War horse out on the road in full fettle

Since I last wrote about the way our schools are being forced to accept academisation, I have received a lot of information from a great many schools and it is now very clear indeed that our schools are being steadily forced to accept being handed over to academies.

For a start, just take a look at all the schools that have been handed over to one particular academy trust. It is called the ‘Flying High Trust’ (what grandiose titles they do give themselves) and has already taken over 18 schools, here they all are:

  • Candleby Lane School, Cotgrave
  • Hillside Primary and Nursery School, Hucknallwarhorse
  • Peafield Lane Primary, Litten Road, Mansfield, Woodhouse
  • Earnhale Junior
  • Beeston Fields Primary and Nursery
  • Edwalten Primary
  • Bilsthorpe Academy
  • Greythorn Primary, West Bridford
  • Greenwood Primary and Nursery, Kirkby in Ashfield
  • Killisick Junior
  • Horsendale Primary
  • Haddon Primary and Nursery
  • Leammington Primary Academy
  • Porchester Junior
  • Mapplewells Primary and Nursery
  • Stanstead Primary
  • Pinxton Village Infant Schools
  • Kirkstead Junior

These are all in one area of the country and there might well be several of them who were forced in to academisation against their will, or having been forced, now wish they could return to their local government authority.

But, this is very big business we’re talking here. The CEOs of the grandiose Academy Trusts and the men and women in Ofsted that they employ to put the pressure on the schools they fancy, are making a great deal of money out of their new found powers. Last year there were 8 people in Ofsted who got paid over £135,000 a year and the Woolwich Polytechnic School for Boys pays a full time head £165,000 a year and a part-time co/head £105,000 a year. The CEOs of these huge and obscenely wealthy companies, pay themselves exorbitant salaries. And it isn’t as if they are taking good care of the children for whom they are now responsible. Quite the reverse in fact. Great Yarmouth Charter Academy removed 81 undesirable pupils from their role, so that their poor results couldn’t bring down the average grades. I wonder what their parents have to say about that. Maybe they wish they could get the academy order revoked.

The parents at Springfield Academy Primary School are already struggling to do just that but they need as much help as they can get to discover the best way to do it and are talking about forming a parents union.

The parents of Fernwood Primary School, which has had excellent Ofsted reports for five years, but is now deemed to require improvement, have been told they’re going to be part of the ‘Flying High Trust’ – the same Flying High Trust that has already gobbled up the 18 schools I listed above. Like so many other parents in this situation, they don’t know where to turn for help either and are also thinking that a parents union could give them the power and support that they need.

Other parents in other places are moving towards a similar idea. But would a parents union be possible? Waltham Holy Cross are showing us how it could be done and I have been making inquiries on your behalf.

I have contacted the Trades Union Congress at Congress House, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3LS. And a young lady called Jenny Rockcliff has given me some very helpful advice to pass on to my parent friends. The part of the organisation that would be able to help them most easily is the Community section of ‘Unite’ which has been formed for people who being unemployed or parents of small families and therefore need a different kind of union. All those who are out there wondering what to do next, might find that a good start could be made by phoning Unite on 0333 240 9798. Jenny was well aware that parents and teachers are being pushed around so that their valuable land and all the possibilities for making money that the land and the school represent, can be passed over to the grandiose trusts.

But whatever you do, keep in touch, and I will pass on your news to everybody else and help you in any way I can. It is an absolute scandal that you and your children are being treated in the way you are being treated to satisfy these rich mens’ greed.

 

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We are all the same now

Yesterday I found an interesting item of news on Facebook. It was about an article featured in the Bookseller, announcing that a working class writers’ festival was being planned for 2020. It is being organised by a Cornish writer called Natasha Carthew and it seemed to me to be both admirable and necessary. It provoked a lively exchange, some writers welcoming it and seeing the  need for it, others aggrieved that we should be discussing class at all because as one said, ‘We are all the same now.’ I wish! So here’s my sevenpenn’orth – for what it’s worth.

I have been a published author for the last thirty two years and my thirtieth novel is currently with my agent, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe what happens in the publishing world and to wonder why it does. One thing was obvious right from the start and that was that the big publishers were only interested in a novel if they thought it would earn good money for them. Fair enough. But it wasn’t long before I also became aware of other things too, one of them being how snobbish and superior some of the Oxbridge crowd could be.

My new agent, who had not only discovered me but had got me a staggering advance for my first book, took me to lunch in a prestigious restaurant to get to know me. In the course of the meal, he quizzed me about my education and asked if I’d gone to university. I told I him I had – with some pride because it was a relatively rare thing for anyone at my grammar school to have done. And he pressed for details. ‘What college?’  I told him King’s College London, again with pride. His answer brought me down with a bump. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Poor you!’ London University plainly wasn’t good enough. He’d gone to Cambridge.

Two weeks later I was taken to lunch in a seedy café by two of the young Turks from the publishing house, pretty girls with long blonde hair, false eyelashes and upper class accents. They didn’t have much to say to me, they were too busy polishing their own egos. They compared the colleges they’d attended, both Oxbridge needless to say, and spent the rest of the meal pulling one of the company’s star earners to shreds. Her name was Lena Kennedy and she was a huge best seller, who wrote stories about the East End where she’d grown up – a bit like ‘Call the Midwife’ and good strong stuff. But one of the young Turks had been given the job of line editing her latest book and she was scathingly critical of it. ‘You should have seen her spelling!’ she said, and she gave her friend some examples, screaming with laughter. Then she turned her attention to Lena’s grammar and tore that apart too, while her friend enjoy the mockery.  I listened and thought how arrogant and self-satisfied and unkind they were. And how inaccurate. The grammatical ‘errors’ they were mocking were examples of perfectly grammatical East End speech but they didn’t know such a language existed. Class prejudice again.

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From then on I was careful to keep my opinions to myself and do as I was told, more or less. But I gradually became aware of how often upper and upper middle class writers only wrote about their own class. The working class didn’t seem to exist in their world. There was the occasional butler who spoke in carefully smooth butler-speech and various servants and underlings who said ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’, but the raw speed and power of working class speech was missing. To find that you had to read popular working class writers like Lena Kennedy, Catherine Cookson, Maeve Binchy, Gilda O’Neill and our superlative and working class Charles Dickens. Even more significantly, none of the modern working class writers appeared on the list for any prizes beyond that run by the Romantic Novelists Association, and they were spoken of rather scathingly as ‘women’s fiction’. I certainly never found any put up for the Booker Prize and I checked it every year. There were times when I used to think that all the good people who worked in the great publishing houses simply couldn’t see us. Or was it that they couldn’t hear us.

Recently, as the class war has got steadily more powerful and vicious, I’ve been watching the antics of our obscenely rich rulers and noticing how difficult it is for them to make any sort of contact with the men and women who are not multi-millionaires of their own class. I noticed that, although Jeremy Corbyn went there at once to commiserate and listen and offer what comfort he could, Theresa May never visited the people of Grenfell. She doesn’t seem able to communicate with anyone except a small and specially selected group of followers. You never see her addressing a huge crowd. Perhaps she doesn’t know what to say.

So strength to your arm Natasha Carthew. It’s time working class writers stood up on their strong working class feet and spoke loud and clear in their strong working class voices. The powerful, mega-rich elite have been side-lining us for far too long. Maybe the time has come for them to recognise that we are human just like them, all of us different and individual – we are not all the same – and all of us with something valuable to say about out human condition.

‘Rise like lions after slumber’, fellow writers. I will help in any way I can, Natasha, and God willing I will see you in 2020.

 

This entry was posted on August 21, 2018. 2 Comments

War horse still in action!

I am gathering information at a rate of knots and it is now plainly obvious that what has been and is happening to Waltham Holy Cross is typical of what is and has been going on across the country.

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Harris academy (which was formerly Downhills School) was forced to become an Academy six years ago, despite opposition from 94% of the parents. An Ofsted Inspection declared that the school was failing and the then Education Secretary, one Michael Gove, ordered the take over, because their “SATs results weren’t good enough.” Now it transpires that the Harris Academy which is in Philip Lane in Haringey, has been found to have “over-aided pupils in this year’s English reading and Maths reasoning SATs, according to the standards and testing agency.”  Or to put it more bluntly, they’ve been cheating. As a result, Year 6 pupil scores in these papers have been expunged and they will only receive scores for their spelling, punctuation and grammar tests. The Academy’s chair of governors, Susan Head, wrote a letter to the parents on Monday, describing the investigation findings as “deeply regrettable and disappointing” and said that “the school was ” determined to get to the bottom of what has happened.”  You don’t have to look far Susan!

Yesterday in the Guardian, Melissa Benn said “Our schools are broken. Only radical action will fix them… There is now widespread recognition of the drear reality, inadequate multi academy trusts, increasingly shut out of their children’s education, and executive heads creaming off excessive salaries.” 

And that of course is the reason why these academies have been allowed to take control of our schools by the political elite that now run our lives. Last year there were eight people in Ofsted who got paid over £135,000 per year (information via Paul Garvey). In education, as in everything else, we are being ripped off by the obscenely rich and greedy. High time we started organising to thwart them.

Waltham Holy Cross, have started the campaign and got off to a flying start. They had, what the organiser called, “a brilliant meeting.” It was, he said an opportunity to “gather all the letters/emails that all the other parents sent to all of the authorities.” Adding, “It’s unbelievable that they have not even had responses!”

Sadly, I have to say, the authorities lack of response to these letters is no surprise. They feel they may do and say whatever they want.

We must be sure we keep all information flowing between us, I will pass on whatever I hear, whenever I hear it and will publicise it in any way I know. We owe it to our kids. Strength to your campaigning arms!

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This entry was posted on August 10, 2018. 1 Comment

I’m on my war horse part 2: Use me as a conduit

Since I put up my last blog ‘I’m on my war horse’, I have learnt several interesting things. The first is that the struggle that the staff and parents of Waltham Holy Cross School are putting up to try and avoid being made to leave the control of the local authority and be turned into an Academy – which they do NOT want – is by no means a one off.

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Over 227 people visited that blog on the first day and some of them told me about other schools who are or who have been in a similar position. So I am writing part 2 of the blog as you see, so that people who haven’t seen part one yet can do so now and people who have something to say about what has been and is happening to them and their school, can send me the details. It is a little too easy for bullies to insist upon having their own way if they can claim that what is happening is only happening to ONE school. It is not and we need to tell one another as many details as we can collect.

So please use me as a conduit and let us see who else will take up the cudgels on our behalf. Thanks to Aditya Chakrabortty and the Guardian, the story is already out there and causing a stir, I’m very glad to say.

My war horse is pawing the ground and full of oats!

This entry was posted on August 2, 2018. 3 Comments

I’m on my war horse

Last week I reprinted a blog about how children learn, having been requested to do it, and got some very positive feed-back. Somebody even suggested that I should send it to our new Education Secretary, Damien Hinds. I thought that would be rather a waste of time because the man is part of the political elite and in touch with several wealthy private companies and, being committed to George Osborne’s orders, openly intends to take as many schools away from the control of the local authorities as he can and turn them into private Academies that are run for profit.

Since then, the world has moved on apace and an admirable journalist called Aditya Chakrabortty has written in yesterday’s Guardian about what is actually happening to one of our schools now. Is it an appalling story, so I’m going to pass it on here for those of you who haven’t seen it.

The school is a primary in Essex called Waltham Holy Cross and Mr Chakrabortty has visited it and ‘helped on a school run’. He says he found it ‘more than a school’. ‘This is a community,’ he writes and the children are happy there and enjoy learning. This month’s SAT results for Year 6 show a remarkable double-digit improvement in reading, writing and maths.  And yet, believe it or not, Ofsted inspectors, who visited the school just before Christmas have damned it as ‘inadequate’ and told the Head and the staff that it will therefore be handed over to a trust called Net Academies who will turn it into a ‘model school’. And there appears to be nothing they can do about it.

The Head took action at once and together with her governors, wrote to report that even before the inspection had begun, the lead inspector had told staff that ‘based on the previous year’s Sat results their school would be inadequate.’ In other words, as she pointed out, judgement had been made before the inspection even began. She also reported that when one of the inspectors was asked to move his car, which was blocking the school entrance, he not only refused to do any such thing but said ‘I’m Ofsted. I can park wherever I want.’ How’s that for arrogance? Back in the old days, Her Majesty’s School Inspectors, who were largely academics or ex head teachers or other long serving teachers would never have been so rude.

But they misjudged Waltham Holy Cross for this is plainly a very good school indeed. Back in March when they were told the news, the staff and the parents didn’t accept that the school was going to be handed over to an academy – in their case a group called Net Academies – and that there was nothing they could do about. They started a campaign, took legal advice and action, and were careful to do everything properly. All complaints, for example, were submitted via the correct complaints process. And they started by firing off Freedom of Information requests. One of them, a lady called Shaunagh Roberts (Respec’!), looked up Net Academies and as she says ‘Got a jolt’. Two of Net’s seven academies in Warwickshire and Reading have been ranked ‘inadequate’, a third ‘requires improvement’. According to the latest Education Policy Institute report, Net Academy Trust is the sixth worst primary school group in England. Its board is stuffed with City folk: PFI lawyers, management consultants, accountants, but apparently no working teachers. It has dropped three of its schools but its aim is to run 20 to 25 institutions. There’s money in academies.

They also uncovered a smelly little bit of corruption.

When the school got its Ofsted report, the local authority told the Head ‘that Clare Kershaw, the Authority’s Director of Education, would want us only to go with Net Academies.’ And Clare Kershaw was also  – wait for it! – a trustee with the charity New Education Trust, out of which came the Net Academies. Both the Council and the government have assured Mr Chakrabortty that the two were separate entities and that her interest had been properly declared. Net denies any conflict of interest. Yet the charity’s last set of accounts describes the academies as ‘a connected charity’ and Clare Kershaw appears on an official document for the academy trust. Humm!

I have sent a twitter message to Waltham Holy Cross School offering to help them in any way I can and telling them about this blog. And now I’m feeding and watering my war horse.

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Happy the bride – or not as the case may be.

I’m posting this on the 68th Anniversary of my wedding – and no, I can’t believe it either! But I’m posting with a purpose. There are so many wonderful wedding photographs put up on social media, the brides looking so beautiful, in gorgeous dresses with masses of flowers and an attentive bride-groom beaming love at them. All just as it should be and it warms the heart to see them.

But not all weddings are so beautiful, so blessed, or so surrounded by good wishes. So this blog is for the brides who keep quiet and don’t put pictures of their weddings on display because they are rather ashamed of them. I know how it feels because I was just such a one. And here are Roy and I standing in the garden of the house where I grew up and hour or so after we got married and every picture tells a story.

BerylandRoyWedding

This story is not quite what you might think. Let me interpret the body language of my new husband. I’ve seen that stance and expression many times over the course of the years and I know what he was thinking, I used to call it his ‘sod yer face’ and on this particular morning he was saying ‘sod yer, I’ve married her and there’s nothing you can do about it!’ I was just wishing that the day could be over and that I was anywhere but there.

We often told one another in the years that followed that at least we had our worst day right at the beginning and the only way to go from there was up. So I’ve put another picture to show you the two of us very happily together with our new son a few years later. There was after all something to be said for starting badly.

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But maybe I should tell you the story.

For a start and central to all this is the fact that my mother had decided when I was still in the cradle that I was born evil, that I would never amount to anything and that nobody would love me, because I was too horrible. Looking back on it, it all sounds a little unlikely now, but that is what she felt. So when I returned home after registering my intention to marry Roy at the local registry office, she greeted the news with horror saying ‘No you’re not!’ and refused categorically to let my father sign the consent form which the registry office had given me. I was 19 and therefore needed my parents consent.

Luckily I’d thought this one out on my way home, so I knew what to say to her. It was quite simple.  ‘If you won’t sign the form, I won’t eat anything until you do.’ She was suffused with fury and said ‘No you wont. Don’t be so silly.  You couldn’t do it.’ But I was quite sure that I could and I did, sticking close to her all the time for the next six days, so that she could see that although I drank water, I wasn’t eating anything. By the end of the sixth day, I was visibly losing weight – I also had fearful pains in my stomach but I didn’t let on about that – and that night, she and my father had a long, growling conversation after I’d gone to bed. The next morning, the form was signed and lay beside my plate.

The wedding day was just under a week later, I was still finding it painful to eat and she had found a way to get in a last moment of hatred while we were signing the register.

‘It wont last,’ she said to our handful of guests in a loud voice. ‘I give it six months.’

This time, I didn’t say anything but I made up my mind that it would last a lifetime. And it did. Things could only get better.

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This entry was posted on July 29, 2018. 3 Comments

Why can’t we let our kids learn?

I’m reissuing this one by request because sadly it’s a relevant now as it was when it was written. Our children are still being pushed to pasdamian1s exams, instead of being allowed to learn. And now we have a new Education Secretary called Damian Hinds, who seems to have noticed that ‘schools need less stress’ and is going to send teachers a ‘tool kit’ to help them cope with it. Tell you what Damian, just get rid of all those tests and examinations and you would be surprised at what would happen in our schools.

I can’t in all honesty say that I expect anyone deeply entrenched in the philosophy that the more examinations children can be required to take, the more they will learn to take much notice of what I have to say about the natural learning process. On the other hand there is a Labour politician called Angela Rayner and what she is saying gives me hope, so this is more for her than for Damian.

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This one is by special request, because so many of my friends think that what is being done to our children in the name of education is damaging, senseless and often downright cruel  and I keep saying it isn’t necessary. So now I feel I must give you chapter and verse.

We’ve known all about it since the early years of the twentieth century when the first 
educational pioneers, like  Susan Isaacs and Maria Montessori discovered that learning is a natural and pleasurable process. And if we ever need proof of the truth of what they were saying, we only have to look at any young creature playing. Kittens may look cute but what they are actually doing is learning how to catch their prey, apes romp in the trees learning to maintain their balance and enjoying every minute of it, human children play all manner of games and enjoy them hugely. What they are doing, without knowing it, is using this natural learning process. It’s what all children do when tests and Ofsted inspections and league tables don’t get in their way. So how does it work?

It always starts with curiosity, which is natural and in-built.

If and when the child follows his curiosity, he starts a whole series of activities in which he learns what he wants to know, by trial and error. Mistakes are part of the process and not at all frightening. You learn from them.

And when you have mastered the skill and found out what you wanted and needed to know, you move on to stage three, which is a state of rapturous happiness. Just watch a baby when it’s learnt to feed itself.

When the skill is mastered and/or the knowledge absorbed, and the child has been making use of it for some time, he puts it to one side and seems to forget it. But there is a fifth stage. After an interval no matter how short or long, the child returns to the skill and hasn’t forgotten any of it, it’s part of his character now, once learnt never forgotten, like riding a bicycle.

So why on earth don’t most teachers simply make use of this process, sparking interest whenever they can, providing the materials so that child can satisfy his curiosity and enjoying the whole thing with the children? One sad reason is, that few of them now are taught about the process. All the information about it was removed from the PGCE syllabuses a very long time ago, to the disappointment of the great educationalists of our much maligned sixties, like Leila Berg and Mike Duane of Risinghill fame and the great AS Neill who ran Summerhill school.

But there is another factor which has to be considered today. Parents and teachers and children are all told by our politicians that they have to be tested to show that they are learning, some of the fiercer ones are even talking about bringing back the cane, god help us all. And of course what they’re saying simply is not true.

The real reason we keep imposing tests, exams, Ofsted inspections and league
tables is that the big “educational” companies make money out of it, it’s an extremely lucrative business and the more exams they can persuade our idiot politicians to impose on our children, the more the companies can earn.

We are in thrall to greed.

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on July 26, 2018. 4 Comments