When you live rurally, it can feel as if you are forgotten by the London-ite government. So it's nice to see that our local Fenland MP, Steve Barclay, is here to fight our corner. As a (currently Stay-At-home-Mum: gotta have those capitals, it IS a job, you know) secondary teacher, I am extremely concerned that the students of Fenland have some of the lowest attainment, and aspirations in the UK. Few of them go to college or university. Many of them leave with few qualifications. The last review, in Dec 2010 concluded that things were still in vast need of improvement. Here's the Fenland Citizens take on it. So I was overjoyed to read on Mr Barclays' blog that, as a first in the family to university, and now a successful legal chap and Conservative MP, he is very keen to encourage more Fenland teens into tertiary education. Here is is on the subject, doesn't he sound real? And as if he cares, like, a lot? http://www.stevebarclay.net/ (click on campaigns)
It's interesting that he talks about apprenticeships as being the way forward. Interesting because this is the party line, and there are, of course, many more things that impact on students here much more keenly than the lack of apprenticeships, that he hasn't mentioned.
- Like the increase in tuition fees, that will affect Fenland students (all students in fact), particularly harshly, Fenland being one of the areas in the UK with low income, and high unemployment. Families are highly unlikely to encourage students into tertiary education if the debt they will come out with amounts to three times as much as they earn in a year. But Mr Barclay, with his huge personal earnings and lack of comprehension about the local area has presumably missed this fact. Maybe he thinks the loans are a good idea. I would think so. The Conservative party stands to do rather well out of the changes in HE.
- The reduction of the Building Schools for the Future fund from Cromwell school, Chatteris, leaving it overcrowded, oversubscribed, and with 1,500 students stuck in a building built in the 1920's. And of course, the complete removal of it from many other schools across the country.
- The changing of the curriculum to enforce the 5 core subjects, something which is manifestly suited to the independent sector and selective schools. Hence,local schools will slide down the tables. Students here are suited best by a curriculum which offers GNVQ, NVQ, as well as GCSE and the usual AS/A2 routes. The schools here know it, yet they will soon be forced into the Bacc, against independents and selectives that have been priming for it for years. This would be ok, if there were sufficient college places, technical colleges and sixth forms in the area. But there are not. And places in those remaining, and funding for them, are being squeezed. Plans to extend the College of West Anglia further into Fenland, are, as ever, hot air. Currently students in my home town have to travel to Wisbech or Cambridge. Fine, if you have a car or kind parents. Bugger off if not, because, well, the buses. See after.
- The establishment of Free schools, funded from the central education budget, thus taking away funds from comprehensives. Funding that was supposedly ringfenced, pre election. Free schools, under the banner of freedom, will essentially be selective, with personal guidelines on selection that are nothing like comprehensives. I think we all know what will happen here. Middle class parents, faced with the comps and Goves' little meany face squealing about them (just DON'T LOOK AT HIM! No, really, don't, it'll make you boak) and too knackered by the economy to pay private fees, will plump for Free schools for their Kates and Williams and thus create yet another tier in the education system. SEN students, students with projected lower attainment, and those from the wrong sort of background, won't get into them. This is already the case in many academies (wait for an explosion of them, too), and faith schools. I know whereof I speak: I have taught in both, in London, and lo! even though surrounding the schools there were estates (and not of the leafy kind) and deprivation, inside the faith schools there were no SEN, no poor, just a lot of kids of parents who had suddenly found God and faith at the last minute. And what happens to the local schools? The good kids with pushy parents leave, the SEN and leftovers get bunched together, funding dwindles along with numbers, and results, and there we have it. Why don't they just call us all Morlocks and be done with it.
- The loss of the EMA for all but the poorest of the poor, and then with conditions. The EMA may not seem very vital to those who have not needed it, and indeed, some who have had it, but round here, with low earnings commonplace, the EMA was a real lifeline in allowing students to stay on. It provided money for buses to college, for equipment. For the Tories to say that it wasn't necessary is a lie: not just disingenous, a LIE. I have taught many many students for whom the EMA was vital, allowing them to stay on and study in the face of parents who were not supportive, allowing them to bus to college, allowing them to pay for project equipment. Paper, pens, books, all of these are very expensive when you are 17 and you can't nick them from Westminster.( And hey, books? It should be that the schools and towns and villages should have libraries, but guess what...... no stautory provision for school libraries (despite Clegg having it as an aim, prior to Camerons' back pasage becoming his home), less libraries all round, in fact. Please check yours is still there).It is very clear, that in taking the EMA away, they are shoring up the tiered education system they so, so want to return to. Brideshead, floaty boatered men only need apply. Aren't the rest of you down a pit or something? We what? Well, a factory then. In other words, oiks need not apply. If you haven't got the money to 4X4 it to college, naff off. (And you won't be able to get a bus there. There are none left: see my next blog)
- A cut, in real terms to education funding. A cut that would be entirely unecessary if they were to, say, make Vodaphone pay some tax. Or even make Osbourne pay his moral fair share. But, no. So, teachers, tell you what, you work for longer, for less money, and less pension. And some of you, we'll lay off. Quite a few of you, actually. And don't even ask about Teaching Assistants. Even the Lollipop lady has had it.
- Special schools? Really, we need them? You wouldn't know it from the rate they are vanishing. SEN statements? Hmm, be ready to see them go.Now it will be up to YOU, as a parent to sort it, provided of course, the council agrees, now it's all been handily devolved. And good luck to you in Fenland, where unless you are elderly and a farmer, they basically look blankly into the middle distance behind you and pretend they are deaf. Transport to Special school? Gone. Pupil Referral Units? *puff* vanished. Read here. Parent liason posts: whoosh. In short, if you have a "problem" child, don't live here.
- Transport, in fact, to ANY school out of catchment, gone. This may seem reasonable until you live rurally, and catchments are nonsense. If you cannot get into your catchment school in my town (Chatteris), you must go to Ramsey, or Neale Wade. The school in Chatteris is small. It cannot take all the applicants from Chatteris. Some must therefore go to school outside of catchment. But now, the Council does not have to pay for it, under the brave new world of ConDem. Especially if you have a lovely, all tory Council like ours (who votes these people in? Seriously? I haven't met ANYONE who voted for them). So now we have a situation in town where all students at Ramsey school, have been denied transport to school. Notice given: 4 weeks. Parents? Angry, upset. Students? Angry, upset. Schools? Angry, upset. Council? Couldn't give one. A bunch of parents got together to lobby the Council and pointed out, quite reasonably, that 4 weeks notice of a change of this magnitude was NOT compatible with, say, REAL LIFE where parents need to work the hours of school pick up and drop off, or might not be able to find a job, buy a car and so on in 4 weeks. It says a great deal about the Council and this government that all it takes, to alter 10 years worth of school bus service is, well, 4 weeks notice and a government that won't tell them off. Will applaud them, in fact. As I write, the parents have lobbied and made a nuisance of themselves to such an extent (and good on them) that they have secured a temporary reprieve until the end of the academic year. After September, expect parents who dare to have children who couldn't fit into the local school to be up the creek without a paddle. Wait a minute....I know someone with a car.......
So, I am a little sceptical of Mr Barclay. But you may not think this all amounts to anything. I managed in my day, you might huff. I don't see why they shouldn't pay for the bus themselves. I didn't need paying to go to school. Huff puff. Course not. But think about it. I, Like Steve, was the first in my family to go to uni, even, in fact, to finish school. My parents had no cash. In fact, they were very badly off, under the last Tory government, inches away from repossession, my father having the misfortune to work in an industry that Thatcher decided she would like to smash into tiny bits. I went to uni because I got a grant. If i'd have had to pay anything like the amount students now will have to, I would not have gone. People who are well off to start off with do not grasp the fear that a debt that high can strike. If I had come from a nice family with decent amounts of money, I'd maybe think that much debt was ok. But if I came from a nice family where that proposed debt per year was the annual earning of my father, I might think twice. That's what it's like in Fenland. I don't think Mr Barclays' dad worked in an onion packing plant.
Likewise, if I owned a socking great 4x4 and lved in a big pile outside of town, in a nice bit, I might not see that people do, actually, need buses. Contrary to Steves' belief, aired in the local rag, that buses here are empty, I have never been on one that is. Possibly he just doesn't notice people whose incomes are under 40K pa. Because I regularly see students, the elderly, and yes, workers, on the bus. The bus whose service has been halved. The buses that can take students from one town to the other now don't exist at all. This is fine, maybe. Maybe you have a car. But maybe you don't. Maybe your mum can give you a lift to college and back. Or maybe she is at work. So maybe, now, you are a bit stuffed, having to take 2 buses to college, and back, the whole journey taking over an hour each way and costing you a small fortune, which you now don't even have the EMA for. If you miss the bus, that's it for 3 hours. And,( here's the funny bit) if your last lecture is after 4, you can't get back home again! The bus has stopped running! Hilarious! So much fun in the Winter, walking over 30 miles. (The ghost of Tebbit wails weakly: on your bike! In Fenland winds? ) If you want an even bigger laugh, just take a look at the whole run of bus timetables for the area (read my next blog: as I take a bus to March and fail to get home again, ever). Maybe, here's an idea, you should email Steve and ask him for a lift. firstname.lastname@example.org If you see him, stick your thumb out.