Annual Report 2002

Off The Rails?

"Weíre on the right track" was the recent response to the OFSTED report on education services in Bradford following an inspection carried out at the end of last year.

It was a pretty much unanimous response from the "stakeholders" in the system, to use todayís terminology.

It was the response of spokespersons of all the political parties on Bradford Council except the Greens, of the Councilís Chief Executive, of the Head of Education Bradford (the company that now delivers most of the services), of the Councilís Director of Education, of the Head of the Education Policy Partnership (hard to know what to put in brackets here to describe its function, but he gets paid a lot like all the others on the list), of the Telegraph and Argus (a key player in the political process) and of OFSTED itself.

The next time Bradford is inspected we should get Lewis Carroll or Danny Kaye to do it

A Tear For The Oysters

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright -
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

So begins the Carrollís The Walrus And The Carpenter. Why is the sun shining when it shouldnít be? you ask when you read your poem or your T&A. Itís needed for a feast, is the answer.

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"Youíve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none -
And this was scarcely odd, because
Theyíd eaten every one.

The oysters of Bradford have held hands with a lot of walruses and carpenters now, from city centre developers to capital of culture bidders, to festival organisers, to school reorganisation strategic partners, to housing stock transferers, with asset managers and ICT providers soon to complete the set. Education services are just another oyster bed in the big feast. But the oysters are us, the ordinary workers in the system and the ordinary users of the services, not the great and glorious list of those who think we are on the right track. They just put us into the hands of the polite predators. They will keep their inflated salaries and allowances as they oversee the genteel feeding frenzy on what used to be public services.

Cynical Or What?

"Why so cynical?" I have asked myself each year in recent years as I have reflected on this erosion of public provision. All these privatisations have been objectively justified by firms of chartered accountants and business consultants using point scores. This is where I hear Danny Kaye in my head.

Moral Tale

When I used to listen to Uncle Mac presenting Childrenís Favourites on the radio on a Saturday morning nearly 50 years ago, he had a fondness for the song with a moral tale. One such was from the recently released film Hans Christian Anderson, in which Americaís favourite comedian sang in his own inimitable style the tale of The Emperorís (in this case Kingís) New Clothes

This is the story of the Kingís new clothes:
Now there was once a king who was absolutely insane about new clothes and one day, two swindlers came to sell him what they said was a magic suit of clothes. Now, they held up this particular garment and they said, "Your Majesty, this is a magic suit."† Well, the truth of the matter is, there was no suit there at all.† But the swindlers were very smart, and they said, "Your Majesty, to a wise man this is a beautiful raiment but to a fool it is absolutely invisible."† Naturally, the King not wanting to appear a fool, said, †

"Isnít it grand! Isnít it fine! Look at the cut, the style, the line!
The suit of clothes is all together
But all together itís all together
The most remarkable suit of clothes that I have ever seen.
These eyes of mine at once determined
The sleeves are velvet, the cape is ermine
The hose are blue and the doublet is a lovely shade of green.
Somebody send for the Queen."

Not room here, unfortunately, for the whole of this fine song, but the Queen and the courtiers and even the public, hearing that the king is wearing a magic suit, all believe they will look silly if they say they canít see it, so they all praise it and try to describe its qualities. There is just one little boy who has not been told about the magic suit, so he can just say what he sees:

"Look at the King! Look at the the King! Look at the King, the King, the King!
The King is in the all together
But all together the all together
Heís all together as naked as the day that he was born.
The King is in the all together
But all together the all together
Itís all together the very least the King has ever worn."
All the courts positioned to call an intermission
His majesty is wide open to ridicule and scorn
The King is in the all together
But all together the all together
Heís all together as naked as the day that he was born.
And itís all together too chilly a morn!

Itís not quite as easy as that for us to break the spell as it was for the little boy, but try we must.

Naked In Bradford

The OFSTED Report that put us "on the right track" actually described the provision of education services as "unsatisfactory" overall and "poor" in 4 areas. No one was surprised by this. Education Bradford, wholly owned subsidiary of Serco ("outsourcing specialist") had failed to meet virtually all of the performance targets that it agreed with the Council 18 months ago. "Track" however is a very significant word here, because railways are the model for what is happening to Bradford Council. It is trying to franchise out its services to a range of providers, and act as a strategic authority like the Strategic Rail Authority. Evidence of the failure of this approach both on the railways and in Bradford cannot be allowed to get in the way of an ideology to which Government, OFSTED and the major political parties subscribe. So we have to comfort ourselves now with the prospect that we are "positioned" to succeed in the future.

Give Them The Money?

There is a dangerous lack of a critical opposition in the Bradford political process today. In this climate, quite outrageous things can happen. There are no penalties in the Serco contract, but there are bonuses. Serco got £8,000 in bonuses this year out of a possible £800,000 because of the tiny proportion of its targets that it met. Next year £2 million of bonuses is at stake. Serco is asking that the targets are made easier. This enormous multinational conglomerate is having the cheek to say that unless it can be allowed to get the bonuses with lower targets, the children of Bradford will suffer because it will spend less on services to them, rather than sustain the loss of potential income itself. The signs are that politicians and Council officers will bow to this pressure. The message to the private sector is "Come to Bradford - itís a win-win situation. The public will always pay."

NUTís Duty

In these circumstances, the NUT has to step beyond the bounds of representing individual members and negotiating conditions of service, and speak up about what is happening to the delivery of education and related services. We have not shied from doing this. Indeed we are doing so in relation to new challenges.

Strategy

2002 saw the rise and fall of the £200 million PFI (Private Finance Initiative)bid to upgrade Bradford schools - 30 new primaries and 10 new secondaries, the headlines said.. What a great strategy Ė to spend £130 million on rebuilding for the reorganisation from three to two tier schools, then, before the last work on this has been finished, to announce that some of the schools worked on need pulling down and rebuilding from scratch after millions have been spent on them. No costings were ever produced for this scheme when we pressed for them, but it was patently unaffordable. We now have a much smaller scheme proposed for a handful of secondary and special schools..

This will still be a poor value for money way of doing much needed building, and will entail the transfer of school non-teaching staff to the employment of private companies and out of the direct control of the schools in which they work. It threatens us with cheap and nasty buildings only intended to last the 25 or 30 years of the contract. We are continuing to oppose this widely discredited mothod of funding school building.

Asbestos

We have continued to pick up the pieces during the year from the private sector management of the school reorganisation building work. After a headteacher discovered quite by chance that some asbestos debris had been left behind following work on her school, Stuart Davies and Miriam Murch (our Health and Safety Advisers) set out on a path of discovery and challenge about the management of asbestos in the rebuilding process.

A Sub-Contractorís Tale

It was a nightmarish sub-contactorís tale. Bovis got the job from the Council of managing the rebuilding. They appear to have ignored painstakingly compiled registers of where asbestos is present in schools. They subcontracted building work to other companies who often subcontracted parts of it again. Where these companies did become aware of asbestos that needed removing, they brought in another company to do it, then another company checked the work. Heads were often unaware of all of this. The Councilís Asbestos Unitís expertise was not drawn on.

Subsequent checks on places where asbestos had been removed, and the all clear to use the areas had been given, revealed remnants of asbestos in a staggering 12 schools. In two of them there was a significant possibility of staff being exposed to amounts above the "safe" limit. Stuart and Miriam have relentlessly pursued the matter.

The HSE are now investigating it, and some staff have been placed on the register of those potentially exposed.

We will not rest until better procedures are in place, though the whole subcontracting process remains fraught with these dangers.

So What Else Did We Do In 2002?

"We" are Ian Murch (Secretary), Jane Rendle (Assistant Secretary), John Howarth (Treasurer and Negotiator), Stuart Davies (Information Officer and H&S Adviser) Miriam Murch (Health and Safety Adviser), and Lynne Thornton (Clerical and Admin Assistant) in terms of the people you are likely to speak to if you ring or visit the Office or if you get someone to come into school or if you attend a meeting.

There are also other officers, safety representatives and members of committee and sub-committees who participate in the work of the Union.

As well as campaigning on issues like the ones above, we negotiate on a wide range of issues with Bradford LEA, Education Bradford and individual schools. We represent individual members in all sorts of circumstances, and give advice to hundreds of individuals who phone us or write or fax or email or contact us via the website.

Some highlights from the year:

Negotiations

Campaigning

Protecting Members

Social Cohesion/Equal Opportunities

And Thatís Not All

People

So thatís 22 years for me as NUT Secretary. Time for the Grecian 2000.

Ian Murch

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