Tag Archives: special measures

Gove is desperate to avoid fallout over free schools

Underqualified: This Labour Party campaign meme highlights the drawbacks of Michael Gove's foolish and expensive 'free school' experiment.

Underqualified: This Labour Party campaign meme highlights the drawbacks of Michael Gove’s foolish and expensive ‘free school’ experiment.

The country has been concentrating on government sleaze for the past week or so – and this is a mistake. We should also monitor government incompetence and thankfully Michael Gove is around to provide plenty of it.

He wants organisations that are part of his struggling ‘free schools’ pet project to receive special fast-track attention – to avoid the political embarrassment that would be caused by their failure.

Last year the project was rocked by the failure of the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby, and the resignations of unqualified head teachers at Pimlico Free School in London and Discovery School in Crawley. Vox Political discussed all three at the time.

The Discovery School was one of four that were declared inadequate by Ofsted and closed down at the end of March.

Last week, The Observer revealed that Gove wants to hush up any further damaging revelations by ensuring that problems are tackled before Ofsted can publicise them.

The article stated: “It suggests that party political considerations are now driving education policy a year ahead of the general election.”

Quite. It is also a sharp reminder of how far the Coalition government has deviated from its original claim, to be uniting “in the public interest”.

The plan adds extra pressure to the Education department, where morale has already plummetted due to Gove’s determination to employ his own advisors, to overrule the expert advice provided by civil servants in favour of ideologically-motivated dogma.

It also shows that Gove is giving preferential treatment to his pet project. State schools go into special measures after receiving a ruling from Ofsted that they are inadequate – and can remain there for more than a year.

More damaging still is the fact that many of the problems with free schools have nothing to do with education, but are organisational in origin. According to the article, these include: “Operating in temporary sites without a clear permanent home; new, inexperienced and often isolated trusts needing to upskill themselves to run a school for the first time; instability in principal appointments and senior leadership teams.”

So when you hear that your child’s school has been under-performing because it has been deprived of resources and support from the Department for Education, just remember that this has happened because we have an Education Secretary who is more concerned with hiding his own inadequacies – problems that could have been avoided if he had concentrated a little more on the details.

On the basis of this term work, Mr Gove, we’ll have to give you an ‘F’ – for ‘Fail’.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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More mistakes in the script? Correcting Cameron’s New Year speech

David Cameron’s New Year message – what a disgrace!

Standing uncomfortably in an empty factory (one presumes the workers were all on part-time contracts to save bosses money in holiday pay and national insurance), the comedy Prime Minister looked nervous as he reeled off a list of statements the Conservative Party wants the proles to believe, going into 2014.

What a shame his words were so easy to debunk.

If you can bear to hear it, play the video (above). I did, and wrote the following response in real time – as his speech was taking place. Then I sent it to his Facebook page. Here are my words:

“Mr Cameron,

“When you weren’t elected into office, the economy was on the up – and your policies killed it stone dead for three years. You haven’t cut the deficit significantly for years (it’s been stuck at £120 billion or thereabouts). You have cut income tax for the super-rich; raising the tax allowance for the poor (which you claim is a cut) means they don’t pay National Insurance (if anybody hadn’t noticed) and it will take them longer to qualify for retirement pension.

“You only decided to cut fuel duty because Labour came out with a better policy – and nobody was fooled by your choice.

“The jobs created under your government are part-time, zero-hours, or fake ‘self-employed’ in which the worker is contracted to larger companies and receives lower-than-minimum-wages for the amount of time spent. Stop talking nonsense about ‘jobs taxes’ – all this does is show that you do not understand the principles behind National Insurance.

“How many people did your ‘welfare’ work kill last year? We don’t know because your Department for Work and Pensions is terrified that releasing the figures will cause a national scandal.

“As for your immigration policy – apart from the tangential tightening of monitoring around the minimum wage, all your new measures are already enshrined in law; you have created phantom solutions to a phantom problem.

“Building an economy for people who work hard and “play by the rules”, is it? There’s a new condition in there, and people should be warned that your rules are not intended to benefit hard-working people but to free their employers from any responsibility towards those who generate their bloated salaries for them.

“I’m surprised you didn’t choke on your comments about education, after the fiasco that has led to the closure of one free school and special measures for several others.

“As far as the Scottish referendum is concerned, if any government, through its policies, could do more to push an entire country out of the United Kingdom, I don’t see how.

“I look forward to your response on the welfare deaths. In 2011 they stood at 73 per week, which was a scandal at the time. New figures will show whether you have been merely misguided or intentionally genocidal.

“Happy New Year? It will be a lot happier if you and your entire Parliamentary party resigned. How many of them know anything about struggling to make ends meet, in debt and in a place where there are no jobs to be had?

You know nothing about hard work.”

Did anyone else notice he said nothing about the National Health Service, that his government has brought down from its most popular and efficient moment ever – slandering it and legislating to ensure private profit-driven firms could get into it, turning it away from healthcare and into money generation?

If ever there was a time to fight back for our cherished publicly-funded institutions, it is now.

That is the real message we should take from this soulless mouthpiece and his empty words.

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Schools and hospitals: Your government can’t be bothered

The modern answer to any problem: If your school or hospital is under-performing, don't try to solve its problems - close it.

The modern answer to any problem: If your school or hospital is under-performing, don’t try to solve its problems – close it.

Late last year, a high school here in Powys was tested by inspectors and found so seriously lacking that it was placed in ‘special measures’.

(You’ll be familiar with the term, dear reader, because Jeremy Hunt, the bad-for-your-Health Secretary, has now placed several hospitals in the same category. We’ll get to them soon.)

Leighton Andrews AM, who was Welsh Education Minister at the time, wrote to Powys County Council on January 7 this year, stating that he would be minded to use his ministerial powers to close John Beddoes School, which is nearly 500 years old, if the local education authority failed to demonstrate improvement by the end of the summer term.

The Council’s cabinet immediately decided to ignore any calls for improvement and instead devised three alternative plans for closure. These were outlined in a letter to the Minister on January 30.

The authority then embarked on a formal public consultation which returned an overwhelming result in favour of retaining the school but sorting out its problems – as had been done 10 years previously at the high school in Newtown, around 20 miles away.

But the council’s cabinet chose to add insult to injury, not only by going ahead with its closure plan (so much for local democracy) but also by planning to re-open the school as a second campus of Newtown High, the school that had received remedial treatment in the past and is now one of the highest-performing in Wales.

Meanwhile, in England, all 161 hospital trusts are to be inspected under a new “more robust” regime, in the wake of hysteria stirred up by Downing Street and the right-wing media about failings at 11 hospital trusts. The trusts had been investigated after the so-called Stafford Hospital scandal, as they had the highest death rates between 2010-12. The public inquiry into Stafford concluded that the public had been betrayed by a system that put “corporate self-interest” ahead of patients.

The headlines claimed 13,000 people died needlessly in 14 dangerous hospitals. Polly Toynbee in The Guardian rightly pointed out that this was nonsense: “The Tory ambush was pre-planned by Downing Street as well-primed MPs used a report by Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, to turn Labour’s good NHS record into a liability. Labour’s outrage was not synthetic, but indignation within the NHS was even fiercer at seeing the progress of the last decade trashed. The attack was not just on Labour, but on the viability and the future of the NHS itself.

“Where did that 13,000 come from? Not from Keogh’s meticulous report. With an innocent face, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, protested: ‘I don’t know how that number was put out there.’ It came from No 10 briefers, and was quickly refuted by Keogh, who called it ‘clinically meaningless and academically reckless’. It was also promoted by Professor Sir Brian Jarman, author of the Dr Foster hospital guide.”

Why did the Conservatives put out the misinformation?

Readers of this blog may be forgiven for thinking it’s just another in a long line of goofs by a government that can’t get its facts right.

In fact, it’s part of the ongoing war on the National Health Service, intended to soften up public feeling and smooth the way for ever-greater privatisation.

…because we all know that privatisation works so well and is so much cheaper, don’t we (British Rail)?

There is a link between all three issues. Yes, that’s right, three – not two.

In each case, the public wanted an improved service. The onus was on the appropriate authority to get involved in the situation, find out what was going wrong, and fix it.

But Powys Council’s cabinet couldn’t be bothered – and decided to close a school instead. Closing a school wipes the slate clean and means that the council won’t be seen to have poor-performing education institutions on its books.

The NHS organisations in charge of the 11 failing hospital trusts couldn’t be bothered either – and, according to investigators, chose to cover up the failings in their systems, rather than correct them.

And the Conservative-led Coalition government certainly can’t be bothered. David Cameron and his cronies are busily selling off our greatest national asset, piecemeal, to their big business friends who intend to wring every penny of profit they can make out of it. Do you really think that health care in the UK will improve under such a corrupt regime?

This blog has roundly criticised Mr Hunt for his co-authorship of a book that criticised the NHS, before the Coalition government came to office.

In Direct Democracy, published in 2005, he told readers that the health service was old-fashioned and out of touch: “It was, and remains, a child of its time.”

Now, as local and national government neglect links up with institutionalised ass-covering to bring more and more public services to their knees, the public might well be left wondering why nobody responsible for them feels the need to put them right.

Apparently, that’s an old-fashioned notion, too.

(The first Vox Political collection, Strong Words and Hard Times, is now available and may be ordered from this website)