognised the connection between the neoliberal privatisation and austerity agendas by agreeing to affiliate to the People's Assembly. They agreed to participate in developing the education policies and actions of the PA and to support their local and national activities that accord with those of the AAA and the National Campaign for Education.

The importance of democracy and accountability highlighted by the struggles around  academisation was the subject of a motion on Parental Ballots which was agreed by the AGM.

The notion read:
The AAA notes
  • that many of the schools converting to academy status - voluntarily or forced - are doing so without proper consultation of parents
  • the recent decision of Barking and Dagenham Local Authority to organise ballots of parents in schools facing academy conversion
The AAA believes
  • that parents should have the final say on the status of their children's schools
AAA calls
  • on all governing bodies in any school consulting on academy status - whether by choice or by direction - to hold a ballot of parents
  • on all Local Authorities to organise parental ballots for all schools converting to academy status
I hope that Brent Council will take note of Barking and Dagenham's policy and adopt it. But B&D have gone further winning an historic injunction, alongside governors,  in the High Court preventing the imposition of an Interim Executive Board and an Academy Order on Warren School.(1) After Warren went into special measures a year ago a partnership was established with Rober5t Clack School and Warrens's results have risen by 16%.

The Director of Children's Services at B&D had said:
I believe the Secretary of State's proposal will disrupt the progress made, and could negatively impact on children's education.
The ruling by Mr Justice Collins is itself very interesting as he not only questions the decision itself, saying. 'It appears to me this decision should never have been made' but also questions the legislation which allows such decisions to take place in the face of local demoracy and th best interests of the children concerned.

The Judge said:
This is an extraordinary piece of legislation (Academies Act 2010). The Secretary of State has wide powers to make am IEB (Interim Executive Board) and AO (Academy Order) and thereafter consult. On the face of it that is crazy. How can he be impartial by consulting thereafter?
He went on:
(It) seems from reports the present Secretary of State thinks academies are the cat's whiskers - we know of course some of them are not.
Cllr John White, cabinet minister for  children's services, and Michael Pavey's equivalent in Barking said:
This (injunction) is a victory for both common sense and the education of our children. Our position remains that the improvements at the school, and the arrangements we have in place, are having a very positive impact on outcomes for children, and as such, imposing an academy will be disruptive to children's education.
This follows on from the Snaresbrook Primary school's victory against forced academisation where an effective parental campaign was backed by the senior management team of the school, the governing body and the local authority.

Even in Hammersmith and Fulham flagship Tory borough, the decision to close top performing  Sulivan Primary School to make way for a free school, has stubled with the Scrutiny Committee's decision to call in the decision.

There seems to be the potential for a cross-party and non-party campaign to at least slow down Gove's juggernaut.  This is only a small step though because the three main parties are still wedded to neoliberal ideas of education emphasising marketisation and the producing of children who are 'fit for work' or even in the case of some academies and free schools, 'fit for military service'.

We must both win small victories to slow down Gove's reforms but also build and win support for alternative ideas about what education is for, how it is organised, and how decisions are made.

Having been elected to the National Steering Committee of the Anti Academies Alliance on Saturday I hope to make a contribution to this strategy.

(1) Acknowledgements to paper circulated at AAA AGM

How heads can resist forced academies

It was clear listening yesterday to the parents from Snaresbrook Primary School, who successfully fought against forced academisation, that they were greatly aided by the fact that the senior leadership team, governing body, and local authority all opposed to forced academisation and supported their campaign. In this video Rob Kelsall of the National Association of Head Teachers addresses what head teachers and governing bodies can do. So far in Brent there have been at least two forced primary academies and unfortunately the local authority has not been forthright in its opposition or in its support for parent campaigners.

The Big Garden Birdwatch in Wembley

My back garden
The RSPB's  annual 'Big Garden Birdwatch' is always an opportunity to sit in a comfortable armchair, cup of coffee at hand, to do almost nothing for an hour.

I have a tiny garden but it is designed to be nature friendly and is regularly visited by birds, However, the annual observation period is subject to interference from some unwelcome visitors. A pair of pigeons will perch on the seed feeder bracket for hours. They are unable to reach the feeders themselves but their bulky presence puts off smaller birds. They peer dimly at the  blue tits who bravely flit back and forth to the feeders but don't seem to have worked out that this is not time well spent!

They are the bird equivalent of dog in a manger.

There is also a neighbour's black cat that positions itself below the feeder and mews plaintively at the clinging birds, apparently in an effort to persuade them to plummet into its open mouth.

This morning the pigeons kept away and it was too wet for the cat, but a pair of raucous magpies made up for them and kept scaring off the other birds.

Nevertheless these were my results for the period between 10 and 11am:

Blue tit (5)
Great tit (4)
Nuthatch (2)
Dunnock (2)
Magpie (2)
Great spotted woodpecker (1)
Robin (1)
Blackcap (1)
Wood pigeon (1)
Jay (1)
Blackbird (1)

Each bird is counted only once  so when there is more than one they have to be in the garden at the same time - not the total seen over the hour as many of these will be returnees. Long tailed tits, a frequent visitor in groups of six or more, are missing. They usually visit mid-afternoon. I also see chaffinches and goldfinches but have not seen green finches for a couple of years after they were hit by disease.

The pair of nuthatches are regular visitors. They frighten off the blue tits and great its before feeding. This footage taken from my window shows a nuthatch's beauty and versaitility:

Saturday 25 January 2014

4,000 petitioners demand that the Queensbury Pub be saved for the community

Busy Rascals Mums and toddlers wait to present the petition

Local residents, especially parents from the Busy Rascals group, came along in strength this week, to present a 4,000 plus petition to Cllr Michael Pavey to save the Queensbury Pub from developers. Pavey is Brent Executive member for children and families so may seem a strange choice, but that is because the Queensbury is no ordinary pub - it is now recognised as an 'asset of community value' not just as an exellent pub but as the base for Busy Rascals, a parent and toddler group and National Childbirth Trust meetings.

Pavey received the petition, not in his official role, but as a councillor committed to the interests of children. Independent Make Willesden Green Candidate, Alex Colas (on the left of Michael Pavey) was there to show his support, as was I for the Greens and there were several prospective Labour Party councillors present, but the real message was that this was a non-politically aligned community campaign that intends to fight on for the common good.

Willesden Green has lost too much in the last year or so and cannot afford to lose any more community assets. The Queensbury campaign deserves all our support.

Brent's 2015-16 budget gap could still justify council tax referendum

Reflecting on Muhammed Butt's declaration yesterday that there were 'no plans to change course' on freezing council tax for the 2014-15 budget, I wonder what his plans are for 2015-16. In October the Council forecast a deficit for that year of  £34m (see below) a huge amount that on the council's own reckoning will put essential services at risk.

As political parties are deciding their manifestos for the May local elections surely they should be saying something about this crisis waiting for them in their first year of office.

In that respect a manifesto pledge to have a referendum on increasing council tax would make sense. Rank and file Labour party members and the wider public could than have a say and it could provide a launch pad for similar moves by other local authorities.  I do not think increases in council tax are the answer to the huge cuts in local authority funding, that of course requires the restoration of adequate funding, but a national debate post May 2014 leading up to the General Election in 2015 could feed into that demand. It will certainly put the future of local government on the General Election agenda.

The referendum debate in Brent, unlike in Brighton and Hove, may be closed in terms of the 2014-15 budget but should be very much a live issue for 2015-16. The electorate need to know how the competing parties would tackle the issue.

Meanwhile on February 4th the Budget Finance and Overview Scrutiny Committee will be discussing the draft budget for 2014-15. No details are included on the agenda except for the following statement:

The Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee will discuss and make recommendations on the draft 2014/15 budget. Councillor Ruth Moher, Lead Member for Corporate Resources and Deputy Leader of the Council, will present the draft budget and answer questions from members. While the committee will lead the discussion, this meeting is intended to give all non-Executive members the opportunity to participate in the budget scrutiny process and raise any questions or comments they may have on the draft budget.
These are the figures published on Wembley Matters in October 2013 LINK that signalled the upcoming crisis:



Budget Gap at Council Feb 2013

Reductions in Revenue Support Grant

Business Rate Top-Up

Additional Council Tax Freeze Grants

Business Rates - share of growth from baseline

New Homes Bonus

Collection Fund Surplus

Council Tax Base

Other Grants

Capital Financing

Latest Budget Gap