Letter from Bassetlaw – March 27th 2016

Leon DuveenIt’s Easter weekend and we have had lovely weather on Good Friday, followed by a windy, then wet & windy, Easter Saturday.  As I am writing this on Saturday evening (I will be busy with my family all day on Sunday) Easter Day looks to be mostly dry as does Easter Monday so, in the end, not a bad break from work with plenty of chances to get out in to the garden to tidy it up after winter.

One of the side effects with spending time in the garden is that it produces large amounts of waste.  Currently, here in Bassetlaw we have to dispose of such waste by composting it ourselves, taking it to one of the two County Council Recycling Centres (and now you have to register your car to access them, I predict that their use will drop off) or simply dump it in the general waste wheelie bin to be collected in the usual way.

Why am I writing about garden waste?  It is because, after finding out that they are the worst mainland English District Council at recycling, Bassetlaw District Council have finally woken up to the fact that they are rubbish at dealing with rubbish.

The response from Cllr Julie Leigh, the Cabinet member with responsibility for dealing with rubbish, has been to do a residents’ survey (a classic delaying tactic designed to put off taking any action) which concentrates almost entirely on garden waste as if that is the only issue with recycling.

Judging from what is in the survey, the proposed solution is to charge those who want to recycle their garden waste a yearly fee for the privilege of having it collected.  I may be being a bit cynical but this won’t encourage people to recycle their garden waste when they can already dispose of it for free in their wheelie bin nor will it help deal with recycling other possible waste from homes.   Where are the proposals for collections of glass bottles, why are there not more recycling points for drinks cartons (tetra paks) than the existing three (or even collect them with other recycling as Bolsover does?

Rather than waste time with a survey about a partial impractical solution, I suggest Cllr leigh contacts our neighbouring local councils to get ideas about what works & what doesn’t otherwise Bassetlaw’s Recycling Shame will continue for a very long time.

 

Another issue in the news this week is the Tory Government’s policy to impose Academy status on all schools, primary as well as secondary, whether or not they want it.   This is worrying as it will reduce local accountability of schools (Academies do not have to have independent governors overseeing them), make sure that there are places for students in schools near where they live far more difficult and weakens the role of Teachers’ Unions in making surer their members of not overworked.

As there is no evidence that Local Authority run schools are any worse than Academies, the only reasons for pushing this idea are political.  It seems to me that at the heart of this policy is an attack on accountable Local Authorities to reduce their influence in Education, an attack on teachers as Academies do not have to stick to national pay agreements and, most of all, an attack on parents, telling them that they are not responsible to have any say on how their children are taught.

By passing control of our children’s education away from our elected representatives to unelected & unaccountable Academy Trusts, the chances are we will see more stories about corruption & conflicts of interests such as this one from Birmingham. The forced change to Academy status is certainly isn’t in the interest of most children and parents.

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The Tory plan to privatise education

Today the Tory Government have announced that they plan to turn all state schools that haven’t yet changed into Academies, regardless of the wishes of the teachers, parents or other stakeholders in those schools that so far have decided not to leave the Local Education Authority (LEA) family.

This is in spite of a recent report by the Head of Ofsted that some Academies Chains ‘have “serious weaknesses” as bad as the local authorities they were intended to replace’.  Indeed, there is no proof that Academies, either standalone ones or those in Chains, provide a better education than LEA supported schools.

Given that Academies (along with so-called “Free” schools) do not have to follow the National Curriculum, so do not have to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, including Relationship & Sex Education, it is possible that these school give their students a poorer education, focussing more on getting students through Exams than making sure they are prepared for adult life.

Given this, we must ask why this Government seems so fixated on forcing this system of school governance on all schools regardless of proof it works or the wishes of those in the schools affected?

I believe it is down to three reasons, none of which have any bearing on the quality of education.

Firstly, this is an attack on Local Government.  Education has been one of the big jobs County & Unitary Councils still do and it makes up a large part of their budget.  By turning all schools into Academies, this will take that roll away from County, City & Town Halls, away from locally accountable Councillors and responsibility will pass to unaccountable Academies (some of whom are doing away with local & parent governors) and to the Department of Education (which I heard called the worse performing Government Department on the radio today).  This Government does not like accountable councillors as they have a tendency to do what is best for their local people and not what the Tories Ministers want, so it is simpler to remove them from any responsibility in this area.

Secondly, the Tories want to weaken the teachers & their Unions.  As Academies do not have to abide by National Pay Agreements, making all schools Academies will weaken the Teachers’ Unions and cheapen the profession in the eyes of their employers.   We are already seeing teachers leave the profession in droves in this country due to the stress of the way they are treated and force to work, when their pay is cut as well, this will become an exodus and that will damage the education of a generation of young people.

Thirdly, I think that this measure is part of this right-wing ideologically driven Government plan to push all education into the private sector.  Currently the Academies that run schools are not allowed to make a profit but there is nothing to stop them contacting in services from companies that can.  Without the independent Governors to oversee what they do, much of these financial arrangements are hidden and who knows what some Academies do with the millions they get to run schools?

 

I haven’t had time to go into the other question this measure raises (& I suspect that the Government hasn’t either) like how will be responsible for making sure there are enough school places in an area or what happens to pupils excluded (often for the flimsiest of reasons) from Academies?  Both these are now the responsibility of LEAs but if they do not control schools, how can they do this?

 

I hope that the opposition parties make it very clear that when they get back into power they will reverse the retrograde step, one that moves education back 100 years.  If not we can look forward to our children & grandchildren getting an ever narrower school “education” that does not prepare them for later life and in 25 years’ time we will all be wondering where it went wrong and bemoan our failed education system.