The Plastic Hippo

April 13, 2014

Careless in the community

In imagined nostalgia, there was a time when a community was defined by its pub, church, post office and school and life in merry old England revolved from cradle to grave with reassuring certainty. In present reality, however, dark forces are at work hatching dastardly plots intended to subvert our culture by infiltrating communities with hard line, fundamentalist extremists hell-bent on imposing warped dogma and alien ideology.

The pub is now a Tesco Express and the church is falling down but remains a lucrative long-term real estate investment opportunity. The post office is long gone and has been replaced with a food bank next to a loan shark. The school is now an Academy named after an unfamiliar sponsor and the community is now defined by hedge funds rather than hedgerows.

In a sleepy southern suburb of Walsall, the powers-that-be have worked themselves up into something of a tizzy over a dastardly plot by the Mujahidin to take control of schools to indoctrinate children into the ways of terrorism. Based on a single, anonymous and carefully leaked letter, the quaint hamlet of Birmingham has reacted by suspending the recruitment of school governors and by launching an urgent investigation. Ofsted and the Department for Education have expressed deep concern and even Michael Gove has paused from pulling the wings off flies whilst rocking gently back and forth to offer the world his “serious” face. There are two possible “outcomes” (as they say at the DfE) to the urgent investigation. The single, anonymous letter could be a hoax or it could be evidence of an actual plot.

If Alec Guinness were still available to reprise his role as George Smiley, his first task would be to ascertain if the letter was typed or hand written and what language it was written in. Secondly, he might turn his powerful intellect to considering why, given the great richness of Islamic learning, the author would describe the plot as a “Trojan Horse operation”. Troy is a long way from Medina and Virgil and Homer came from a different tradition than that of Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr. If the single, anonymous letter does turn out to be a dastardly plot, then the concerned folk at Ofsted, the DfE and Birmingham City Council might prefer the hoax scenario because a plot would not be a plot because it is exactly what the DfE and Michael Gove are encouraging with their increasingly disturbing obsession to allow Free Schools and Academies to do and teach whatever they like.

Given the turbulent, unpredictable and confused mess of government education policy, it is almost impossible to know what it going on with school governance. In imaged nostalgia, there was a time when a school governing body comprised of community governors, staff governors, parent governors and governors, usually serving councillors, appointed by the Local Education Authority. Giving their time freely as volunteers, they acted as a “critical friend” to the school`s senior management team to ensure the best possible education and environment for children. In present reality, however, Free Schools and Academies have “trustees” who tend not to be parents, staff, members of the community and definitely not from the LEA unless by special invitation. State school governing bodies who resisted being forced into Academy status have found themselves being removed and replaced by a much smaller Interim Executive Board comprised of the friends, families and employees of the corporate sponsor more interested in the deeds to a lucrative long term real estate opportunity and loads and loads of free government cash. If it looks like a Trojan horse then you probably need a bucket and a shovel.

In the bustling metropolis of Walsall, schools that were once at the heart of the community are falling victim to the dastardly plots of extremists wishing to exercise mind control over children. The three failing Grace Academy franchises in the Darlaston, Solihull and Coventry suburbs of Greater Walsall specialising in business and enterprise are not only inadequate but are also under investigation regarding suspicious financial shenanigans. The very wealthy, rather odd evangelical creationist sponsor Lord Robert Edmiston has made some significant cash donations to the Tory Party and, in the case of Darlaston, it wasn`t just a peerage that the car salesman received from grateful Conservatives. Still, when Ofsted shuts down the schools due to them being completely useless, Lord Bob and his “trustees” get to keep the land and the government money and the displaced students will take away first-hand experience of just how business and enterprise works and how education as a commodity does not.

Michael Gove, when not being worried that teachers are “promoting” science in schools, maintains that his bizarre version of pedagogy is offering parents a choice of schools for their darling offspring. The choice is between an underfunded state school being bullied by the DfE or an Academy that is well funded for the benefit of compliant Head Teachers and the business interests of its shady “trustees”. Neither has very much to do with community anymore. Even as Gove sets about producing a generation that can only expect a zero hours contract or Workfare free labour, Eric Pickles sets about the dismantling of communities. One cuts funding for schools and the other cuts funding for Local Authorities. The concept of divide and rule is too compassionate for this Tory coalition. Divide and destroy is the mantra.

An example of how this extremism works can be found by considering the ongoing events at Brownhills School and the relationship with its Community Association. The warrior sage of the northern wastes, iconoclast Brownhills Bob, has chronicled the sorry affair in great detail including the strange intervention of Sir Richard Shepherd MP. Given that Brownhills School has had more names than Grant Shapps with the word “community” dropped faster than the ownership of a fraudulent internet company, local MP Shepherd is to be congratulated for realising that after all these years he actually represents Brownhills as well as Aldridge. His letter to the local rag is particularly illuminating when viewed from the divide and destroy perspective. Whistling the tune to Coal Miner`s Daughter by Loretta Lynn, Sir Richard misinterpreted genuine disquiet as some sort of attack on the school. He quoted the Education Act of 2002, he claimed that the Community Association “decided” to leave; he accused the Head Teachers and Governing Bodies of other schools of inadequacy. He praised the Governing Body at Brownhills for their decision to dump the community. Divide and destroy.

It seems that the same thing is happening to the Community Association at Pool Hayes and again the un-named Governors are being credited with the decision. The local Liberal Democrat councillor first demanded an investigation and then demanded “reports” into the division and destruction. Councillor Ian Shires holds the cabinet portfolio for community engagement and voluntary sector. Oh dear, divide and destroy.

On Monday, at a meeting of the full council, the Walsall Labour Group will ask councillor Adrian Andrew, who recently resigned as a “trustee” at Grace Academy Darlaston, for details of any possible financial shenanigans. It would be unkind to suggest that the Labour Group care more about scoring cheap political points than caring for the community and education and it would be equally unkind of the Tory portfolio holder for regeneration and transport to respond by asking if the unusual silence from Brownhills Labour councillors had anything to do with Local Authority representation on the Governing Body of Brownhills-not-a-community-School-anymore.

Margaret Thatcher infamously stated that there was no such thing as society. It is not the case that Cameron, Gove and Pickles do not care for communities. The sad fact is, they couldn`t care less. With this lot in power, the Mujahidin in charge of schools might be preferable.


  1. So infamously stated that it is deliberately taken out of context:

    “I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand, “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!”, “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation and it is, I think, one of the tragedies in which many of the benefits we give, which were meant to reassure people that if they were sick or ill there was a safety net and there was help, that many of the benefits which were meant to help people who were unfortunate—” It is all right. We joined together and we have these insurance schemes to look after it” . That was the objective, but somehow there are some people who have been manipulating the system and so some of those help and benefits that were meant to say to people:”All right, if you cannot get a job, you shall have a basic standard of living!” but when people come and say:”But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole!” You say:”Look” It is not from the dole. It is your neighbour who is supplying it and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it and you will feel very much better!”

    Comment by Rob — April 13, 2014 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog and commented:
    The saga of schools, community facilities and their withdrawal rumbles on – The Plastic Hippo beautifully addresses this, and the shallowness and lack of political action. It’s a must-read…

    Comment by BrownhillsBob — April 14, 2014 @ 9:46 am | Reply

  3. The whole crap around brownhills school names and all the other crap above really grinds on me. nice referral bob

    Comment by Walsall Garage Guy — June 2, 2014 @ 7:52 pm | Reply

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