Education at Breaking Point

I live in Cambridgeshire and at the moment we are 138th out of 152 local authorities when it comes to the amount of money schools receive per child for education.

Last week I received a letter from my son’s headteacher – as did pretty much every parent with a child in secondary education in our area – he is, as a professional educator, telling the parents of the children in his care that the school is almost at breaking point. That a point is coming where staff hours will be lost, class sizes will rise and quality educational and pastoral experience will be lost. The teaching unions are warning that whole subjects could be lost in some schools.

Our local MP Lucy Frazer has been making all the right noises in all the right places about the lack of funding in Cambridgeshire. She’s very good at making all the right noises about local issues but unfortunately she then returns to her home and the House in London and carries on voting for Austerity with her government.

There is, we are told, help at hand from the government regarding school funding (currently at consultation stage)… the figures are to be re-jigged and the system made fairer. Lucy trumpets that her constituency will receive over 1 million pounds in extra funding. But costs for schools are still on the rise and the historic inequalities in the funding system are not properly addressed in the consultation. The inequalities in funding will be locked into place.

Should the consultation get through into law things will get worse in Cambridgeshire ….not better.

If you want to check out the predictions of what will happen at your child’s school with the new funding formula you can do so here.

My son’s school looks set to lose over £400 per student and as many as 9 teachers….bear in mind this is in an area already near the bottom of the funding table and which is struggling from years of coping on low levels of funding. In 2014 Cambridgeshire received £3,950 per pupil compared, for example, to Nottingham (a skip and a jump away) with the highest per pupil amount outside of the capital, receiving £5,309.

I’ve filled in a consultation response and I was very glad our local schools gave some guidance as it’s complicated stuff if you’re not involved in some way in school finance. If you can…. fill one in. Use the responses your local school offers if you need to because every response received counts.

But I don’t hold out much hope – it’s not like the Tories have much of a record of real evidence based policy – but responding to a consultation with weighted questions is the best chance we are going to get.

It certainly sounds like my MP will be voting in favour of the new funding formulae… but I don’t consider that Lucy Frazer has much concept at all about the state education system, other than visiting the occasional school for an afternoon photo-call and to make the right noises. Nor will she have much concept of what educating our children costs in real terms…. oh…she knows what educating ‘her’ children costs – she and her husband appear to pay out £10K more than the average annual household income to educate their 2 children in a fee paying London school….but I’m not sure that’s really comparable experience.

 

anti-radicalisation

East Cambs District Council have been twittering like mad…pushing their anti-radicalisation agenda…

here are just two of them…

They are pushing their 3R campaign which stands for “Recognise, Report and Result”and it is “a campaign to help prevent vulnerable young people in particular from becoming radicalised and drawn into extremism.”

Neighbourhood Support Officer, Nick Ball, who helped launch the scheme, says: “The 3R campaign is not about catching terrorists, it is about identifying people who may be at risk of radicalisation, and supporting them to change direction in a way that will help them.”

Jo Brooks, Director of Operations at ECDC, says: “This is not about singling out certain communities or one group” and goes on “it is about tackling extremism in all its forms whether it is far right, Islamist, extremist animal rights or other groups who may pose a threat to public safety.”

For a start I’m very dubious about any campaign that jumps on people who think ‘differently’ and especially one that decides to intervene at the ‘thought’ stage as opposed to ‘the action’ stage.
In my book that’s tantamount to trying to police thought crime especially if they are catching young vulnerable people who may be exploring around the edges of societal acceptability as opposed to conforming like a good little citizen.

The fact that someone has violent thoughts about something they feel strongly about doesn’t mean they are going to carry out those thoughts. Should that be the case I’d be far more worried about my 11 year old who has a homemade stink-bomb with Jeremy Hunt’s name on it…. because even at his tender age he knows the NHS is a good thing and he feels he has no say or power to stop the bad things Jeremy Hunt is doing – so therefore plots to throw a pot of old eggs and wee over him that’s been maturing in the garden shed.

I very much doubt he really will…and if the chance arises I’d hope he’d hand it over to me as I can throw further and have a better aim.

…back to the radicalisation of groups of people who definitely aren’t muslims but who may or may not be future terrorists…. the council goes on…
“Young people who become radicalised do face serious risks to themselves as well as posing a threat to society. At least 70 British jihadis have been killed fighting for the Islamic State terror group. More than 200 have returned and many now face lengthy prison sentences for being involved in terrorist activities. Some have returned with lifechanging injuries.”
..but this isn’t about just one group it’s erm…. about all sorts of extremism.

At this point the council had to come up with another sort of threat and right back in 2012 they found….

“a right wing extremist was given a 21 year sentence for racially motivated mass murder. He is unlikely to ever be released and is expected to die in prison.”

…this refers I presume to Andres Breivik.

The council had to go back 4 years and across to Norway for an example.

What about Zack Davies?

He attacked Dr Sarandev Bhambra with a hammer and 12in machete in Mold Tesco’s in what the court described as “a racially-motivated revenge assault for the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby”

Zack Davies, 26, carried out a “brutal and unprovoked attack” that almost severed the trainee doctor’s hand from his arm.

That’s just the first attack that came to my mind… the second, going back admittedly to 2007 is Sophie Lancaster – a goth murdered in the street; in what has been described by the goth ‘community’ as an extreme example of social intolerance.

When people attack for whatever reason they should be dealt with in law but I very much doubt the sort people who would murder a young girl in the street for looking different would blip the radar of this campaign.

So excuse me if I remain cynical about it – the Council may say  it’s definitely NOT about Muslim terrorists… but they’re pretty much the only contemporary example that sprang to the minds of the people putting out information about the scheme.

And I’ll put money on ‘muslim youth’ being the only reason for any government funding that’s involved.

It’s this sort of ‘othering’ that forces (young) people into insularity and that in turn can and does turn into frustration, extremism and in some cases – violence.

Well done Cambridgeshire District Council…you’d have been a lot less obvious if you’d been able to come up with some examples of the sort of extremists you aren’t really focused on.

a weekend in Cambridgeshire

For Christmas my husband received a ‘flying experience’ (actually he received two – and this is but the first) based at the Peterborough Business airport in Cambridgeshire and this is the weekend he chose to take it so we decided to have a weekend away in Cambridgeshire based around this booking.

Hold on a minute you may be saying…don’t you ‘live’ in Cambridgeshire and isn’t Cambridgeshire one of the least visitable counties in England; especially if you leave Cambridge and Ely out of the equation?

Yes…we do…and yes I used to think so too.

We set off on a glorious sunny Saturday morning and bimbled our way through several villages we’d never driven through before and stopped for lunch in Ramsey…we’ve never been there before either and to be honest it probably doesn’t warrant a second intentional visit as it’s not much more than a small market town with a long mainstreet recognisable as having had a waterway down it’s centre at some point in its past. We bought sandwiches and a slice of tiffin and sat on a bench in the sunshine and watched the town go slowly by. The National Trust own a bit of an abbey in Ramsey but we didn’t seek it out as it was free to visit it and the National Trust don’t give much away for free.

Early afternoon found us at a pub in Holme, having a drink (again sat in the warm April sunshine) doing dog talk with a fellow owner…. dog talk for those without dogs consists of…what’s his/her name, what sort is he/she, how old is he/she, then comes a  bit of appreciation of the other persons dog and it’s habits followed finally by the important part of the conversation when in a strange place -which is the passing on of local dog walk knowledge. She made Holme Wood, just across the road, sound so lovely that we decided not to save it for our Sunday walk but to head straight in whilst the sun was shining.

Holme Fen is said to be the largest and finest downland silver birch forest in England and it grew up following the draining of Whittlesey Mere in the mid 1800’s. It is perhaps most ‘famous’ for the ‘Holme posts’…two posts driven into the peat which between them show how much the surrounding land has shrunk with drying out over the last  165 years or so. The original post was driven into the peat until the top of it was level with the surrounding ground, the supporting wires were added in 1957 when the post became unstable.

me and a Holme post silver birch road through Holme Fen

 

It’s a lovely wood… not just birch, but ash and oak and we’ll be going back in the Autumn as there are hundreds of kinds of  fungi. I can’t believe I lived just the other side of Peterborough from this place, for a decade, and never discovered it.

Thence on to the object of my weekends desires -I’ve wanted to eat at the Dog in a Doublet since I first heard about it just after John and Della took it over and the visit has been a long time coming so they had a lot of anticipation to live up to
….and live up to it they did.
The pub itself stands overlooking an initially unprepossessing bit of Fenland, the flatness broken only by the distant brickwork chimneys at Whittlesey and the hulking great structure that is the tidal sluice and lock on the River Nene, but on a sunny warm April day it passed muster as somewhere worth travelling to and to spend the night.
Inside the pub the front half is a light, airy version of a traditional pub with some quirky dog themed artwork –
the dog theme runs throughout, from the dog treats on the bar to the dog shaped biscuits in the four upstairs B&B rooms – this is a thoroughly dog friendly place.
The restaurant in the rear of the building looked a bit drab in the daylight, with wires looping across the ceiling to tassled lampshades and mismatched chairs and tables, but come the evening the place transforms into a large but somehow cosy room adorned with fairy lights. The retro lampshades and mismatched furniture were followed by mismatched glasses….but by then we had heartily accepted the eclectic charm that is the Dog in a Doublet.
This is a relaxed restaurant  with fairly casual staff and none of the disingenuous ‘are your meals okay?’ just as you’ve stuffed your face full of food and are trying to chew and smile and nod all at once.We really liked the large open hatch through to the kitchen so you can see the dishes being put together before being whistled out of the kitchen by the chef…. no dingy bell or shouting here. The food itself was excellent…if you really need to know what we ate and what we thought about it – I’m the author of possibly some of the longest reviews on TripAdvisor and this one is here.If you get a chance – go and eat there. They charge gastro pub prices and the food is fantastic… they have a petting farm out back and the only bar snacks they sell are homemade. I can imagine how John and Della came up with the idea…but unlike me and my still hypothetical campsite and tearooms in various locations I’ve driven past…they made it happen and John has his skill as a chef to make it work.
willows by the road looking towards the Dog in a Doublet

On Sunday we had another visit to The Great Fen and listened to woodpeckers and then on to Conington for Al’s flight…whilst he looked at the tops of clouds Lucky and I sat in the car and he had a snooze and I had a read and then we went and sat on a bank full of primroses and watched little aeroplanes take off and land.
You can never have too much bimbling in a weekend so instead of  slipping onto the A1 and hurrying home we drove up off the Fens and into the rolling countryside between the A1 and the A141…stopping at Wood Walton for a drink in The Elephant and Castle which was recently taken over by a lovely chap called Sidney who originally hails from Nigeria. He admits to knowing very little about pubs but he’s keen to create something for a village in which even the mile distant church is shut down. We wished him well…his vision may not be as clear as John and Della’s at the D in a D but his enthusiasm may yet see him succeed.

 

 

coming out….

…..of hibernation.

There have been subtle hints of impending Spring since early February…blossom, early daffs and the first frogs mating in the garden pond – but yesterday was the first day where I felt that proper stretch and yawn of warm sun on cold winter bones.

The lawn got mowed, the compost heap half turned…a trip to Ikea (I guess it’s a sort of Spring nesting instinct) and today I lasted all of half an hour out with a fork starting to clear the bed of weeds at the front of the house.

The dog, more importantly, scored his first proper walk of the Spring and by the end of it I was walking hat and coatless but bearing a shit eating grin at the sheer joy of a good walk walked, another turn of the annual clock and (hopefully) another ascent out of my dark winter pit of depression.

We walked a section of the old main road into Mepal and then a village circuit taking in, and pausing a while in the sunshine on, the 1930 bridge over the New Bedford River where we watched the flocks of birds wheeling above the floodwaters. Then around by the Three Pickerals to the spire and towerless 13th century church of St Mary and it’s adjacent stand of rare Plot Elms

I noted by the pub a footpath sign that says 1mile to the Anchor at Sutton Gault…. and that sounds very much like the sort of riverside, pub at each end, amble we’ll enjoy en famille later in the year when the floods have receded).

 

Welcome to my new Tory MP.

As I wake up this morning in SE Cambs the sky is blue….the sky…the trees…the cars….everything is blue. The Conservatives have rolled in in SE Cambs with an increased majority and 48% of the vote.

It’s been a Conservative constituency here since it was formed in 1983 and has been held for the last twenty eight years by Jim Paice… or Sir James Paice to give him his less friendly moniker. My only vague hope was that the Conservatives would lose the seat as the traditional rural conservatives might reject this modern ‘women in politics’ malarky that is being foisted upon them; but at a time when even Cumbria has now elected a female MP…it was indeed a very, very vague hope.

Or perhaps I was clinging to the dodgy way in which she became the prospective candidate. Maybe I hoped that would have inspired a backlash from the local Conservative association…but no…don’t expect even a quiet revolution amidst the Cons of Cambs they just want to hang on to what they’ve got and having the Conservatives in power is what will serve them best…so they wouldn’t let a little glitch in the Tory MP machine cause unrest.

But credit where credit is due -Ms Frazer has worked her little cotton socks off over the last year, she’s been mentored by Sir Jim and has buzzed around the constituency keen to turn up anywhere that wanted her…although having a dozen or so people present at her meetings was her specified favourite number of constituents to groom at the same time…
Anyway…here’s Lucy -she hasn’t ‘quite’ got the hang of what counts as suitable clothing for a rural constituency but I’m pretty sure that’ll change once her ‘at home in London wardrobe’ and her ‘visiting the constituency wardrobe’ become more settled and defined.

did nobody tell her the wind turbines were going to be built in a big field?

did nobody tell her the wind turbines were going to be built in a big field?

I’m told James Plaice was a very good local MP before he retired but I think perhaps one of the reasons for this is that he lived in the constituency and that he really cared about rural East Anglia, had been brought up in rural Suffolk and had a background in agriculture and farm management.

Lucy too has been very keen to trumpet her local connection -she went to university in the next constituency to read Law – and she has already bought a ‘home’ here in Snailwell, near Newmarket. But unless she has bought privately, the only two houses to have sold in that delightful little parish over the last couple of years are small cottages under the 240k stamp duty..I doubt that makes them the sort of houses a Hampstead QC, her husband and two children would live in full time.

Her husband (…I wonder if he gets annoyed when people call him Mr Frazer) no doubt works in London, her children are probably settled at the school where she is a school governor and that of course is where her chambers are and her career path lies. She claims to have given up her job to commit to being in SE Cambs this year but as we all know giving up your job for a year when you are a self employed barrister isn’t the same as giving up your job when you are a shop worker or a mechanic say and now elected she will, no doubt, like fellow Conservative MP’s Steven Phillips QC be keeping her wig warm over the next few years.

I hope to be proved wrong but I imagine she’ll be keeping her feet very firmly in Westminster and Hampstead. She is after all one of the Conservatives bright new hopes and has already been named as future ministerial material by Micheal Gove. She may not fit the ideal Eton, Oxbridge profile perfectly because although she is a Cambridge graduate she only went to a locally acclaimed public school – Leeds Grammar for Girls. This has, however allowed her to play the ‘graidely Yorkshire lass’ card a la Hague and build on that facade of being unposh by claiming to be the first child in her family to go to university (the cynic in me wonders if she’s the oldest child).

She may have won this seat, and it was never really in doubt that she would but that doesn’t make her popular. I’ve never seen so many election posters with glasses or beards drawn on….or on a roundabout in Ely her mouth kicked in AND then glasses added. The majority of people may have voted to maintain the advantage and highground the Cons allow them to hold onto in these austere times but those left behind cut adrift by a voting system that is unfair and disproportionate are not happy.

Today we -the unrich, the disadvantaged, the disabled…or even just people like myself who have a social conscience… are shocked and a little bit numb that people would vote the Consevatives in for another term….I almost cried when I woke up to a picture of smirky little ham face as it was dawning on him that he had another 5 years to torment the unrich.

smirky ham face

smirky ham face

I hope tomorrow those of us who didn’t vote Tory will start the fightback….not wait four and a half years until the next general election campaign …but tomorrow. If you’ve ended up with a Conservative MP make them work for you…ask them why they aren’t in their constituency.. let everyone know if they have another job or don’t have surgeries and most importantly support whichever party you did vote for… you have 5 years to make them stronger and more electable and 5 years to argue the case for a better, fairer, more representative electoral system.