(from Brian Reade’s column in the Daily Mirror Oct 30 2003)
Well, thank God that tub-thumping, redder-than-red, socialist MP Diane Abbott is in the clear after all. As listeners to a London radio station found out, it wasn’t HER decision to send her son James to a public school but her boy’s. Which makes everything fine. And it sends out an inspirational message to any other Labour-voting parent with £10,000-a-year to spare, who can’t bear to let their precious offspring rough it with the oiks at the local comp. Just say you can’t let your principles get in the way of your kid’s foot-stomping demand to speak posh in a cap.
But why stop there? If junior wants to invest his pocket money in an off-shore tax haven, hunt with dogs, beat up asylum- seekers, shoot burglars, join Bupa and the BNP, what can you do? At 12, they just WON’T listen. There is something about the stench of socialist hypocrisy that is uniquely repulsive. It’s to do with letting down people who have nobody else to turn to. Conning your way to power through making eloquent stands against inequalities that, deep-down, you agree with.
How can Abbott, who lambasted Tony Blair and Harriet Harman for not sending their kids to the local comprehensive, justify sending her son to a far more exclusive school, buying even better life-chances for him, than they did? How can she let him swan off to an Oxbridge conveyor belt while giving the four Hackney schools he could have gone to another kick in the guts? It is worse behaviour than any Tory’s. Because she was elected to make the most deprived educational area in Britain a better place by tackling the masonic privileges she has just signed up to.
If this were still the Labour Party every constituent member would be given the right to de-select her. But it isn’t. In fact, under New Labour Abbott has just upped her chances of joining the Cabinet because in their lingo she has “shown courage in the face of tough choices”. In other words, shown how willing she is to crap on every working-class family she represents.
The only MPs they want to kick out of the party today are ones like George Galloway. Why? Because he stuck to his principles. He said what most of the party was thinking, that the war in Iraq was obscene and illegal, and British troops should not be fighting there. His comments, which may have been expressed cack-handedly, but which stemmed from deep personal beliefs, did not cost the life of one British soldier. But Blair’s and Jack Straw’s did. And what’s worse, theirs were lies. They knew it and now we know it. So if anyone betrayed the Labour Party over Iraq and put the next election in jeopardy it is the leadership. Yet Galloway is sacrificed without a peep from his gutless backbench colleagues.
Meanwhile, party lackeys defend Abbott with the standard waffle trotted out for Blair and Harman: “It’s every parent’s right to choose… blah, blah, blah.” The same waffle she has repeatedly attacked to earn a highly- lucrative second career as TV’s token female leftie. Who is the genuine Labour MP here, Galloway or Abbott? Which one would you most like to see kicked into touch? Me too. But instead he’s excommunicated while she prospers. It’s time New Labour was given another makeover and re-named the Non-Ronseal Party. Because it is the one oily product that does exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin.
In a typically tasteless display of Hackney Council’s real priorities, councillors have awarded themselves a sizeable pay rise while at the same time overseeing the cuts to summer playscheme places. In a letter to the Hackney Gazette, which reported both stories last week, Carl Taylor responds:
I have to congratulate the gazette, once again, for juxtaposing two stories in last week’s edition, which demonstrate the misplaced priorities of Hackney Council: “Councillors give themselves pay rise” and “No place to go”, about the reduction in summer playscheme places for 5 -13 year olds from 36 schemes to just six.
This will, of course, as Hackney Play Association say, “have a direct impact on youth offending and anti-social behaviour”.
The ‘confusion’ of responsibility between the Council and the Learning Trust is not a new phenomenon. The recent closure of Laburnum School was, according to the council, the responsibility of the Learning Trust, while the LT (quoted in a national newspaper) maintain that “… they [Hackney Council] retain ultimate authority for education in the borough”. As with other Hackney Council privatisations, for example the late but unlamented ITNet debacle in the Housing Benefit service, it is easy to see how this abdication of responsibility is very convenient for those who are supposed to be accountable to their electors.
Now we have the sickening spectacle of large pay rises for councilors, recommended by an “independent” panel. Luke Akehurst asks us to believe that this will safeguard them against “allegations of having our noses in the trough”. I – and no doubt other Gazette readers – would be very interested to know exactly who made up this independent panel. Are they as independent as they unconvincingly claim Learning Trust to be? And how does this unjustifiably pay hike square with the cuts being made to youth provision in the borough?
You might be able to fool some of us some of the time, but you ain’t fooling all of us all of the time!
Last week we printed a copy of a Guardian Education article on closing schools in Hackney. Interestingly, in the same week we found out that Laburnum Primary in Haggerston had been taken off special measures but was still to be closed. Below are responses to the article from the head of the Learning Trust and a governor of Stormont House School. Tomlinson spins a nice angle on the story but it’s revealing that a man who argues he wants to” raise the level of public debate” on education in Hackney should so blatantly disregard the concerns of parents, teachers, pupils and support staff at Laburnum and Kingsland by closing down both schools.
I was concerned at a number of aspects of your article (Crowded out, June 17) concerning the closure of Kingsland school in Hackney by the Learning Trust.
I was astonished that nowhere did you state clearly the reason the Learning Trust took action to close Kingsland. In November 1999, Ofsted inspected the school and found it failed to provide a satisfactory standard of education. That has remained the situation throughout the last three and a half years. Consequently pupil numbers plummeted as parents and children declined places at the school. The Learning Trust is not prepared to have parents send their children to such a school.
It is relatively easy to suggest that the school should have been kept open another year until Mossbourne Academy opened. It is harder to identify a reasonable message we could have sent to parents whose children were to start at the school in its last year. “Please send your children to this failing school that we intend to close” is hardly a responsible position for the Learning Trust or any local education authority to have taken.
As you rightly note, for existing key stage 4 pupils we indicated we would make an arrangement with local further education colleges. This is exactly what we have done, as you again record. To call this chaos is an odd use of words. I recognise that leading articles linking chaos and Hackney have been common in the past. This, however, is no longer the case.
The Learning Trust has conducted all the business of closing Kingsland school in the proper public arenas. The proposal was quite legitimately challenged, and as a consequence was passed to the schools adjudicator. This independent public body supported the trust’s proposal to close Kingsland and the arrangements for the continuing education of those pupils still in the school.
We want to raise the level of public debate around education in Hackney and in this spirit we welcome criticism, even when for the sake of emphasis it parts company with reality.
Chair, the Learning Trust, Hackney
Will sense prevail?
As a school governor in Hackney for 17 years, I found your article did not tell the whole story surrounding the closure of Kingsland school.
In autumn 2001, governors of Stormont House school, a highly successful special school in Hackney, were asked by the then LEA to second our headteacher, Angela Murphy, to Kingsland school with the clear objective of turning round what was then a failing school.
However, less than halfway through her time there, the LEA (even before the Learning Trust took over) started consulting on the closure of Kingsland. It is a testament to the leadership shown by Angela Murphy that, notwithstanding closure proposals hanging over the school, Kingsland has now come off special measures within weeks of its closure.
Therefore Kingsland school is only dying because the Learning Trust was determined to kill it.
What is clear is that the lack of democratic accountability of the Learning Trust has allowed the situation to develop, with the council’s education scrutiny panel apparently powerless to intervene.
Must we wait until the Ofsted inspection this September for sense to prevail?
Reprinted here is a long article from the Guardian’s Education supplement. It covers the recent closure of Kingsland School but also looks at the bigger picture of why Hackney Council is closing schools and the creep towards privatisation being imposed by national government policy with its specialist schools drive and local government with its unwillingness to listen to the concerns of working class residents. Looking at the article, you might ask yourself why a school in Stoke Newington which is obviously successful and serving a generally more middle class catchment area can get £1 million in extra funding whereas a school like Kingsland which is improving from its “failing” status can be axed. Class sizes or class discrimination?
There is chaos in the London borough of Hackney as one school is forced to close and another is forced to take extra pupils. Melanie McFadyean reports
17th June 2003
Almost half of all Hackney’s children go out of the borough to school. Many of them have no choice. Of the borough’s nine secondary schools, one is for boys, three for girls, three are denominational and two are coeducational. One of the co-eds, Kingsland, is about to be closed. The other is Stoke Newington school, which, under its current headteacher Mark Emmerson, is much sought after and over-subscribed.
In April, Emmerson sent out a letter to parents. (I declare an interest here: I am a Stoke Newington parent.) As a result of the closure of Kingsland, itself a matter of pain and controversy for its pupils, parents and teachers, Emmerson was told by the Learning Trust, Hackney’s education authority, that his school would be taking an extra 29 pupils in year 7 in September. (Had the Learning Trust tried to put 30 in they may not have got it past the relevant committees, as 30 constitutes an extra class.)
Given the overcrowding, why was the school expected to take on so many extra pupils? Because, said a Learning Trust spokesman, it was deemed to have the space.
Emmerson didn’t agree. “We will be too overcrowded,” he wrote to parents. “With increased numbers, the first things to break down are the systems we have for managing students; behaviour and attendance are particularly hard to maintain. We do not have enough staff. We do not have enough money, we do not have enough room. It is suggested that we convert offices, dining rooms and the staff room into classroom space.”
In order to maximise space, Emmerson told parents he would need £1,170,000. “We’re having to fight for every penny because there isn’t contingency in the budgets to deal with these issues,” he told the Guardian. “Success is a hard-won prize and very easily damaged, and that’s why I am fighting for the resources. We are dealing with the fall-out from the Kingsland closure and there is no recognition that this has an impact on schools around them.”
By dint of relentless pressure on the Learning Trust and the DfES, Emmerson has secured a substantial tranche of the £1m-plus. A compromise has been struck. But meanwhile what is happening to the Kingsland pupils and their teachers?
“We are not helping Kingsland,” Emmerson explained. “The 29 students will not be from Kingsland families.” So where are the Kingsland children going?
Of those on roll at the beginning of the year, some have already been “shuffled out”, as the Learning Trust’s director of pupil services, PJ Wilkinson, explains. There is a lot of turnover, or “churn” as it is known, in Hackney, so as places became available during the year, kids were moved on. Some Kingsland teachers weren’t happy about the way this was done: according to one teacher there, pupils would simply not turn up and it would transpire they had been moved. Wilkinson says the speed of changeover was surely “a good thing, not a bad thing”.
At the end of May, Wilkinson told the Guardian: “We are seeking school places for approximately 150 students in Kingsland years 7 and 8 in alternative local schools. So far these places have mainly been identified in out-of-borough schools, although there have been small numbers placed at several Hackney secondary schools.”
But 105 in current years 7 and 8 have not yet been placed for September. “I cannot say where they are going. Many have turned down offers, some are holding out for Stoke Newington,” says Wilkinson. “We believe they will be placed but they will be subject to considerable pressure when places come up.
“If they have turned down two places, we’d have to take the position that parents are being unreasonable. They have to take responsibility. We want consent not coercion, but coercion comes at the point at the end of the process. We are trying to steer them without using the maximum harshness that we are allowed to use. It’s terribly difficult.”
There have been problems, too, for current year 9 students. At the beginning of May, a Learning Trust representative told the Guardian that the remaining 141 pupils would go to the Sarah Centre, a new “14+” centre at Hackney Community College, for the two years of their GCSEs, where they will apparently have a pupil-teacher ratio of one to eight. But it would appear this key stratagem was not, in fact, signed up. Jackie Hurst, head of marketing at the college, said: “We are in the middle of considering it.”
On May 20, PJ Wilkinson said the college had given agreement to go ahead, although contracts were still being written. But on May 22, Hurst said: “There is no definite news on the movement of children from Kings land school; we won’t know anything [until] some time after June 2.”
On June 3, a spokeswoman at the college told the Guardian: “Our governors are hoping to take a final decision on whether Kingsland pupils will come to the Sarah Centre on June 10. Nothing has been agreed.” In the event, the deal was rubber-stamped.
Asked what she thought of the trust’s assumption that the centre would sign up, Hurst said she supposed it “was a risk they [the Learning Trust] took. Presumably they had no other option.” The Learning Trust said: “This agreement with the colleges was included in our submissions to the adjudicator on the closure of Kingsland. This has been agreed at progressive levels of detail over the last few months.
“We have a strong partnership with the colleges, who have been happy to speak to students over the last few months on the understanding that they would deliver, as is now the case.”
The impression that the Sarah Centre was definitely signed up was underlined by the Learning Trust’s directions to pupils at Kingsland for choosing their GCSEs.
The pupils going to the new centre were shown their GCSE options at a meeting in school on April 9. A few weeks later, another option sheet was given out. It was a list of seven compulsory subjects, with students asked to select three choices from a grid of subjects. There was no language option, Turkish and French having been deleted from the former list. A note explained that foreign languages will be on offer “where appropriate”. GCSE students will have been relieved to hear last week that there would now be “opportunities to study foreign languages”.
But the choices are tight. A student could not, for example, study geography, history and sociology – only one would be on offer. In the compulsory vocational list, from which students must pick one, are business studies, construction crafts, food technology, health and social care, leisure and tourism and motor vehicle engineering. There may be students to whom none of these appeals. Others might like to do more than one.
“This is a dumbed-down curriculum, and for some of our kids this year 9 to 11 period is the one chance they have – and it’s a chance that’s in danger of being blown,” says one Kingsland teacher.
The teachers were told of the proposal to close the school in July last year, and were offered a special one-off payment as an incentive to stay for the final year, a proposal that was to be clarified at the start of the academic year. The NUT didn’t get copies of the proposals until the end of February. It had asked for an across-the-board payment, but the plan was instead to pay between £3,000 and £6,000, with higher rates going to senior management.
There were strings attached. Anyone suffering more than 10 days sickness during the year would be paid only at the discretion of the Learning Trust. “Failure to accept the above in its entirety,” wrote Wilkinson, “will result in withdrawal of the scheme.”
People felt “deleted”, as one Kingsland teacher put it, and some decided to get out early. “Some of these are people who would have been prepared to work for another year or two to see the kids through. There will be continuity problems for kids going on with their year groups without the teachers they know.”
Redundancy would be an option, although redeployment was not ruled out. In May, Cheryl Newsome, executive director of people management at the Learning Trust, sent letters giving an estimated redundancy/early retirement quotation. But she added that final decisions would be made by the director of education and would be “based on the contingency of the service. If there is a suitable alternative post… the organisation will not authorise redundancy.”
Mark Lushington, spokesman for Hackney Teachers Association, which represents NUT members, says: “Many people have made plans on the basis of being made redundant and do not want to be redeployed.” They may have little choice.
Mark Emmerson says he would like to have seen Kingsland left open for another year until a planned new school, Mossborough Academy, opens in September 2004.
“Kingsland is an improving school, it isn’t going down the pan and if they’d waited, all the issues would have been sorted [and] it might have provided a better educational environment for the students.” Anne Shapiro, head of nearby Haggerston school for girls, agrees. “A lot of us feel the school is making progress. The school could have been given more time to improve and been allowed to see if it was possible to come out of special measures.” (The school is due for an inspection at which this is expected to happen.)
Wilkinson counters that Kingsland was a dying school and it would have been a “betrayal” of Hackney parents to keep it open. “If you move students en bloc you reproduce the same problems. You can’t shake off reputations; it’s better to break the thing up than keep it together.
“Fresh Start didn’t work. The new schools weren’t new enough and the bad reputations were transferred.”
There is a subtext at work in this story. Hackney desperately needs new schools, which it will get only if it conforms to the government’s strategy of setting up city academies. When Emmerson went to the DfES with Wilkinson in May, he recalls, “we suggested some recording of the pitfalls experienced during this school closure. The argument was that if there are to be more city academies, schools will be closed and there’s a cost involved for other schools. They want three city academies in Hackney and one they want is planned for the Kingsland site.”
The new city academies, of which Mossborough is one, are politically sensitive. Wilkinson insists they are not part of a drive towards privatising public services. “I’m very careful about the word privatisation. It’s not what an academy is – it’s state, no fees, no profits, not like private schools.” But pressed on the fundamental difference between city academies and ordinary secondary schools, he said there was “an interest in encouraging enterprise to bring money into schools”.
There will be more school closures to clear the way for city academies. If the chaos surrounding the Kingsland closure is anything to go by, one can only hope the DfES learns from the bumpy ride in Hackney and stops to question the ethos and financial arrangements that are the subtext of these upheavals.
The Learning Trust
Hackney education authority was in serious trouble when it was disbanded in August 2002. It had previously been partly privatised after consultants KPMG told the education secretary that outsourcing was the answer. Nord Anglia took over some key areas of the borough’s education functions. But in October 2000, an Ofsted inspection criticised the council for failure to provide “a secure context for the improvement of educational standards”.
In August 2001, the government announced plans to hand over Hackney’s education provision to an independent, not-for-profit trust. The secretary of state appointed three members to the trust’s board, including the chair and two “independent experts”; a director of education and three members of the senior management team would also be included. Other members would be selected from local heads and governors.
The trust was to be contracted to run education for the borough to “secure maximal revenue and capital funding for Hackney’s schools, including the exploration of a PFI/PPP bid to bring the condition of Hackney’s schools up to standards appropriate to the 21st century”.
Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, became the first chairman of the Learning Trust when he retired from Ofsted in April 2002.
A spokesman says its contract is “managed by the council and they retain ultimate authority for education in the borough. They must approve our annual plan [which] includes our bud get. Councillors sit on our board, and… the education scrutiny panel can review us against any of the terms of the contract. In the memorandum of understanding [annex to the contract] we undertake to respect the role of democratically elected representatives and the council’s scrutiny committees in reviewing decisions and the strategy of the trust.”
Only one member of the board is an elected representative of the local population; the others are selected and therefore largely unaccountable to users. It is this aspect that worries critics of this new semi-privatised LEA, who feel it is undemocratic. Local NUT divisional secretary Mick Regan says: “There is a serious lack of democracy in the Learning Trust, which is in effect a quango.”
As regulars to this site and readers of the Hackney Independent will know, the IWCA have been heavily involved in the fight to keep Laburnum School open. It now looks as though the school will close but there could be a twist in the tail (which we hope to be able to give you more details about in the very near future).
A vote last month at the Learning Trust, the largely unaccountable organisation which runs Hackney’s schools, was passed to close the school, despite the fact that the school had improved enough to be taken off “special measures”. On top of this, the Hackney Gazette last week revealed that nearly £4 million of new money has been handed to the borough for education which makes you wonder what priorities the council has.
The campaign to keep the school open will go on and we will keep you posted with latest developments as they arise.
All objections to this decision must be reported to the Schools Organisation Committee, which recently voted 3 to 2 against closing Kingsland secondary. Any non-unanimous decision goes to the Secretary of State, so Hackney IWCA (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) are urging all supporters of Laburnum School to send their objections to the following address explaining why the school must stay open:
The Learning Trust
1 Reading Lane
This must arrive no later than Monday 24th February.
22nd September 2002
The Save Laburnum School Campaign has launched a postcard campaign in August. Hundreds of local people have signed them, objecting to the Council’s plans to close the school. While many people have posted their own postcards direct to the Council, the Campaign has collected postcards at stalls held around the area and set up a postbox in Haggerston Community Centre. These postcards will be handed in to the Council at the end of the “consultation” period on 30th Deptember.
GC, N1 I think this is out of order
TO, N1 My children go to Laburnum and are very happy in their school. Please don’t close it
GC, E9 Not good. Should not happen
WW, E9 Education leads to a better life
JC, E8 Prime development site by canal?
GG, N1 Some schools in Hackney are already over-crowded. This does not promote a good education
SK, E9 Too few schools in Hackney already!
AS, E9 Children need their school to learn, and also we need more teachers
ID, E5 Disgraceful
DK, E8 This school has children and teachers. What happens to them?
PJ, E8 Please don’t close my school, I love it
DM, E8 Laburnum School offers an after school project and a breakfast club
NM, E8 Laburnum is a very good school and still getting better
AM, E2 I think it is not fair for the children. We must save the school
KT, E5 How do you expect children to get a good start in life if you keep closing schools?
JT, E2 I can’t believe you are taking another school away from Hackney. How many more children have to suffer? Education is very important in a child’s life
MT, E2 Please don’t close the school because all the children get good education and they are happy at the school
CR, E2 It is a great shame. My niece and nephew went on to a good secondary school
DK, E8 My children have attended this school since moving to London. All 3 children love their school
DR, E2 I object to this much needed school closure. All because the Council got itself in a financial mess in the past
NS, E8 Why didn’t our councillors tell us before the election? Shame!
GB, N1 Enough enoughs
JW, E2 It is a shame to close this school. I myself went to this school when I lived opposite the school. My children and now my grandchildren go there. It’s a great school
KR, N1 Hackney should be working towards building futures for children instead of taking away what they have
II, N1 Don’t close it down. It is my old primary school
JH, N1 Why? It’s needed now more than ever
TK, E8 Shame on you Hackney bigwigs, and it is all wigs isn’t it?
SO, E8 What are the reasons for the closure? There is another solution if we really think about it
PD, E8 Haggerston needs Laburnum. It is an up and coming school
SS, E8 Please consider all the students how they will take the situation
IM, E8 My children and grandchildren went there. It is our local school and a good one and serves a much better purpose to our community that the provision of yuppie flats. I would wish for my great grandsons and daughters to have knowledge of this school
DK, E8 I love this school. It has a special needs programme and they also have a reading together group
DB, E2 Obviously you are determined to displace a whole school in pursuit of financial gain. You have not considered the long-term effects for the children and their families by your plan. Shame on you all
SA, E2 I think that it is irresponsible to sell out on any educational facility in Hackney. The facilities and standards here are already poor enough as they are
PP, E8 This is a great school. Please think again
AO, E8 Don’t sell the future of our children for a peanut today
SD, E2 Because Hackney Council is in debt, do not mean they have to sell everything in Hackney. Leave our schools alone
NS, E2 Leave the school alone because the children love the school. We love our school
UO, E8 If every school is a good school, then don’t close Laburnum. Make it better school for our community and our children
VJ, N1 Money should be invested in schools. The youth are our future!!
DC, N1 What about our children’s education? Please do not close the school
TS, E8 I believe the school should stay for the good it does our community – local schools for local people
AM, E2 I’m disgusted at the Council’s attitude. Do you want kids to grow up stupid?
TP, E8 Please see sense
SE, E2 Please do not close any more of our schools
RL, E8 Spend more on schools, less on war!
PW Do not use schools to bail you out of financial crisis!!
MH, E2 Keep communities like they want, not like the system wants
MG, E5 We have to do all we can to stop this closure
RS,N16 Keep the school open!!
Emmanuel Amevor, Centerprise Director. What next – destroying the next generation. Stop this nonsense and save Laburnum Primary School
Paul Foot Socialist Alliance
Crispin Truman Green Party
“I went to Laburnum School as did my brothers and we got a good education here. If I am elected Mayor of Hackney, Laburnum School will not close.”
The answer to your question is an unequivocal Yes I support your campaign. The elected mayor will have little power, but will be able at least to block and stall council closure plans, and use the influence of the elected office to campaign against them. I would do these things most energetically. I would like to say that I will also be available to – and supportive of – your campaign if I am not elected.
As Mayor of Hackney I would fully support the kids, parents and staff of Laburnam School and the wider community in your campaign to keep the school open. It’s my strong belief that the work you are doing to protect and improve our borough cannot be dismissed by Hackney Council but must be welcomed and supported if we are ever to turn things around. It’s the role of Mayor to put the interests of local people at the top of the local agenda, protecting services for the future instead of sacrificing everything we have to the obsessive need to please the government and its accountants.