Guest Post: Andrea Oates on Academies.

As I’m presently incredibly busy right now putting the final touches to the 8 page wonder that is The Beestonian, Issue 8, dealing with a nasty hotmail virus that spammed my whole address book (cue people I’ve not heard from for years sending me messages worrying about my mental state), a unshiftable throat infection and , errr, a proper full-time job, I’ve decided to hand over the reins to a guest contributor, Cllr. Andrea Oates.

It’s a subject that I am not at all wised up on; I don’t have kids so it’s sort of been off my radar, but I sort of instinctively know is a worrying situation, and not just because it’s been Touched By The Hand Of Gove. Also, it concerns my alma mater, Bramcote Park Comprehensive, an instituation that did me good education in the writing.* I’ll hand over to Andrea.

*before I get comments from a certain tiresome witless individual who really should know better, thats  a JOKE, btw, albeit a rubbish one. And hide your IP address next time you comment. Otherwise your anonymity is rather less anonymous.

Why we should keep our schools at the heart of our community 

I believe in comprehensive education, where children from all walks of life learn together and enjoy the same opportunities in a good school rooted in the local community. I believe parents should have a democratic voice in the running of that school and I believe hard-working staff should be rewarded fairly for the hugely important job they do.

That is why I oppose academies. My concern is that Education Secretary Michael Gove’s academies programme is an attack on each and all of these principles.

The White Hills Park Federation, which includes Alderman White school, Bramcote Park school and Bramcote Hills college, is exploring the possibility of converting to academy status. Parents and prospective parents – and I am one – are being consulted at the moment and I believe we should respond with a resounding ‘no’.

No new money

Essentially academies ‘go it alone’, leaving the Local Authority safety net and receiving their funding direct from the government.

One of the great myths about academies is that they receive more money than community schools. In fact the government is clear that becoming an academy should not bring about any financial advantage for a school. Academies get the same funding per pupil as any other school. The only difference is they receive money direct from the government to buy in a range of services no longer provided by the Local Authority, such as support for students with Special Educational Needs.

Academies buy in these services without the economies of scale of the Local Authority. Will they be able to do so at a lower cost? The short answer is no-one knows. But a growing number of companies are seeing the potential to make big profits from academies.

No evidence of improved educational achievement

It is also worth pointing out that there is absolutely no evidence that if a school converts to an academy it will raise the level of educational achievement by students.

What we can be certain about is the additional burdens academies take on when they leave the Local Authority safety net.  Academies take responsibility for a range of liabilities ranging from pensions to buildings maintenance. And if something goes wrong, for example a fire or a flood, they can no longer turn to the Local Authority for support.

There is also the risk that experienced staff will leave. If an academy tries to change how and when staff work or to break with nationally agreed terms and conditions the effect could be to demoralise staff, which will affect the school’s success.

Admissions

If you have children you would like to go to Alderman White or Bramcote Park schools or to Bramcote Hills college then any changes in admissions policy or to the catchment area could directly affect you. Academies become their own admissions authority and so set their own admissions policies. Currently they are required to abide by the Admissions Code but the government intends to remove arrangements for monitoring admissions. Teaching unions already report that the intakes of academies are not representative of their local communities.

And academies are an attack on democracy. The elected Local Education Authority (in our case Notts County Council) no longer has a say in the running of an academy. It is run by a charitable company called an academy trust. The evidence shows academies have fewer parent governors and staff representatives. And if a parent disagrees with a decision and cannot resolve the matter with the academy they can no longer turn to the Local Authority. Effectively, when a school becomes an academy there are no local avenues of complaint.

The good news is that parents do not have to accept local schools converting to academies. Parents and staff just down the road at The Kimberley School have united to fight a strong campaign against conversion to academy status. We can do the same here and keep Alderman White school, Bramcote Park school and Bramcote Hills college where they belong: at the heart of our community.

Petition and public meeting

If you oppose Alderman White school, Bramcote Park school and Bramcote Hills college converting to academy status you can sign our online petition click here and attend our public meeting:

Monday 14th May at 7pm

Beeston Library

Foster Avenue

Beeston

Speakers will include Liam Conway, Joint Secretary of Notts NUT, Ian Stevenson, from the Save Kimberley School Campaign and Kevin Dean, Executive Headteacher at the White Hills Park Federation.

You can also find out more about the Hands Off Our Schools Campaign by emailing: nottshandsoffourschools@hotmail.co.uk, visiting: http://nottsantiacademies.org or following us on Twitter: @Notts_Schools.

Wilkos Closes: Whose to Blame?

It’s gone, a day early. More of a whimper than a bang as the management decided that their was not enough stock in the shop so shut up early. Wilkos, over and out.

Since it’s closure was first announced just before Christmas 2011, I’ve been trying to find out exactly why something so popular and so successful can disappear from Beeston, and I think that now, after more meetings and emails than I care to remember, I have a clear narrative on exactly what caused this. Front and centre, Wilkinsons. Your sheer avarice has damaged this town. Their are other culprits, as I will show, but Wilkos Head Office should be hanging their heads in shame. While pocketing a huge wodge of what is our money.

When we first launched the petition to keep Wilkos in Beeston, I was asked live on air by Hannah Meredith from BBC Radio Nottingham why I was campaigning for a chain store. I explained that it did look odd, but I was not supporting Wilkinsons the business, but Wilkinsons the store in Beeston. Just as you may think little of Royal Mail but still find your local Post Office invaluable, Wilkos was a resource in this town. Employing 56 people, mostly Beestonians, it provided a cheap and cheerful one-stop shop for all non-food needs. It attracted people to Beeston in droves, enjoying the greatest footfall per square foot than any other retailer.

My initial belief while campaigning for relocation was that Henry Boot Developers were to blame. I assumed that there idea of what Beeston Square should look like was out of kilter to what was actually needed: Wilkos was seen as too ‘low-end’ for them. I now know this is flawed, and Wilkinson’s have been very much a priority in the plans. They have had first refusal on a huge new premise on the redeveloped Square for some time, a floorspace that would comfortably house five mid-size retailers. This would be central to the Square, so did Wilkos jump at the chance? Nope.

While issuing hollow press statements ‘We remain committed to Beeston, etc’ they played a game of brinksmanship, the repercussions are another closed shop, half the employees on the scrap heap, the other half relocated to other stores. Rumour has it that they first demanded £40 million compensation for closure, yet the actual figure agreed was significantly smaller than this. But to lever more money, they refused to sign up to a new shop, as this would have had an adverse effect on the package.

So while both the council, who unanimously supported the campaign to keep Wilkos in Beeston, and Henry Boot, who held out for ages while other retailers were expressing interest in the new space, bent over backwards to reflect the needs of Beestonians, Wilkos prevaricated. It’s subject to ‘commercial confidentiality’ (a phrase I grew increasingly used to/sick of whenever I tried to get an answer from various parties) but if Henry Boot’s patience runs out, then Wilkos may lose the chance soon to take the space. Those jobs will never return.

Henry Boot will thus be seen as the Bad Guys, along with the council for allowing the tram. Indeed, the knee-jerk reaction I noticed on the streets while petitioning, and in a great deal of commenters on this blog blame the tram. Wilkos are happy to use this as a smokescreen. Poor us! Forced out of Beeston because of the tram passing through our premises. However, they’ve known that WAY before December the train was a certainty. The failure to relocate is the fault of Wilkos management. I stand by that with certainty.

Yes, the Council’s attitude to the Square leaves lots to be desired: why they have stuck another developer to consult on the plans to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, consultants who know a good deal when they see it so retain this cash pipeline by shouting down all plans submitted by Henry Boot. This is not joined up thinking. The Council and Henry Boot need desperately to start working together and get the work done. Henry Boot need to provide Beestonians with a much clearer vision of what they intend for Beeston: and to be fair, recently they have been doing this.

Because when the situation becomes so antagonistic, it becomes open for exploitation, hences Wilkos strategic fleecing of funds.

I am also not as naïve as to think that Wilkinsons should be ran as a charity. They are a business as much as Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose (who will also be setting up shop in the Square soonish). Why should we expect anything different?

Because Wilkos has a reputation as a good, ethical employer; who also give a large donation to a selected charity each year. This reputation has always been strong in the community. Have they squandered this goodwill? Does corporate responsibility not fit their business model these days? Treating their staff as they have done: keeping them poorly informed, offering bare minimum redundancy packages (if any), demoting staff who did stay on, then freezing their wages for three years, seems to suggest they are happy to trash their image for the sake of a few quid.

Lets not forget that this reputation has been at least partly responsible for Wilkos recent massive rise in sales and profits. While this has been reflected in the remuneration of the directors, the staff have been treated like crap.

So whats the future? For the staff, bleak. For the store coming back to Beeston? That depends on the patience of Henry Boot and the willingness of Wilkinson’s Head Office to think of something other than sheer profit.

Beestonia Invites You To Temples, Wilkos, And Inevitably, Pubs.

Happy Easter / Vishu .

A couple of stories we at Beestonia have been involved during the last few months come to a head this week. One is great news, one not so.

We’ll start with the positive and give a hearty welcome to the Sri Thurkkai Amman Temple that officially opens it’s doors from 10am tomorrow. You’re invited to attend the temple in West Crescent, and I strongly recommend it. The sneak preview I got a few weeks ago left me awestruck: the transformation of a derelict building into a visual feast of colour and craftsmanship was astounding, despite it being far from finished. On display will be the cards you lot sent in after my appeal here: it had a great efect on  morale there, after the deflation caused by the acts of a few bonehead racists who took it upon themselves to see the transformation of a derelict building into a brilliant community-centred (they are offering the extensive hall space to Beestonians to use for meetings and other secular activities) hub as akin to forcing us all to worship Ganesh and forsake beef for ever, on pain of death. Never underestimate the nastiness, or the idiocy, of the far-right.

We won this one. The general open-minded, good natured compassion of Beestonians swept away the small minded prejudices of a miserably grim few. Pop down tomorrow. They’ll be happy to see you.

EDIT: Cllr Barber just got in touch to add the following:

I am advising people to walk or get the bus to the Temple tomorrow. If they drive please do not attempt to park on West Crescent, there should be space on Leyton Cres at the Community Centre, there are no sporting fixtures tomorrow. This is less than 3 minutes from the Temple

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The bad news? I also highly recommend you pop down Wilkos this week. Well, as it is the store with highest foot-fall per square metre in the whole of Beeston, you probably were off down there anyhow. But of not, this week is your last chance. On Saturday the store is closing, and may not be back. Why? Well, it seems I have a clear picture on that now, and you might be surprised by who the main culprits are.

Let me first issue a partial apology to Henry Boot Developers. I’ve long-blamed that their vision of Beeston Square was dramatically out of step with your everday Beestonian, and as such were trying to force Wilkos out, hence the utter shambles of getting them a new site.

Seems the story is more complex than that, and I’ve had to put myself through a crash-course in urban retail development over the last few months to get my head round it. However, the notional bad-guys, Henry Boot PLC, seem to have been trying to get some sort of solution to the interminable problem of the Square for some time. I still think their methods of communicating this leave a lot to be desired, but I now firmly believe that they have been obstructed unneccesarilary by other parties. All will be revealed in the next post, as I’ve sent them emails asking for a response and want to ensure right of reply.

Henry Boot are far from whiter than white, but their recent transparancy of their plans for the precinct/square are admirable. The truly greedy, the truly damaging? Watch this space.

And as a totally unrelated aside, I’d like to mention that senior bosses from Wilkos, including members of the Wilkinson family themselves, will be at the store this Thursday (12th). I don’t know what time, and due to the fact I’m working that day will not be able to attend, but if you’re free, do pop down and be at liberty to ask them how much they will profit from purposely running the branch into the ground for a bit of cash while one half of the workers have been pushed into other stores and the other half now unemployed.

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Or, pop along any day and leave a message here:

It’s a wall in Wilkos thats been given over to people wishing to say goodbye to this institution. Right now it seems peoples rage is directed mainly towards the tram, though, as all will become clear, this is a bit misguided. When I spent hours in the cold taking signatures for the petition, this was also flagged up as the reason….if only local retail planning was so simple.

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We, as in the Beestonian Elite Journalistic Squad, the NG9 A-Team (motto; we love it when a pun comes together) are working on Issue 8 right now and it has a spercial theme: PUBS. Own a pub in Beeston? Have pub stories? Want to join our intrepid mission to forge a new pub crawl on Modern Beeston? Then let me know at mattgoold23@hotmail.com .

Beestonia

Blogging is probably the most cheap, easy way to get your voice out. Celluloid is probably the most expensive, save etching bon-mots on to diamonds and launching them onto your public via a panda-powered catapult. Yes, I may have branched out into print (ISSUE 7!!!! OUT NOW!!!!!! ) but I’m fond of the utalitarian nature of, ahem, citizen journalism. It, like all the greater things in life, can be carried out for free, alone, in the comfort of your own bedroom.

So it’s a disorientating experience to find Beestonia attracting the interest of the Hollywood studios. Yes! I have been offered a contractual option to turn the epic tale of this blog into a three-part series of blockbusters that kicks off with an Episode One with the Story of Teresa Lou; a critically-acclaimed Episode One involving election campaigns and the chilling rise of Soubry; and an as yet realised Episode…

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Beestonia Hits the Silver Screen. Hurts Self.

Blogging is probably the most cheap, easy way to get your voice out. Celluloid is probably the most expensive, save etching bon-mots on to diamonds and launching them onto your public via a panda-powered catapult. Yes, I may have branched out into print (ISSUE 7!!!! OUT NOW!!!!!! ) but I’m fond of the utalitarian nature of, ahem, citizen journalism. It, like all the greater things in life, can be carried out for free, alone, in the comfort of your own bedroom.

So it’s a disorientating experience to find Beestonia attracting the interest of the Hollywood studios. Yes! I have been offered a contractual option to turn the epic tale of this blog into a three-part series of blockbusters that kicks off with an Episode One with the Story of Teresa Lou; a critically-acclaimed Episode One involving election campaigns and the chilling rise of Soubry; and an as yet realised Episode Three where I recruit teddy-bears to Save Wilkos.

There may be some artistic license here.

I maybe lying throughout.

No maybe about it, I am.

Bur still, there is truth. I’m dabbling with the celluloid. Or rather, others are, and I’m being tangled in their artistry.

I’m writing a short documentary about Beestonia, and why Beestonia is the Centre of the Universe, and after three weeks working on the treatment and proud to announce I have TWO WHOLE MINUTES of script written. At this rate, Stanley Kubrick, who started the treatment of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 wouldn’t have a completed film together until 2098, whereby it would have been released as a lovely bit of nostalgic whimsy. HeartBeat in space.

That’s not all though. The people behind Beeston BID, who are tasked to keep our town alive in a retail sense, have applied for a sizable chunk of moolah by becoming a ‘Portas Town’. Here’s our application, there’s a couple of nods towards Beestonia-obsessions, notably Oxjam and the Wilkos campaign:

Not sure if I agree with the music, but who am I to judge? I still think Wings were the band the Beatles were destined to be. My karaoke has been compared to a ‘fire in a pet shop’. I once bought, and not against my will, a record by Razorlight. I know.

Which, in a ‘yesterday Indie rock’ segue/ self-promotion, informs you I have some ancient Indie-rock news if you bother reading past the next few paragraphs, or have no idea how to scroll south.

Anyhow, I digress. A couple of months ago, I put an appeal up here for someone to lend there house out for a day or so a film crew could use it for some location shots. A game Beetonian replied, and volunteered up their property (cheers Rex) and the film, a witty little short, was duly shot. I’ve seen it, and it’s fab, four minutes of visual lovelines, shot through with a humour darker than a crow being sucked into a blackhole. It’s still, I think, embargoed, as it’s in the process of being looked over by BAFTA as a submission, but I’ll post it up once I get the thumbs up. The svengali behind the project, Steve, already has his next project primed and is looking for a household in Beeston to shoot it: contact me if you are willing to let your territory become a little famous; mattgoold23@hotmail.com.

And the Indie band? Only those of a certain age, ie; you were growing inimate hair, but still were asked for ID for booze purchases in the early ninetieswill remember, but Jimbob out of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine is doing a solo show at The Greyhound later this month. Last time I saw the aforementioned James Robert I was a wide-eyed teen, at my first festival, watching as he strode onto the Pyramid Stage as he headlined Glastonbury. And since we’re all about the film tonight, heres a dollop of Youtube to get you running out buying tickets:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3uuwn4oIls&feature=related

Not to mention my affinity with them. We both share utter contempt for Philip Scholfield, mine garnered with an audition a few years back when I ran into ‘Pip Scho’ and scuppered my chance to be on a game show (see Beestonia passim). Theres is more reasonable, and more public: