The Plastic Hippo

February 6, 2011

School for scoundrels

Filed under: Education,Media,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:55 am

That great font of all knowledge, the “award winning” Walsall Council website continues to entertain by regurgitating the bird guano plopping out of the Council House. Two of the latest insults to intelligence concern themselves, without any sense of irony, with education.

More school improvement work set to get green light” boasts the headline of the press release. The “latest investment” of £685,000 will “improve learning environments” in six schools. Splendid.

However…

The good news in the press release makes no reference to the years of neglect and incompetence displayed by both local and central government regarding the state of school buildings. The half million plus will be spent on patching up schools that are falling down or are just down right dangerous. Rewiring and re-roofing that should have been done decades ago is hardly an excuse for triumphant largesse. Improving physical accessibility to schools was demanded by the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. For clarification, and for those within the council who struggle with mathematics, that was 16 years ago. The majority of schools in Walsall still discriminate against children with physical disabilities in terms of access.

It would be churlish to mention the supine response by Walsall Council to the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme. Two million pounds wasted and no word of objection from our elected leaders. Not even a dickie bird about the cuts to the Primary Capital Programme or the massive reductions in Devolved Formula Capital awarded to schools simply to keep the buildings open. DFC is not the Distinguished Flying Cross, but a vital source of funding required to maintain the very fabric of crumbling school buildings. A government and a council flying by the seats of their pants have reduced DFC funding to a level that makes a school think twice about purchasing a bag of sawdust to cover the vomit in a school canteen. It might be churlish, but Walsall needs churls.

The money wasted on BSF did not come from a central pot, but came from designated school budgets in a process called “top slicing”. All schools in Walsall had their planned budgets plundered and then frittered away on consultants and bureaucracy. The money took the afternoon train out of Walsall. The schools benefiting from this latest announcement are expected to divert money away from stuff like books, computers and staff to pay to fix the roof and the electrics. Councillor Rachel Andrew describes this shambles as an “investment”.

On the same day that this utter garbage was puked out of the “award winning” council website, another press release appeared entitled “Bridging the funding gap for schools”. This piece of fiction concerned itself with the future of school funding and the preposterous lie that is called “pupil premium”. Four million quid will go to support “disadvantaged” children in Walsall. Splendid.

However…

The pupil premium is a worthless sop dangled in front of the spineless Liberal Democrats as payment for propping up an unelected coalition government. With the common wealth of forests being sold off, prohibitive tuition fees allowing only the wealthy a university education and the wilful destruction of the NHS, both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos lie torn to shreds in the fiction aisle of your local, closed library. Only the pupil premium remains to give any legitimacy to Clegg and his doomed party.

But the pupil premium is fatally and irreversibly flawed. A child is only considered to be “disadvantaged” if they qualify for free school meals. This is the only criteria and is about as accurate as a David Cameron speech or the “award winning” Walsall council website in understanding deprivation. The take up of free school meals eligibility is in no way an indicator of disadvantage and the half-wits in charge of education in Walsall scratch their thick skulls in incredulity as to why the entitlement is not enthusiastically embraced. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, the benefits system currently being savaged by Cameron, Clegg and their millionaire chums discourages free school meals take up by the poorest families as this impacts negatively on other benefits. As further millions are thrown out of work, the numbers of children entitled to FSM will, in reality, decrease.

The well paid army of “managers” within Walsall council and Serco simply do not understand the stigma imposed on families and, more importantly, the children entitled to FSM. Most schools handle the issue with sensitivity but there are still some that have separate queues for FSM children and in some isolated cases, the claimants are served after their paying peers. If these “educationalists” think that bullying is rife within Serco, the council and parliament, try being a seven-year-old in a school canteen.

There is also the thorny issue of cultural dietary restrictions. It is far easier for children living close to a school to go home for lunch and eat food that has been prepared by family members and can be trusted to conform to prescribed standards.

The up take of FSM will continue to decline because the standard of food dolloped out by the Walsall council catering service is, not to mince words, crap.

Schools will receive £430 for each child entitled to free school meals but, crucially, the money does not need to be directly spent on improving the life chances of the individual child. Headteachers and governing bodies, facing huge budget cuts, might need to use the money to simply fix the roof or make the mains supply safe. The “disadvantaged” child will be no better off and the right to an education will be further diminished.

The “award winning” Walsall council website makes no mention of this or any report of another school jumping ship to Academy status. Shire Oak School, with six outstanding features as judged by Ofsted, has been allowed to become an Academy. A decision the Head describes as “absolutely brilliant”. Perhaps his elation is due to the fact that the school will now be beyond the incompetence of Walsall council and Serco and that the council draft budget allocates £25million to Academies and the selective nature of admissions.

The “award winning” Walsall council website seems to have also missed the news that Alumwell, Blue Coat, Frank F Harrison and Willenhall schools with not an outstanding feature between them are also being frog marched out of local authority control to balance the books of Serco.

Walsall council spends half a million quid of council tax payers money on the “award winning” website which claims that “500,000 people a month log on” and that it has “consistently finished highly placed in industry reviews”. In July 2009, Webcredible reviewed 20 selected local authority websites. Walsall came 20th out of 20. The reason is obvious. Rather than disseminating information of value, the “award winning” website peddles discredited dogma from its political masters and has become the standard bearer of corrupt propaganda paid for by the very people it wishes to dupe.

But be of good cheer. Yet another ridiculous and loaded consultation document is available to allow you to tell Walsall council how wonderful it is and how indispensable the awful website is. Your opinions will be noticed and then ignored. Have a go, it`s hysterical.

As for winning awards; the What’s On Walsall website came second in the 2009 Black Country Hotel and Tourism Awards. It is somehow appropriate that a zoo came first and a golf club came third. As Terry-Thomas might have said:

“What an absolute shower.”

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2 Comments »

  1. did you know Mr Hippo that in one of the budget docs there is paragraph that admits the pupil premuium may have cause some schools to release staff as money goes from them ?

    Comment by ianrobo — February 6, 2011 @ 12:59 am | Reply


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