Education: “Local Democracy bites the dust”

Extracts from an article by Guardian columnist Michael Rosen:

” … In one stroke, George Osborne has eliminated the public’s role in education where we live. Here he is explaining why: “It is simply unacceptable that Britain continues to sit too low down the global league tables for education.” In taking over ministerial responsibility for education, Osborne seems to have forgotten that this job applies only to England. The reference to “global” tables is part of the argument that says doing exclamation marks better than Johnny Foreigner enables British capitalism to compete better with the Chinese. “So I’m going to get on with finishing the job we started five years ago,” he continues, “to drive up standards and set schools free from the shackles of local bureaucracy.” …

… This is how it works: your school is a local authority school. When it becomes an academy, the local authority is compelled to give (for a peppercorn rent) a 125-year lease to whichever “sponsor” comes in to take over the school. Leaseholders have rights over the properties they have leases on, including, perhaps, permission to run a “dating agency” on school premises. Where Sir Greg trod, others are sure to step, too. In the case of “foundation” schools – schools whose ownership is in the hands of a trust – switching to academy status entails a direct transfer of freehold from the trust to the new sponsors. There is room for some serious cash to be made here.

There is room for some other jiggery-pokery too. On several occasions in the past few years, I have been invited into schools by people from the soon-to-be-extinct species, local authority advisers. At some point in our chats, they have taken me to one side and told me that central government, academy chains and individual academies do not have a duty of care for all children.

That is the local authority’s job. That duty covers vulnerable, “challenging”, at-risk, disabled, asylum-seeking and looked-after children. Advisers have told me they have found children who were once in academies somehow no longer being in academies, whether that is a result of the rush to improve test scores, prove “progress” or because of an unwillingness to spend money on supporting such children.

Who has picked up the pieces? The local authority. We can imagine the wall-to-wall academies landscape of the future full of the same urge to offload “difficult” children. In which case, impoverished local authorities will end up having to run impoverished “units” for them, won’t they?

In the academies themselves, other possibilities are taking shape. In 2012, while education secretary, Michael Gove released them from the requirement to hire well-paid, trained teachers. This “advance” has coincided with automated teaching appearing on iPads. Why employ people trained to teach, when a software company can do it for you?

A future beckons where the student will sit in a pod and press a button: the word “cheese” appears. The student types in “vache”, the machine says “no”. The student types in “fromage”, the machine says “yes”. An untrained operative walks past, nods, and walks on. One student is mucking about. The operative finds the student’s name on the discipline app, clicks on “negative comment”. As it’s the third time this week, the student’s name pops up on the deputy head’s screen. The student is sent off for an hour in the detention suite: no need for human contact – made all the easier through academicisation. …

… Now, with many more schools under direct rule, what has arrived are what Osborne in other circumstances might perhaps have called “the shackles of local bureaucracy”. They are the innovative but unelected regional schools commissioners, whose job is to do what local authority advisers used to do, but with hundreds more schools on their books. Not so innovative, then. Perhaps these commissioners have bought Gove’s illuminating maps so that when the light comes on, they jump in their cars and head for the North York Moors, or Dover.

One time-saver: when they get there, they won’t have to meet the parent governor. That job has just been abolished. Another local election bites the dust. We parents don’t need one of our own to keep an eye on what goes on in academies, do we? We might find that the academy head is running a dating agency.”

Jurassic Coast National Park: its time has come

An East Devon Watch post recently drew attention to an article in the Midweek Herald which broke the news that “pressure on local authority budgets is forcing a rethink on the management of the World Heritage Site and there could be a move towards greater community involvement.”

Owl suggested it was time to re-examine the idea of creating an East Devon and Dorset National Park based on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage coastline.

Recall that EDDC refused to consider the idea because it would have to relinquish planning control to a new authority. A difficult thing to do when it has so many developers to please.

The idea is still being pursued and here is the website with all the details:

They would no doubt be pleased to receive support.

Making beach huts more available, or maximizing assets? You can’t have it both ways

Report from Scrutiny Committee meeting:

EDDC’s Deputy Chief Executive, Richard Cohen was directly in the firing line at last night’s Scrutiny Committee held at Knowle. He was obliged to admit that Ward members had not been contacted at all, before the new prices for beach huts were announced in the Councillors’ news sheet, ‘The Knowledge’ (January 2016). It became clear that only a cursory consultation had been made, with town clerks, about possible transfer of ownership of beach huts to local councils … but councillors themselves were left in the dark.

Richard Cohen defended his actions, saying he was working under a Cabinet directive. But the behind closed doors decision to increase beach hut hire charges by over 90% by 2017 in Beer, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton and Sidmouth, has made Ward members livid.

Cllr Marianne Rixson (IEDA, Sidmouth-Sidford) found this level of price hike “staggering”. Her detailed research had shown that comparable wooden beach huts at Lyme Regis had a lifespan of 10 years, and a replacement cost estimated at £600 per hut.

So was EDDC intending to replace the 20 year old Sidmouth beach huts with new ones before handing them over to the Town Council?”, she asked.

Cllr Maddy Chapman (Con, Exmouth-Brixington) twice called the price hike “outrageous”, saying “I do find the way this council goes about things is all over the place” , and adding “I don’t understand why you are trying to make so much money out of people who can’t afford to go abroad.”

Cllr Cathy Gardner (IEDA, Sidmouth Town) said two things had got “mixed up” in Richard Cohen’s claim – that EDDC wanted to make beach huts more available, and to maximize assets. “The two things are at odds”, she told him. “Social benefit has gone out of the window. EDDC should “stop trying to sound as if they are doing people a favour”.

At the suggestion of Cllr Val Ranger (IEDA, Newton Poppleford & Harpford) Committee, there will now be a formal recommendation to Cabinet that a structured process should be introduced at EDDC, for Ward Members to be involved in decision–making from a very early stage.

But a strong warning came from Scrutiny Chair, Cllr Roger Giles (Ind, Ottery St Mary), that recommendations by Scrutiny were not always mentioned by officers in their report for Cabinet. The consequences were clear from a recent instance of a Cabinet meeting which he had attended. Despite there being no less than nine Scrutiny recommendations to be addressed, not one was referred to during the course of the meeting.

So last night’s Meeting also recommended that officers’ reports should in future highlight Scrutiny recommendations, for Cabinet consideration.

Isn’t it high time that Scrutiny was taken seriously?

Source 18/03/2016

Apprentices will cost council tax payers extra money

“The Government’s apprenticeship drive will force councils to recruit thousands of trainees each year despite them having reduced their own staff numbers by 40% since 2010, councils leaders have warned.

All public sector organisations have been set an annual target of 2.3% of the workforce that should now be apprentices. The LGA is calling for an exemption from the obligation and stressed that councils would have to create 33,000 apprenticeships each year and find an extra £400 million in salaries – the biggest contribution of any part of the public sector including the NHS.

The Association also said that finding money to pay the new apprenticeship level from April 2017 would cost councils £207 million a year and argued that money raised by the levy should be pooled locally to allow local areas to create apprenticeships to fill local skills gap and meet employers’ needs.”

Click to access the-knowledge-18-march-2016-issue-43.pdf