Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Letter on Carpet Right's takeover of education in north Croydon


Dear Editor,

With regard to Dave Hill’s response to my letter, I am glad we are both in agreement that all children in Croydon should be provided first class education. To prove this point he champions the GCSE results of Harris Academy Crystal Palace but he fails to offer an explanation to how this has been achieved.

Harris Academy Crystal Palace is presently oversubscribed to the tune of ten applicants to one place; unsurprisingly the GCSE results are attracting parents north of the borough to select this school for their children. But how exactly has this improvement been achieved? The answer is the historical detail; something Mr Hill may not be too familiar with, as he is new to Croydon.

Twenty five years ago when I was entering secondary education north of the borough, the options my parents had were completely different to what is available now. Apart from the faith and private schools, Sylvan, Stanley Tec, Lanfranc, Norbury Manor for Boys, Selhurst and Ingram were all local to me.

Nowadays, Sylvan and Stanley Tec are part of the Harris Federation and Norbury Manor, Selhurst and Ingram are now closed. Immediately, one can see there is a shortage of boys places available north of the borough. Crucially, this gives the opportunity for Harris Academy to select the high achieving pupils from its wider catchment, and it can do this using its entrance examination. Maybe this is why the government’s own evaluation report on Academies published last month states "there is insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgment about academies as a model for school improvement".

The council has identified that two thirds of Haling Manor students reside north of the borough. Given that Harris is now the preferred sponsor for Haling Manor, are we witnessing the monopolisation of school places by a carpet dealer (Carpet Right), especially as now Lanfranc is earmarked for Academy status?

Seeing that this Tory council are defending Academies to the hilt by even relying on public servants to respond to letters, maybe they would like to offer a rejoinder on whether Lord Harris’ financial backing of David Cameron had a bearing when selecting his Federation as preferred sponsor?

Yours sincerely

Shasha Khan
Croydon Green Party and Croydon SOS.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Comment given to Croydon Guardian on waste

Latest figures for 2007/8 on composting of household waste reveal the gulf that exists between the best and worst London boroughs. Harrow comes top, managing to send 18% of its household waste for composting. By comparison six London boroughs manage less than 1% (Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster, Lewisham, City of London, Wandsworth, Tower Hamlets).

"What these performance statistics actually show is that just under 95% of Croydon’s organic waste is dumped in landfill. This has a double whammy effect because not only are kitchen food scraps and garden waste a lost resource if not used correctly, the resulting methane emissions from this type of waste, if sent to landfill, is harmful to our climate.

Once again, we find that this council is short on ambition when it comes to waste management. Holding events like Eco Expo is all very well but if it is not backed up by policy with regard to the environment then voters will realise its all for show.

Why isn’t Croydon’s composting rate up there with Harrow? After all, it’s not Hamburg we’re talking about, with its 57% recycling rate – its Harrow another London borough!!!"

Local Authorities League Table below:

Percentage of household waste sent for composting or anaerobic digestion -
Harrow 18.20
Bexley 17.62
Hillingdon 12.58
Barnet 12.42
Richmond upon Thames 11.54
Enfield 10.11
Waltham Forest 10.05
Sutton 9.86
Brent 8.90
Ealing 7.86
Havering 7.82
Bromley 6.84
Kingston upon Thames 6.66
Haringey 6.57
Hackney 6.53
Croydon 6.29
Barking and Dagenham 5.58
Islington 5.41
Redbridge 5.00
Greenwich 4.78
Hounslow 4.26
Southwark 4.02
Merton 3.75
Camden 3.23
Lambeth 2.58
Newham 2.06
Hammersmith and Fulham 1.50
Kensington and Chelsea 0.90
Westminster City Council 0.84
Lewisham 0.58
City of London 0.38
Wandsworth 0.29
Tower Hamlets 0.15

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Monday, December 15, 2008

'How I brought the Provos' girl with a gun in from the cold' by Colin Smith

Colin Smith's piece in the Observer on Cllr Maria Gatland was factually incorrect with regard to events that led to Councillor Maria Gatland's connections with the IRA being made public. I did send in a letter to the editor to highlight the inaccuracies.....but alas it was not published. For the record:

Dear Editor,

Colin Smith's 'first person' account of Maria Gatland (formerly Maria Mcguire) contains one glaring inaccuracy and one astute observation. It was the 'Croydon Save our Schools' campaign that hinted at Cllr Maria Gatland's shady past during an education debate in Croydon council and not Labour. Additionally, the connection was mentioned in order to highlight the complete disregard that she and her Tory council had for the views of parents, pupils and teachers affected by her school closing agenda - and not for any "amusement". However, Smith's conclusion that back in the 70's she was "enjoying her notoriety" is most revealing. Throughout the aforementioned public meeting Cllr Gatland seemed to relish the opportunity to dismiss the concerns of anxious campaigners in the packed public gallery.

Yours sincerely

Shasha Khan

Croydon Save our Schools

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Written version of speech given to Croydon SOS Trade Union Rally

Below is the speech I gave to the Croydon Save our Schools Trade Union Rally.

Picture and report from event are on the BBC web site.

Green party councillor Romayne Phoenix was marked down to speak at this rally today. Regrettably, she is at a council meeting in Lewisham. She sends her apologies.

Nevertheless, you’ll be pleased to know you’ve got me to say a few words!

I wanted to talk about three aspects to this Secondary Review in Croydon. Firstly a more holistic look at what is going on; secondly an appraisal of the private sponsors selected; and finally the group Croydon SOS itself.

Now being a Green, I do like to look at things holistically. What we are seeing is this Academy programme is part of a wider agenda – namely the marketisation of our public services. I hope you agree with me that public services are best kept publically owned, publically funded and publically accountable.

But across a whole range of sectors including transport, health and education – which we are seeing first hand - there is a continued creeping privatisation. It’s important that unions, campaign groups and political parties continue to fight these changes – because once the public are informed - they are on your side. I’ll give you an example: a few months back, we the Green Party ran a stall at the Thornton Heath street festival. We brought along our usual leaflets etc and I also had a couple of placards which said ‘KEEP THE NHS PUBLIC.’ Within a few minutes people were coming up to our stall asking where to sign. My colleague and I who were manning the stall hastily put cobbled together a petition and by the end of the day we had collected three pages of signatures. It was made to clear to me then that at times the general public are aware of the issues and need at times a route to register the anger or concern.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to appraise the private sponsors that are preferred by this council. When the preferred sponsors were announced on Monday, my immediate reaction was that clearly there are only one or two sponsors coming forward, especially with no one still preferred for Selsdon High. Arguably, the combination of the lack of a life peerage in the offing and economic crisis is limiting the selection pool.

Seeing we are talking about education, I figured the best way to appraise these sponsors is maybe like report card.

So let’s start with Lord Harris or Baron Harris of Peckham – let’s look at his attendance. Well so far, Harris has taken on Sylvan and Stanley Tec. It’s fair to say that Harris is oversubscribed at present. But it’s important to look closer at the situation north of the borough. When I was 10 going on eleven years old, living north of the borough (as I still do), there were several local state schools I could have selected. Norbury Manor, Ingram, Selhurst, Lanfranc, Sylvan and Stanley Tec. Norbury Manor, Ingram, and Selhurst are no more and Sylvan and Stanley Tec are now Harris Academy. This leaves Lanfranc which is now also earmarked for Academy status. So essentially, what I am saying is that you haven’t got much choice if you live north of the borough.

Now if you factor in the statistic that, according to the council, 2/3 of Haling Manor pupils reside north of the borough AND now we find that Harris is the preferred sponsor of Haling Manor.
We can see your option is practically Harris or Harris as of next year.
Surely this is one for the monopolies and mergers commission.
This essentially allows Harris to cream the high-achievers north of the borough.

Now, what about the attendance of Oasis. Oasis Trust are the sponsor of nine secondary schools and now they are the preferred sponsor for Ashburton. It is important to remember that they only opened their first Oasis Academy in September 2007. We’re still in 2008. Where is the track record? The House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee recently criticised the expansion of academies because it is an untested model.

Going back to our report card, what about the behavior or attitude of Oasis? Now here, I have to say that Reverend Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis, is an incredibly charismatic individual – this worries me because you simply don’t know what the real motivation is behind the fa├žade. What is his real background? What’s in it for him to take on so many schools? One thing that Gatlandgate has taught us is that we simply don’t know what the background is of an individual. Cllr Gatland had ability to continue a whole council meeting without letting on the strain she must have been enduring inside. One thing we do know about the Reverend Steve Chalke is that in a recent Radio 4 interview he reckoned that moral values could only originate from the bible.

What about the behavior or attitude of Lord Harris? Well what we do know is that he has made donations to David Cameron as leader of the Conservative party and is considered to be one of his personal friends. You’ve got to ask the question, has this influenced the selection?

Finally, I wanted to talk about the Croydon SOS group. What a relief it is to so many that we kick started this group. Before Croydon SOS existed, we the Croydon Green Party wondered how it would possible to fight these proposals. Like you we were astounded at the gall of this axe wielding council. We wondered how we could join up with like minded people from different organisations. Jay my fellow Green Party colleague who is the audience was receiving emails from British Humanist Association about their concerns. We have to thank the Croydon Trades Council for their leading role here. In fact, we should all give ourselves a pat on the back on getting this far – we’ve had some small wins - but we have to recognise the fight must continue.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Local Green member interviewed in New Nation

New Nation, the weekly newspaper for Britain's black community, recently interviewed Green party supporter Paul Macey and local Green party member Dr Stan Prokop on the South London Waste Plan.
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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Climate Change March and Bike Ride

Approaching Parliament Square



Earlier in the day, reaching the end of the pre-march bike ride.



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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cllr Gatland is a former IRA activist.

Photo: Kent News and Pictures and Daily Telegraph

It's intriguing when something seemingly innocuous suddenly has a devastating impact. This story has hit national news now, yet when Croydon SOS activist Dr Peter Latham asked his question from the public gallery on Monday night - very few could have predicted this fallout. In fact in a meeting afterwards, the Croydon SOS group felt that Peter had maybe missed the opportunity to ask a pertinant question on Academies to Cllr Gatland. WELL, WE WERE WRONG.
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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Video of latest Save our Schools demo outside town hall



Large numbers of protestors again lobbied the council on their plans to 'Academise' three schools in Croydon. Following successful public meetings in Ashburton, large number of parents and pupils voiced their anger outside the town hall and in the public gallery.
It was announced last night that the preferred sponsor for Ashburton is Oasis Academy and for Haling Manor it's Harris (again).

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Letter sent to the editor on the Secondary review

Dear Editor,

Now that another informal consultation on Croydon Schools Secondary Review is under way, followed by the statutory equivalent in the new year; I sincerely hope that parents and pupils are able to have access to all the facts in order to participate in the consultations. The formation of ‘Croydon SOS’, a couple of months back, seeks to achieve just that.

Croydon SOS or to give the organisation its full title ‘Save our Schools in Croydon’ is made up of representatives from a variety of backgrounds including, the Croydon Green Party, NUT, NUSUWT and the British Humanist Association. Each one of the representatives has the same motivation as every parent in Croydon - to ensure that children in Croydon have the best possible education, and here Croydon SOS believes this can best be achieved when the schools are governed in the interests of children not through private individuals or businesses.

In the near future, I don’t want a mother from a local school asking me how it came to be that the Academy sponsor selected is now demanding that pupils study creationism. I also don’t want another mother asking me why the assets to a school, where her son attends, were handed over to a public limited company that is now affected by the financial downturn and wants to pull out. These are actual cases.

Unfortunately, this council is only presenting their side of the story and stifling attempts to have an open debate about the proposed academy status of Haling Manor, Ashburton and Selsdon High. Croydon SOS have tried to inform parents by leafleting outside schools and asked to use pupil post schemes but these methods have been blocked. It is paramount that parents are properly informed on the ramifications of Academy status. Parents should be balloted on these proposals. This has been the process in other parts of the country.

Given the obstacles Croydon SOS has experienced, I would urge parents to find out more through http://www.croydonsos.org.uk/ and http://www.antiacademies.org.uk/.

The public are being fed this Academy nonsense by both Labour and Conservative parties. This Labour government want to turn 400 more secondary schools into Academies. Meanwhile the Tories want to open over 1000. Data from an evaluation of Academies by PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that the government claim that these schools raise standards is highly questionable. This research indicates that Academies skew their intakes in favour of those from higher-achieving backgrounds and exclude more children than maintained schools. As a result community schools are adversely affected. Local authorities can ‘direct’ maintained schools to accept special needs and looked after children but can only ‘ask’ Academies.

Other countries around the world have a good local school for every child, why can’t we?

Yours sincerely

Shasha Khan
Croydon Green Party and Croydon SOS.

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FAIR IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR