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News and Comment April 2012

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11 April (Part 1) - Public Cabinet

In several ways last night’s meeting was entirely predictable. Speeches pre-prepared, insufficient copies of the Agenda for the eight members of the public present, two beefy bouncers hired at great expense, and all over in 42 minutes. In other ways it wasn’t.

The Agenda has always been printed on high grade paper, last night’s was verging on the cheap and nasty; probably a good thing. I threw a nearly two foot tall pile of Agendas into my nearest communal bin last weekend. There must have been £15’s worth of paper there, let alone the laser toner. One councillor offered some sort of greeting as I entered the building. I’m not sure what was said, maybe Ms. Perrior didn’t want any of her colleagues to hear, but I’m sure it was intended to be friendly. However the biggest change was that someone had overhauled the sound system. Every word was crystal clear, far better than I’ve ever heard before. Perhaps Alan Downing’s allies who cheered his attempt to ridicule and belittle a deaf man for his disability have had time to reflect on their stupidity.

The subject of the meeting was Education, in particular the ‘Education Change Programme’ which is Bexley’s plan to get things back up to standard. I say back up because it was clear things have been none too good recently. Director of Education Mark Chambers (£167,343 p.a.) spoke on the subject for four minutes, it might have been three if he had cut out the umms and errs, and I wasn’t much wiser afterwards but fortunately the Cabinet Member for Education, councillor John Fuller, is a man who seems to know his subject.

He said that too many of Bexley’s schools are “satisfactory” - which I learned at earlier meetings is government code for ‘not really good enough’ - and more are “inadequate” and “below floor target”. We learned that neighbouring boroughs are better and something must be done about it. Councillor Fuller was not short of ideas.

I was shocked by two references, once from John Fuller and again from councillor Gareth Bacon, to head teachers who refuse to coach pupils for the 11+ examination. (For out of town readers I should explain that Bexley has retained several grammar schools.) I used to regard head teachers as a bunch of Old Trots, probably because I knew one who was a paid up member of the Communist Party and took all her holidays in Moscow, and I have regarded all teachers with great suspicion ever since. My prejudices were reinforced.

It was revealed that whilst many Bexley Heads were enthusiastically embracing the new ideas, and Bromley council had bought into some of them, a few Heads continued to offer resistance, but “the pendulum was swinging”. I might prefer an axe.

No more than a couple of minutes were devoted to ‘School Admission Arrangements’. The Agenda revealed that the council is compelled to consult on their proposals. They did, it doesn’t say with whom, but no one replied. That was convenient wasn’t it?

The only comment on the subject of admissions was councillor Fuller’s reference to the problems arising from the rapidly rising numbers entering primary schools. An unfortunate slip of the tongue caused him to refer to “admissions blighted by more children”, momentarily forgetting that Ms. Perrior sitting next to him is about to present the world with another little blighter quite soon.

Nobody mentioned failing Academies having to be bailed out with interest free loans.


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