The Plastic Hippo

January 15, 2013

Reviewing the situation

Filed under: Education,Literature,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:38 am
Mary Evans/Romulus Films/Everett Collection

Mary Evans/Romulus Films/Everett Collection

Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy`s Progress, was published in monthly instalments between February 1837 and April 1839. Today, with both national and local government harming children and young people, Dickens could have published his critique of the Poor Laws, class and child poverty yesterday.

From day one of this malignant coalition government, it was clear that we would be returning to an era of workhouses, kicking beggars, demonising the infirmed and denying education to all but the privileged, wealthy few. With men as irredeemably insane as Ian Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Eric Pickles and Michael Gove introducing new poor law legislation to dismantle the Welfare State, the only surprise is how quickly and how far they have gone in achieving the destruction of fairness and equality of opportunity.

Closing Surestart centres, scrapping EMA, increasing tuition fees, forcing Academy status on unwilling schools, politicising the curriculum and inventing then increasing artificial and meaningless “targets” confirms their mad agenda for the end of state education. The latest tool in the Department for Education`s armoury is a John Nash. No; not John Nash the architect who designed most of Regency London, but John Nash the wide-boy venture capitalist who is currently being fast-tracked to a peerage in order for him to join the government. It seems this shyster is qualified to become an education minister because he has sponsored Academies and is clearly an expert on teaching and learning because he and his wife have donated £300,000 to the Conservative party. Parents, teachers, school governors and children need not be concerned that a loan-shark that has never faced an election should now be shaping education policy under the barking mad Michael Gove. The government, after all, did not win the election and have no mandate to impose such carnage. Her Majesties loyal opposition remain implacably silent. If these events took place in another nation, Miliband would be screaming “corruption”. Consider yourself, well fooled.

If national government is achieving its master plan to subjugate the populous by guile, fear, deceit and division; local government is aiding the agenda by its sheer incompetence. No finer example can be found than that of our own dear Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council. Since our bunch of idiots were conned by Serco, the standard of education provision in the borough has nose dived from an already woefully poor base to rock bottom. Safeguarding children in Walsall has been judged by Ofsted as “inadequate” and senior directors have, quite rightly, resigned. Given that Ofsted are now an overtly ideological enforcer of Gove`s gibbering megalomania and Serco, guilty of dubious goings on in prisons and detention centres, continue to fail the children and young people of Walsall, it is obvious that the next generation are of no importance. Serco have been given their marching orders at last but growing up in Walsall will not get any easier with a clueless executive and a hopeless opposition still killing the town.

Critics of the leader and cabinet system of local government claim that transparency and public accountability are reduced and that policy decisions are made behind closed doors by a small but powerful cabal of councillors. How ridiculous is that? Supporters of the leader and cabinet system point to a series of robust, thorough and tenacious scrutiny panels put in place to deter wrongful, damaging or just plain stupid decisions. That`s going well, then.

The latest shining example of accountability at its best comes from the Children`s and Young People Scrutiny and Performance Panel. Faced with an unprecedented crisis in education, youth unemployment and care for vulnerable children, this “watchdog”, as the council press office tediously describes them, has decided that the fault for all this mess lies with school governors. The answer to declining standards at Key Stage 2 SATs in primary schools is to remove the governing bodies who do not qualify for Michael Gove`s beauty contest. Gove, Ofsted and Walsall council have previously blamed teachers, parents, children, the internet, social workers, the previous government, snow, royal weddings, Sonic the Hedgehog, Snoop Dog, mobile phones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, chips, the Butler 1944 Education Act and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Volunteer, unpaid school governors are obviously next on the list for opprobrium and seven primary schools in Walsall are now threatened with the removal of their governors and the imposition of Academy status. The logic gets a bit fuzzy here; one of the schools is already an Academy and other schools have made significant improvement.

It seems that the tail is still wagging as the Head of Improvement Services at, guess who, Serco told the “watchdog”: “We can remove governing bodies and the Secretary of State is also expecting us to look where academies may need to be considered”. Chair of the scrutiny panel, Labour councillor Barbara Cassidy told the press: “There are some schools that have been performing very poorly for a number of years and that can`t go on any longer.” Sadly, no mention is made of the nature of the schools and governing bodies under threat. The Walsall seven are in deprived areas with high ratios of SEN children, child poverty, children with disabilities, children with English as a second or even third language and children with learning difficulties some brought about by domestic violence and abuse. These schools and those working in safeguarding do not exist in the imaginary fantasy world of lunatic Michael Gove.

In a characteristically rushed Walsall council press release, councillor Cassidy asks a question: “What are we going to do about this in clear, straightforward terms in this year?” Dunno, councillor, tell us please. She said: “The panel will expect to receive regular updates throughout the year in relation to measures taken to improve matters and the effect those measures have had on outcomes.” Phew… thank goodness…more reports…the kids are alright…scrutiny works. Presiding over this utter shambles is portfolio holder for Children and Young People, councillor Rachel Andrew.

In Oliver Twist, Dickens certainly exposed inequality, iniquity, inherent evil and the exploitation and corruption of children. However, there is a fundamental flaw in his most popular of works. Setting aside the blatant anti-Semitic characterisation of Fagan, the poor in his story remain the undeserving poor. Portrayed as thieves, thugs and whores, his “poor” characters seem to enjoy being the dregs of society. Only Oliver rises above the deprivation because, as it turns out, the “poor” orphan dispatched to the workhouse was actually of noble birth and was, therefore, better than the scroungers and thieves he was forced to endure. Nancy found redemption through being murdered, Bill Sikes accidentally hanged himself, Oliver found privilege and Fagin turned into Ron Moody singing jolly songs. Back in Fagin`s time they had workhouses, now we have food banks. The narrative of “strivers” versus “shirkers” is as relevant today as when Dickens did not write the lyrics to Food Glorious Food.

Mr Bumble and the corpulent directors of the workhouse doing the dirty work for the ruling elite ended up in penury as is required of an ironic work of fiction, but that is not likely to happen in the failing town of Walsall. Councillor Rachel Andrew voted to award herself an increased allowance as did councillor Adrian Andrew. Hand in hand and skipping over the hill into the sunset after being rewarded for failure they will, no doubt, sing a duet of you`ve got to pick a pocket or two.

If there is any shred of honour or credibility left in local government, councillor Rachel Andrew must resign her cabinet post. Her constituents must then decide is she is fit to represent them.

Kids; you don`t have a say. You are too young to vote.

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10 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on Getting There.

    Comment by aideym — January 15, 2013 @ 6:00 am | Reply

  2. The Plastic Hippo has a right to be angry about the state of children services in Walsall.
    In nearly every standard marker for assessing children services the borough sits in the bottom quartile – sometimes even the bottom ten – out of 151 authorities in England and Wales. But he seems to have miscalculated when it comes to understanding the situation in the borough. Firstly, at the meeting where he infers Cllr Cassidy supported a call to sack the schools governors of seven primary schools he rightly states that a senior officer told the meeting the council had the power to remove governors of failing schools. He also rightly says that Cllr Cassidy said: “There are some schools that have been performing very poorly for a number of years and that can’t go on any longer,” but his rider, ‘she told the press’ is incorrect. She made the statement to the meeting as she outlined how she believed school governors and head teachers should be supported, not sacked. The Hippo’s error is understandable given the report in the Express and Star started with the officer’s warning and then included Cllr Cassidy’s statement, but that does not mean she was endorsing that course of action. The matter became worse when a sub editor at the Express and Star added a headline effectively stating that was the council’s intention. As for the council’s press statement that was supposed to clarify the situation, well you need to take that up with Dan Slee.

    The Hippo goes on to imply that Cllr Cassidy and her Labour colleagues are somehow complacent about the state of children’s services

    This despite the fact Labour Group having highlighted it’s failings on several occasions, leading to substantial coverage in the local media, see here: http://www.thebirminghampress.com/2012/12/17/walsall-education-fails-children-threatens-jobs-claim-labour/

    http://www.thebirminghampress.com/2012/08/03/emergency-meeting-called-on-children-at-risk/

    http://www.wclg.org.uk/news.php?id=134

    Lastly, he calls for the resignation of the cabinet portfolio holder for children services, Cllr Rachael Andrew. A little late though. If he had attended the last full council meeting, he would have seen the Labour Group argue the very same position. He would have also seen the Tories, Lib Dems and the independents rally round and defend her record. Some of the arguments put forward in Cllr Andrew’s favour have echoes in the Hippo’s article. Mike Bird, predictable, defended his colleague blaming the whole problem on Serco who he said had been imposed on the council by a Labour Government; ignoring the fact that Walsall Labour also opposed its imposition at that time and also its opposition to the Tories renewal of Serco’s contract in 2008 for a further 12 years. Something the Hippo also left out of his article.

    Cllr Bird went on to make the comment that if Cllr Andrew had failed then so too had scrutiny and as chair, Cllr Cassidy should also step down. He didn’t reply when it was pointed out that when the council was reorganised into the cabinet/scrutiny model a deliberate decision was made to weight the council in favour of a strong cabinet and weak scrutiny. Cllr Bird’s argument was supported by his coalition partner Lib Dem, Ian Shires. Cllr Adrian Andrew descried the resignation call as ‘dirty politics’ later going on to claim the Labour party were using children to make personal attacks. But the ticket for saying ‘white is black and black is white’ went to Cllr Smith who – only minutes after making a personal attack on Labour’s Sean Coughlan – went on to agree with the Tories and Lib Dems saying it was also the fault of scrutiny and describing the call for resignation as personal attack while defending Cllr Andrew’s right to stay in office.
    The spectacle of a ‘socialist’ councillor, with 30 years experience as a teacher, defending someone who has failed children so badly whose answer to education is to strip teachers of the same pension rights Cllr Smith enjoys, was ..well, words fail me.
    The truth is that there are more failings in children services to come to light, and the Labour Party will continue to raise them while working behind the scenes to improve life changes for youngsters. If the Hippo wants to find out how, I suggest he contact Cllr Cassidy directly. I know she would be pleased to hear from him.

    Comment by George Makin — January 15, 2013 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  3. It is truly amazing to see Cllr R Andrew still in the Cabinet, considering the shambles she has presided over.
    I remember the hapless Barry Sanders getting the boot for merely jumping the gun on announcing the end of the Illuminations…
    Why does Mad Mike keep R Andrew in his Cabinet? I think we should be told
    (While he’s at it, he might fill us in on why Cllr A Andrew still ‘runs’ Regeneration – that’s another mystery)

    As for ‘scrutiny’ , that’s just a stage-managed farce. Biased, carefully-worded reports are skimmed over and appropriate boxes ticked.

    IF the Cabinet and Portfolio Holders were any good and IF scrutiny worked properly then the schools would not be in the shit state they are in and Childrens Services would not have failed the Ofsted inspection.

    It isn’t just a Tory v. Labour thing or left v right; it’s about being reasonably competent at what you were elected to do, and sadly not one of them is up to it.

    Comment by martin — January 15, 2013 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

  4. I currently work for a council that has a chief executive who has a relationship with a woman who has been promoted, in his tenure, from a junior position to a lofty, well paid job. Apparently colleagues were at one point forced to mention to him that his constant companion was becoming an embarrassment.
    She in her past was connected to a local, well known criminal, currently in jail for large scale cocaine dealing.
    Ironically several council staff have been sacked for assisting in the employment of family or friends.

    Comment by Jon Jones — January 15, 2013 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  5. This is a very nice piece. What worries me is, why ornery folk aren’t waking up to what is going on around the slowly, drip drip drip, til when the deed is done, it’s too late to protest let alone stop it from happening. Without vision like this, we (as a country) are FUCKED ! Wake up, from whichever side of the political bed you sleep in and STOP this cancerous filthy bunch of jackals from riding roughshod over you whomever you are. FFS !

    Comment by Keith Povall (@soxer99) — January 15, 2013 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

  6. There is much to be said for the respective views of the Hippo and of George Makin, as they are much closer than might be imagined. Despite almost overwhelming temptation to pick on individuals, lets try some facts.

    Just as the Hippo cannot be allowed to get away with ignoring the constant erosion by Government over 30 years of the powers and capacity of Local Education Authorities specifically and Councils in general and then blame them for failing, George cannot escape from the stark reality that the Labour Party, locally and nationally, has played more than its full part in the present debacle.

    1. It was indeed a Labour Government that imposed the SERCO contract on Walsall, with full co-operation from the riven local Labour Group and Party at a time, when, after dealing with the fall-out from the Grant-Maintained fiasco, there were signs of revival, albeit small.

    2. As the controlling Group – I use this phrase in its loosest sense, Labour did nothing to challenge, question or develop an alternative. Instead, they patted themselves on the back, put their trust in an organisation whose sole purpose is to make profit, Head Teachers whose motives were not at all in tune with the idea of a well-run, locally accountable, responsive and responsible LEA and got rid of anyone who had a modicum of understanding, competence and committment

    3. The local Labour Group then failed to place any stress on monitoring this contract. In their rush to appoint a new, short-lived, undeniably useless but malleable Chief Executive, they left the Council bereft of the skills needed to deal with a shark such as SERCO. Instead, without checking the facts, they relied on the massive PR capacity of SERCO to polish their ‘joint’ achievements

    4. That they lost control of the Council soon after was therefore no surprise. What is shocking is that 12 years later, Shires and Bird still rule the roost

    5. To be fair, what followed nationally did not help the Labour Group. Indeed, it has stuffed them for 12 years.

    Their own national administration

    – introduced and vigorously promoted Academies and any other route whereby Headteachers, private investors and construction companies could profit beyond their wildest dreams
    – allowed Further Education Principals to strike out on their own catastrophic, privatised path to sector bankrupcy.
    – removed funding from adult education, youth work and community development
    – ramped up the wretched PFI to fund capital improvements to our schools
    – introduced the National Curriculum, stepped up testing regimes and placed even more emphasis on league tables. At a stroke, children, teachers and schools have been reduced to little more than units in a ‘profit and loss’ analysis of some lunatic management diagram of educational efficiency. (If you doubt this, just take a look at Goves proposals for teacher payments)
    – fully applied capping to local taxation and massively accelerated Council dependency on competetive beauty contests in order to fund local services and investment
    – scrapped traditional local governance arrangements in favour of the truly abhorrent Cabinet system, encouraged Councillors to think of themselves as paid professionals rather than elected representatives and promoted the notion of elected Mayors

    In light of the above, the reported failure of Cllr. Cassidy to mount a strident attack on the continued failure, at every level, to secure and deliver a rounded and mature approach to the education and care of our children is hardly surprising.

    As is Cllr. Mrs. Andrews refusal to take the local version of the Chiltern Hundreds. In her case, it would probably be the Walsall Thousands.

    What a shambles.

    The Realist

    Comment by The Realist — January 16, 2013 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

    • I cant belive you made a simple error .. after 2000, the council was run by a Tory adminsitration with Lib Dem support until 2004 when boundray changes lead to the Tories taking an overall majority.Secondly, I remember Bruce George, the then Labour MP for Walsal South, going to the secetary of state for education, and aruging schools remain under council control. The orinignal deal with Serco was signed in 2001.

      Comment by George Makin — January 16, 2013 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

      • George

        Any journalist knows that dates, facts and rumour are the key to credible writing. I also understand the frailities of human beings in not being able to separate months from from years.

        The SERCO contract was signed off in March 2001 by the Labour Group without any challenge.

        This was followed by a major cull of competent and committed staff in all departments. Be assured that the financial penalty for this did not lie with SERCO.

        It was, unfortunately, the springboard for the worst Chief Excecutive appointment made by anyone, anywhere, ever.

        Step forward Hardial Boghal, nourished by Labour, fed by Tories, sacked by a Quango, still doing a sterling job in overseeing the demolition of perfectly sound homes in Stoke .

        As for Bruce George, he is an icon in Walall.

        Sums it up.

        The Realist

        Comment by The Realist — January 16, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

  7. Apologies to George. Labour signed off the SERCO contract in March 2000, just before they lost control.

    I stand by the rest of my analysis and chronology, including my crude attempt at a parody of the late, unlamented Bruce George in his desperate attempt to properly pronounce the word ‘Walsall’.

    I have omitted, in the interests of decency, the string of invenctive and cursing that usually laced his comments on the Borough that, for some strange reason, kept voting for him.

    The Realist

    Comment by The Realist — January 16, 2013 @ 11:40 pm | Reply

  8. Wow i never knew Oliver Twist was published in monthly installmens. Still remains my favorite novel as well.

    Comment by Walsall Resident — February 14, 2013 @ 3:15 am | Reply


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