Monday 31 March 2014


Guestblog from Neonymph

Last week staff at Copland received a message from the proposed new Head saying that she, with a group of students and staff,  ‘together’ had chosen the new school’s name. (This did seem a little premature to some as Mr Gove has apparently not yet signed the Funding Agreement for the school).  Still, it was refreshing to see that, in choosing a new name,  Ark had put its bad old sham ‘consultation’ days behind it and had involved all the stakeholders in the decision-making process. And the extent of that culture-change should not be underestimated. Only a few weeks have passed since Ark’s control-freak nature was revealed in its decision to entrust the running of the new school only to a current employee of Ark working alongside another current employee of Ark who is a product of Ark’s own  Future Leaders processing  system. 

                                                                                                       So letting the staff and students choose the new school name without any guidance from Ark signals a sea-change comparable to McDonalds suddenly allowing its employees to ignore all they were taught at Burger Academy and to start flipping their patties any old way they fancy. (And if  any cynics out there are still sceptical about how democratically the chosen name was arrived at, the words ‘students and staff’ are employed 4 times in the message, along with ‘unanimous’, ‘we’ and ‘together’ in order to set their minds at rest).                                                                                                                                                                        There’s hope for the future too in the aspirational nature of the name Ark have selected. For Sir Arthur Elvin was a man who came from nothing, came to Wembley as an outsider, built up the old Twin Towers stadium, gave jobs to the unemployed, allowed the community to use the athletics, swimming and ice-skating facilities of the Wembley complex, got his hands dirty with his workers picking up litter after an afternoon event in the stadium in readiness for an evening fixture, treated his employees in exemplary fashion and, according to local historians, had their almost universal  respect and affection.  Anyone looking for an aspirational figure would agree that there’s lots here for Ark’s managers, and particularly the hedge fund fat cats, millionaire Tory party donors  and Boris Johnson bankrollers who own it,  to aspire to. (As well as the kids of course).  

                                                 And the names that didn’t make the cut?:  well, The Bob Crow Ark was never really a starter and the long list of names suggested  by Wembley Matters readers here  LINK
probably  wouldn’t have survived the democratic scrutiny of ‘students and staff’ either.       

           Next meeting ‘we’ decide on Ark’s new ‘Ark Elvin Academy’ logo   ‘incorporating some inspirational features of Sir Elvin’s (sic) life’. Any suggestions from Wembley Matters readers would be very welcome . I’m sure that in their new inclusive, democratic and consultative mood, Ark would be delighted to take them on board.

 Meanwhile Hank Roberts of the ATL has written to Annabel Bates (Headteacher designate) about the way the decision was made:

Dear Ms Bates,

You have informed me, as a member of Copland staff, that you have decided on the name of the proposed ARK academy on our Copland Community school site, to be the 'ARK Elvin Academy'.

May I ask on what basis the committee of four staff and six students, that was set up to consider the new school's name, was selected? For example, did you ask for volunteers, was there any particular qualification, were they picked out of a hat?     

Were the committee given one proposed name, a selection of names or did they put forward their own names for consideration?

I also ask, was the Headteacher Dr Richard Marshall and the senior leadership team consulted and if not, why not? Were the Interim Executive Board (IEB) who are the governing body*, consulted? I know that the staff were not consulted, or asked for suggestions or given any options to take part in what you call “an important step forward .. for our school”. But why not? And is your proposed school logo to be decided by the same select committee?

Is this the manner in which you intend to make important decisions affecting the whole school in the future?  There has been no staff 'buy in' to this decision. Even when the name of a pet dog is being chosen, normally the whole family are involved.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely
Hank Roberts  
Joint Copland NUT Rep and ATL Brent Branch Secretary

 * The IEB remains responsible for school decisions until the funding agreement has been signed

Greens: The debate is over-act now on Climate Change

THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report’s stark warnings of the dire consequences of our continuing failure to tackle climate change on planet and people must act as a wake-up call, says the Green Party, the only party with workable policies in place to mitigate the threat and adapt for a sustainable future.
Climate change has already cut into the global food supply and is fuelling wars and natural disasters, but governments are unprepared to protect those most at risk, says the report (1) released today (31 March 2014) from the UN's climate science panel. 
Commenting on the publication today, Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, said: 
“The scientific debate is over. Climate change is a reality, here, with us today. Its threat is enormous and can no longer be ignored. 
“On climate change, governments are taking too little action too slowly in part because they are overly and unduly influenced by oil, coal and gas big business interests. In Britain, we also have a government that is incapable of understanding that the old economic model is broken and needs to be radically changed, as it is not only incompatible with dealing with climate change, but also failing to meet people's basic needs.
"The Coalition Government’s flag-waving for fracking, which will only accelerate global warming, is the latest in a long line of destructive decisions driven by corporate interest with scant regard for the negative impact on people and planet.
“Climate change and the state of our environment is going to be one of THE issues of the European election on May 22 – and it’s only the Green group, already the fourth largest in the European parliament – who are going to put it truly front and centre.
“Greens are going to hold firm on fighting for a national renewables target for each European state, demanding that Europe provide global leadership in setting a target of provide global leadership in setting a target of at THE VERY least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and demanding high, binding energy efficiency standards.”
A Green government will take bold, responsible and scientifically credible action to avoid catastrophic climate change. We will apply a contraction and convergence strategy to reduce emissions to a safe and equal per-capita level. Pursuing the necessary annual reductions of around 10% will create many jobs. We will provide free monthly carbon emission allowances and people wanting to use more than their fair share could trade allowances. Total emissions will be capped and will reduce each year in line with our 2030 emission reduction target of 90% on 1990 levels.

Katharine Birbalsingh menaces parents as well as pupils

I have already reported on Katharine Birbalsingh's letter to parents and the infamous black and white shoe lace sermon LINK which made some of them refuse the offer of a place at Michaela Free School.

She is at it again this week in a interview with the Kilburn Times LINK. She puts forward her ideas about education which appear to rest on a model of private education which is pre-Dr Arnold LINK and certainly treats pupils as empty vessels to be filled by their superiors.
“Our ethos is very much about teaching children. We do not believe in teachers being facilitators of learning and that’s too often the case.

“We believe in desks being in rows, children looking to the front at their teachers.

“We believe the teacher is a fountain of knowledge who should impart it onto the children.”
In fact the BKT quotes her as wanting to 'install' values in pupils which makes them sound like machines and not people at all.

The school will offer daily behaviour logs on pupils which they will expect parents to check on a regular basis:
“The idea is that if the child has been listening in class, they will get a perfect score, There isn’t just homework for the children but homework for parents too. If they don’t complete their homework, they’ll be hearing from me.”
It looks as if Birbalsingh's missionary zeal and her Thatcher/Gove conviction that she knows best will be targeted at parents as much as pupils.

Watch this space.

Brent Council's ambiguous approach to immigration

Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council acted quickly on the 'racist van' issue and UKBA raids on local stations. He appeared in the media to denounce the impact of such strategies on a diverse community and also condemned the estsate agents who were alleged to discriminate against prospective black tenants.

However, the Council also took part in raids on shop premises in Willesden Green alongside the UK Border Agency and have imposed dispersal orders, support by the police and UKBA on workers waiting for a day's labour in the traditional Cricklewood picking up points.

Now the lead member for Crime Prevention and Community Safety, Cllr Aslam Choudry, has circulated his March Report to councillors that states:
I have received complaints from various people in Mapesbury, Dudden Hill and Dollis Hill wards that there are Bulgarian illegal immigrants sleeping rough in Gladstone Park. This is an ongoing issue but has deteriorated recently. brent Safety, Police and Immigrations department are working together to find a solution. Again this will not be an easy but efforts must be made to ensure the safety issues are addressed.
Bulgarians of course have EU rights as I am sure Cllr Choudry  noticed during the recent UKIP induced media panic. Sleeping rough may be unsightly and inconvenient but is there any evidence of any crime result from sleepers' presence in the park - or is there an underlying assumption that they are criminal in the same way that this was applied to Romanians?  There is even some doubt about the extent of the problem and it would be interesting to see some hard evidence.

It was intersting that Cllr Choudry's email was copied in to Lee Skevington who is not a councillor but Brent Labour Party's borough organiser.

'Putting Children First' Manifesto is welcome antidote to current early years proposals

There was consternation over the weekend amongsts early years specialists and parents following the announcement of tests for two year olds.  The tests would be the logical extension of the neoliberal obsession with the grading and rating of children and their teachers as education becomes increasingly linked to purely economic goals. A base for future measurements is established at a lower and lower age as the government seeks to establish data on which to judge provision. The obsessions with data and measurement is at the expense of holistic child-centred early years education.

Formative assessment of a child should be linked to long term goals of health and happiness rather than aimed at predicting future narrow academic performance.

This was announced alongside government proposals on making the emotional abuse of children an offence. I have little quarrel with that but it comes at a time when children are subject to social and economic abuse by the government as their families suffer from benefit cuts and the disruption caused by the bedroom tax.

The Green Party's Education Policy LINK opposes testing of young children and instead advocates an approach that takes into account differing rates of child development and the  important role of play.

The 'Putting Children First' Manifesto issued today by the Save Childhood Movement brings together those concerns in a very powerful document that I welcome as providing the basis for building a consensus against the current proposals. It is certainly a manifesto that the Green Party should support.

This is what the Save Childhood Movement says: 

Across the political spectrum there is now consensus that early years provision is important for children's development and for helping parents - especially mums - into work. As identified by the IPPR the question of 'what is best' for young children is, however, a point of huge contention among researchers, policymakers, commentators and politicians - not to mention parents. Some argue against public involvement in the care of young children in principle, while others assert the importance of parents (usually mothers) being able to stay at home to look after their children (1)

In its manifesto 'Putting Children First' the Save Childhood Movement argues that governments must put the best interests of the child at the heart of all early years policymaking and expresses its concern that this is not currently the case. It calls for a much stronger focus on relationships and the importance of family life, highlights the importance of developmental readiness and confirms the dangers of pushing through universal childcare without the appropriate evidence base and significant investment in improving the current quality of provision.

As stated by the OECD "Expanding access to services without attention to quality will not deliver good outcomes for children or the long-term productivity benefits for society. Furthermore, research has shown that if quality is low, it can have long-lasting detrimental effects on child development, instead of bringing positive effects." (2)

Putting Children First - The 3 Key Elements
1 an integrated, holistic and appropriately financed system built upon
2 an evidence-based understanding of the child as
3 a citizen with developmental rights and freedoms

Developed by the members of the movement's expert Early Years Advisory Group, and with the backing of the larger sector, the manifesto sets out the three key elements and 11 key policy points that should to be taken into account for the development of an appropriate Early Childhood Education and Care System (ECEC). With the 2015 election in mind the movement is calling for all political parties to incorporate the identified elements in their own manifestos and to acknowledge the urgent need for a better balance between economic aspirations and child and family wellbeing.    
The development of a fully integrated system should:

1 respect and support the rights and freedoms of children to be provided with environments that allow them to develop all their natural dispositions and capacities to the fullest potential. This must include regular and open access to the natural world
2 re-instate the importance of early relationships and better support the health and wellbeing of parents and families
3 address inequalities and ensure that every child can develop to his or her full potential
4 ensure that the values we are modelling for children are those that we want to see in a 21st century world
5 ensure that developmentally appropriate play-based care and education governs children’s experiences until at least age 6
6 be evidence-led and have the best interests of the child at its heart. This should not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution but should be responsive to the diversity of parental and local community needs
7 reverse the existing funding curve so that we prioritise the vital importance of the early years
8 underpin all ECEC services and provision with the latest scientific evidence and global examples of best practice
9 review, consolidate and evaluate all policies and evidence through a new National Council on the Science of Human Learning and Development
10 provide formative assessment and screening of children’s development from birth and ensure that we are measuring what matters for children’s long-term health and wellbeing
11 ensure that the adults working with young children are highly trained, emotionally mature and appropriately valued and remunerated 

Wendy Ellyatt, Chief Executive, Save Childhood Movement says: 

"We are currently very concerned that universal childcare provision is being pushed through in England without due attention to the vital quality of care that includes developmentally appropriate environments, greatly improved parental support and engagement and the training and empowerment of a skilled workforce. One of the key aims of any ECEC system is to allow every child to flourish and to achieve his or her full potential and we feel there is a real danger that without the necessary quality controls English children will be greatly disadvantaged.

With this manifesto we are arguing that the best needs of the child should be at the heart of all future policymaking, that we need to acknowledge and better support the vital importance of family and community life and that there needs to be a national debate about the values that we wish to see nurtured in larger society." 

Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green Children's Commissioner for England, 2005-2010: 

"Children are our nation's most precious resource, and as Neil Postman has said in his book 'The Disappearance of Childhood', 'They are the living messages to a time we will not see.' We ignore their importance at our peril, yet this Manifesto for the Early Years' from the Save Childhood Movement comes at a time of unprecedented financial and political turbulence leading to austerity and cuts to state spending accompanied by zealous reform of education policy. What is in danger of being lost from the debate are the best interests of the child.

'Putting Children First' is an outstanding evidence-based document that should be read by every Parliamentarian and Government Minister as well as those formulating policy, alongside professionals directly involved in the care of young children in partnership with parents and carers."

Liz Bayram, Chief Executive, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY):

"We wholeheartedly support the 11 policy points raised by the Save Childhood Movement. They offer a timely reminder to all political parties that a high quality early years experience in its broadest sense supports all children to reach their full potential and that childcare is about far more than just supporting parents to work and children to do well in school."

Neil Leitch, Chief Executive, Preschool Play Association:

"In an environment of continuous change and growing uncertainty, the early years sector is in absolute agreement that one priority never changes, its commitment to giving every child the best experience of care and learning.

As early years policy is increasingly directed at getting parents back to work and competing in the global economy, we need to ensure that our children are not viewed as numbers on a Government spreadsheet or figures in an economic model.  The 'Manifesto for the Early Years - Putting Children First', gives the sector a shared voice and focuses on what's really important - the interests of the child."    

Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, Early Education:

'We welcome the Manifesto for the Early Years, which captures what really matters in its title "Putting Children First".  Early years policy must be evidence-based, and the evidence shows us that positive home learning environments and high quality early childhood education are the best ways of giving children a good start in life.  Politicians must not rush to expand the quantity of early years education and childcare without first ensuring that the quality is right' 

1. Double Dutch: The case against deregulation and demand-led funding in childcare, Institute
    for Public Policy Research, 2012   
2.  Starting Strong III - A Quality Toolbox for Early Childhood Education and Care, OECD, 2012

The full Manifesto is HERE

Sunday 30 March 2014

Natalie Bennett: Teachers are standing up for their pupils' futures as well as their own

Amidst the coverage of the NUT strike earlier this week readers may have missed the statement by Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party. Here it is:
Teachers are understandably angry about a whole host of issues that are currently devastating our education system, and they are standing up for their pupils’ future as well as their own.

They’re defending the professional standing of teachers against Michael Gove’s push to have unqualified staff teaching in academies and free schools.

Performance-related pay threatens cooperation and team-work among teaching staff, reflecting the same approach being taken between schools, which are being urged to compete against each other for pupils and results, despite the fact that there’s strong evidence that cooperation between schools produces better results. That’s been demonstrated in Brighton and Hove, where the Green-run council has significantly improved GCSE results with a cooperative approach.

Yashika not to be deported today so fight goes on

Lawyers representing Yashika Bageerathi, the 19 year old student faced with deportation, have been told she will not now be put on a flight to Mauritius today.  Yesterday her fellow students, teachers and sympathisers demonstrated in Parliamment Square against her deportation and there was a Twitter and phone campaign to persuade Air Mauritius not to accept her on the scheduled flight.

Yashika remains in detention at Yarl's Wood.

This is just a delay rather than a reversal of the decision to deport and Theresa May is still refusing to intervene in the case. The campaign has to continue for the release of Yashika the granting of right to stay.

It has been heartening to see, amidst the UKIP inspired ratcheting up of anti-immigrant rhetoric, how the school community at Oasis Hadley have risen up in defence of their fellow student, backed by staff, and gained support across the country.

It is important though to recognise that focusing on an indvidual has strengths in showing the impact of our immigration laws at a personal level, it is important to make the laws themselves a focus of the campaign. The emphasis on Yashika's 'star pupil' status and her bright future as a mathematician begs the question as to whether a run of the mill, or under performing student, would somehow not merit the support that Yashika has received. 

Surely it is the issue of detention at Yarl's Wood, separation from family and deportation into a dangerous situation, and the legal framework which allows this to happen, that are important and should apply to anyone, regardless of academic achievement?

Meanwhile congratulations to the Save Yashika campaign for their success in stopping the deportation today and bringing the issue into the national spotlight.

The school Principal and students are interviewed on this clip from Channel Four News LINK

Saturday 29 March 2014

Demonstration for Yashika 4pm today Parliament Square

Message from Oasis Academy

Dear Friends

We are having a demonstration at Parliament Square, at 4:00pm today, to call for Yashika's deportation tomorrow to be halted.

The authorities intend to force her onto a 5pm Air Mauritius flight from Heathrow at 5:00pm, alone, on Mother's Day.

Yashika is still being detained. She deserves to be at school, not locked away in Yarl's Wood as if she were a criminal.

Please join our facebook group and share widely with friends, family and supporters.
Get down to Westminster and join our protest!

We are issuing a deadline to Theresa May to address students of Oasis Academy Hadley by 8:00pm tonight.

She has intervened to stop deportation before. She must now do the same for Yashika. She has the final decision and she must make the right choice.

We want Yashika back! #FightForYashika

£90,000 per pupil free school must be stopped

There has rightly been a furore over Michael Gove's decision to spend £45m on a 500 pupil Harris 6th Form College in Westminster LINK

This equates to set up costs of £90,000 per pupil and is six times the cost of other schools of a similar size. The Independent states that it is almost certainly the most expensive school in the country.

As a governor in a local authoirty school I am required to ensure 'Best Value' for all contracts by benchmarking building proposals against similar projects and eliciting competitive  bids from at least three companies.

Michael Gove, handling millions of public money, has already overspent on the free schools project and has managed to 'lose' the title deeds of buildings and land handed over to academies. This news proves once again that he is unfit to hold his office and the Independent's claim that he was challenged by officials from within the DfE on this decision indicates that even they are recognising the problem.

Clearly there must be a powerful challenge to this misuse of public money by MPs, political parties, professional associations and members of the public.  A petition is available HERE

Friday 28 March 2014

Hundreds support Michael Rosen for Education Secretary - but he declines...

This picture I took on the 11,000 strong London NUT Strike March on Wednesday has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook with many approving comments.  Michael Rosen himself  declined to take up the role:
  •  michael rosen for prime minister! uk would definitely be a kinder place.

  • Michael Rosen This has got out of hand...730 likes! Let's take it as an expression of dissatisfaction with the present holder of the office, huh?

     at the risk of sounding sycophantic, I'm with the girl holding the placard!

  • Michael, I'm afraid that most of us are pretty serious...
  • Michael Rosen Can I make clear that I do not support this motion?!

  • you can make a banner with 'anyone but Rosen or Gove for education secretary' ?

  •  Go for it Michael. You are one of the few writers with decent ideas for education. With special courses you organise you could even get Gove and the rest of this government to rejoin the human race.
    Yes please, Michael Rosen! Preferably sometime before Alexander's in reception so we can avoid the insanity of fonix!

    I would be happy to participate in any necessary revolt to make this possible. Who's with me?

    Michael Rosen blogs HERE

    His letters to Michael Gove Letter from a Curious Parent are required reading for anyone concerned about the future of education in this country.

    How about a pre-election TV debate between Michael Gove and Michael Rosen with an audience of teachers, parents and school students? 

Act to stop Yashika's deportation planned for Sunday

Background HERE

Theresa May is planning to go ahead with deporting Yashika to Mauritius this weekend. She is booked on an Air Mauritius flight this Sunday - Mothers Day.

On Tuesday Yashika was due to fly on a BA plane but reports suggested that BA refused to fly her and the deportation was delayed.

Air Mauritius can refuse to fly Yashika this weekend.

If enough of us contact them, we can show them that taking part in Yashika's deportation will damage their reputation with the British public. 

On Sunday most people will be celebrating with their mums, but Yashika could be taken away from her mother and sent away alone. 

Please help us do everything we can to stop this. Call Air Mauritius now on 0207 434 4375. 

Zoe Thompson  along with Yashika's friends and students of Oasis School.

P.S. You can also send a message to Air Mauritius on Twitter here.

Giving a voice to child casualties of the callous Coalition on Saturday

I heard recently about a child who faced exclusion from a local academy school because of recent lateness. He is late because the family were evicted from their home and moved to temporary accommodation in a bed and breakfast hotel a long way from the school. Dad says they get up at 6.30am. I have seen the sad sight of the  family's belongings, including the children's toys, piled high in their ex-home's front garden because there was no room for their belongings in the two hotel rooms they are allocated.

I have heard about a mother having to improvise cooking facilities in the bathroom of their bed and breakfast hotel so as to be able to feed their children.

There is absolutely no doubt that children are the most vulnerable casualties of the Coalition's war on the poor.  This is something that many teachers acknowledged when they spoke to me during the strike day. They see the children every day, they see the stress in the children's parents and hear from distressed children the possibility that they may be moved to Luton, Milton Keynes, Birmingham away from their friends and family - away from their support systems. In time these families will cost the state far more in treating the consequences of this ill treatment than it will have saved in cutting benefit.

The long term impact on the stability of the family and their mental and physical health is incalculable. The impact on children's life chances hardly bears thinking about.

Saturday's demonstration aims to give a voice to these children.  They will be encouraged to wear their school uniforms to highlight how the benefit cuts, council tax charges, bedroom tax etc are affecting school age children.

I have to attend another local event on that day but hope that this demonstration gets the support it deserves.

A tale of two soap boxes at Brent Connects

Guest blog by Philp Grant

I was not able to be at the Wembley “Brent Connects” meeting on 26 March, but hope that the following “soapbox update” item which I sent in was read out:-

A “Wembley Lion”

At the Wembley “Brent Connects” forum in October 2013, I asked for the support of local people, councillors and Council Officers to get a lion head from the former Palace of Industry building put on permanent public display for the 90th anniversary of the British Empire Exhibition. The meeting responded well to my “soapbox”, and I am pleased to let you know that Wembley will soon have its “Lion” again.

Volunteers from Wembley History Society and the Exhibition Study Group have worked together with Brent’s Regeneration, Heritage and Parks sections since last October. As a result of this, one of the lion head corbels will be placed on a concrete plinth at the new open space in Wembley Hill Road, opposite York House, by the end of next month. 

The plinth will have a plaque donated by Quintain, the Wembley Park developers who gave Brent three lion heads from the demolished building. It will also have a panel giving details about the history of the British Empire Exhibition in 1924/25. This Exhibition, which helped to put Wembley “on the map”, brought people together from across the world, to get to know each other better. 

I hope that today’s Wembley community, whatever their origins, will enjoy visiting this piece of our shared local history. From the end of April, please go and see it – take your families, take a picnic, and have your photograph taken with a “Wembley Lion”!

If you go between late April and 31 July, why not combine this with a visit to Brent’s BEE 90th anniversary exhibition at the Civic Centre.

I also hope that everyone at this evening’s meeting will note from this example that good things can happen when the Council works together in co-operation with interested local people. Thank you.

I was good to be able to report back on this example of “Brent Connects” helping to provide a positive result. It is part of the consultation system set out in Brent Council’s Constitution, to encourage local people to get involved in the way decisions are made. This time it worked, but things are not looking so good over another “soapbox” I gave at the Kingsbury and Kenton “Brent Connects” in February 2014
( When I received my invitation to the next meeting of this forum I had to reply as follows:

Thank you for your email, link to the minutes of the meeting on 4 February and copy of the agenda for the meeting on 9 April, which I certainly plan to attend.

Please note that there are some errors in the soapbox feedback section of the February notes on my item headed "Respecting Brent's Constitution":

Under "You Said" the text misses the main point of what I did say (see copy attached). I would suggest that this paragraph should be amended to:

‘Mr Grant quoted extracts on consultation from the council’s Constitution, and felt that the council was in breach of them. He gave one example of how staff at Museum and Archives had been restructured while consultation was in progress on a new Museum and Archives Strategy, which should have been completed before any restructuring. This was one of a number of examples of Brent's Officers ignoring what were supposed to be council commitments about consulting with the community. He said that he was writing jointly to the Council Leader and other party group leaders, asking them to work together to find a solution to this problem, so that everyone at Brent Council respected its commitments and worked together with local people for the benefit of the community.’

Under "We Said" it states: 'The Leader’s Office has responded to Mr Grant.'

It may be that the Leader's Office intends to respond to me before 9 April, but at the moment this should read: 'The Leader’s Office has not responded to Mr Grant.' I am copying this email to Councillor Butt, so that he can ensure that a response is sent in good time before the meeting.

In fact, the only written response I have received from any of the three party group leaders on the Council to the joint letter that I gave or sent to each of them was a copy of an email from Cllr. Paul Lorber to Fiona Ledden, Brent’s chief legal officer, on 12 February. He asked her to bring the matters I had raised about Brent Officers not respecting its Constitution to a meeting of the Council’s Constitutional Working Group, and to invite me to that meeting to explain my concerns in full.

Cllr. Lorber’s email was copied to Cllrs. Butt and Kansagra, but in the spirit of the group leaders working together which I had requested, it would have been better if he had asked them to support a joint approach to Brent’s Director of Legal and Procurement on this. As it was, she swiftly replied to the group leaders, with copy to me, that: ‘the Constitutional Working Group is not the venue for discussions with members of the public, or consideration of staff related issues, [and] I therefore feel unable to comply with the request.’

So there we have it, Brent has a Constitutional Working Group, but it is not allowed, by a Senior Council Officer, to consider alleged breaches of Brent’s Constitution by Senior Council Officers. It is certainly not allowed to hear what ordinary members of Brent’s public have to say about the Constitution, a document which includes the following commitment, quoted in my “soapbox” of 4 February:

‘The Council is committed to involving the community through effective consultation and two-way communication.’ (Article 10.1)

Philip Grant

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Why a retired headteacher and current governor supports today's teachers' strike

It is simple really: teachers have no choice but to strike if they are to stop education spiralling into a crisis that will damage thousands of children. A one day strike is inconvenient - Michael Gove and the Global Education Reform Movement is a catastrophe.

The DfE and Ofsted would have us believe that the quality of education our children receive is dependent on tough 'super' head teachers and their senior management teams following government diktat. It is not.

What is important is the quality of the teaching force, their creativity and their commitment. At a day to day level is is important that they should not be tired, frazzled, over-burdened with paperwork and fearful of the next monitoring visit.

Labour and now the Coalition have put the teaching force under incredible strain in terms of workload and have accompanied this by attacks on their professionalism and their conditions of service. Pensions have been cut and contributions increased, take home pay has declined 17% since 2010 and they are now expected to work until the age of 68.

Imagine for a moment  teaching a class of  lively 5 year olds as a 68 year old! The fact is that it will be a huge strain and  bad for teacher and child. Governors and parents must realise this is something they cannot countenance. Teachers will end up retiring early due to ill-health or will be subject to 'competency' procedures that will end their careers on a sad and sour note. 

Teachers are leaving the profession in increasing numbers with many young teachers giving up exhausted and frustrated after five years. Recruitment of headteachers is in crisis. Morale is plummeting.

The introduction of performance related pay will tie teachers ever closer to target driven lessons related to spurious data based on testing. 'Standards' may go up but in reality will reflect more 'teaching to the test'.

But worse is waiting in the wings. The employment of unqualified teachers by free schools and academies is a wedge that will be used to increase the employment of unqualified teachers in local authority schools faced by declining budgets. This deskilling and deprofessionalisation is no accident because corporations such as Murdoch (Gove's ex-employer) and Pearsons are on hand to supply schools with ipad based curriculum packages for individualised learning - much cheaper than teachers and supervised by low paid teaching assistants.

I respect teachers and have seen their commitment over the years and now in the schools where I am a governor. I am not surprised that the research shows that they work a 60 hour week to keep up with the planning and paperwork. I am impressed that despite this they find time to organise and supervise residential visits with children, organise sleepovers at the Science Museum, run afterschool clubs and fund raise at the School Fair.

Their commitment to children and their learning is immense but continually undermined by government interference and bullying and an inspection system that induces fear rather than positive partnership for improvement.

Support the teachers today for a better tomorrow for our children.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Brent to tackle violence against women and girls

The Brent Executive and public gallery were hushed last night by a powerful report on 'Tackling Violence against Women and Girls in Brent' presented by Cllr Ann John.

The report, commissioned by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, was written by a cross-party Task Group consisting of Cllrs John, Harrison, Hunter and Kabir, and used a mixture of quantative and qualiative research methods into female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage (FM) and honour based violence (HBV).

Cllr John said that the language used to describe these issues had undergone a major change. It was not now seen as a matter of culture and tradition, but of human rights and the violent abuse of children.

Firm statistics are hard to find but those that do exist are likely to be an under estimate so the Task Group recommended a mapping exercise undertaken with partners and specialist charities to find the extent of the practices.

The Harmful Practices Strategy will develop services, improve the quality of recording, provide clear guidance for staff and public on reporting risk and referrals, set up a single point of contact for those affected and set out clear responsibilities for the Children's Safeguarding Board and the Safer Brent Partnership. The Assistant Chief Executive's Department will take overall responsibility.

A programme of community engagement will include awareness raising events, training for key staff from all relevant agencies and joint work with schools and colleges,

John took care to say that the various practices covered many communities including those from Nigeria, Somalia, Egypt, Middle East,Turkey, the Indian Sub-continent and Indonesia.  Very young girls could be 'cut' in FGM and she gave the example of an 11 year old girl of Kurdish Iranian origin who had set fire to herself to avoid forced marriage. She was in hospital for a long time and when she returned home was treated with derision as she had no marriage prospects. She walked out of her village when she was 13 and evetually ended up in the UK. She likes living here because 'nobody stares at me'.  Another girl who was raped as a teenager and forced to marry her rapist, is now free of that marriage in the UK and loves living here because she is safe.

It is important to recognise that groups in the various communities in Brent are challenging these practices as they are also being challenged in  countries of origin:


It was clear that school and college staff had a particular responsibility as they are in direct contact with young girls and may notice changes in behaviour, requests for a long holiday or absences from schools that may indicate a problem. As I said at training I attende don the issue it is also important that schools provide a trusted available adult for chidlren to confide in and space for those discussions to happen. Cllr John commended Islington's PSHE (Personal, Social and Health) curriculum and work going on at the College of North West London.

The report included a copy of Stonebridge Primary School's Safeguarding Policy as an example of a school taking up the issue effectively.

Leader of the Council, Muhammed Butt, who was chairing the meeting turned down a suggestion that the other members of the Task Group be allowed to speak in order to allow Executive contributions.

Executive member  Cllr Choudry said that it was important for communities to take up what was happening in their own ranks and not hide from the problems. Cllr Roxanne Mashari said that the report reinforced her belief that there should a a lead member for women's issues on the Executive to take a strategic view on such matters. She stated that recommendations were not enough, What was needed was an action plan with clear mile stones. There should be tangible actions aimed at schools with a high number of Somali children.

Cllr John said that there was a real awakening among Somali women who were very conscious that change was happening.

Assistant Director Ben Spinks will return with a plan for action in June 2014.

The Executive approved the recommendations.

Readers may find this NHS video on FGM useful: LINK

CID investigation of email fraud should delay Kensal Rise planning hearing

Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt this afternoon tweeted 'Glad to hear Kensal Rise Library consultation fraud case is being taken forward by Met police CID'.

This confirmation arrives after substantial pressure from residents that the case should not be dropped, despite Andrew Gillick, the Kensal Rise developer, reaching an agreement with the Friends of Kensal Rise Library over community space in the building.

As argued previously on this blog, in the light of the investigation and possible prosecution, the planning hearing for Mr Gillick's development should be postponed until the outcome is known. A statement from Christine Gilbert, Brent Council's Acting Chief Executive, is awaited following consultations with Andrew Donald, head of Regeneration and Planning and Cllr Ketan Sheth, chair of the planning committee.

Monday 24 March 2014

Powney misses out on Mapesbury.

Labour's Mapesbury candidates with Dawn Butler

Cllr Colum Moloney has been selected to complete the list of  Labour  candidates for the Mapesbury ward in the forthcoming local elections. He currently represents the Stonebridge ward. Three male councillors, Moloney, James Powney and Abdi Aden  were amongst the four candidates fighting for the position