The Plastic Hippo

July 19, 2010

Distracted

Filed under: Education,Law,Politics,Rights,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:22 am

Nomenclature can be a very useful tool for those intent on obscuring the truth. In a world where removing something vital is an “efficiency”, when failure is described as “deferred success” and deliberate corruption is dismissed as “an error”, language acts as a carpet which can be used to sweep the unpalatable under. Add to this lexicon of deception the euphemism “distraction techniques”. This describes the systemic, organised and brutal child abuse in secure training centres perpetrated on behalf of the state in our name.

It has taken two deaths, five years and the Freedom of Information Act for the Youth Justice Board to reluctantly allow their “Physical Control in Care” manual to see the light of day. The YJB fought long and hard to keep this set of instructions a secret and still asserts Crown copyright over the document which means that the dissemination of its content to the general public is potentially a criminal offence. However, the Children`s Rights Alliance for England who secured access to the manual and some newspapers, notably The Observer, have published extracts. They make very grim reading.

Children between 12 and 17 who have been remanded in custody or have received a custodial sentence are sent to one of four Secure Training Centres in the UK. This is where the doublespeak begins as STC`s are basically prisons for children run by private companies under government contracts.

Oakhill in Milton Keynes is run by Rebound Children`s Services which is part of G4S Care and Justice Services Limited and can detain up to 80 children. Ofsted judged the place to be “outstanding” after their last inspection in June.

Rainsbrook in Rugby, Northamptonshire, also run by Rebound, can house up to 87 inmates. Ofsted also considered this facility as being “outstanding” after the inspection in April.

Medway in Rochester, Kent, Rebound again, can hold up to 76 children. Ofsted thought this place was “good” in February.

The fourth children`s prison, Hassockfield in Consett, County Durham is run by Serco and can hold up to 58 children. “Satisfactory” was the verdict from Ofsted in May.

Very little is known about Rebound Children`s Services other than the fact that they are another name for G4S who are currently knocking lumps out of asylum seekers in Immigration Removal Centres. The only way to contact Rebound is through a press officer located in the sleepy Worcestershire village of Broadway. We know more about Serco, of course, and not just because it is also knocking lumps out of asylum seekers in Immigration Removal Centres, closing schools in Walsall and making a fat profit out of the recession, but because Serco are now empowered to conduct Ofsted inspections. Clever…huh?

Ofsted inspectors are required to make certain that relevant documentation and policies are in place to protect the health, safety and well-being of children in whatever institution they inspect. Having awarded overall quality ratings of “satisfactory” to “outstanding” for the four prisons, it is unlikely that the inspectors saw, or asked to see, the Physical Control in Care manual.

The document contains chilling and detailed instructions on how to inflict deliberate violence, pain and humiliation on children. In a prose style worthy of the third reich, an inmate becomes a “trainee”, a fist becomes “extended knuckles” and the prison guards who dish out the violence are known as “carers”. More worryingly, the precise instructions on how to cause pain to already vulnerable and dysfunctional children is called “self-defence” and punching a non-compliant child repeatedly in face is known as a “distraction technique”.

In 2004, Gareth Myatt had just started a six-month sentence at Rainsbrook. He died after being restrained by three members of staff who, as the inquest heard, had given themselves the nicknames Crusher, Mauler and Breaker. Gareth Myatt was 15 and stood four feet, 11 inches tall. He choked on his own vomit and died because he refused to clean a sandwich toaster.

In the same year, Adam Rickwood, aged 14, hung himself at the Hassockfield prison after being the victim of a series of unlawful restraint attacks. Satisfactory?..good?..outstanding?

What makes the Physical Control in Care manual so insidious is that it does not confine itself to the basic process of an assault against a child. It then gives advice about when to stop the violence; not to protect the victim, but to protect the perpetrator.

In more genteel times, a nation was judged by the way it treated its domesticated animals. The thugs employed by G4S and Serco who are are obliged to undertake five days of training before they are allowed to abuse children, are well fed and watered and given lots of exercise.

July 16, 2010

No sleep `till the Old Bailey

Filed under: Education,Music,Politics — theplastichippo @ 1:23 am

The title of the sublime 1981 live album by Motorhead refers to the rather boisterous rock and roll lifestyle of a band on the road. In those far-off and simpler times, major rock tours culminated at what was then known as the Hammersmith Odeon having left a trial of mayhem in hotel rooms, motorway service stations and late-night takeaways the length and breadth of this sceptred isle.

Launching his latest national tour, Michael “philthy animal” Gove will make sure the road crew have loaded the tour bus with plenty of gear to sustain the Secretary of State for Education through a long and arduous list of gigs. Standing in the commons this week to defend the trashing of the BSF programme in a style reminiscent of televisions, windows and the top floor of a Holiday Inn, the rock God for Surrey Health accepted a number polite invitations from MPs for him to visit their constituencies and stage dive into a mosh pit full of angry parents, teachers and children.

Never one to disappoint his adoring public, Gove is going on the road to explain his wisdom to school communities – in August. The gates may well be locked and the only child in sight is nicking the lead off the roof, but he will fearlessly tell a passing arsonist the reasons why the school is not worthy of investment and how the whole mess is the fault of someone else. Job done and back on the bus.

But instead of heading for a final hurrah in Hammersmith, Gove may find himself in a big, scary building between Holborn Circus and St Paul`s Cathedral in front of the beak. The initial reaction to dumping BSF was shrill incredulity and lots of table thumping but now that the enormity of the disaster has sunk in, people are beginning to quietly organise what could be a very messy battle. Some local authorities with well advanced BSF plans are considering mounting a legal challenge against the coalition government and construction firms are already waving signed contracts for work that was due to begin at the end of this school term and are keen for litigation. BSF was seen as a lifeline for the struggling building industry and its cancellation will lead to businesses folding and a lot more people out of work. Individual schools and parent groups, furious at this expensive fiasco may also turn to m`learned friends for some legal bottle throwing at the stage.

Others too, are beginning to kick up a fuss, including one Ed Balls, former education secretary and Labour party leader candidate. It was only a matter of weeks ago that Balls was threatening teachers who refused to conduct the ridiculous SATs tests with legal action. Now he wants them to join him in a “Save Our Schools” rally in London. Teaching unions have organised the rally and Balls, who must take some responsibility for the mismanagement of BSF, seems intent on turning the rally at Westminster Central Hall on Monday into a “Make Me Leader” event. The rally coincides with the second reading of the Academies Bill, one of Balls ideas, which will allow schools to apply to become academies without any consultation with staff, parents and those other irritations, children. Balls has to be careful, or the Steve Miller Band will blow him off the stage.

Meanwhile, back at the Old Bailey, Gove does not have a strong defence as we are already on the fifth amendment of the list of school building projects that have been binned and more lists are likely as the mistakes mount up. The most delicious error halted the building of a school in the north east which, in fact, has been completed and open for a year. In a spectacular failure worthy of Spinal Tap, a certain David Cameron used the school as a venue to launch his 2010 local election campaign. All the scene needed was some dancing midgets and a tiny model of Stonehenge descending slowly from the lighting rig.

Foot on the monitor and throwing a sweaty towel into the crowd, the last we may hear from Gove is: “Thank you Hammersmith, goodnight.”

July 15, 2010

Bloxwich blockheads

Filed under: Education,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:05 am

“History”, said Winston Churchill, “is written by the victors.” The Conservative, then Liberal, then Independent, then Conservative again career politician and titanic war leader also claimed that history would be kind to him because he intended to write it. Sadly, election pamphleteers in Bloxwich West do not share the vision and cunning of the great man.

The good people of Bloxwich go to the polls today to elect a councillor to represent them and will be bemused to find that their Conservative candidate, instead of writing history, is obliterating it with a bloody great big felt tipped pen. An “In Touch” leaflet dropped through the letterboxes of the sleepy hamlet with the election date of July 15 superimposed over the election date of May 6. This commitment to recycling is to be applauded and the blacking out of “£200million” which preceded the words “Investment in Schools” is clearly a responsible editorial decision given that the true figure was £100million and that the Building Schools for the Future funding has been cut anyway.

This has left the Conservative candidate and her agents with a bit of a problem if questioned outside a polling station regarding the actual investment in schools being boasted of. A Labour government awarded Walsall £100million and a Conservative and Libdem coalition took it away. Frank F Harrison was to be a BSF school and is now £120,000 out of pocket with the building still falling down. Serco and the council have decided to close Sneyd and the stealth selection process employed by the unaccountable Walsall Academy means that very few Bloxwich children are allowed to study there. The academies programme was intended to provide state of the art schools for children suffering deprivation, hardship and low aspirations. Instead, they have been populated by the more able and better off who reside far, far away.

The censorship of history displayed in the “In Touch” leaflet, named it seems without any sense of irony, has been picked up by no less than Tom Watson MP over in West Brom. He was the chap who savaged the imbecile Gove last week in the House of Commons, calling the Secretary of State for Education a “pipsqueak”. We wait with baited breath to hear what Winnick and Vaz have to say on all this.

It is worth pointing out that “In Touch” is funded, produced and distributed by the people who are keen to have their photographs published in it and it is at pains to point out that no tax payer money is involved. This is in contrast to the woeful “Walsall Pride” publication which features lots of photographs of Conservative councillors and similar eyewash but, along with the propaganda churned out by the council web site, costs £500,000 a year.

Whatever the outcome of the Bloxwich West by election, history is unlikely to be kind to Theresa Smith.

***UPDATE***

Although no official confirmation has, as yet, been made available by Walsall council, the results of the Bloxwich West by election seem to be:

Labour; 1142
Tory; 800
UKIP; 91
LibDem: 71
Green; 28

Labour majority; 342

This represents a massive swing away from the Conservatives and the collapse of Liberal Democrat support. This cannot be explained away by citing an incorrect election leaflet. The already fragile coalition government look like they will fall apart as a result of the cancellation of BSF and the decision to close Brynty and Willenhall Leisure Centre may well back-fire on councillors who consider themselves to be in safe seats.

July 12, 2010

Who killed Bambi?

Filed under: Education,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:19 am

How pleasant and delightful to witness the rehabilitation of the word “pipsqueak” back into the English language. Master of the vernacular and West Brom MP, Tom Watson, restored this beautiful word into general usage but was then forced to retract it. With a reluctant apology, and justifying its employment against the hopeless Michael Gove, Watson said:
“It was like looking at Bambi. So I shot him.”

Watson, clearly furious at the BSF cock-up, should be given some credit for uttering this charming, if slightly archaic, epithet instead of some of the more “maritime” appellations heard in the pubs, clubs and staff rooms of landlocked West Bromwich East and greater Sandwell. The anger he displayed in the commons is but a foretaste of what is to come as this coalition government embark on a suicidal voyage of cuts, alienation and betrayal. Gove may have shown contrition for the “mistake”, but the decision still stands and the knockabout fun seen in the commons is a sideshow that has taken attention away from the fact that already derelict schools will be allowed to fall down around the ears of our children.

We will never know how many millions of pounds have already been spent on BSF, but the cost of glossy brochures, expensive consultants, surveys and feasibility studies will not be met by central government. This money has already been spent and came directly from individual school budgets in a process of obligatory cuts or, to use the euphemistic jargon so beloved education bureaucrats, “start-up top-slicing”. So a school having been promised its funding allocation and having made plans to replace the rotten windows, fix the leaking roof or improve access for children with disabilities, witnessed the proposed funding disappear to pay the salaries of those administering the BSF bid. The fatuous argument that salaries have to be high to attract those with high ability has clearly been disproved by the entire BSF shambles. No wonder Watson lost his rag.

Closer to home, Walsall will not be building any schools for the future and our political leaders do not seem particularly upset about this. Mike Bird said that the decision to cancel the programme after so much money had been spent was “disappointing but inevitable.” He was keen to bite the hand that fed him but is now happy to try and kiss the hand that is squeezing his throat. Ominously, any scraps left from BSF seem destined to go to the Academies in Walsall. It is both disappointing and inevitable that this will result in a two-tier system; a poor education or none at all.

When Walsall secondary school buildings now in desperate need of of some tender loving care were built in the 60s, it is probable that none of the pupils had ever heard of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, comic book characters conjured up just after the First World War. Some may have heard of the Disney film Bambi, produced during the Second World War, but all of them were educated in primary schools that pre-dated both conflicts.

Gove is not Bambi; he is the hunter. Cameron and Clegg are not Pip and Squeak; they are the Chuckle Brothers. Last week it was education, next week it is the NHS. Andrew Lansley, in the guise of Wilfred, the tiny rabbit with infeasibility long ears will go gunning for the parents and grandparents of Bambi.

Th…th…th…th…th…that’s all folks.

July 9, 2010

Darlaston – through a glass darkly

Filed under: Education,Health,Politics,Sport,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:32 pm

It seems that windows at Darlaston Leisure Centre have been covered over to protect the privacy of swimmers. The hippo now looks forward to seeing huge wooden hoardings erected in the Arboretum in order to protect his dignity as he doggy paddles around Hatherton Lake and the shooting down of the Google Earth satellite the next time it passes overhead. Hippos have rights as well, you know.

Walsall council, stripped of cash and lacking any decency, are in the sordid process of closing leisure centres in order to save money but have somehow managed to find the wherewithal to place “dark film” over the glazing of the Darlaston beauty spot. It would be considerably cheaper to simply board them up as is about to happen at Willenhall Leisure Centre and lock the doors forever so swimmers cannot get in.

This latest piece of nonsense would normally be received with a phlegmatic shrug of the shoulders from the long-suffering council tax payers of Walsall conditioned to accept scandalous levels of waste, incompetence and inefficiency, but something different took place. The local rag picked up the story and claimed that the people asking for the windows to be covered up were (gasp) Muslim women. It wasn’t long before the national press, and you will not have any difficulty in guessing which ones, were all over the story like a rash and bellowing of political correctness gone mad. Only the BBC reported that some of the small number of pool users who asked for a modesty screen were actually Muslim women.

In the centre of the media frenzy, our council did what it does best; it made matters worse and botched its response. Desperate to distance itself from suggestions of pandering to a minority, it has claimed that the screens were put in place so fat and ugly people would not suffer the indignity of being laughed at. So, after stirring up some of the vile and deep seated prejudices in sections of the press and within our own community, the council now points the finger at the rotund. It is no surprise that this has gone largely unreported as most of us, including London tabloid hacks are, to use the words of Councillor Anthony Harris, “a little overweight”. Perhaps cling film will encourage more people into high street shops given the acres of corpulent flesh on display when the sun comes out in Walsall.

The council wheeled out the Institute of Sport and Recreational Management to “applaud and support the initiative to protect the modesty of some sections of the local community” and the head of leisure and culture at Walsall council, Chris Holliday, told us that “not everyone is confident in their Speedos”. Well, not everyone is confident in their council either.

The building has some history when it comes to windows. Adjustable blinds were fitted some time ago in the days before overweight people were allowed to swim. This initiative had nothing to do with political correctness but with, as the tabloids would have it, health and safety gone mad. It seems that the lifeguards could not do their jobs properly because of the glare the tropical Darlaston sun made on the surface of the water. Strange that the tabloids didn’t report this but, back then, it would have more difficult to weave in an insidious reference to a burkha.

A no less august body than the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has described the building as having the “benefits of daylight and external views”. Not any more. CABE also praises the unique iron and plywood roof but sadly, the roof has rusted after just 10 years and is in need of repair. But the porky paddlers of Darlaston need not worry. A short waddle to Willenhall will spare their blushes. Ah, hang on, maybe not.

The fact that Walsall council are once again attempting to spin the “we have listened to the community and acted” line is yet another example of blatant hypocrisy. They listened to people with disabilities who wanted to preserve dedicated parking spaces in Walsall town centre but acted in favour of taxi drivers who coveted the more lucrative side of the street. They listened to members of the Ahmadiyya community who wanted to open a place of worship but acted on behalf of the majority. They listened to children, parents and staff at Darlaston Comprehensive and gave it away against the wishes of the community.

At this point, readers may wish to add further examples, and there are many, as a comment. This is not an excuse for lazy writing, just an attempt to avoid a rise in blood pressure, a post longer than a winding road and a desire for insurrection. These things are not good for an overweight hippo.

In the King James version of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 13 has:
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” This has been interpreted to mean that we will only understand the true face of God once we arrive in the afterlife. Perhaps the people of the borough, especially young people, will only understand the depth of incompetence that surrounds them after they are prematurely ushered through the pearly gates.

Closing schools and swimming pools never made anybody clever or healthy and with more cuts announced, the hippo cannot afford a larger pair of Speedos.

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