Tuesday, January 20, 2009

British bureaucracy to destroy popular school

Destroying success is what they are best at -- witness all the vanished Grammar Schools

Sometimes, government promises and proclamations can sound a little hollow. When it comes to schools, Ed Balls talks often of parental choice. Hearing this, many parents shake their heads as they know that it's a promise which hasn't been fulfilled for them. But in Stoke-On-Trent, many parents are doing more than shake their heads. They are campaigning vigorously. And this is not because they don't have a choice of good school to send their children to; it's because they feel their choice is being taken away for no good reason. This may be a "local" story, but it has a much larger resonance.

Julian Teed is a father of two from Stoke. His son is set to start at Trentham High School, a local community school which is under the auspices of the LEA, this coming September. In the new league tables and GCSE results, it's the top performing non-selective school in the city. And Louis Teed is going to start there, even though the school is under threat of closure. It, and another local school, Blurton, are set to be amalgamated and turned into an Academy. That Academy will be opening in September 2010. "Trentham is a well loved and respected school in the centre of our community," says Teed. "Every child can walk or cycle there, it is perfect."

Two years ago, Trentham High went into special measures. A new head, Sue Chesterton, was brought in and she appears to have turned the school around. It came out of special measures a year later, the day after parents were told at a consultation evening that the school would be closing. Trentham High is now second only to St Joseph's, a grammar school and 57 percent of the children just received 5 A-C grades in their recent GCSEs, including maths and English. The head is convinced that this will continue, indeed improve, if the school is given a chance. "I've always argued that it is potentially one of the highest performing schools in this city" says Ms Chesterton. "And parents are delighted with the progress we've made. Academies are normally for failing schools, but neither Blurton or Trentham are failing. It's very strange."

It certainly is strange, but for parents, it is horribly real. They feel that change is imminent, and that the government's fondness for Academies and reluctance for be drawn into local battles, means they are fighting a losing battle. I'm afraid they are right; but I don't know why. Sue Chesterton feels that parents have fought a very long and hard battle over this. "They feel very let down," she says. "They feel betrayed by the council...the community is centred around the school."

Trentham - which caters for 11-16 year olds - is not a huge school. It lost some pupils when it went into special measures and has just under 600 pupils at present. But it is part of a community, open every evening for community activities and with sports facilities which are heavily used by local residents. With all this local involvement, the school appears to be behaving exactly as the government wants its schools to. But it is still in danger.

The current situation began because of Stoke's involvement in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF)programme. This has the specified aim of "Placing the school at the heart of the community", an aim which may well sound more than a little hollow to local parents. Stoke on Trent council has had problems with its schools for a few years now (that's a understatement: it was named the third worst local authority for education in the country). It brought in a private company, Serco, to assess what should happen next as part of the BSF programme and Serco decided that various schools should be closed down or amalgamated. Parents at another school, St Joseph's College, are also up in arms.

Julian Teed, who is part of the Save Trentham High campaign, says that he and other parents don't want a huge school (the new Academy would be aimed at 900-1200 pupils, which seems too small:if you add the current pupils from Trentham and Blurton together, it comes to over 1400). The council claims that birth rates are falling, and that is partly why some schools need to be closed, but parents dispute that. They also claim there are major safety issues with the changes. The only way to the new school (which will be located on the Blurton site) is down a very busy main road. "It's a travesty" he says.

Parents are also unhappy that the choice of sponsor for the Academy is the Ormiston Trust, which at least according to its website, is set up to help disadvantaged children. They have been campaigning for over a year, but feel that they are simply not being listened to. Ed Balls has said that he's happy for parents to get stuck into their schools and set up smaller secondaries. But the Save Trentham parents, who feel that this is exactly what they want to do, are not finding that it's possible. And this is despite the fact that no new school would save the council an awful lot of money!

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, talked about this last November, but parents won't be thrilled by what he said (you can see his comments here; he seems to take all the councils' assertions as correct).

No story is one-sided, and a spokesman for the council says that parents' views and opinions have been "taken into account throughout the consultation process." He adds. "We do understand their concerns. The Building Schools for the Future programme is ongoing and we will continue to consult and draw opinions from parents and all those who who have an interest in the education of children in Stoke-on-Trent."

Parents are expecting the council to make its decision on January 21st, but I'm afraid that it has already been taken. The report, which you can see here (dated January 21st) clearly states: "That the Council approves the publication of the statutory notices proposing the closure of Brownhills, James Brindley, Berry Hill, St. Peter's CE, Mitchell, Edensor, Blurton and Trentham High Schools to enable the establishment of five replacement academies in accordance with the timetable outlined in section 7." This is despite the fact that the report contains a litany of concerns from parents. How depressing - and yet not surprising at all.


Climate change sidelines democracy in Britain

THE GOVERNMENT has quietly adopted powers enabling it to introduce national pay-as-you-throw rubbish taxes of up to œ100 without a vote in parliament. The move, which was confirmed this weekend by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), will allow councils across the country to impose extra charges on householders who leave out too much non-recyclable waste.

The fact that ministers have adopted powers to impose the taxes on millions of households without a vote in the Commons will shock MPs. They always believed they would be able to veto the unpopular move following trials in five pilot areas. Last week the government also sidelined parliament to move ahead with plans to introduce a controversial third runway at Heathrow airport.

The Tories discovered the bin tax measure in a little-noticed clause of the Climate Change Act. "New taxes are being imposed by arrogant and out-of-touch rulers, showing contempt for the democratic process. The imposition of extra-parliamentary taxation is a constitutional outrage," said Eric Pickles, shadow communities and local government secretary."

Internal Whitehall documents released last year showed the government is planning for at least two-thirds of all homes to be hit by the bin taxes. Under one option discussed by ministers, households would have to pay for special bin bags. Rubbish not placed in these bags would remain uncollected. Households would be charged for the size of their bins; families requiring a bigger bin will pay the most. Those requiring a weekly rubbish collection would also have to pay an extra charge.


An Alzheimer's patient lies in a grubby hospital bathroom because of a shortage of beds. Will the elderly EVER be treated with dignity in Britain?

This is the picture that shames the NHS. An elderly Alzheimer's patient is treated in a squalid bathroom due to a chronic shortage of beds at a hospital. In what her family describe as 'an affront to human dignity', Gladys Joynes, 79, was shunted into the bathroom for several hours. The grandmother was left next to an overflowing bin, a commode and a foulsmelling walk-in bath. And with no power point in which to plug in her saline drip equipment, she swiftly became dehydrated and unresponsive.

Mrs Joynes was taken to the Royal Liverpool University Hospital last Friday after falling ill with pneumonia-like symptoms at the nursing home where she is a resident. She arrived at the hospital's emergency department in the early hours but was not examined by a doctor until around 7am. Medical staff were unable to find a bed for her and at 10am she was placed in the bathroom. At 2pm her family arrived and were led to the bathroom. One of her three daughters, Sharon Huxley, 55, a company director, said: 'I was so shocked. It was a smelly bathroom with an overflowing bin and we had to put a tray of food on the floor and feed her ourselves from that. 'I just can't believe that staff are so desensitised and complacent that they didn't think it would be a problem.'

Mrs Joynes's eldest daughter, psychologist Kathleen Huxley, 57, said: 'It is a total affront to human dignity for her to be treated this way and the Government should ensure it does not happen again. 'We believe she was cynically chosen because she is an Alzheimer's sufferer and as such would not complain. 'What if an elderly patient or Alzheimer's sufferer hasn't got a family to stand up for them?'

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: 'It is extremely concerning if patients are not being treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. 'I know that the hard-working staff of the NHS will do everything they can to stop this from happening, but unfortunately their hands have been tied by Labour's complacent approach to the extreme pressures placed on our hospitals during winter. Years of bungling by Labour ministers have created a terrible legacy for NHS patients.'

The Daily Mail has consistently highlighted the plight of the older generation through its Dignity for the Elderly campaign. In recent weeks, our readers have also raised tens of thousands of pounds for Alzheimer's sufferers.

Mrs Joynes, 79, ran a milliner's shop in Liverpool before marrying Merchant Navy seaman Frank Huxley. After his death in 2002 she married Stewart Joynes, a musician, who also later died. She developed Alzheimer's symptoms about four years ago.

Last night Tony Bell, chief executive of Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said the hospital was dealing with an ' unprecedented' number of cases and said an extra ward with 17 beds had been opened to cope with the strain. Mr Bell said: 'I would like to offer the patient and her family our sincere apology. It is not acceptable for a patient to be put into a bathroom. 'We are now conducting a full investigation and will identify measures to prevent it happening to other patients.' The hospital denied that Mrs Joynes had been 'earmarked' for the bathroom because her condition meant she was less likely to complain.

Mrs Joynes was last night feeling a lot better and was about to be discharged. She was diagnosed with a chest infection.


A British bureaucracy that took 30 years to update its records

And even then it took media exposure before they listened. Don't laugh, but in Britain you have to buy a licence in order to be allowed to watch TV. The proceeds are used to support a Leftist propaganda outfit known as the BBC

The television licence enforcers were nothing if not persistent. For five years they pursued 69-year-old Hannah Patricia Humphris with a succession of intimidating missives demanding she buy a licence. The pursuit culminated with a letter this month threatening her with prosecution and a possible œ1,000 fine. But the TV licensing police had overlooked one crucial fact: Miss Humphris hasn't owned a television since 1978. She got rid of her set that year because it wasn't working properly and, she said, there were no interesting programmes.

Mrs Humphris, from Neath, South Wales, had informed the authorities she did not have a TV when the letters started to mount up. But they wrote back to say she would be interviewed under caution and could be prosecuted if she was caught watching or recording television programmes. Miss Humphris described the letter of January 2, which was headed 'Official Warning' as 'intimidating' and 'threatening'.

Despite her again telling them that she did not have a television they insisted that an officer would have to visit her house to ensure she was telling the truth. The pensioner [retiree], a former shorthand typist who lives on her own, said: 'I told them to search every nook and cranny of my house because they wouldn't find what they were looking for. 'I also told them that they could meet my solicitor at Swansea Crown Court to discuss damages for harassing me.'

As well as threatening prosecution, the letter said she would be liable for a œ1,000 fine if found guilty over the œ139.50 licence fee. Miss Humprhis said: 'I keep telling them that I haven't had a television set in over 30 years but they keep sending me letters claiming I have. 'I think it must be amusing them to keep harassing me like this. Am I a criminal now because I don't own a television set?'

A TV Licensing spokesman said Miss Humphris should not receive any more letters, although she may still receive a visit from an inquiry officer to verify she does not have a set. TV Licensing has previously been accused of heavy-handed methods and bullying. The BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, has opened an inquiry into the tactics it uses to collect the licence fee.


UK cracks down on skilled migrants

What a crock! It is not skilled migrants that are the problem but hordes of illegals and useless "refugees" living on welfare and committing crimes

Ministers are to tighten immigration rules in an attempt to force firms to hire unemployed British people rather than relying on overseas skilled workers. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said British people who were out of a job should in future get the "first crack of the whip" at tens of thousands of skilled posts which fall vacant every year. In particular, companies are to be told they must advertise vacancies in the JobCentre Plus network in Britain before filling them with skilled immigrants.

Government sources estimate that, had the planned crackdown been in force last year, between 60,000 and 80,000 posts would have been filled by Britons rather than immigrants. Currently, employers often rely on "tier two" immigrants - those coming into the UK from outside the European Union with a job offer - to fill a range of posts including primary school teachers, some categories of nurses, architects, farm managers, hotel managers, graphic designers, air traffic controllers and construction workers.

Ministers believe the "points-based" immigration rules must now be tightened to help fight rising unemployment among British people during the economic downturn. The jobless total rose to 1.9 million people in the three months to October, equal to six per cent of the workforce, with some experts predicting the total will hit three million before the economy recovers.

However, critics claimed that the tightening of the rules would not be effective without an annual cap on the number of non-EU migrant workers allowed into the country, as the Conservatives have proposed. Employers are already required, under the "resident labour market test" , to try to fill vacancies from within the UK before they are permitted to recruit immigrant workers. However, trade unions have complained that the rule is widely ignored by firms which find it cheaper or easier to take on staff from overseas.

Ms Smith and James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, are working "urgently" to develop a set of proposals which are expected to be announced within weeks. In a closely linked move, John Denham, the Skills Secretary, is working on plans to teach new skills to thousands of British workers so they have a stronger chance of being able to get back into the job market more quickly.

The Home Office initiative, which follows Gordon Brown's "jobs summit" last week, comes as ministers become ever more aware of a rising tide of discontent among British workers that more and more skilled jobs are going to people from overseas. Skilled workers are a key constituency whose support Labour must retain to have any hope of retaining power at the next election.

Ms Smith said: "At a time when people are worried about losing their jobs, and therefore worried about being able to get quickly back into another job, it's even more important that we can say and show that when jobs become available, it's British people who get the first crack of the whip of taking those jobs."

The resident labour market test should be strengthened, Ms Smith said. "We need to be very sure that a job is being actively marketed for a worker who is already here and who needs that job before we assume that migration is the only way we can fill those skill shortages. "That's one of the ways we can demonstrate that the points-based system is a more flexible way of controlling immigration for the overall benefit of the country than, for example a crude cap would be."

Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said: "The points based system was only introduced five minutes ago. We warned then it would not work without an annual limit on immigration and, despite Jacqui Smith's rhetoric, this is still the case."


Hit-and-run killer cannot be deported from Britain

A failed asylum seeker who killed a former Royal Marines commando in a hit-and-run crash has escaped deportation because his crime is not considered serious enough by the Home Office. Jean Renee Mukadi was jailed for four months after fatally injuring Simon Lawrence while driving without a licence or insurance. Despite having his asylum claim rejected three times previously, Mukadi, 33, cannot be sent back to his native Democratic Republic of Congo because his sentence fell short of the minimum term that would qualify for automatic deportation. Foreign offenders can only be kicked out of the country if they have been jailed for at least 12 months or if they have been convicted of serious gun or drug crimes. The loophole means that Mukadi can remain in Britain while he fights a lengthy appeal against the decision to deny him asylum.

The Tories claim that about 3,000 foreign convicts are released back into society each year despite a pledge by Gordon Brown to deport all foreign lawbreakers. Within weeks of becoming prime minister, Brown said: "If you commit a crime, you will be deported. You play by the rules or you face the consequences."

Alison Roberts, Lawrence's sister, was so upset by the government's refusal to consider Mukadi for deportation that she asked her MP, James Arbuthnot, to write to ministers seeking an explanation. Meg Hillier, a Home Office minister, replied: "It appears that Mr Mukadi does not meet the criteria to be considered for deportation. "I recognise that this may not be the information that Ms Roberts wishes to hear. However, I am afraid that the UK Border Agency can only deport foreign national offenders in line with published policy and legal powers."

Last night Roberts, a former police officer, said: "This is ridiculous. Mukadi has had his asylum claim refused three times and in court it was said he had failed to get a driving licence seven times. So, by any estimation, he should not have been on the road. "He showed what kind of a person he was when he drove off after killing Simon because he didn't want to endanger his own interests. And yet apparently he cannot be deported."

Lawrence, 55, served with the Royal Marines during the 1970s, including two tours of duty in Northern Ireland and a period on board the aircraft carrier Hermes alongside the Prince of Wales. He was also a motorbike enthusiast and became a self-employed builder after leaving the armed forces. Lawrence was on his motorbike in June last year when he was struck by Mukadi's Toyota car in Harefield, west London. He suffered severe neck and head injuries that killed him instantly.

Mukadi drove off, but was traced and arrested several days later. He told police that he had failed to stop because he did not want to endanger a pending asylum appeal, and said he had not realised that he had hit a person. At Uxbridge magistrates' court Mukadi admitted charges of leaving the scene of an accident, driving without a licence and having no insurance. He was seen dabbing his eyes with a towel at the court hearing last October. Mukadi has already served more than half his sentence and it remains unclear this weekend whether he has been freed.

A woman at a house in Haringey, north London, which was supplied to magistrates as Mukadi's home address, said she had never heard of him.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: "We will not tolerate those that come here and break our rules. Last year we exceeded the tough target set by government to remove 5,000 foreign lawbreakers. We are targeting the most harmful [offenders] first." Whitehall sources said that attempts to remove Mukadi from Britain via the asylum process were being pursued.


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