Nic Dakin MP

Standing up for Local People

News

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Well it’s hard to remember a budget falling apart as quickly as George Osborne’s latest one has! 

On Budget Day the Chancellor was in command of his world.  He told a great story!  But within 24 hours the facts were catching up with him.  Conservative MPs to their credit joined Labour MPs, like myself, to say that the cuts to disability payments were a cut too far.  So he dropped the £4.4 billion of savings his cuts to the disabled would have yielded.  He’s still going ahead though with the £2.3 billion cut in Employment Support Allowance which affects many of the same people.  With this change made the Chancellor came back to the Commons to push his Budget through.  But he wouldn’t tell us how he will fill this £4.4 billion black hole now evident in his figures.  If a local council tried to set a budget that didn’t add up it would be prevented from setting an illegal budget.  But our Conservative Government just shrugs its shoulders, smiles and presses on! 

It is pressing on with the nonsense of forcing all schools to become academies whether parents or schools want it.  This is an absurd distraction for great local school leaders – like Ben Lawrence of Frederick Gough who spelt out so powerfully in last week’s Scunthorpe Telegraph what a waste of time and energy this is.  There is absolutely no evidence to support the forced academisation of successful schools.  And it’s not as though there aren’t things going wrong on this most ideological of Government’s watch; things they really ought to be putting right.  The Conservatives preside over the biggest teacher recruitment crisis for decades, a growing school places crisis and impending chaos over their poorly managed, rushed changes to exams.  In addition we have careers education in its worst state ever and post-16 seriously underfunded with potentially devastating consequences.  The Conservative schools agenda is purely ideological.  They think they know better than parents or communities what’s best for our children.  That’s why they are removing the right of parents to be governors of their children’s schools at the same time as insisting on all schools becoming academies.  And when we asked the Secretary of State to rule out good or outstanding schools being taken over by failing Multi Academy Trusts she refused to do so.  Flabbergasting!  Only last month Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools called on the Government to act to deal with the failures of 7 large Multi Academy Trusts, including the 2 biggest that run 113 schools between them.  And only last week Perry Beeches Trust, that runs 5 Birmingham schools and has been lauded by the Conservatives, was found to be in serious breach of financial regulations.  Perhaps the Government would better spend its energies sorting out the problems in current academies and other failing schools and leave the ones, like Frederick Gough and others locally, who are doing a good job to get on with doing exactly that.

 

Scunthorpe Telegraph article 31st March

Well it’s hard to remember a budget falling apart as quickly as George Osborne’s latest one has!  On Budget Day the Chancellor was in command of his world.  He told...

5198307813_3edb0cc234_b.jpgIt is expected that in the next few hours the Chancellor will reveal that every school in England will be forced to convert into an academy by 2022.

It seems that the government appears to see academisation as the panacea for school improvement. Yes, Labour’s sponsored academy programme did a huge amount to transform a small number of failing schools in disadvantaged areas - and brought much needed investment, support and innovation. And it’s a legacy we are proud of. But our school improvement programme was never about turning all schools into academies.

The Tory record on education is one of a teacher shortage crisis, a school places system which is broken, a widening attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, and exams and assessments in schools in chaos. 

There is no evidence to suggest that academisation in and of itself leads to school improvement. Only last week the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education highlighting ‘serious weaknesses’ in academy chains. How the government can plough ahead with the wholesale academisation of all schools in light of his evidence beggars belief. We want to see robust accountability and oversight of all schools regardless of type. The balance in my view, between local accountability and central control, has gone completely the opposite way. It’s a balance that needs redressing.

We need stronger local oversight and accountability of all schools regardless of whether they’re an academy or a free school. Local authorities – as partners – have a key role to play in tackling the root causes of low attainment and low aspiration in their area; in reducing inequality and creating a productive economy.

In some parts of the country where standards remain a concern, all schools are already academies, yet the government has no other school improvement strategy. The government only has one education policy, but the truth is delivering educational excellence in all schools goes way beyond a narrow argument on academies versus local authority schools. Failure exists in both school types, just as excellence does.

It’s about time the government came forward with a comprehensive plan for school improvement for all children, in all schools up and down the country, and a serious strategy for raising standards for the next generation. 

 

Acadamisation in the Budget

It is expected that in the next few hours the Chancellor will reveal that every school in England will be forced to convert into an academy by 2022. It seems...

Nick_Dakin_14.jpgLet me start by declaring my interests as a lifelong NUT member and former Principal of a beacon sixth form college. I know from my own experience the cracking job sixth form colleges have done for nearly 50 years.

 

They’ve worked with their partner schools to give students an outstanding deal. Yet they now face some of the biggest challenges ever as Conservative government policy threatens their very existence. With 11-16 funding per student in schools at £5,553 and in academies at £5,969, why are sixth form college students funded at just £4,560 per student?

 

Whilst the Chancellor’s last minute decision not to further cut the core post-16 funding was welcome, sixth form colleges still receive 20% less funding than schools and academies. Despite the promise of no further cuts in cash terms for four years, there’ll still be an 8% cut in real terms over that period. So I’m pleased to support the NUT’s excellent Save Our Colleges campaign. It was good to see so many sixth form college teachers lobbying their MPs at Westminster last November.

 

MPs from across the parties, have consistently championed their own sixth form colleges because they know from personal experience that sixth form colleges do a great job for the local community. We need students, parents and staff to contact their local MPs and remind them of what’s at risk - sixth form education that matches anything else in the state or private sector and delivers the very best value for money. The Sixth Form Colleges Association says that 72% of sixth form colleges have already dropped courses and 81% have increased class sizes because of reduced funding.

 

Yet the Conservative government continues to waste public money on its own pet education projects with free schools here and UTCs there, whether or not the extra places is needed. The solution to the chaos it has created are area reviews that don’t look at the whole area. How can the post-16 education in an area be improved and give better value for money if provision in schools and academies is excluded from the review? It’s a nonsense!

 

Meanwhile, the area review process risks the future of sixth form colleges as mergers loom. The result for learners will be a narrower curriculum choice and less enrichment activities, with the likelihood of longer journeys to access learning. Politicians and civil servants sat in Whitehall just don’t understand how having to travel large distances in areas where transport is not always well connected can imperil access to learning. So I hope that the NUT’s campaign is successful in engaging with parents and students to get government to think again about its accidental attack on sixth form colleges.

 

The area review process should involve all institutions directly and tackle the real areas of under delivery. Sixth form colleges should enjoy the same exemptions to VAT that schools and academies do. Action should be taken to equalise the funding for 16-18 year olds to end the nonsense of these crucial years being so dreadfully underfunded compared to pre 16 and higher education – which just doesn’t make sense.

 

A terrible waste - my article for The Teacher

Let me start by declaring my interests as a lifelong NUT member and former Principal of a beacon sixth form college. I know from my own experience the cracking job...

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I have, in recent weeks, continued to consult with local residents in the Frodingham ward over the future use of the Brumby Resource Centre Site in East Common Lane.

It was encouraging that so many took the opportunity to respond to me with their views, demonstrating an excellent community spirit in the area.

Obviously there was quite a diverse range of thoughts on what the grounds could be used for but a sense of realism shone through recognising that the present brownfield site could be allocated for housing, however coupled with that the present green space should be preserved and enhanced for present and future generations.

Other issues that were echoed loud and clear was the traffic congestion at the East Common Lane/Cemetery Road junction, the possible overcrowding of local schools, poor drainage and potential flooding and the loss of respite care in the area due to the demise of The Lilacs.

Moving the case on, I’ve now written to North Lincolnshire Council outlining these concerns in the hope that as many of them will be addressed as we move forward.

 

 

Land at Former Brumby Resource Centre

I have, in recent weeks, continued to consult with local residents in the Frodingham ward over the future use of the Brumby Resource Centre Site in East Common Lane. It...

Probably like a lot of people brought up on the Children’s Bible I’ve always been pretty sympathetic to Israel.  Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s there was a lot of support for plucky little Israel fighting off all comers in the 1967 6 days war.  And, of course, there remains an understandable sense that all of us in the West need to act in a way that atones for the collective guilt of the horrors of the Holocaust. 

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So I was very pleased to visit Palestine in February – the Holy Land of so many different faiths.  But what I saw I found shocking and eye opening.  Yes, I was aware of significant difficulties between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  I expected tension.  And I expected to see injustices on both sides of that tension.  I did not expect to be confronted by an army of occupation subjugating the people of the Occupied Territory in quite the way I was. 

I fully understand that where there’s such a deep divide, as witnessed in the Occupied West Bank between the Israeli State and the Palestinians, there are several sides to the story.  However listening to a range of voices; including young Palestinians struggling to find work, an Israeli MP, the UN Mission, a campaigning journalist, human rights activists, Palestinian political leaders and the UK Consul there was an amazing unanimity of view.  Palestine is a land that has lost all hope where people young and old are in despair. As one observer said, ‘We are sipping cappuccino on the edge of volcano’. 

One young Israeli explained that the Palestinians suffer three layers of oppression.  Firstly the physical layer locks people in, makes movement around the small land of the West Bank difficult and slow, unsettling people’s lives.  As the UN said the space for the Palestinians is shrinking.  £2 billion has been spent on a wall to separate Israel for the Palestinian West Bank.  Donald Trump eat your heart out!  He’d probably approve of this ’ethnically sensitive wall’ going outside the boundary to pull in new Israeli settlements within its compass and dodging inside the boundary to leave out Palestinian villages that have been within the boundary for generations.  The wall is an ugly, blunt symbol of separation.  And if you’re a young Palestinian caught throwing a stone at it you can be snatched off to a military court, detained with punishment for you and your family! 

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Then there are the obstacles to movement – the around 490 road closures and 60 military checkpoints in a very small area.  One day it took us over two and a half hours to travel the 10 miles from Ramallah to East Jerusalem.  The young Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and working in Ramallah said this disruption was commonplace, making it very difficult for them to do something as simple as get to and from their job in order to provide for their families. 

If this isn’t bad enough there is also the demolitions.  The Israeli government allows Israeli settlements to build all over the place in the Occupied West Bank but makes it close to impossible for Palestinians to get planning permission to extend or build new homes in their own land.  So – in order to get on with their lives – they build and then get told their building will be demolished.  But no-one knows when.  That’s why primary children take their favourite toy to school each day so that they don’t lose it when the Israeli bulldozers flatten their home.  Or worse still – and it’s hard to believe it could be worse – your son or daughter is caught up in some tension at a checkpoint and is killed by the security forces. 

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There are nervous young men and women on both sides of this conflict – the Palestinians with stones, scissors and – sometimes – knives.  The Israelis with modern machine guns.  When we visited Hebron – a divided city - we saw the nervousness of the Israeli young soldiers close up.  With Palestinians barred and Israeli settlements placed provocatively in the Old Town it’s sadly not surprising that the day before our visit a young woman was killed by a soldier close to the checkpoint.  Our Palestinian hosts said she was on her way to see her grandmother.  Doubtless the Israeli soldier would say she attacked them with a knife or pair of scissors.  Where the truth lies who knows!  But there’s no doubt in my mind that Gadi Eisenkot, Chief of the Israeli Defence Force, is right when he says he doesn’t want soldiers emptying magazines on girls with scissors! 

The second layer of oppression is the bureaucracy of permits, travel documents and planning permissions.  At first glance this looks reasonable to ensure order and security but it is used to control, disrupt and humiliate.  It makes it difficult to visit friends and families.  It makes it difficult for the homes to be provided that the Palestinians need.  It creates distrust, fear and anger. 

The final layer of control is the violence of the army, the border police, the arrests, the killings and the demolitions. 

Palestine is a beautiful land full of people who want what we all want for our families and our community, a positive future.  But over 20 years since the Oslo accords there seems to be no political will from the Israeli State to progress a 2 state (or even a 1 state) solution.  The Israeli Government appear happy to act in contravention of international law and UN resolutions.  They understandably resent criticism. 

I hope nonetheless that somehow they will find a way of reaching out to the current Palestinian leadership – whose members I found explicit about a desire to progress the 2 state solution – before it is too late.  It struck me that the cost of not acting while they can will be massive.  If the leaders on both sides miss the opportunity to create a dialogue for peace there will be a very bleak future for everyone who lives in both Israel and Palestine.  And it doesn’t have to be that way!

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My Visit to Palestine

Probably like a lot of people brought up on the Children’s Bible I’ve always been pretty sympathetic to Israel.  Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s there was a lot...

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