Archive for the ‘Cuts in Education’ Category

Campaign for the Book. West Cheshire Council Staff take Industrial Action.

This blog has developed organically over the course of two and a half years. My daughter is now six and a half. We are acutely aware of the damage that has been done by testing young children too much. And too much too soon, as has been evidenced by the mistakes made with the early versions of the Early Years Foundation Stage (which has now been reformed) – the coalition government’s proposed league tables for five year olds (which we managed as a grass roots campaign) to push back.

As parents we refused mostly wholesale the homework imposed on our child from the age of four – the testing and the tables. Instead we read stories to our daughter consistently and had conversations and followed and engaged with the guidance of fellow co-contributors to the book ‘Early Learning and the Erosion of Childhood’ which was published last year. We were in good company my daughter and I – collaborating with the best of early years educators internationally.

So it was an immense privilege for my daughter and I to stand on a picket line together with Alan Gibbons – children’s author today and founder of the ‘Campaign for the Book’. You see as parents we refused every test and measurement of our child that there was going – it came as no surprise to us that approaching the age of seven – our daughter has not only been awarded a prize for her descriptive writing at school – but is now amongst the VERY top of her class at spelling. How did that happen?

It happened in large part because as a family (and as a community) we love books. And accordingly, we love libraries. Stuff the tests. Libraries are free and have always been an important part of our culture. They are also a cheap, warm, safe and secure place to visit with small children (especially when the weather is cold or in the holidays).

So we supported our libraries today in Chester. West Cheshire Council staff (not just librarians) are currently taking industrial action see this link for video by David Holmes of the Chester Chronicle. It always amazes me how PR people in large organisations are often ignorant of the sheer unstoppable force of word-of-mouth communication. Alan Gibbons remembered how my Other Half campaigned on the miner’s strike twenty years before. There wasn’t much we needed to explain. Alan reminded us of how the U.K is twenty fifth in the Pisa rankings and planning to shut down many of it’s libraries. South Korea on the other hand I recall he said is number five on the Pisa list and they are opening more than one hundred new libraries.

So it seems as has so often been the case throughout history and across the world, those who love books are in the forefront of resistance to the canker that is the coalition. Joined in Cheshire West  by Home Care Workers, Housing Network Staff, Parking Enforcement Officers, Park Rangers, Central Control Officers, CCTV Officers, Streetscene Operatives, Children’s Home Staff, Social Workers and Family Support Workers.

Cameron and co. who on earth do you think you are fooling?

Council Staff are taking Industrial Action – UNISON PRESS RELEASE FOLLOWS:

Staff across all Council Services are currently on strike over the Easter holiday period. 100’s of staff have been forced to take strike action following the rejection by the Council of new proposals that would have avoided this disruption to services across the Borough. The Council by rejecting new reasonable proposals from the trade unions that would have avoided this strike – have only made matters worse.

The issue:

This Council, unlike most others in the North West, has decided to remove the pay enhancements staff receive for working weekends, bank holidays and overtime. They are also cutting the rate for working nights.

UNISON believes that paying more for working nights and weekends is fair and proper. It reflects the real cost of working 6 days, missing family life and of higher child care costs.

All major employers make such payments. We are not prepared to see ours taken away because of a financial crisis we did not cause. We are already suffering redundancies and a 3 year pay freeze, which has cut our real pay by over 10 per cent.

In addition to that – the Council have actively sought to undermine the strike action by offering double pay to people who are prepared to undermine their colleague’s action.

Other Councils have all managed to negotiate with the trade unions – no other Council has gone this far; and we believe this is an ideological attack on the workforce.

If the Council had put as much effort into resolving this dispute, as it has into undermining lawful action, we would not be in this position today. We hope you will understand why we are forced to take this action and you will support us in the fight.

SOURCE: west cheshire UNISON.


The Truth about Academy Schools. Public Meeting Chester. The verdict.

Last night’s public meeting at the Mollington Banastre hotel with representatives of the NUT, the NASWT, ATL and UNISON went well. I was speaking as a writer and a parent and promised I would make the transcript of my talk available on this blog – for those who couldn’t make it – or for those who want to add to and continue with the discussion.

Copy Follows:

I’ve been asked to give a short talk. Initially I chose ‘The potential impact of academies on parents and children’ as a heading and then quickly realised how ridiculous a title it was – more like a dissertation… so let’s narrow  this down to:

‘Towards an analysis of the potential impact of academies on parents and children’.

This title kind of implies that we’re on the way but we don’t have all the answers…(if like me you’re a stressed out parent and you nod off during this talk – you can catch up with it later on

I wrote a chapter for a book on education last autumn. The book is “Too Much Too Soon – Early Learning and the Erosion of childhood’. The chapter was called  “A Parent’s Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”.

I described how a new parent (or a parent who is new to a particular school) may not know how the school system (and the individual school) works. This is also highly relevant to any discussion on academies – parents are subjected to a great deal of propaganda – about the system itself and about systems-within-the-system such as the Early Years Foundation Stage).

Where does this propaganda come from? In simple terms it is created by

a) The government

b) The government and businesses sending PR and targeted press releases to the media which some  journalists no longer have the time to analyse properly as they should. Funding for investigative journalism is increasingly difficult to find.

c) Local authorities (following the government line)

d) And schools themselves (websites, PR) e.t.c.

Of course parents are savvy and inventive, they were not born yesterday – but many of us nonetheless find ourselves in an extraordinary vulnerable position as far as sending our children to a particular school is concerned. Personally I feel you never really know what a school is like until your child has been there for a good while or until you start to work there yourself, as a member of staff.

I’ve been asking parents about academies locally and writing about it. I spent a day in the company of parents from Shore fields Academy as they protested at the University of Chester and at Chester Town Hall. You’ll find an account of what they had to say on the blog mentioned above – I heard many different voices – most of them said the same thing: “There was no consultation” – “Not one person wanted this” – and having lived through the experience of seeing their school turned into an academy one parent summed things up: “What we are seeing now in our society is institutionalised corruption”.

Our daughter is six and she attends xxx primary school. I would not have said when she started there that it was a good school. Our current headmistress with whom I have had a great many interesting (and often difficult) discussions about education – together with her team – is succeeding in improving the school.

When my daughter started there some years ago – parents were kept at a distance – outside the gate – quite literally even when it was pouring with rain we were no allowed in to the school gates at pick up time. We didn’t even have a parent teacher association. There was a lot of bullying.

And then the culture started to change. School staff asked parents for their opinions, parents took part in all manner of events, maths days, school garden project, people started to relax more and work together more there were visible improvements. Parents teachers and head navigated their way through the painstaking process of forming a PTA and in the first year won a national award from the National Association for PTAs. I mention all this as in academy schools systems of governance in contrast appear to be undemocratic.

I’m not going to reiterate the detailed and excellent arguments put forward by the unions. I’ve noticed that some assume that I am against all academies and free schools per se. I’m not sure I am. What I’m saying is more pragmatic than that something more like “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it”.

State schools can work and they do work. I believe that as long as parents work together with the school, as long as their suggestions  are really listened to, taken up AND mechanisms are in place for criticisms to be listened to and parents are not marginalised – they can be effective and happy places. Yes, we need to change govt. policies and I will never agree with some aspects of the state school system as it stands for example sending school to school at four is far too early (the arguments on the one are in the book I mentioned – fellow co-contributors include Barry Sheerman the former chair of the government’s education committee and many international childhood experts.

As a parent the thought that our state school might be turned into an academy is dreadful. As is the thought that when my daughter is ready to start secondary schools there will be no state schools left – only academies to ‘choose’ from.

As a writer I have received testimonies from parents (and teachers) who are experiencing unethical behaviour in academies locally. Here are some examples:

– One new teacher in an academy had been working for free  for six months (the equivalent of a workfare scheme in education).

– Examples of teachers completing student’s work themselves in order to meet targets

– Examples of classroom assistants being used as substituted teachers for project work inappropriately.

– Putting children with attention span problems in a 2 to 3 hour lesson

– Financial mismanagement – which favoured senior management salaries whilst leaving teaching staff without the necessary resources to teach effectively (no equipment for sessions e.. books)

– Academies cannot be put into special measures – so make an academy which fails and you are effectively creating a failing academy that can’t be failed. (N.B after having given this talk, someone queried this – so I would be glad of any comments to clear this one up).

– There are huge problems with behavioural issues – it is difficult enough to tackle bullying in a state school which has access to local authority resources but without local authority anti-bullying resources – the problem can get worse. One teacher in an academy said: “As a subject lead I experience some incidents/problems with my classes. however I am constantly interrupted by incidents in the department. I do not blame staff for his as the pupils have nowhere else to go – The punishment for verbal abuse and physical assault in totally unacceptable as i is for repeat behaviour and escalation in behaviour. Levels of abuse are tolerated, pupils are openly defiant there is complete confusion over roles and responsibilities.

I’m sorry that more parents from our school were not able to join the discussion tonight. I often think that most of the activity around a public meeting happens by word of mouth – when people go home  and tell their friends (at the school gate). Some are double booked we have a PTA meeting tonight.

Having spoken about the positive sides of PTA’s I need to add a word of warning as far as academies are concerned. There is a degree of pressure right now to reduce the role of PTA’s to fundraising and to try to exclude topics from the agenda that are perceived to be ‘political’ or ‘ideological’. We’ve come up against this issue quite a number of times in ours. One example: we objected on religious, ideological and political grounds to our child being asked to ‘dress to impress’ on the day of the Royal Wedding – and were promptly told by a fellow PTA parent that if we didn’t like it we should ‘go to Libya’.

PTA’s need to be aware that ‘dissent’ is the cornerstone of democracy itself. The model PTA constitution offered by the National PTA association states that PTA’s exist not only to fund raise but also their primary purpose is to ‘further the children’s education’. To my mind this should include a discussion of the wider influences on schools such as academies. Schools have a legal obligation to actively further the involvement of parents in their children’s education.

I believe that academisation, the setting up of free schools locally and nationally will not ‘raise standards’ but lead to a deterioration in the essence of what education is truly about – it will lead to an over emphasis and further obsession with target culture.

Education should be about asking questions and finding answers, investigation, creativity and yes, in a positive sense – discipline .

Education should be about substance and NOT spin.

My other half, my daughter and I are proud to be long-standing members of Cheshire West against the Cuts. I have to say apart from being extremely hard working, the people involved are compassionate and caring. I mention this fact for a reason. We need to fight the cuts on all fronts and I believe that truth and the moral imperative is on our side. At a packed meeting of Chester Disabled People Against the Cuts my husband Richard Atkinson described what the government is doing to essential services as ‘evil’. He is an atheist, but his speech would not have been out of place in my Wirral and Chester  Quaker Meeting.

He said the government cuts in the NHS health and social care were ‘evil’ because they were prompting people to accept the idea that is  somehow alright to stop seeing people as human beings at all. That it is okay to judge every adult and every child – according to whether or not they can do certain tasks – and in doing so reduce human beings to a set of ‘outcomes’.

There is much more to say about this obviously than is possible in ten minutes, but the truth about academies I believe is that they will do nothing to reverse this trend.

It’s really not that complicated. The following quote came from a resident of Haringey not connected with education.

“If  you have a flourishing school and if parents and teachers are happy with it, what is Mr Gove’s problem? It is his horrible Etonian ideology that wishes to privatise education so that his mates can get a cut: same with the NHS really.”

Copy Ends.

New Blog launch: M.S. in the family: a community perspective.

Launched a new blog – called M.S in the family. I’ve already had some international and local responses. A few hiccups with the new Mr. Site platform (the links are much more difficult to do than WordPress) – it will be of interest to all those with disabilities and M.S. and especially parents with M.S. and their children. There is a fair smattering of politics in it and what I hope is an interesting post on an anti-cuts meeting with relevance to disabilities. Check it out sign the guest book  and wish me luck! Here is the link again:


Save our welfare state! Cheshire West Against the Cuts.

The following hot-off-the-press flier text of interest to people with and without disabilities, families with disabilities/children with disabilities who may be joining with others in support of the strike action this Thursday. The writer Richard Atkinson works full-time –  has multiple sclerosis and offers some answers to the question: “Why is it important for disabled people, their families and friends to support and be supported by the nationwide rallies on Thursday?” – (Town Hall Chester 12.30 p.m. and DVLA office picket 8.00 a.m see map) Richard’s initial copy (which may be updated as new information comes to light) follows here:


 The Coalition government is systematically dismantling our welfare state. Since 1948 everyone has assumed that help and support would be available for the elderly and for disabled people, for people who become sick or disabled for children and for people who become unemployed. The new welfare state was rightly heralded as An End to Fear – basic security for all in return for national insurance payments. 

By 2014 all this will be gone. The only help and support available will be:

  • strictly means tested
  • strictly policed, with spot fines for any errors you make in your claim, privatised medical assessments imposing impossible criteria and privatised ‘work for your benefit’ programmes
  • at much lower levels than at present in many cases, especially for the most severely disabled and for people in work. 

From April 2011 levels of tax credits for families and disabled people in low paid work have been cut back – with more to come. Housing Benefit, for rent, and help with mortgage interest payments having also been cut back making decent housing unaffordable for many. 

From April 2012 hundreds of thousands of people who were forced to leave work by long term health conditions will lose all their benefit payments (incapacity benefit and contributory employment support allowance). People with a working partner or with any other significant income or savings will get no  extra help after their first 12 months illness.  

From April 2013 disabled people claiming Disability Living Allowance will face privatised medical assessments (by ATOS) applying new criteria which will offer help only with very basic functions like dressing and eating.  Even people who are blind, deaf or paralysed will qualify for reduced, if any, help. 

Even emergency payments (crisis loans) and payments to people leaving residential care (community care grants) are being abolished. 

All that will be left is a miserly system, administered distantly without human contact, and working on the assumption that anyone who tries to claim state benefits is a potential criminal. And tens of thousands of jobs in the present system are under threat. Overall, the coalition government is planning to reduce expenditure on benefits and tax credits for people aged 16-65 by over one-fifth by 2014. 

Meanwhile the rich grow richer: top executive pay and bankers’ bonuses are rising without restriction, companies get away with billion pound tax dodges.

COPY ENDS. Written by Richard Atkinson in an individual capacity.

For more information on the Cheshire West Against the Cuts Coalition – which includes people in paid work and out, trades union members, parents, members of political parties and none –  join the cheshire west against the cuts facebook group.

Update: for further analysis of what is happening in the special needs jungle right now – check out Guerilla Mum’s blog at this link:

West Cheshire College closes nursery

The Chester and District Standard front page  today featured a story on “Parent’s nursery closure  fury”. According to the Standard “Bosses at West Cheshire College have confirmed the ABC nursery in Handbridge will cease to exist in July. The Ellesmere Port campus closed on Friday”. Some 80 families have been affected.

Local parents said: “There was no letter, no notice or anything”. Mum Gretta a social work student is quoted as saying: “(My son) is really upset – he has lost all of his friends and I don’t have contact details for anyone to see where they are taking their children…now not only do I have research proposals to get on with, but I’ve got to find a new nursery and sort out where my student finance is going to. It’s a nightmare”.


In which the writer begins to deconstruct an ‘ideological assault’ directed at early years settings in England, children, parents, families, people with disabilities and the NHS. With the help of a public meeting against the cuts in Northwich, Cheshire.

Felicity Dowling. National Union of Teachers. Public Meeting Northwich Cheshire West Against the Cuts. May 24th, 2011. Photograph: Frances Laing.

The phrase ideological assault may help us understand what is happening to and in our society. For understanding is half the battle. To begin, readers I’m offering two single word definitions from a rather elderly edition of the New Shorter Oxford English dictionary for your consideration: 

Ideological: A system of ideas or way of thinking pertaining to a class or individual, esp. as a basis of some economic or political theory or system, regarded as justifying actions and esp. to be maintained irrespective of events.

Assault: 2. An attack by spiritual enemies; temptation to evil.

Public Meeting Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Northwich, England, 24th. May, 2011. Speakers Felicity Dowling. National Union of Teachers and Andy Ford member of Unison union regional committee and NHS employee (speaking in an individual capacity). Photo: F.Laing

The context is not simply the public meeting against the cuts which took place in Northwich, Cheshire, last month. The context is our whole lives. The entirety of this blog, since I began writing it two years ago and certainly the chapter of the book I have just completed – fellow contributors to the book include members of Parliament and Early Years Experts across the planet. The book, soon to be published will be called: “Dissent and the English Early Years Education System”. For without dissent there is no democracy. AND I’m not just mentioning this book for a publicity plug – I’m mentioning it because every  one of the issues mentioned in this blog post – and the book – directly affect every young child in this country.

Young children need health care and until and unless that provision is made secure – the huge  proposed investments in Phonics programmes and School League Tables – which have already been called into question by international researchers and academics – should again be called into question too. Joined up thinking.

I say: the ideological assault we are facing is Orwellian in nature. War is Peace. In a response to campaigning constituents in a letter dated 20th. May (see previous post) – elected representative Conservative M.P. for Chester Stephen Moseley declared: “…there are no cuts in the National Health Service and in fact NHS funding has been increased by the coalition government”.

Watch the video featured at the end of this post and Dr. Ron Singer who clearly states: “There are going to be huge reductions in what the NHS provides…not only are we facing the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS (the NHS and Social Care Bill) but at the same time we are also being asked to save or create ‘efficiencies’ of twenty billion pounds over four years (about twenty per cent of the total budget and for England about twenty-five per cent of the total budget”).

War is Peace.

Thirty five people were present at the public meeting in Northwich, Cheshire – some of them NHS employees. Amongst them Felicity Dowling of the National Union of Teachers and Andy Ford, member of Unison  Trade Union Regional Committee.Felicity Dowling, who works with children in the field of Special Education Needs (SEN) described a barrage of cuts on the battle field:

Early Years Consultants privatised and cut from 17 to 12 in her area. An overall reduction in special educational needs funding, affecting play areas, toddler groups, access arrangements, cuts in basic provision such as the lack of special chairs – a three year staff pay freeze in schools – along with cuts of pay and weekend work.

Felicity stressed the importance of talking for small children – and how cuts in the ‘Every Child a Talker’ (see this link for similar cuts elsewhere) grant will impede their progess. Cuts in Sure Start provision…disability provision all gone. People not being able to pay for child care. “Who is going to pay for a specialist teacher?” she asked.Felicity also spoke in some detail about the pending National Union of Teachers ballot for strike action on the issue of pay, conditions and pensions and deconstructed some popular myths about the cuts;

MYTH ONE:  The cuts exist to save money (academies and ‘free’ school cost vast amounts and in the long run will be more expensive to maintain – the cuts Felicity said ‘are not about money they are about politics and the way the government sees the public sector’).

MYTH TWO: “We are all in this together” – (72 per cent of the cuts described by Felicity impact on women and small children).

MYTH THREE: “Nothing we can do will make a difference” – (when soldiers came back from the Second World War they wanted a better world – Felicity refers to the letters written by her own father – they had the determination to build a better world and many of their generation pushed to found the NHS – a system free at the point of need).

Felicity urged the audience: “Don’t think things will stay the same – if they get away with this  – they will come back for more – Cameron will come back for the forests too”.

Andy Ford, member of Unison Trade Union Regional Committee and speaker on the panel is an employee of the NHS national blood transfusion service and highlighted  the need for the general public to support NHS workers – if blood transfusion support workers didn’t work for three days then ‘a lot of people would die’. 

Andy stressed the proposed ‘reforms’ in the NHS were firstly, the ‘wrong reforms at the wrong time’ and secondly ‘bad for patients’. ‘Bad for patients’ because the principal of universal health care – free at the point of need – is due to be abolished with the proposed reforms. 

We are facing a ‘privatisation like never before’ even Thatcher ‘did not attack the NHS’ he said.Andy described a lack of public accountability where ‘any willing provider can provide healthcare’ – the trade union position was ‘a clear defence of social medicine rather than the market’.And the market was a huge and lucrative one – the NHS budget in Rochdale alone was 300 million.

Andy spoke about how prices and tariffs for operations are not true prices, for example for children’s heart surgery. A surgeon from the John Radcliffe hospital surgeon said to him “What am I supposed to do – turn these people away?, I can’t do it…” – there would be a tendency for privatised companies to pick easy operations. Without the NHS people with cancer would bankrupt themselves.

Andy Ford, Unison Regional Trade Union Representative addresses the public Meeting in Northwich May 24th, 2011- organised by the coalition "Cheshire West Against the Cuts". Photograph: Frances Laing.

Private finance initiatives were unsustainable – locally in Whiston debt servicing of the PFI cannot be met from the market. If the market were a true market then PFIS would be allowed to go bankrupt. The first duty of a PFI is to service and pay debts…By contrast in Scotland there is no market for services. MRSA was unknown before Thatcher and deregulation. Regular cleaners had always been present. In Wales Plaid Cymru took cleaning services back in house and this led to improved standards. 

Discussion at the meeting kicked off with a few voices saying that some people were in ignorance of the extent of the cuts – but by the end of the meeting – an impressive and detailed list emerged and the recognition that we can’t wait until 2015 and a general election to take action. 

One union delegate’s summary of cuts in West Cheshire included those made in Children’s Centres and home care facilities – together with an assault on staff terms and conditions summed up by the motto: “keep council tax down and screw the staff”.

I gave a short account of attendance at the Multiple Sclerosis Society Regional Meeting in Preston last month – and the week of action against assessors ATOS. The M.S society is currently in the forefront of the ‘Hardest Hit’ campaign which highlights how people with disabilities are being detrimentally affected by the proposed Welfare Reform Bill.

 As promised at the beginning of this blog post here is Dr. Ron Singer with the clearest account of the ideological assault I’ve heard so far: 

Women take budget fight to Downing Street

Morning Star. Women take budget fight to Downing Street.