Friday, May 22, 2009

Uphill march to defend London jobs and education

WHEN I turn into Manor Gardens off the Holloway Road, and pass the public library, I remember the story I heard from a friend who lives nearby, how when it opened a century ago they needed crowd control, so many people being excited by the prospect of a free public lending library.

My generation grew up taking such amenities for granted, even suspicious of some of the ways our libraries are changing. Manor Gardens itself has been a bit of a cultural oasis in recent years, with various groups using the impressive Beaux Arts building, as well as the community centre, and children's nursery.

But tomorrow a crowd will be marching past along the Holloway road in a different mood, trying to defend threatened jobs, education and services. They will start from London Metropolitan University, where it was announced that 550 posts will be cut, actually leading to some 800-900 job losses, amounting to 25 per cent of the workforce.

It's all part of the depression, though there is a sub-plot. It seems the uni had been trying to protect its funding by being economical with what it said about students dropping out. It has been alleged the funding council knew and connived at this. Maybe that was easier than securing more funds that were still needed, or asking why so many students were having to drop out, which might also have something to do with funding. The National Audit Office is now looking into university finance generally.

Meanwhile the London Met is having to pay back £36 million and make the sackings. This will mean fewer lecturers able to use their specialised knowledge, and larger classes for students, meaning less individual contact time with staff. Libraries and student nurseries will be hit, and IT provision is being outsourced,with more loss of jobs. Jobs in Reception and Student Services will also be lost, leaving longer queues and more stress for the staff remaining.

Just up the road another 500 jobs are threatened at the Archway Tower,which the government has decided to close, relocating a little-known civil service department called the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). It is little-known but important if you or someone in your family is mentally and physically incapacitated. The Office helps with these people's financial, health and welfare affairs, and dedicated officers pay home visits. Under the new proposals the clients may have to ring some distant call centre. Speaking from experience that sounds like a marvellous way of looking after anyone's mental health.

At the other end of Holloway Road, City University's Centre for Adult Education is likely to lose 100 staff as a result of government cuts in funding. At a time of recession, and with a government that had already been talking of "helping" disabled and single parents off benefits and back into work, you'd think they would be spending more on adult education and retraining. But maybe that's a naive idea.

Tomorrow's march assembles 11 am at Highbury Fields, and will go to Archway Tower. it is being supported by the Universities and College Union(UCU) and Unison branches at London Met, City University UCU and other branches, and by Islington branch of the civil service union PCS, and the NUT. It deserves wide support, being a defence of the area as well those working there.

At Archway, outside the hospital which has seen a few struggles of its own (including my mate's against a heart attack, so he could get out battling politically again), there's an unusual monument - the statue of Dick Whittington's cat. It's certainly time to turn again.

School for Scandal

STILL on the subject of educational institutions, and the consequences of their having been set loose to fend for themselves, which some may have thought seemed a good idea at the time, particularly if they could see the carrots... Events have taken a new turn across town, in the London borough of Brent, where as we saw last month, teachers at Copland community school in Wembley were facing the chop after the whistle was blown on the head's big earnings.

Teacher blew the whistle - now three face the sack

First, union rep Hank Roberts who had been suspended, was reinstated.

Now comes this
report from the Willesden and Brent Times:

Financial probe at scandal hit school

19 May 2009
'Suspended: Headteacher Sir Alan Davies and deputy head Dr Richard Evans
by Lorraine King and Alex Wellman

Financial chaos and bad management have gripped a scandal hit borough school, the Times can exclusively reveal.

The running of Copland Community School in Cecil Avenue, Wembley, is this week being probed by council education chiefs following the suspension of three senior staff.

The headteacher, Sir Alan Davies, deputy head, Dr Richard Evans, and the school bursar, Columbus Odokoro, were suspended last Wednesday.

In a council document leaked to the Times, answers have been demanded of school governors to key questions including:

* How Copland went into £1million debt to a property company?

* How the debt to the firm, Chancery Gate, will be repaid?

* Why Sir Alan Davies was paid a total of £403,000 in the year 2007/2008?

* What the justification is for further bonus payments to Dr Richard Evans?

* Why nine relatives of senior school staff have been employed at Copland?

Brent's director of children and families, John Christie, has demanded answers by June 3 otherwise the council will appoint new governors to run the school.

The Times has spoken to acting headteacher, Philip O'Hear, and a full interview about his plans for the school will appear in next week's paper.

Mr O'Hear is determined the focus of Copland School will remain on learning and providing the very best education for the pupils.'

I am hoping to hear the full story at Brent Trades Union Council next week.

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