Public Meeting. Ellesmere Port Civic Hall. Cheshire West Against the Cuts. 16th. March, 2011.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port Civic Hall. 16th. March, 2011.

What started out as a quiet week last week quickly became public and intensely political. Since my daughter was born five years ago – I’d scaled down public appearances and focussed on building a strong virtual presence. This blog has attracted  the attention of national mainstream press in recent months and years as regular readers will know. In touch with the Facebook group of Cheshire West and Chester Against the Cuts I was aware of a planned Public Meeting in Ellesmere Port.

The panel line-up featured Peter Middleman Regional Secretary of the PCS, Paul Nowak – Trades Union Council Head of Organising and Roger Bannister of Unison National Executive Committee (Chair: Kenny Cunningham West Cheshire Trades Council) but no women speakers. I made what I hoped was a jokey comment online about this, but then I had to put my money where my mouth was, muck in and join the line-up. With existing commitments I had less than half an hour to prepare. Don’t think I did too badly though as the audience of over a hundred people clapped at one point.

I deliberately introduced myself as having two jobs. One of them being a member of the ‘largest, non-unionized workforce in the U.K.’ – (mothers) which evoked some smiles of acknowledgement from the female delegates at the meeting.

There is a lot to say about what women are experiencing right now and I understand Merseyside Public Sector Alliance have supported the creation of a special women’s section to address the particular problems that women are facing. They say: “Women are two thirds of the work force in the public sector, often in part-time work. Job cuts will mean women and their families will face more poverty and inequality. With 500,000 public sector jobs to be axed as a result of the government’s spending review, it is likely that at least 325,000 of those losing their jobs will be women. In local authorities which will take the biggest cut – women make up 68 per cent of the workforce. The trade union movement needs to organise strike action to defend our jobs, pay and conditions”.)

Regular readers might be wondering why I’m picking these issues up on a blog entitled “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”. Backtracking somewhat and in the interests of joined-up thinking – the Early Years Foundation Stage is a statutory and compulsory curriculum introduced by the last New Labour government for children between birth and five. During the past two years I’ve tracked the impact of this curriculum on parents, teachers and children and become part of a social movement which realises : some aspects of this curriculum have been useful, but as a minimum the compulsory nature of the learning and development requirements needs to change – there is an urgent need for reform. Not only does this type of measuring take up a great deal of time and money – it distorts children’s learning and the way in which children’s abilities are perceived (see previous blog posts) putting unnecessary pressure on children, and in many instances setting them up to fail before they have even started formal education.

But the compulsory EYFS learning and development requirements and the profiling in the year in which children turn five are only two of the forces putting unnecessary pressure on children, parents, carers and teachers. There is also the government’s recent attempt to introduce league tables for five year olds on a school-by-school basis AND the highly controversial reading test for six (and five year olds). All of England’s teaching unions have come out in opposition to this test see this link. Teaching Unions Oppose Reading Test. All of these measures have two things in common:

a) They have been much-criticised by education practitioners and experts internationally AND – they are costing us MILLIONS. We don’t know how many millions exactly as the government have refused to tell us (see my Freedom of Information Act Queries) – although we can make a fair guess judging by the huge sums paid out to education consultants and companies hired by local authorities to deliver such services) and we do know that the pilot scheme for the reading test alone will cost a quarter of a million pounds. Common sense tells us that this money could be far better spent elsewhere. AND

b) Such measures exert pressure downwards on the youngest of children and inevitably foster an environment where the dreaded ‘teaching to the test’ becomes more common.

So – at the meeting I spoke for ten minutes on the international campaign to “Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds” . The campaign met with such resonance I believe because people were morally outraged that a government would target small children in this way with such an inappropriate measure. Strength of public feeling and publicity led to the government withdrawing the plan quite quickly, although I’ve left the petition in place as an ‘insurance policy’ if you like because I believe the government will try to implement this measure again perhaps later in the year. 

 What astounds me is how far removed the present government seems to be from people’s lives. At the Ellesmere Port Meeting I made several points which illustrated this.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port 16th. March, 2011

 Firstly the latest news on cuts in nursery places. If you are a parent with a child under five who cannot find or afford a nursery place – then with the best will in the world you are limited in what you can do as far as paid work is concerned. Basta.

 Secondly – there are the impending cuts in disability living allowances. My Other Half  has worked in Welfare Rights for thirty years currently for the Council who have seen one thousand job cuts already – as I mentioned at the meeting – he was awarded the Employee of the Year Award a few years ago and his team likewise gained several awards. I went to the awards ceremony and in the awards ceremony brochure he and his team were highly praised for the millions of pounds they had brought into the area with their work. Other Half filled me in on the frightening scenario we are now facing – and I read out his comments at the meeting:

“A quarter of all the government’s spending cuts are coming to benefits and tax credits. It has already started in October with cuts to help with mortgages causing more homelessness…it continues in April with deep cuts to housing benefits and tax credits which mainly affect people in work on low incomes (including our own family)..

 …it continues in April 2012 – with the abolition of long term incapacity benefit – which will affect a billion disabled people who will lose £90 a week or so from April 2012 – where at least twenty five per cent fo disabled people are going to lose their disability living allowance..(including me).”

 Thirdly – in the meeting I tried to illustrate the impact of impending or completed cuts in provision for children with special educational needs. For this I referred to Guerrilla mum’s blog. Guerilla mum and journalist Ellen Power has two children with special educational needs and has written an excellent book about “Surviving the special needs jungle”.

Ellen tells us: “I have commented regularly about the limp and woolly provision currently available to unstatemented children with SEN through the school action and school action plus categories of the graduated response process of our current system for meeting SEN. Yet the new system promises to scrap these classifications replacing them with a new tier of provision. Children will be ‘lumped together’ in this category, with some receiving pastoral care because they are disadvantaged, and others receiving support for SEN through ‘better teaching’ and schools sharing best practice. Also, the voluntary sector will be brought in to carry out so far unspecified roles. Remember, this new system will be implemented by health and education services that have undergone savage cuts and will draw heavily on untrained support from the voluntary sector. I don’t believe it is possible to improve provision for children with SEN and disabilities by cutting specialist services and replacing these with an untrained voluntary sector”. 

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port. 16th. March, 2011

The debate was lively and constructive – impossible to go into detail on all the issues covered – so this is a subjectively selective report of mine. I came across some astounding new information at the meeting via some NUT members:

The government is allegedly giving schools £20,000 each for simply considering academy status. If this is true it’s no wonder that consultation processes with parents and PTA’s are not what they should be.

Also heard from some former students of Christleton High School which has gained academy status. The price of school trips they said has already shot up – presumably making life even more difficult for children from low income families.

 As well as the huge demonstration which takes place this Saturday in London – there are many other ways of continuing to make your voice heard. Google March Against the Cuts. It’s the largest TUC backed march for decades. Sat 26th. And after the march it seems we’re going to need to keep making our voices heard.

Last but not least, there were several Labour Councillors at the meeting. They met with some criticisms of Labour’s seemingly ineffectual stance to oppose the cuts.

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