Sunday 31 July 2016

UPDATE: It is time for Veolia's Public Realm Contract performance to be scrutinised

"Love where you live'
Brent Council's bulk collection service before the Public Realm contract was handed to Veolia used to take about a fortnight from request to notification.

I have received a number of complaints about how long it now takes for goods to be collected. 

This is an example sent in by reader Paul Lorber with a 7 week gap.
From Brent Customer Services June 15th 2016
Thank you for your Special Collection enquiry. Your request for:
Item 1: Freezer
Item 2: Non Metal Bed Frame
Item 3: Other Household Waste
Item 4: Other Household Waste
Item 5: Other Household Waste
To be collected has been logged and your unique reference number is  XXXXXXX
Your items will be collected on 08 August 2016.
Please ensure the items are placed together in the front garden ready for collection.
If you have any queries or wish to change the week of your collection please telephone the Customer Services on 020 8937 5050.
 Lorber has asked what the service timescales are but remarks that if this service has been commissioned by Brent Council and is acceptable to them it is clearly poor value for money, although representing plenty of profit for Veolia.

 Lorber is fortunate in having a front drive in which the items can be placed but many residents have extremely small front gardens or none at all and is is surely no wonder that mattresses, sofas, fridges, gas stoves, lavatory pans and broken gym equipment all end up on the pavement attracting further fly-tipping.

Brent Council promised an improved service when Veolia took over but I pointed out what I saw as a weakness in the contract:
One aspect that may concern councillors is that Veolia will be responsible for monitoring itself:
The contract will be self-monitoring, meaning that the contractor is accountable for measuring, monitoring and improving their own performance with the council carefully auditing their performance. This, along with Key Outcome Targets set for each of the different services will ensure that the Contractor is motivated to deliver the services.

Veolia will also be dealing with complaints from councillors and residents in the first instance thus 'placing responsibility on the Contractor to ‘own’ and be accountable for service complaints'.
I think it would be useful for the Scrutiny Committee responsible for Public Realm to review Veolia's performance by inviting Veolia executives to answer questions from councillors and the public about the service.  Cllr John Duffy has raised a number of issues on his own blog LINK and on Wembley Matters  LINK  LINK

This should cover the grounds maintenance of BHP estates and parks maintenance which were handed over to Veolia along with street cleansing, cemeteries, sports centres and much else.  When the Council gave the Public Realm contract to Veolia they withdrew from the Green Flag scheme for parks and open spaces which had provided a widely valued external audit of parks maintenance.

One matter we have heard little about is how the litter enforcement contract, awarded to Kingdom, is working.  This was also criticised by Cllr Duffy LINK and an update on it would be useful as it was seen as a trial.  At the same time Veolia's promised role in spotting fly-tipping and acting upon it included  working with Brent's enforcement team. Is this happening?

From the original Officer's report to Cabinet on the Public Realm contract:
Fly tips will be cleared promptly. That is a key requirement. Veolia have committed their operatives to becoming “the eyes and the ears” of the council, trained to identify, report, and manage all day-to-day fly-tips using mobile devices. The initial role on all enforcement will be Veolia. Enforcement investigations will be managed as far as possible by the Veolia supervisors and managers who will ensure photographic evidence and pocket notebook records are taken to secure evidence. Once a case is correctly and sufficiently built, Veolia will work with Brent’s enforcement team to bring final prosecution. 

UPDATE; The day after this article was published Brent Council issued a press release on the Kingdom fixed penalty litter enforcment trial. LINK

Saturday 30 July 2016

Boris Johnson praises Michaela Free School: 'rote learning, discipline and memorising'

Morning Star on Michaela: Schools versus communities

Click on image to enlarge

Watch this powerful video on Ahmed and the refugee crisis by Lowkey

Brent Council and Cara Davani - at last some answers, but ...

On 21 July we published a guest blog from Philip Grant LINK , which asked some questions of Brent Council and its Leader, Cllr. Muhammed Butt, about the pay-off last year to its former Director of Human Resources, Cara Davani.

I am pleased to say that, unlike her predecessor Christine Gilbert last year, Brent Council's Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs has written to provide brief answers to the four points which Philip raised. A copy of her letter is shown below, and readers are invited to consider the information given, and to add any comments they wish to arising from what we now know about the pay-off arrangements.

Friday 29 July 2016

Residents call for support for demonstration against Heron House development on Monday

 MONDAY, 1st AUGUST AT 6.30 P.M.


Residents opposed to the planned redevlopment of Heron House in Wembley will demonstrate at the site on Monday and are calling for support from other local people. They claim that the redevelopment plans are inappropriate for what is a residential surburban area and a sign that the high-rise Quintain development around the stadium is encroaching on their homes.

They say:

This large redevelopment of Heron House will adversely affect every one of us  and it will be too late to complain if we get no support and the redevelopment goes ahead!  Your street could very well be next the speed with which these smaller developments are going up all over the Borough!

If this large monstrosity at Heron House is allowed to go up, traffic will increase and the parking situation will get even worse, if that is possible.

Many of us will be overlooked from the higher levels and in 2 years they are buying St Joseph's Social Club  to build yet another higher monstrosity to complete "The Gateway to Wembley"!  

Do we really want that right on our doorstep in our still very residential area?  We cannot do anything about the massive regeneration of the Stadium and High Road areas, but we can certainly try to stop these smaller developers, if we have the support

Inside Birbalsingh's Boot Camp - How Michaela Free School 'supports' pupil behaviour

'What's the problem?'   Headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh

Many thanks to the reader who sent me a link to the Michaela Secondary Free School's Behaviour Policy.

It is full of unfamiliar terminology such as 'SLANT-ing' - (apparently a 'good thing') and enough misdemeanours to keep most normal children in detention for weeks. Remedies, including 'self-quizzing' and 'Internal Isolation', remind me of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

However, it is in its attitude to families that we can see a clue to the approach revealed in the school meals controversy LINK.  Families are subject to discipline through their childrem.

The policy states:
Families who choose not to support the school
If a pupil misses one day of Internal Isolation (II) either because the pupil or the family is deliberately avoiding the punishment, the pupil will spend two days in II. The period of II will double in line with the number of days that the family or pupil chooses to stay away from school. So missing two days of II will result in four days of II, missing three days of II will result in six days of II, and so on. There is no upper limit to the number of days of II that could be imposed. We need wholehearted support from all families to maintain our high standards of behaviour and academic progress. In choosing to attend Michaela, families are making the choice to follow our behaviour systems. We have a system of zero tolerance. We ask that all families respect our rules and follow them.
And, just an any good dictator does, Birbalsingh reserves unlimited powers for herself:

No behaviour policy can cover all eventualities. The Headmistress reserves the right to use discretion to help Michaela pupils make better choices and learn the right lessons.
This is the 2016-17 Behaviour Policy it is signed off by the Chair of Governors, Suella Fernandes who is Conservative MP for Fareham and a member of the Hosue of Commons Education Select Committee:

Preston Community Library Saturday: Freedom in South Africa the struggle, the film and the book

Preston Community Library will be showing a film about the struggle for freedom in South Africa on Saturday evening.

After the showing there will be two speakers, South African editor Mary Omond, and publisher Geraldine Cook, who were involved in the production of a book tied in with the film, and who are acquainted with personalities depicted in the film. 

They will be discussing what is involved with film tie-ins and the particular case of this book which proved to be a hair-raising experience taking place against against the rapidly imploding situation in South Africa when the world was tense with expectation of mass insurrection and bloodshed.

The discussion will be of interest to those who were involved in the anti-apartheid struggle as well as the new generation who are using lessons from that struggle in current international campaigns.

Films are for library members, but if you are not joined up already you can join at the door. Screenings are free but donations are needed in order to put on more films.

The doors open at 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start.

Green MEP slams 'totally discredited' EDF Hinkley project

The government's decision to delay a decision on the EDF Hinkley nuclear power station forced newspapers to rapidly revise their late editions obernight.  Before the delay announcement Molly Scott Cato, Green MEO for the South West, released the following statement:
This decision is a massive blow to businesses and consumers who will now be forced to pay for some of the most expensively generated electricity on earth. It squanders the huge potential we have for renewable energy resources in the South West. This is the sector where our efforts should be channelled; renewables can come on stream quicker, more cheaply and create thousands more jobs than nuclear ever can. Given EDF’s record to date, both here in the UK and in building other similar nuclear reactors elsewhere, we can expect further delays, even higher costs and blackouts to follow.
This project is totally discredited. EDF is not trusted either by its shareholders or many of its employees, both of whom have expressed grave doubts about Hinkley. The only thing that keeps this white elephant stumbling along is a blind ideological obsession with nuclear power from the Tories and a determination to show that Brexit Britain is still open for business. This is one business we could all do without.
EDF's announcement came on the day another board member of the company resigned, describing the project as “very risky” and saying he expected EDF to move towards renewables instead of pursuing more nuclear power. 

Just days ago the National Audit Office proclaimed renewables as a cheaper option and the now disbanded Department for Energy and Climate Change estimated the cost of keeping its promise to EDF has increased to £37bn over the life of the project.

It was also revealed last weekend that French finance authorities raided the offices of EDF due to suspicions over whether the company was reporting information accurately to shareholders.

Children and Chips - Brent report weighs into the issue

Locals will be familiar with the crowds of secondary school children outside Wembley's fast food shops at the end of the school day and the all pervading smell of fried chicken and chips that wafts across the upper decks of buses as hungry adolescents cram in calories on their way home.

Brent Council has carried out a study of chip consumption  LINK and found that the largest portion represented 86% of a sedentary 10-11 year old girl's daily energy requirement.

The study found that students from schools within 400m of fast food outlets were more likely to eat takeaways at lunchtime, after school and with their families.

Brent Council is looking into the possibility of controlling the number of fast food outlets within 400m of schools.

Obesity at Year 6 in Brent is 24% compared with a UK average of 19%.

In a press release accompanying the report the Council said:
In the fight against childhood obesity in Brent, the council, via a mystery shopper, visited 23 local takeaways that were close to secondary schools and purchased chip portions for sampling. Each portion of chips was weighed and calorie, fat and salt levels were analysed.

Frying practices, chip cut, additional salt, oil type and packaging were also observed. 19 out of the 23 takeaways served a portion of chips with more than 500 calories, with four larger than 1000 calories, 50 per cent of an adult’s recommended daily intake (RI).

Four fast foot shops salted the chips without asking the customer and added more sachets of salt to the carrier bag encouraging more salting. Out of all the outlets observed only one effectively implemented the ‘shake, tap, hang’ technique to remove excess oil.

Four outlets served chips containing trans fats, with one portion sold containing three times an adult’s maximum recommended intake. Trans fats area huge health concern due to their association with heart disease and strokes and have been deemed no longer safe for human consumption in the US.

Clr Krupesh Hirani, Brent Cabinet Member for Community Well-being said:
The results from the study are cause for concern however we want to work with the fast food outlets in Brent in a bid to get them preparing, cooking and promoting their food with a healthier customer in mind.

The study did however highlight the commitment shown by takeaways who have achieved the Healthier Catering Commitment award. On average portion sizes were smaller, contained less calories and saturated fat, and did not contain trans fats.

Food businesses who adopt the scheme display the Healthier Catering Commitment logo on their business windows, doors or walls. So look out for this sign when you are next visiting a fast food outlet or café in your area and if you can’t see it – ask them why!
Summary of the report:

Michaela Secondary Free School punishes children for having hard-up parents

I suspect not many of my readers also read the Daily Mail so here is a brief summary of an on-line story carried by the Mail LINK.

Katharine Birbalsingh who hit the headlines when she became Michael Gove's darling after she told a Tory Conference that the education system was broken based on her experience at a London secondary school, is head of Michaela Secondary Free School in Wembley Park.  The school advertises its strict discipline policy and 'private school ethos' and has a laudatory comment from Boris Johnson hanging on its exterior.

The Mail story is not about the school's strict umbrella code (black or navy blue only) or its service to parents whereby they can text pictures of school shoes they are about to buy for approval LINK, but about its attitude towards the children of hard-up families.

The Mail reveals that children whose parents are behind with meal payments are put in lunch isolation, being made to sit on their own for the whole lunch hour, and are given a sandwich instead of a hot meal with dessert.

The Mail quotes a letter from the deputy headteacher, Barry Smith, to unemployed care worker Dionne Kelly. Dione had paid by the time she received the letter but her child was punished anyway:
The deadline for this term's lunch payment was 1st June 2016. You are currently £75 overdue. If this full amount is not received within this week your child will be placed into Lunch isolation.

They will receive a sandwich and a piece of fruit only. Only when the outstanding sum is paid in full will they be allowed to eat lunch with their classmates.
Birbalsingh told the Mail that the letter was sent in an attempt to encourage the parent to change her ways and support her son by paying for his food.

Sam Royston of the Children's Society said, 'No school should punish and potentially stigmatise a child because a parent has not paid for, or is unable to afford, school meals.'

Today, Saturday, Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North commented on Twitter: (Secretary of State)
 It's what you get when a Tory government sets schools "free" from local democratic control & accountable only to SoS

Thursday 28 July 2016

Brent Central and Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Parties nominate Corbyn for Labour leadership

Queueing at the Kingsgate Centre tonight (photo ex-Twitter @inductivestep)
Brent Central CLP nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership by 69 votes to 24 tonight. Hampstead and Kilburn nominated Corbyn by 96 to 54.   Brent North does not vote until August 9th.

Brent Central nominated Corbyn in 2015 and Hampstead and Kilburn nominated Yvette Cooper.

Solidarity with deported Byron Burger workers -demonstration Monday

From a group of campaigns and organisations acting in solidarity with Byron Burger workers


Last week, the Spanish language publication El Ibérico reported that on the evening of July 4th, the private equity fund* owned Byron burgers chain brought a large number of their migrant worker staff members to special 'training' session across 15 Byron restaurants in London.

When they arrived, immigration police were waiting for them and a reported 50 were arrested and deported. A further 150 managed to avoid deportation and are in hiding acording to the source.

Those deported were mostly Latin American workers. It is not clear what kind of shock and hardship their families in London are now experiencing, or whether the workers were paid their wages or any monies owed by the company.

Some of the deported workers had worked for Byron for four years. Byron were happy to use them all that time and then discard them and ruin lives overnight.

We stand in solidarity with the deported Byron workers and all migrant workers - papers or no papers.

No human being is illegal. No one is disposable. If Byron is prepared to treat one group of workers like this, how is it treating others in their workplaces?

Byron have acted shamefully and have made an example of themselves as a deeply disrespectful employer. Our protest aims to shine a spotlight on this unethical behaviour, deter it from happening anywhere else, and to support workers still working at the restaurants to resist exploitation.

* Hutton Collins Partners

Esta protesta está organizada conjuntamente con United Voices of the World Union, London IWW y London Latinxs. Mas grupos por confirmar.

La semana pasada, el peródico El Ibérico informó que en la tarde del 4 de julio, el fondo de capital privado* propietario de la cadena de hamburguesas Byron convocó a un gran número de sus miembrxs del personal trabajador migrante a una sesión especial de “entrenamiento" en 15 restaurantes Byron en Londres.

Cuando llegaron, la policía de inmigración estaba esperando por ellxs, se ha reportado que 50 personas fueron detenidas y deportadas. Adicionalmente 150 empleadxs lograron evitar la deportación y están escondidxs según la fuente.

Lxs deportadxs fueron en su mayoría trabajadorxs de América Latina. No está claro qué conmoción o dificultades están experimentando ahora sus familias en Londres, o si a lxs trabajadorxs se les pagó sus salarios o cualquier dinero adeudado por la empresa.

Algunxs de los trabajadorxs deportadxs habían trabajado para Byron por cuatro años. Byron estaba feliz de utilizarlxs todo ese tiempo para luego desecharlxs y arruinar sus vidas de un dia para otro.

Nos solidaridazamos con lxs trabajadorxs deportadxs de Byron y todxs los trabajadorxs migrantes – con papeles o sin papeles.

Ningún ser humano es ilegal. Nadie es desechable. Si Byron se prepara para tratar a un grupo de trabajadorxs de esta manera, ¿cómo está tratando a los demás en sus lugares de trabajo?

Byron ha actuado vergonzosamente y ha mostrado una imagen como un empleador profundamente irrespetuoso. Nuestra protesta tiene como objetivo sacar a la luz este comportamiento poco ético, impedir que suceda en cualquier otro lugar, y apoyar a lxs empleadxs que siguen trabajando en los restaurantes para resistir la explotación.

* Hutton Collins Partners

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Latest community news from Sufra Foodbank and Kitchen - get involved!

News from Sufra Foodbank

If you walk into Sufra over the next few weeks don’t be surprised to find groups of young people lounging in the foyer, raiding the fridge or hovering around the office.

This summer, we’ve truly embraced the hug a hoodie mantra - throngs of young people are volunteering for the charity in the office, warehouse and the garden. Although it does mean tolerating some questionable music blasting in the background (Hotline Bling is a particular favourite at the moment) there’s a real party atmosphere.

I’ve met some amazing young people in the last week. There’s 14-year-old Adam who knows how to code pretty much anything, 16-year-old Sami who can tell you everything about breeding quails and is insisting on setting up a chicken coop in the garden, 15-year-old Davina who taught herself Chinese (as you do) and 16-year-old Ibrahim (he’s the “runner” we spoke about last time) who turns out to be an amateur film-maker.

Summer BBQ on St. Raphael’s Estate
We’re opening up the party to the whole community!

This Saturday, 30 July, we’re throwing our third annual Summer BBQ for St. Raphael’s Estate. This year there will be no queues for burgers – Daniels Estate Agents have kindly donated a super industrial barbecue to mark the occasion. We just have to hope that Ahmed, Parminder and Iwona can cook 500 burgers in 3 hours!

Alongside the barbecue, Dina and Ros will be offering exclusive tours of St. Raphael’s Edible Garden, Brent Start will be running workshops on healthy eating, cake-decorating and puppet-making (which is what I’m looking forward to!). Ibrahim and Adam will be selling oreo and strawberry milkshakes.

Come along to savour our culinary delights and learn more about Sufra NW London.

Kew Gardens to Bournemouth

We’re really grateful to Brent Community Transport who sponsored two trips to Kew Gardens and Bournemouth for our food bank users, who would not normally be able to afford a holiday or a day out.

One very sweet lady was overjoyed after returning from Bournemouth. “It was great to have some time to forget about all the problems at home.” Very cute.

St. Raphael’s Edible Garden

If you haven’t been around to Sufra recently, you’ll be surprised to see how far the garden has come along! Yesterday I picked the first peach from our mini orchard – our first harvest. It was emotional. And rather bitter for my taste.

Over the next month we need some burly lads to dig out the pond. [Girls I think you can issue a challenge here MF] To be fair, it’s already been dug out. It just needs to be deeper. Come along on Sundays, between 10am and 2pm to help out. Sign up here.

Bottle Appeal

If you’re organising your own summer party, don’t forget to collect all your 2 litre soda bottles and drop them off to Sufra. So far we’ve collected over 100 bottles to build a greenhouse on St. Raphael’s Edible Garden, but we need over 1,500 to make sure the roof doesn’t leak!

Rui has been busy in the garden building the frame of the greenhouse, but the walls are looking rather bare. It’s a perfect excuse to overdose on sugary drinks.

Summer Academy

There are no spaces left (I did warn you to be quick), but if you want to sign up in advance for our Food Academy in September, download a Registration Form here.

Other Volunteering Opportunities:

This isn’t the most exciting role to be fair... We need some volunteers to do some data entry – there’s some with over 1,000 records to be input. I won’t try and sell it. Even I would struggle, despite all my talents. But if you want an invite to Nandos, drop me a line. You will have to work from the office, but we’re flexible on days/times.

If chicken isn’t your thing, or you’re vegetarian, you might want to sign up for our next supermarket collection.

It’s a bit early, but at least you can’t make the usual excuses of having planned a day out with friends. It’s Sat/Sun 3/4 September at Asda Park Royal. If you can flirt with customers, this is probably the right role for you. Sign up here.

And finally, I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.


Mohammed S Mamdani

Who is your Brent Labour councillor backing for the Labour leadership?

Labour leadership supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith have been seeking support from Labour councillors. So far only  seven of Brent's 56 Labour councillors have signed up. Statements and signatories below:


We are a group of Labour Party councillors who are dismayed by the attempt by some within the Parliamentary Labour Party to oust our democratically elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Many of us were elected in May, where in spite of predictions of an electoral meltdown, we won our seats. Voters who had previously felt abandoned by the Labour Party returned to vote for us, returned as members, and returned as campaigners.

It would be utterly self-defeating for the people we represent if now, less than a year after Jeremy was elected on the single biggest mandate of any previous leader, he was to be forced from office. It is our view that the behaviour of some members of the Parliamentary Labour Party is totally self-indulgent and at odds with what the communities we represent need. We will risk losing all those new members and enthusiastic campaigners who joined us because Jeremy offered a vision of hope for the future.

Our enemy is not Jeremy Corbyn – it is the Tory party and their plans to use the EU referendum as a fig leaf to inflict further cuts to the councils we represent.

We hope that those MPs who have embarked on this indulgent course of action will reflect on their behaviour and turn their fire on the real enemy, the Tory Party.

Claudia Hector,
Rita Conneely
Jumbo Chan

In a month’s time, we will be casting our votes for Owen Smith as Leader because we believe this is the only path forward to a Labour Government and putting a stop to the immense damage the Tories are doing to our communities and our nation.

We have closely watched the debate in our Party in recent weeks and are deeply impressed with how Owen has done. He has driven home the message that the fight Labour must lead is about tackling inequalities in wealth, power, outcomes and opportunities, across our country.

Owen has convincingly made the case that he knows how to get things done and has the tenacity and skill to advance the cause of working people. He has not shied away from saying our Party has been too timid and that he would increase taxes on the wealthy. He has set out a radical vision for a £200bn investment programme, re-nationalising our railways and putting the decision to make war firmly in the hands of elected MPs, not the Government of the day.

But there is more at stake here. There are militants in both wings of our Party who are determined to carry out a civil war against each other, whether it harms working people or not. We have intimidation and bullying in Constituency Labour Parties up and down the country. We have those who seem to prefer perpetual division to the job of winning power for the good of those we represent. We need a unifying leader who is principled and competent.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Our country faces an existential threat from nationalists and poor-bashing Tories. A new Scottish referendum is on the horizon. This is no time for Labour to keep fighting itself. The next general election has already begun. Owen Smith, with his experience, especially as Shadow Secretary of State fighting austerity, has a firm grasp of the issues and will be prepared to lead our party from day one.

Our party needs a leader who can win and is principled. That’s why we need your support in backing Owen Smith.

Bernard Collier
John Duffy
Neil Nerva
Sam Stopp

Monday 25 July 2016

In pursuit of joy: what should we value in primary schools?

Guest blog by Emma Bishton, first published on her blog and by the Local Schools Network LINK

It's been a busy couple of weeks. No I don't mean trying to keep up with the headlines or the fallout from the headlines, though I can't say that isn't also a challenge. I mean domestically. It's the end of term, so there has been a procession of concerts and (intentionally) dramatic events to attend, a street fair, a fete, end of term assemblies and so on. This year is different because it's my daughter's last at primary school. Which means, of course, that she leaves not only with a set of wonderful memories and burgeoning opportunities, but with a set of SATS results.

A week or so ago we had our school summer concert (which I help with, as I'm involved with music at school). This was the 8th of these annual events, and quite possibly the best yet. They always follow the same format: choirs, ukulele group and recorder group have a standing slot, and most of the rest of the programme is given over to pupil performances - anything from solo songs to dance routines. Pupils audition for a slot in the programme, for which they devise and rehearse their own pieces. Variety is more important than perfection - over the years we've had all sorts from Mozart on the horn to solo renditions of Take That songs. This year, one of the highlights for me was the 'Kingfisher boys' -  a group of year 3 boys (complete with baseball caps), one singer in the middle of five dancers - including some rather skilful breakdancing. It wasn't note-perfect or movement-perfect. But it was exuberant, entertaining, and above all joyful. Like a lot else in the summer concert, it was impossible to watch without smiling.

The other thing that happened that day was that their school reports came out. These, for those lucky children in year 6, included their SATS results.  In an attempt to explain the reporting of SATS results, the headteacher usefully included a flyer  written for parents by the government Standards and Testing Agency. It goes on about the government's desire to raise standards, and includes statements which of course presage an intentionally higher number of 'failures' than previously:  "As the new standard is higher than the old one, fewer children have met the new expected standard than the previous standard", and then goes on to suggest that parents go online to find out how their child's results compare with the national average (which smacks rather of trying to generate fear of failure in parents as well as pupils, rather than drawing on the more positive effects of competition). The leaflet also suggests that tests and teacher assessments help teachers in secondary school to target extra help. Well my daughter's test results didn't tell us anything we didn't already know about her or anything she didn't already know about herself. Nor, more importantly, did they tell her teacher anything she didn't already know and couldn't already communicate to the secondary school in a teacher assessment.  So what, you might wonder, was the point of all that anguish back in May?

The leaflet appears to suggest that more children failing the tests will result in them having a better "mastery of the basics" (I'm really not sure that 'fronted adverbials' are basic, but that's another matter).  But whilst it's made clear that the SATS system has been specifically engineered to create more  'failures' than 'successes', for this year at least, the leaflet doesn't explain how 'failing' might actually help a child learn.  (I can of course see how such engineering will help the government claim to have  improved standards in a couple of years time, but that's another matter also.)  It doesn't explain it because it can't explain it. Back in May, my daughter feared the tests, though in the event she did fine. That fear wasn't productive, it was just a waste of emotional energy.  And generating fear of failure in parents by frequent use of words like 'mastery' and 'expected standard' is simply unacceptable, as well as being unlikely to result in pupils actually doing better.

In our summer concerts, on the other hand, there are no failures. In eight years of summer concerts, I have never seen a child crumble on stage. True, some enjoy performing more than others, some are more engaging than others, some have practised more or display more talent than others -  but they all get up on the stage and take pleasure in having done so. Those Kingfisher Boys applied themselves to the task, thought creatively and worked collaboratively, listened to advice and put it into practice (and rose to the challenge of performing in front of at least 200 people). All rather useful skills for life, let alone for learning.  But SATS tests don't value any of those attributes at all. Instead they have tested whether my daughter and her peers can produce a piece of writing in time and remember various facts and processes. I'm not seeking to denigrate the value of learning these things in themselves (except much of the content of the SPaG test, of course). But I question their value for our children's overall emotional and cognitive development. Children find joy in things that they value and that they get satisfaction from learning - whether that's on stage, on the cricket pitch or indeed, with a skilled teacher, in a classroom. And that joy spurs them on. Testing for the sake of testing, on the other hand, eviscerates joy.  I am heartily relieved, as my daughter prepares for secondary school, that she has been at a school which values the creative antics of boys in year 3 as highly as a few test results.

Falls Prevention & Bone Health: Have your say on new service

NHS Brent CCG is aiming to introduce a new service on Falls Prevention and Bone Health at an event on Thursday 4 August. There is still an opportunity for you to register for this event.  

Event details are:

Time: 10.00 a.m. to 12.30p.m.
The Boardroom, Wembley Centre for Health and Care
116 Chaplin Road

Refreshments and a light lunch will be provided on the day. You have been invited to the event because it will give you an early opportunity to help us to shape a new service for patients and the public in Brent.

Please register by emailing and stating in the subject box: Falls and Bone Health event.

Headteacher: We must act together to make sure SATs pain does not happen again

This plea from a primary headteacher appeared on Facebook about 12 hours ago and has received much attention. The Green Party has a long-standing policy in favour of the abolition of SATs and opposition has strengthened amongst parent groups and teachers.  
I am a primary head teacher and have taught in primary schools for the past 26 years. I started teaching when SATs were first introduced and have never thought they were a good idea but this year has been a disaster from start to finish. Before I explain why that is I want to apologise. I want to say sorry to my staff and my children. I am sorry that I didn’t act sooner, that I wasn’t brave enough to stand up at the start of the year and say no. We all knew it was going to be bad but I really couldn’t have imagined it would be this bad.

The year has been chaotic from start to finish. The testing regime being just one part of that. From the Key Stage 1 SPAG test published on line for several months without the DfE noticing, to the terrible Year 6 tests which have left nearly half of our Year 6 pupils being told they are not good enough.

So to those young people moving on to secondary school I say to you well done for working hard and trying your best. Your school and your teachers have not failed you – this government has.

Over the past few days I have heard some terrible stories – head teachers sent home and told not to return, Year 6 teachers blamed for the results and told they can no longer teach in Year 6 – these are people’s lives, people’s livelihoods – teachers went in to the profession to make a difference – we have a system set on destroying them.

To my staff and my children – again I am sorry – you are amazing – each and every one of you – you are individual, you are unique and no child should ever have to be tested on a standardised test because you are not standard. No teacher should be made to feel they have failed when all they have done is work as hard as they can - often too hard to implement something which shouldn’t have been implemented.

So now a request to all of you – parents, teachers, head teachers, school staff. If you agree that these tests are wrong and should go. If you really believe as I have heard many of you say that this year must be the last year that we put our children through this then please do not allow the 6 week holiday to numb your pain. Please remember what this has done to our schools and our children and please do something – write to anyone and everyone, put pressure on politicians and let us all together build a campaign to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Our children should leave primary school confident learners who are looking forward to secondary school, keen to learn and develop their skills but also people who have respect and understanding for those around them and who will grow in to well-grounded young people who can contribute positively to our society.

I for one cannot do this again I hope others join me to say enough is enough. Our children deserve so much more.

Sunday 24 July 2016

Butt attacks BDS as he apologises for sharing 'Israel slur'

The Veolia protest outside Brent Civic Centre

On July 14th the Times of Israel published an article by Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt headed ‘I’m sorry for sharing Israel slur – boycotts are wrong.’ LINK

The article came a considerable time after the minor storm that blew up over Butt’s sharing of a Facebook post of a  video that showed an Israeli soldier  mistreating a young Palestinian girl.  It was not so much the video that led to Butt being accused of anti-Semitism but a comment beneath the video that likened Israel to Isis.

Sharing the video was taken as Butt’s approval of that sentiment.  Anyone who engages in social media will know that in sharing a Facebook post decisions made in seconds and few would check all the comments that are made beneath the post.

At the time, when it appeared that the  allegation may have been used against Butt ahead of the Brent Labour leadership election contest, I tweeted that there were many better reasons to oppose him.  It was at a time when the mass media were in active pursuit of Jeremy Corbyn accusing him of anti-Semitism through his support for justice for the Palestinian people and Butt appeared to have been caught in the backwash.

At the time other Labour figures, including councillors, had been suspended while accusation of anti-Semitism were investigated and the Chakrabarti  inquiry was set up.  In the light of the publicity some were surprised that Butt had not been suspended.

There are several reasons why Butt’s article is curious. 
  • It is written in a style utterly difference from any of Butt’s previous utterances and articles – almost as if it had been written by someone else entirely.
  • It comes long after the initial controversy, at a time when the Chakrabarti report appears to have calmed things down regarding anti-Semitism and the media have found new grounds for discrediting Corbyn.   Was the article aimed at rehabilitating Butt after he resigned from London Councils as it lead on Equalities following the Facebook controversy?
  • Butt’s linking of his apology to opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a non-violent campaign aimed at changing Israeli government policy towards the Palestinians, including the Gaza blockade and the building of illegal settlements.
In his article Butt states:

As far as I can see, it [BDS]  does nothing for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It only provides more ammunition to those who wish to divide and polarise. What it does do is make our own Jewish community feel isolated and disturbed as to why the world’s only Jewish state appears to be the focus of the most vociferous boycott movement. So when boycotters wanted Brent to cancel its contracts with vendors who do business in Israel, the decision to say no was one of the quickest and easiest I have had to make.

The rather vague reference to ‘vendors who do business in Israel’  can only be a reference to the Bin Veolia campaign, of which I was a part.  The campaign was supported by many groups in Brent including Jews for Justice for Palestinians and was backed by Brent Central Labour Party GC, Butt’s local party. LINK

Our case was that Brent Council should not be handing over cash from Brent’s residents to a company that at the time (it has since withdrawn from these activities, arguably because of the national and international campaign against its involvement) provided infrastructural support to Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

Although ambivalent about boycotts of all Israeli goods, Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, is clear that the settlements are a ‘gross injustice’. LINK

Grahame Morris MP, Chair of LFPME said:

We should not have to boycott settlement goods; we should not be allowed to buy them in the first place. I am appalled that the government are more focused on preventing boycotts and disinvestment from the illegal settlements rather than attempting to end settlement trade.

This undermines their commitment to international law, human rights and resolving the conflict.

Cllr Butt’s statement claims that it was his decision to say no to a Council boycott.  At the time he said that the decision on whether to boycott Veolia did not rest with him but with officers, particularly Fiona Ledden, head of  Brent legal and prcorement at the time. He was concerned that Veolia, a large French-owned multi-national would take legal action against the Council.

The decision was to be based on external legal advice (source never revealed despite requests) and although campaigners were denounced as having a political agenda the Council decision would not be made on political grounds.

Now, retrospectively, Butt is claiming in an effort to bolster his credentials, that it was a political decision not to boycott Veolia, and one made by him personally.

The Liberal Democrat opposition at the time was  refused permission to put a motion  on the issue on the advice of Brent Council officer. LINK

The Brent Bin Veolia campaign had a two-pronged approach, mobilizing popular support for the cause and taking on the Council’s legal arguments via legal advice of our own.

The position regarding local councils is summed up by a recent update from the BDS Movement LINK

In a typically straightforward statement Archbishop Tutu made the case for BDS back in 2014 having visited Israel and Palestine to see things for himself:

We could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through... non-violent means, such as boycotts and disinvestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime.

In his article Butt refers to the importance of Israel in the life of Brent’s Jewish residents ignoring the fact that many of those supporting the Veolia campaign were themselves Jewish people who support the Palestinan cause.

He does not mention his responsibility towards Brent residents of Palestinian origin.

Follow this link for the Free Speech on Israel submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry LINK

This is the full text of Muhammed Butt's article:

I’m sorry for sharing Israel slur – boycotts are wrong MUHAMMED BUTT
JULY 14, 2016, 11:42 AM 

The Labour Party – my party – is currently going through challenging times. Frankly, the behaviour of some of my fellow members has not been good enough, particularly towards the Jewish community.

 I too fell short of what standards should be expected in a thoughtless act. Earlier this year, I shared a post on Facebook without properly checking the comments below it.

The post contained a video of a violent incident between an Israeli soldier and young Palestinian girl. As a father of a daughter, I felt an instinctive empathy for the young girl and shared the video.

This was a mistake, not least because I had not read the comments below the video.  One made a claim that was both wrong and offensive: that Israel was in some way comparable to the so­ called Islamic State. I don’t believe this and have never believed it. You can sincerely believe that Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people is a tragedy for both parties, while refusing to indulge in that malicious and lazy smear.

As a local authority leader, I work hard to stop young people and children being groomed into the kind of extremism that ISIS represents. I do not need to be told how evil they are: They have deliberately killed thousands of civilians, used rape as a weapon of war and deployed mass executions as propaganda tools.

 ISIS represents nothing but fear. Israel, however, always offers hope. Right from its Declaration of Independence, it pledged itself to democracy, the rule of law and the equal treatment of minorities – an inspirational determination that was born at a time when much of the world lived under dictatorship.

However, whether on purpose or by accident, I shared the comment that made a wholly inappropriate and offensive comparison. I have to accept responsibility for that and say again how sorry I am.

I am the proud leader of Brent, the most diverse borough in the UK. I take my commitment to all our communities very seriously. We must all stand together and that means respect, understanding the realities of each other’s lives.

 I understand how critical Israel is to Jewish life in the UK: It could only be, when a plurality of the world Jewish community – more than 40 percent – live in Israel.

My Jewish residents will have parents, siblings and children in Israel.

That’s why I have no time for boycotts. As far as I can see, it does nothing for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It only provides more ammunition to those who wish to divide and polarise.

What it does do is make our own Jewish community feel isolated and disturbed as to why the world’s only Jewish state appears to be the focus of the most vociferous boycott movement.

 So when boycotters wanted Brent to cancel its contracts with vendors who do business in Israel, the decision to say no was one of the quickest and easiest I have had to make.

I have always felt a huge amount of solidarity with the Jewish community. My family was forced out of Kashmir. I know what it is to be from a victimised community, looking to find a safe place and a welcoming community in which to live. When they came to Wembley, Jewish neighbours were among the most welcoming – not to be taken lightly during the often difficult 1970s and 1980s.

I share the frustration of the Jewish community at how long it is taking Labour to grapple with the problem of anti­Semitism in our ranks. It makes me very sad to think that I could have been a part of making matters worse. You can be sure that I will be much more careful about what I share in future.

For me the Chakrabarti report has not gone far enough. I would have liked it spelled out that not only should Zionist not be used as a term of abuse, but that Zionism is an entirely legitimate belief. As it happens, British Zionist groups such as Yachad are doing far more for peace than the official boycott movement ever has.

I can pledge that, for Brent Labour, it will only be the start of our thinking on the issue of antiSemitism, not the end. We can, we must and we will go further to make sure that Jews feel valued and safe in our party and in our borough, working with our local synagogues, the Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust, and the local police.

I personally look forward to travelling to Israel in the near future to see the facts for myself. Whatever our disagreements about the Middle East, making outlandish claims such as Israel being in any way comparable to ISIS do not help the cause of peace. They only cause hurt and unhelpful divisions. We can, we must, do better.