Picking Over The Bones

Originally posted on Richard Knaggs Photography:

The demolition of the Bradford and Bingley building (which I talked about in the post Goodbye and Good Riddance?) which stands right in the centre of Bingley is now well under way and it looks like in a couple of weeks time all that will be left will be a large pile of rubble.

Bradford & Bingley 1 Bradford & Bingley 1 – click to enlarge

I didn’t really know what to expect when they said that demolition would start soon as I have never seen a building such as this get demolished. Would they dynamite it all in one go? Take big swings at it with a giant ball? If not how would they go about it?

Bradford & Bingley 2 Bradford & Bingley 2 – click to enlarge

The answer is that they carefully and meticulously knock bits off it with a jack-hammer type device on the end of a crane. They are basically consuming…

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Eduwhinge 4: Councillors Answer the Call

Slide1Concerned, disheartened – hell, embarrassed – by Bradford’s and the wider North’s educational underperformance, I’ve taken up whinging and have become a busy body by writing letters, using social media and generally making a nuisance of myself to try and find out why the North’s kids are worth less and are less important than London’s. That sounds very emotive and incendiary, but remember: when London’s schools were the worst in the country, they got prime ministerial attention, investment, funding and academic support; London now, easily, has the best perofrming local education authorities (LEAs), schools and students in the country. I simply want to know… when is it our turn?

In Eduwhinge 3, I shared who I’d written to and what I wrote. In this blog post, I’ll share the first few replies I got from the 30 or so councillors I wrote to. Well, both of them.

Slide1Firstly, Ralph Berry (Lab), Bradford MDC’s Children’s Services portfolio holder. Ralph really doesn’t have the easiest of jobs and is constantly taking flak – rightly so – for Bradford’s educational underperformance; it’s his job, after all. Bradford was named and shamed by Ofsted supremo Sir Michael Wilshaw as one of 14 LEAs with less than 50% of schools classed as Good or better, with 13 of them in the North* – but Ralph Berry knows what the problem is and what the ideal solution would be:

what we need is the Unions and others t press for the same resources commitment to the region [the East Riding and other Yorkshire areas are in challenging circumstances too.
The reality is we deserve the method and the resources ….
Ralph Berry – Children’s Services Bradford MDC

The education chief in the worst city in the worst region in the country knows how to fix it… and that’s a push for an expansive, regional solution bringing together all stakeholders to make a real robust difference quickly but one that will last over time. How does he know it? Well, the guy’s been in the job a while, he cares, he wants to do well and, most of all, he’s looked on enviously as London soared away from the rest during and after London Challenge.

I replied:

I agree that the only way to get the funding that the areas named by Ofsted need is to work together, like the way we did over the threat to the Science Museums and NMM. How do we do that? What can someone like me do to help get Bradford (and the other areas) the necessary attention and investment from central government?

Areas which are failing need to go, en masse, to the government and demand help, demand support, demand what London got over a decade ago.

Signing off with a question, a plea, that was to become my signature for these emails, I wanted to know what I could do. I’ve had a couple of answers to that, which I’ll share as we go along, but, most of the time, I got no reply. Is there really nothing I can do?

St Helens councillor, Susan Murphy, replied too, pointing out the North-South divide is alive and well:

Hi John
I agree with your comments, the North South divide also effects the amounts of cuts local authorities in the North are experiencing compared with the South
Cllr Murphy

I agree, wholeheartedly, but Cllr Murphy doesn’t address the points – how can we work together to make sure kids in Bradford and St Helens, et al get the education they deserve? Cllr Murphy is very busy, I’m sure, so any reply is gratefully received (and was unusual) especially as I’m not a constituent. However, ungratefully, I wondered what the point was. I’d asked why failing LEAs, such as St Helens, weren’t working with others to demand that we all get a fair deal for our children. David Cameron and George Osbourne and Michael Gove don’t care about St Helens. It’s small and northern and Labour, so why would they? Bradford’s much bigger and a bit less Labour and they don’t care about it either. But, if St Helens and Bradford and the others joined together and shouted – just as Labour’s trades unions have told us to – perhaps we’d get somewhere. The trouble is, it seems, local councillors are too busy fighting fires, fighting elections and fighting cuts to consider doing something innovative to change course (whether it’s my call or some other scheme); sadly, it’s more of the same thing that’s not working.

I asked Cllr Murphy

Thanks for your swift reply.

Would you agree that the areas in the North named and shamed by Sir Michael Wilshaw need special treatment in order to catch up with the rest? Do you think that working with other areas which have found themselves in the same position would be the best solution to improving schools (as happened with the London Challenge)? Most of all, if you do agree, how do we get the investment and funding needed so that we get what they got a decade ago?

I’d really appreciate your ideas so that Bradford, St Helens and the rest get what they need and deserve.

I never got a reply… but then, one reply was better than what I got from most, so I should be thanking Cllr Murphy.

What came of my letters, which went to Children’s Services executive members or portfolio holders to councils in the North which were named & shamed by Ofsted and / or were in the bottom 20 LEAs nationally was a resounding silence. Do these LEAs have ideas about how to get them off the bottom, out of the embarrassing shamed zone? I don’t know. What is apparent, though, is that Bradford and St Helens and Barnsley and Hull and all the rest are working alone. None, it seems, is asking why our kids are worth less than London’s; none are reaching out and saying that our kids deserve more; none are saying, “Let’s work together to show the government we need and deserve and demand its support… just like London got!”**

Instead, it seems, failing LEAs across the North are working to Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different results. The government can point to a whole host of areas, most of all London, where educational performance has increased, so why would they be concerned about ne’er-do-wells in the North if they can’t even join together? The government believes it knows how to increase educational performance for all and is going down that route… but if all schools increase by 2%, 5%, or 100%, it still leaves our kids at the bottom without the chances their Southern peers have; in fact, the gap simply widens.

That wasn’t good enough for London’s kids… why is it good enough for ours?

*if you include Derbyshire as Northern rathern than Midland, as The Guardian did: “All but one were in the north: Tameside, Middlesbrough, Barnsley, East Riding, Stockton-on-Tees, Bradford, Blackpool, Doncaster, Oldham, St Helens, Hartlepool, Derbyshire and Isle of Wight.”

** Cllr Berry has contacted me about the Yorkshire Challenge, an unfunded trial which has a couple of Bradford secondaries involved, of which I’ll write more later.

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Eduwhinge 3: Who’ll stand up for our kids?

I know I can’t do much as just one person, but, I thought, surely, if I can get a few important people on side, I can get people at least talking about a Northern Challenge to drive up standards in education.

I’m disappointed that the UK, especially England, revolves around London. In the 1980s and 1990s, education in London was a byword for underperformance and underachievment: nobody, least of all our Mps, wanted their kids state educated in the capital. Quite rightly, Tony Blair, as prime minister, described this as an emergency and did something about it. Working with local authorities, schools, professionals and academics, the London Challenge was born… and London’s schools quickly moved from the worst to the best.

Slide1Once London Challenge had been proved to be a success, the idea was partially rolled out – to Birmingham and Manchester as part of the city challenge (though why two of the most underperforming areas in (West and South) Yorkshire and the North-East were not included, I cannot say). In 2010, after the Conservative’s election win and their comprehensive spending review, the scheme was scrapped (in favour of the enormously over budget and much maligned Free Schools policy and enforced academisation).

Now, we have a divided nation when it comes to education: London has been sorted so those lagging behind, left at the bottom are, mainly, in the North (and the Midlands, to some extent). My question is simple: where’s our Northern Challenge?

I wanted to know why local councils and MPs in the North weren’t clamouring for a Northern Challenge to lift us up from where London was to where it is today: the best for education for all, including all social (but particularly poorer) and ethnic groups. So, I asked. Below is a copy of one of the letters I wrote and, if you’re interested, a link to the people who got the first letter. These included Children’s Services (or similar) portfolio holders at and MPs for the local education authorities (LEAs) which were in the North (or Derbyshire) and had been lambasted for having less than 50% of schools rated as Good or better, and / or were in the bottom 20 LEAs for GCSE performance in 2014.

I was hugely frustrated by my local authority being named, again, as one of the worst performing areas for education in England. I’m sure you feel similarly.

I’m tired my local schools being named and shamed by Ofsted; I’m tired of my local schools coming near the bottom of every league table possible; I’m tired of children in the schools around me having a poorer education, poorer life chances, poorer exam results and poorer employability than almost every other child in the country.

I know that the local teachers, headteachers, schools and education authority are working hard everyday to give our children the best possible education they are able to provide – and I applaud them. The reason I am tired is that central government knows exactly what tools, what investment and what support is needed to get our kids’ education improved… because over a decade ago the government did just that with the London Challenge. I’m tired of waiting for it to be our turn.

When all schools were treated the same, London’s schools stayed at the bottom of the pile. You know – far better than me – that if the government takes a one-size-fits-all approach to school improvement, our kids will always be at the bottom; if all schools improve at the same rate, our kids’ results will always be worse than those of other children; if we are not given more, our kids will always have less.

If the next government – Conservative, Labour or coalition – is to make a real difference to children in your constituency, it must realise what we need something different, something special, something bespoke that will truly change our children’s futures. This is too important to be a partisan issue – and all parties should be determined to make a real, lasting difference to our kids’ futures.

The only option to ensure that our schools get better, relative to other areas, is to make the next government understand that, like London a decade ago, this is an emergency, this is vital and our place at the foot of all league tables cannot and must not be allowed to continue.

7 out of 10 of the worst performing LAs are in the North. 50% of the bottom 20 are in the North. Yorkshire & The Humber, the North West and North East are all in the bottom 5 areas in England.

London’s schools got the London Challenge – so where’s the Northern Challenge? Why isn’t the government making the Northern Powerhouse a centre of excellence of education? What better way could the government support our industry, employment and business in your constituency than by supporting the next generation of workers, business people and entrepreneurs? What more could the government do to give our children the best possible chance in life than revolutionising their education?

This email is going to the MPs representing the local authorities across the North which came in the bottom 20 in 2014 for getting students good GCSEs. It is a plea for us, all of us irrespective of party, county or local authority, to say enough is enough, and come up with a new plan that will benefit us all. In isolation, you will not get the change your kids need; together, we can ask that all political parties make a firm commitment to changing education in each of your constituencies. On this issue, we can put party politics aside and get real change.

I’m just some bloke in Bradford who’s tired of seeing my local schools’ vilification with the publishing of every new league table. I don’t want to read in another 10 years’ time that Bradford’s kids are still underachieving and still amongst the worst attaining children in the country. I would dearly love to hear what you think I can do, who I should write to, what foot stamping, whinging, whining and moaning I can do to get you the support that we need. I want Bradford’s schools to be better – but I don’t think they’ll get what they need without you joining us to ask for more for all.

I want a properly funded Northern Challenge to make your schools better. How do I get that?

The people I wrote to (and others I have  or am planning to contact) can be found here.

If you’re as annoyed at this as me, make sure you write to your MP and ask them – Where’s our Northern Challenge?

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Eduwhinge 2: We know the problem; we know the answer; where’s our solution?

There’s a problem with education in Bradford and across the North. It’s a fact. The problems can be sorted, quite easily. Another fact. When London’s schools were failing, the national government acted and sorted the problem. Another fact. So why isn’t the government acting when it’s our kids failing?

Slide1What I want is to know, simply, why Northern kids’ failure is allowed, is ignored, is tolerated by government after they acted so swiftly a decade ago. Failing education is not a head-scratcher; no new initiative needs to be dreamed up; the answer to the question does not need a huge amount of resources in discovery. All of this has been done before… in London. So when is it our turn? When will the national government see that we need exactly what the South got a decade ago?

Slide1My eduwhinge letters, meetings and calls will try to find out why London’s kids’ failure was an emergency, and why Northern kids’ failure is routine, tolerated and OK.

 If you’d like to join in, write to your council, your MP or someone in government ask them why it’s OK for the country to concentrate on London’s kids but leave ours to rot.

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Eduwhinge 1: Why are they failing our kids?

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 13.00.16Education in Bradford is poor. It’s a fact. Bradford is the worst city in the country to educate your child, joint second worst local education authority (LEA) in the country and is in the worst overall area, Yorkshire & the Humber, in the country. Education in Bradford is bad.

The picture, though, is mirrored across huge parts of the (post) industrial North, with the worst performing areas and LEAs far more likely to be at or near the bottom of the league tables. For instance:

  • Of the 13 areas shamed by the head of OfSTED, in which children have a less than 50% chance of attending a Good or better school, only the Isle of Wight is below Birmingham.
  • Of the bottom 10 LEAs (GCSEs in 2014), 7 were in the North; of the bottom 20, 10 were in the North.
  • Of the worst performing areas, Yorkshire & the Humber was the worst, followed by the North East.

I’m tired of Bradford coming near the bottom of every league table published and want to do something about it. But what can some bloke from Bradford actually do? Complain.

My problem, you see is, that we’re not getting our fair crack of the whip. The government makes noises about HS2 and Northern Powerhouse/s, tells us we’re all in it together and that we should trust them to sort out our education system. But, London’s schools were awful a decade or so ago. Nobody wanted to send their kids, least of all parliamentarians, to schools in London who were failing their kids routinely.

What happened? The national government stepped in and decided that enough was enough, schooling in the capital was a national disgrace, and they sorted it. London got the London Challenge - we got nowt.

In 2015, 6 of the top 10 LEAs are in London; Outer London and Inner London are 1 and 2 in the best areas for GCSEs; nearly 90% of LEAs are above average; and London’s schools are praised for their work with all children, but especially poor kids and non-white kids.

Am I angry that Bradford and Northern kids tend to do worse? Yes. But what is more galling, more frustrating, more disappointing is that the government knows exactly what to do to change our kids’ fortunes and prospects… because they did it over a decade ago.

So, when is it our turn? Where’s our Northern Challenge?

If you’re annoyed, angry or upset by this, join me. Write to your MP, write to your council, write to anyone you can think of and ask them: when’s it our turn? Where’s our Northern Challenge?

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Walking Through Cities: Little Germany in Bradford

Originally posted on Rocket Room P:


Little Germany

In the middle of the city of Bradford is the area known as Little Germany. As the name suggests, everything there feels a bit more continental and quirky. There’s something old fashioned about the place. It’s the Germany of a Universal film from the 1930’s.



The smallest details seem to be decorative. Maybe there’s just something about being here that makes you look closer.





Little Germany is also home to the Bradford Playhouse. The school took us here to see the film of Jane Eyre. Whore and Tetsuo were showing the same week.




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Will it take a Cannon to fire Galloway?

indexIf first impressions are anything to go by, I shouldn’t be writing this post about Sophia Cannon, the woman who wants to take Bradford West off Gorgeous George. I first found out about her in a Grauniad piece, “Is Labour scared of George Galloway?” What raised my ire? When asked why she wanted to stand in Bradford West, she told the Guardian “Two words: Bethnal Green, 2005.” Great! I thought to myself This is just what we need – another ego who’s using us for self promotion & settle a score from London. This morning, Saturday, I got a Twitter DM: a phone number and “Call me!” which I did. The first thing Cannon told me: “I need you to stop using your infographic” on education. Who the fuck are you? sprang to my lips but she was already on to the next sentence and I didn’t get a chance to do much bar listen for quite a while. So, why am I writing a post about some pushy carpetbagger who wants a dust up with Gorgeous George? Education.

Recently, I’ve been banging on and on about education on Twitter, writing to MPs and Lords and councilors and all sorts of people. Why? Bradford’s education is awful. I’ll write more anon but Bradford’s the second worst local authority in the country for GCSE performance and was named and shamed by Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw as being one of only 13 LAs in the country which had less than 50% of schools rated as Good or better. It was this issue that put me on Sophia Cannon’s radar.

“Education’s my baby,” she told me, before launching into a potted history of how she was part of the team which devised, implemented and delivered the London Challenge through her work with the Canary Wharf Foundation, a scheme which saw London’s schools moving from amongst the worst to the best in the country. When’s it our turn? has been my burning question. Cannon’s answer is simple: as soon as she’s elected.

Speaking with her, it was immediately obvious that education is her passion. She told me about how education saved her life, the trials of being a bright but bad lass who went on to become a barrister thanks to the luck of being placed in a neighbouring authority’s good school which supported her, nurturing her talents and widened her horizons. She knows the benefits of a good education because she’s lived it.

What impressed me most, though, was her knowledge, understanding and experience of taking an area with a failing educational system and transforming. That is exactly what Bradford needs. And she doesn’t just know what the problem is, she fixed it elsewhere and is determined to replicate that success in Bradford.

George Galloway knows there’s a problem with education in Bradford: he campaigned on it in 2012, he’s said a few times that we need a Bradford Challenge, similar to London’s, and he’s a go-to-guy for quote whenever Bradford’s bottom of the pile again. But what’s he actually done?

Cannon, on the other hand, was part of setting up London Challenge, spoke passionately about getting finance, getting support, getting the politicians on side, getting sports teams, universities & business to play their part, and, most of all, getting education sorted. Galloway’s spoken about the London Challenge, no doubt, but Cannon’s done it.

Confronted by a mouthy firebrand with seemingly less than perfect reasons for wanting to represent me in parliament, you can understand my feeling of déjà vu – I’ve been there with George and, for me, it just hasn’t worked out how I expected. I saw in Galloway an opinionated, passionate man who would get in front of the camera and bang the drum about what’s great about Bradford, understand how it could be improved and get things changed. I’ve been disappointed. In Cannon, I see the same, but many differences. Sophia Cannon told me a lot about how she intends to represent Bradford West, and the differences between her intentions and Galloway’s style are stark.

Stressing that she’s not just about the party and will plough her own trough, she was blunt, even indiscreet, about her thoughts on other politicians, but it was her working relationship with key members of both front benches which impressed me: no matter what the make up of the next government, she knows the next education secretary, has worked with them and is able to influence them. (I know, I know, she says she is but is she really? – but we know that Galloway is firmly and proudly outside the tent pissing in and is not able to influence any party in that way; he told me as much when I wrote to him about education, stating that, clearly, he is powerless as Respect is not in government nationally or locally.) She is confident that, in parliament, she will be able to influence others, from the backbenches of the Labour party to the education secretary and up to the Lords, where her former boss, Oona King who endorsed her candidacy, sits.

Another way in which she differs from Galloway is that she has a good relationship with the press, both right and left wing. Galloway has complained, possibly with some justification, that, as an outsider, the press leave him alone or set him up. I wanted a known face with a strong voice to talk Bradford up and ensure we got what we need: what I’ve found is that, whenever Galloway’s in the press, it’s for reasons which make me disappointed, even ashamed, to have him representing me: angering rape victims, spats with former employees, stating Bradford’s an Israel-free zone, and telling the world not to come to Bradford to see the Tour de France all pissed me off. Have I heard him sing our praises, advertise our best bits or stamp his feet about our falling educational standards, unfair government cuts or show up the government for the way it treats us and the wider North? No. Cannon says she can and will.

My final points in favour of Cannon are odd to explain and justify: location, race, religion.

Firstly, she’s not a Bradford lass. To many, this is a negative – after all, shouldn’t Bradford’s future be in the hands of a Bradfordian? I think it’s a positive that she’s an offcomedun. The biggest thing the Labour Party could do to woo me back is to send in a serious candidate with experience and nous, to send in not the best Bradfordian but the best person – and, of course, she is free from the stain of Biridiri which, as we all know, is about all the national media knows about voting in Bradford. Known in political, educational and legal circles, Cannon wants to improve Bradford and leave a legacy. We’ve had empty shirts with a Bradford accent before – she’s something new and different and that’s what I want.

The second part is more touchy: I’m tired of the national media, when they hump their way up the M1 every election time, believing that Bradford is a city divided (viz Jemima Khan ‘outing’ Galloway’s supposed conversion to Islam). In part, it’s true – but does any multicultural city not, at least in part, struggle with diversity? What angers me is they come up with the firm idea that we’re ruled by Kashmiri clans who’ll never allow anyone but a favourite son get near the ballot paper, find a story to ‘prove’ it, take a gritty pic & piss of back down South for Pimms. What every commentator on Galloway’s election win said was, basically, that the whites won’t vote for an Asian and the Asians won’t vote for a non-Muslim (unless the other chap’s a drinker, nugdge, nudge). Bollocks. What nobody noted was that Bradford West’s last and very successful Labour MP was Marsha Singh, and he was neither white nor Muslim. What better demonstration that we vote on merit for the candidate we want, for the person and party who shares our ideals and rubbishing these harming, shameful claims of racial and religious divide than by returning once again a non-white, non-Muslim? You shouldn’t be voting for a person just because they share your skin tone or your God, but by returning Sophia Cannon, at least London’s papers will have to find another stick to beat us with.

In short, Sophia Cannon knows what the problems are, has been in similar situations before and has worked hard to fix them, and she’s not weighed down by Bradford baggage. Rude, brusque and demanding – yes – but maybe that’s what Bradford needs… but it’d be nice if she’d say ‘Please’.

GALLOWAY - sadBut what about George? Perhaps he’s been just what we need in Bradford West. Like many other Respect voters, I cast my ballot for him in part to teach the local Labour Party a lesson: stop taking us for granted and send us someone worth voting for. Maybe Sophia Cannon could be George’s greatest legacy, after shocking the party, ensuring they never take us for granted again.

There are, of course, others in the running. I don’t know much about Nasreen Karim, and I’ll write more if find out; I was impressed with Naz Shah, a local campaigner on equality and domestic violence, as well as chair of a local mental health charity, for her pieces in the Urban Echo about the differences between reciting and understanding the Koran. Cannon, Karim or Shah would, probably, get my vote in May (especially as I’m disenchanted with and banned (seriously, he banned me) from voting for the incumbent).

On the other hand, Shakeela Lal and Naveeda Ikram, both serving Labour councilors in Bradford, are firmly in the mould of what’s come before and would demonstrate that Labour’s learnt nothing from Galloway’s victory. Although Ikram’s a former mayor (and Britain’s first female British-Asian to hold such a post) so has kudos , they are both party, local party and Bradford politics through and through… and we know how that faired last time. Surely even Labour, even Bradford Labour, couldn’t be so daft as to fall back into old ways after the damning Rowntree Trust report which slated it and its selection practices. Actually, when it comes to Bradford West, maybe it could.

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Charitable Giving

What would make you more likely to give a little to a local charity?


I volunteer with Bradford Cinderella Club. We support Bradford District’s underprivileged kids go on the trips their more affluent peers take for granted… and we’ve been doing it for nearly 125 years.

We’d like to raise our profile further among the Bradford public. Many local groups and schools know about us and the work we do, but we want to be in the hearts and minds of others so they know someone’s working hard for the kids who can slip through the cracks when it comes to a treat.

I’d like to increase the number of people who recognise us and the work we do, increase the amount of donations we receive so we can increase the number of kids we support, and, maybe, increase the number of people who volunteer with us.

To begin, it’d be great if you’d quickly click the poll above. There are no links, no hidden traps and nothing that says you’re got to donate. Simply, it’s so I know what I’m doing is right and will have impact.

Of course, if you’d like to support Bradford Cinderella Club, you can always donate here.

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Why I’m on Strike

I’m not at school today. School’s closed. If you’re in the North West, where I teach, you’ve probably seen it on the news or you’ve been directly affected it. You may have had to find childcare or been forced to take a day off work or work from home. If you’ve been put out, I’m sorry. I really am sorry. However, I don’t think I’ve got a choice.

I’m going to give you my reasons for striking. Once you’ve read it, you can call me the names I’ve been called previously: “lazy’, “workshy” and “parasite” are just a few. I would ask you, please, to read to the end before you comment, though. If you feel any of those labels are right for me, or if you think I’m doing the wrong thing, please do tell me… but do give this a read first.

Teachers are going to be called a lot of things today, but we’re used to that. Recently, we’ve been told we’re Marxist “enemies of promise”, lazy, fail poor kids and are responsible for the rise of fascism. Today’s different, though, as we’ll have politicians suggesting we’re greedy, self-centred and aren’t thinking about the rest of the country – and you – as we take industrial action. I can understand why the government has to say this and I can also understand why you might agree with them. After all, you’re feeling the effects of my actions and, to be frank, my union (it doesn’t matter which one) hasn’t done a good job of telling you why I’m striking. The unions are very good at getting teachers out on strike, but they haven’t sold our cause to you. Had they told you why our actions are in your and your child’s interests, I think we’d have far more support from you and everyone else in our communities.

Why am I on strike?

There are a number of reasons, and I’ll list them. They’re not in the same order or the same explanations given by my union: these are my personal reasons why I’m not in school.

Firstly, class sizes are bigger. There are fewer teachers teaching more students. Teachers and others in education are losing their jobs. The number of teachers is dropping (Teacher numbers fall by 10,000 in a year) and this comes at a time when the number of students in schools in rising, with some describing the shortage a ‘crisis’. This has led to the government removing the requirement that your child must be taught in classes of no more than 30 pupils – the government is increasing class sizes.

There’s a simple reason for this: cost. Your child’s education isn’t worth paying for, say the government. More students per teacher means a lower cost per child. Indeed, Sir Michael Wilshaw, appointed head of OfSted by the current government, says that schools will soon be required to choose between high-quality staff and smaller class sizes – your child can either have a highly skilled, experienced and qualified teacher in a very large class, or can be in a smaller class with a less experienced (possibly unqualified) teacher.

Secondly, teachers don’t have to be ‘teachers’. The government is removing the requirement for the person in charge of your child’s education to be a trained teacher. The government has removed the need for staff in academies and free schools to be fully qualified teachers, and they are expanding this to state schools. Most people agree that this is simply a cost-cutting measure. The government says that there are some fantastic people teaching who don’t have a teaching qualification and this isn’t about cutting costs, but is about raising standards. If that’s true, why are unqualified teachers paid so much less if they’re at least as good as qualified teachers? If these unqualified staff have the skills of qualified teachers, and can become qualified in school using their existing skills and experience in the classroom, and would get a pay rise when they did, why don’t they? Finally, I wouldn’t put a child on a school bus knowing the driver didn’t have a driving licence, so why is it OK for the person in charge of the class (or even the school in one case) to have no formal training or teaching qualification?

Currently our education system is seen the sixth best in the world. I want to make it the best, not the cheapest.

Thirdly, teachers’ pay and conditions are being hacked away. This one’s really hard for me to talk to you about. Why? If you’re like most of us, your pay’s gone down, your conditions are worse and your outlook is bleaker, too. You’re probably thinking “I’m having to pay for the mess the bankers got us into; why shouldn’t teachers pay too? We’re all in this together, right?” Well, I hope you don’t think me too self-centred or selfish when I disagree, especially as I don’t think you’ve been treated fairly either.

I’m being asked to pay more into my pension in order to get it later and receive less. In a hugely problematic time economically, the government has said categorically that our pensions aren’t financially viable – that our pensions are bankrupting the country. Wow! If this is true, it’s no wonder I should and must take a reduction in my pension. The problem is a report from the House of Lords, by a lord appointed by the current government, said that our pensions were already affordable, were far from the ‘gold-plated’ pots of money the government tells you they are, and measures such as the change from RPI (Retail Price Index) to CPI (Consumer Price Index) had already drastically reduced the value of teachers’ pensions and the cost to the tax payer for public servants’ pensions has already been slashed by 25%. But, if the government says they’re unaffordable, fine – show us your calculations, just like Lord Hutton did, so we can check your figures. The problem is, the government won’t. They would like us to ignore the figures given by their own appointee and trust their other secret figures which they won’t release.

We’re in the same boat as all public sector workers, with job cuts, pay cuts, and pension cuts – we all have to suffer a little for the greater good, right? No. You see, our MPs who are saying the public purse can’t afford to pay so much to people who serve the state, aren’t taking a pay cut themselves. In fact, they are pushing for an increase to their their pay whilst everyone else suffers. In May, John Bercow, the Conservative Speaker of the House, began pushing for an increase to MPs’ salaries of between £10,000 and £20,000 and, in private, MPs have said (on average) their salaries should rise from £66,000 to £86,000, with Conservative MPs suggesting a figure of nearly £100,000 a year is fair and reasonable. My salary has increased by 1% (so, with inflation, I can buy a lot less than last year) and yours has increased by 0.6% on average (so you’re even worse off than me) but MPs want at least 32% increase in pay. MPs argue that £85-100k a year is necessary to attract the best people into Parliament. Unfortunately, this is where my argument might fail – because I agree with them. I think changes to teachers’ pay and conditions should be resisted because we need the best people to teach our kids. If we are going to attract the best people to teach our children, we can’t pay the least. I don’t want the MPs’ ludicrously high 32%, but I do believe a good wage will attract the best the people into the profession and mean they can stay there and thrive. Something in line with inflation, so I can buy the same as I could last year, will do me this year.

I mentioned I’m already a bit better off than you: I got 1% and you got 0.6% so I’m doing better than you – sorry about that. Honestly, I am. I think we both deserve more, but in this time of austerity, we’re all in this together. Except, we’re not. Whilst our wages have increased slightly, and by much less than inflation, there are some who are doing much better – £10,000s better. The government gave millionaires a huge tax cut this year, and said it would trickle down to the rest of us, making us all richer. What’s actually happened over the last decade is that the bottom 90% of us (including me and, probably, you) have had virtually no increase in average income; the top 10% have seen an increase of £5k; the top 5% have seen an increase of £7k; whilst the top 1% have seen their average incomes double, an increase of £150k per year. All this at a time when tax for the top is dropping and every week the richest amongst us are being outed for using divisive and elaborate tax avoidance techniques – tax which would pay for the services your council is having to cut, pay for the cuts the government are making, and pay for the cuts to your child’s education, including new buildings, new equipment, new qualified teachers and, yes, my pay.

The truth is, though, that we are in a time of austerity, we have to be careful with money, and we have to make sure every penny is spent wisely – except if you’re in charge of the Department for Education. Michael Gove has said that your child’s education is too expensive, that your child isn’t worth the money we spend on him or her, that the future, the next generation, isn’t worth the money we spend on it – except if it’s one of his pet projects. In a time of austerity, his department has over spent by £1bn on academies and free schools. That’s £ 1,000,000,000 or 43,668 new teachers.

Furthermore, the government’s plans for the curriculum are wrong. I disagree with the government’s plans for what our children should be taught, how they should be taught it and how it’s being brought in. We’re the sixth best education system in the world – and that’s not good enough. I want us to be the best, and I want us to keep improving when we get there. I want our system to be amazing and wonderful; I want people to talk and talk about how good education is in this country until all superlatives have been exhausted… and then I want it to get even better. Michael Gove’s plans won’t do that; Michael Gove’s plans will send us backwards. Just about every one of his edicts has been shot down in flames because they have been ill conceived, ill thought through, or poorly implemented. Even when huge bodies of evidence have been put before him, he’s ignored them, and just last week, even his own advisors, experts he’d appointed and employs as consultants, told him, in no uncertain terms, that his changes would damage education, damage employment and damage children… and he’s ignored them and done what he thinks is best. I want to teach children the right things in the right way; Mr Gove wants to teach children the wrong things in the wrong way – just ask his experts.

Finally, I don’t have a choice but to strike. My union has asked Mr Gove to talk about these issues and a whole raft more. He agreed – and offered them one hour. One hour to talk about all my issues listed above and the dozens more teachers have with the direction the government’s taking education. One hour to discuss pay & pensions; one hour to discuss class sizes & teacher shortages; one hour to discuss teacher training & the use of unqualified staff in classrooms. One hour, in total, to discuss all that. If you had a problem at work, wouldn’t you expect more than hour of your boss’ time? If your child had a problem at school, would you expect me or one of my colleagues to limit you to an hour?

Michael Gove will not take my union’s request for a meeting seriously – so what choice do I have?

Thank you for reading this far. With all the rhetoric from the government, it’s hard to get our message across so I really do appreciate it. Today, I’ll be called lazy and workshy, greedy and a parasite, so it’s good to know at least you’ve listened. I hate being off school and I hate hurting you and your children today – and I’m sorry that I have to. I don’t take strike action lightly – I think my union’s only ever been on strike once before and this is the first time I’ve voted for and taken strike action – but I believe it’s the only way that the government will listen to my deep concerns about our children’s futures.

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Interesting take on HS2, Bradford and the answer to David Ward’s question on 6th February.

Originally posted on beleben:

On 6 February, Bradford East MP David Ward (Liberal Democrat) asked the government about economic benefits for Bradford from HS2, and received a boilerplate soundbite answer.

Mr Ward: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to ensure that Bradford and Leeds-Bradford airport receive the maximum potential economic benefit from Phase 2 of High Speed 2.

Mr Simon Burns: Phase Two of High Speed 2 will transform journey times, capacity and connectivity between major cities of the north, Midlands and London, enabling northern regions to fulfil their economic potential.

HS2 will also free up space on the existing rail network for additional commuter, regional and freight services, offering more opportunity for services to meet local needs. Latest estimates published in August 2012 suggest HS2 will deliver net benefits of £64 billion including over £15 billion in wider economic impacts. If local areas seize the opportunity…

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