Damian White and Havering’s Pandemic

Havering was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, which killed nearly a thousand people and hospitalised thousands more. The Health and Wellbeing Board is the forum for discussing such things calmly with experts. There were three meetings of the Board, at the height of the pandemic, between January and March 2021. The Board has four senior councillors, and health professionals.1 Damian White, Leader of the Council, his deputy Robert Benham, Jason Frost, chair of the Board and Nisha Patel are the four councillors.

There are monthly meetings, so information is always up-to-date. Reading the minutes of the Board is interesting.

Damian loves publicity. Whilst Havering was being ravaged, he appeared on TV on numerous occasions. He presented Havering’s response well and convincingly. He’s also done dozens of Leaders’ blogs during the period, which were informative and helpful. But was it sincere or just a PR exercise, flashy without substance?

The three meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board were attended by everyone except Damian.2 He attended none of them. So what’s going on?

If there’s a plausible explanation for this dereliction of duty, I look forward to hearing it.

Notes

1 Minutes Template (havering.gov.uk) This Board is very high powered and includes Havering’s CEO who hasn’t missed a meeting.

2 On the 24th February 2021 he didn’t even offer apologies for absence.

Havering Council Meeting, 15th December, 2020

This was a truncated meeting because chief officers are engulfed with Covid-19 preparations. The Mayor carefully avoided saying the problem was that government announcements always come late, with maximum urgency.

There wasn’t a repetition of ‘the Mayor and the Priest’ fiasco as of 9th September, 2020, which was a bit of a shame.* This time the Priest did his best with a couple of feeble jokes, a nun’s 17th century prayer and a badge of honour. Quite why councillors needed God’s assistance is a curiosity as there weren’t any moral conundrums on the agenda.

Using a tactic Stalin, an atheist, would have been proud of, every vote was ‘Vote Only’. The Conservative minority, with the Harold Wood 3, swept through. Only Damian White’s smirk showed this was how he’d like every council meeting to be conducted.

The meeting ended with Cllr. Joshua Chapman** singing the National Anthem. Unaccompanied. This should have been a coup de theatre but the artistic director fell down on the job. At the very least a Union flag should have been unfurled behind the Mayor’s seat.

* For the 9th September 2020 council meeting and especially the first ten minutes see Havering Council Meeting, 9th September 2020 – Politics in Havering

** If you wish to do a sing-a-long go to Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) 41 mins 46 secs.

Havering’s Overview and Scrutiny Board 24th November 2020

The meeting received the ‘Inclusive Growth Strategy and Implementation Plan’. It includes statements about educational achievement in Havering in its discussion of economic growth (see table and graph above).

Havering’s secondary schools are, in general, well below the levels of Redbridge, unlike our primary schools which are above average at KS2.Unfortunately, Havering’s secondary academies ‘coast’ instead of building on this wonderful achievement. The government colludes in this,

From September 2019, the department will no longer publish coasting thresholds and RSCs will take no formal action as a result of a school meeting the coasting definition. Whilst local authorities retain the power to intervene, the department is unlikely to support action against a school on the basis of coasting data alone.”* (my emphasis)

Havering’s KS2 general achievement is statistically significant at the national level. Post-16 education, in contrast, is a stark failure, especially NVQ 3 and 4. This is caused by the mediocrity at Havering’s academies (see Addendum). During the debate about future employment and new businesses in Havering, there was much talk about ‘aspirations’ and ‘jobs for Havering’s youngsters’ with ‘higher value jobs’**. None of this will happen without significant improvements in educational achievement throughout the 11-16 schooling period.

Brexit and Covid-19 *** place a premium on education. KS2 achievements should lead to KS4 excellence as a base for achievement at higher education. Havering is sold short by their secondary academies. Only the council can end the cycle of complacency and mediocrity. The government doesn’t want to admit that coasting schools are an outrage but this council should.

Addendum: Education and economic growth

To develop an aspirational programme through the Havering Academy of Leadership, to combat low ambition among young people and their parents. The Local Authority has worked with the early years’ providers, schools, and colleges to develop a shared Education Vision for the Borough. (my emphasis) Para 9:2 p67 (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Overview & Scrutiny Board, 24/11/2020 19:30 (havering.gov.uk) Let’s remind ourselves that these children and parents are the same children, with the same parents, who over-achieve at primary schools and then stagnate at secondary level.

Notes

* Schools causing concern guidance (publishing.service.gov.uk) p5

** SQW and BBP’s report to the Board Economic Evidence Base: Havering January 2018 pp 118, 121, 126, 140. Table and bar graph on pp141-2. NB: NVQ 4 are degree level qualifications

*** Neil Stubbings at 21 minutes going forward. Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com)

Sources

The ‘coasting’ school concept was formulated in 2015 using several key indicators see Coasting Schools Definition: The Nerdy Details Guide (schoolsweek.co.uk)

Havering’s educational institutions are opaque in informing the public about their results usually relying on hyperbole instead of statistics. Havering Colleges Sixth Form Results 2019 says, “I am delighted to announce fantastic outcomes for our students at Havering Sixth Form in 2019.” (my emphasis) Results – Havering Colleges (havering-sfc.ac.uk)

For the disparity between Havering and Redbridge secondary schools see Havering and Redbridge: A Tale of Two Boroughs – Politics in Havering

For the council’s potential response see Havering’s Academy Schools: Councillor Robert Benham’s Dilemma – Politics in Havering

Havering and Free School Meals over Christmas

Havering’s Conservatives are in disarray over Free School Meals. Marcus Rashford highlighted the fact of hunger during the summer holidays. Johnson rejected the request. Government policy was reversed and meals were provided. The issue came back to parliament for the October and Christmas holidays. On 21st October, Conservatives in parliament decisively rejected provision of Free School Meals. Shortly afterwards, Andrew Rosindell stoutly defended the government’s position, which Damian White rejected. Johnson then reversed government policy once more.

Andrew opposed free school meals during school holidays. Andrew’s reply to my blog said,

Extending Free School Meals to over the school holidays would mean effectively handing over responsibility for feeding our kids from parents to the Government and I do not believe that this is right.”*

Damian, Conservative leader of Havering, wrote to me saying,

The Covid crisis we are in continues to have significant impacts on vulnerable people and families in the borough and this is a sensible solution to a problem that is fundamentally about the wellbeing of our children.”**

Romford’s Conservatives are split on Free School Meals because it means higher taxation. It’s now known that most welfare beneficiaries are in work. Welfare payments are a subsidy for employers. Johnson’s flip-flopping illustrates an unpleasant truth, which is that welfare payments are too low for civilised living in Havering today.

Notes

* Andrew Rosindell Letter dated 27th October 2020

** Damian White Letter dated 27th October 2020

Sources

For the blog which Andrew replied to see https://havering.blog/2020/10/24/andrew-rosindell-and-the-free-school-meals-debate-21st-october-2020/e

For the parliamentary debate selected quotations see https://oedeboyz.com/2020/10/23/selected-quotes-the-free-school-meals-debate-21st-october-2020/

Havering’s Finest Park

Hornchurch Country park doesn’t rest on its considerable laurels. It’s constantly evolving. Its principal feature is peace and quiet in a rural environment. But that’s just the setting. There’s much more for all age groups and interests.

There’s a good walking surface over the extensive grounds with benches at appropriate places, overlooking the SSSI, Albyn’s Farm lake, and luxuriating in the countryside. Large open spaces offer opportunities for playing with dogs or flying kites or casual picnics at the tables which are scattered around. It’s also a Heritage site with information boards about the role of the area in wartime. The children’s playground has a model Spitfire as part of the equipment alongside traditional swings and so on.

The Essex Wildlife Ingrebourne Valley Trust has built a visitors centre. This serves as an educational facility as well as a cafe and shop. There’s a large outdoor area overlooking open countryside. Finally there’s a decent sized free car park with a hard surface.

Hornchurch Country Park is a destination for those sauntering, keeping fit, flying kites, dog-walking, kicking a football, picnicking, playing in the playground, and taking world famous photographs.** It’s a revered heritage site. This park is Havering’s finest. It’s a credit to the Council and everyone associated with it.

Sources

* https://www.havering.gov.uk/info/20037/parks/699/hornchurch_country_park

** https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/safaris-and-wildlife/Incredible-photo-captures-weasel-riding-on-the-back-of-a-flying-woodpecker/

Andrew Rosindell and the Free School Meals Debate, 21st October, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of Britain’s businesses and the jobs dependent on them. Thriving shopping malls, like Romford’s, are in meltdown, faced by a pandemic and on-line shopping. Tens of thousands of jobs are now unviable. The social and economic question is this: is this a new world or a temporary blip? In this cauldron, children are collateral damage. Andrew and the government’s problem is clear: should children go hungry because fighting the pandemic means work disappears? On 21st October the answer was ‘Yes’. Andrew didn’t speak in the debate but his definitive statement was his vote.

Andrew is said to be a loyal Conservative MP and always votes with his party and so ‘held his nose’ and voted as instructed. But Andrew doesn’t always vote with the party. In the Public Health debate, 13th October, 2020, Andrew voted against his party because he disapproved of the economic measures embedded in the government’s proposals. Andrew carefully chooses how he votes. Throughout the latter stages of the Brexit EU negotiations, he rebelled against Theresa May’s Conservative government. Andrew helped bring down a Conservative prime minister because he judged it was in the national interest. He’s a parliamentarian, not an unthinking ‘nodding donkey’.

His vote against the provision of Free School Meals for impoverished children over Christmas is calculated. Andrew believes it’s the right thing to do. The immediate implication of this is the abolition of Free School Meals altogether. The reasoning by many Conservative MPs justified children going hungry because the state has no responsibility for feeding hungry children.This repudiates the 1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act. This Act acknowledged that children were victims of circumstances and it was a grotesque injustice they be punished with hunger. Andrew’s vote on the 21st October is a reversion to Victorian attitudes towards children living in poverty.

Andrew’s prepared to rebel against Conservative whips when it suits him. His membership of the European Research Group helped destroy Theresa May’s government. He and 43 other Conservatives voted against Johnson’s proposals to fight Covid-19 because it was ‘uneconomic’: a lives against business argument. And now he’s voted against the proposals to provide minimal school meals from October, 2020 to Easter, 2021 because such claimants are scroungers. Andrew has a ‘safe’ seat and believes he’s immune to punishment in the ballot box. He may well be right but what happened to his moral compass?

Sources

For the Free School meal debate see https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-10-21/debates/79C0CA8D-CADF-4562-9317-5A51810BB5DE/FreeSchoolMeals

I have created a selection from the debate which I think accurately gives the tone of it. See https://oedeboyz.com/2020/10/23/selected-quotes-the-free-school-meals-debate-21st-october-2020/

For the Covid-19 Public Health debate see https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-10-13/debates/1081EDA2-9232-4C9E-9B01-4D5879390AAF/PublicHealthCoronavirusRegulations

For the 1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act see https://www.intriguing-history.com/school-meals-act/

Havering’s Academies, their Students and GCSE

The majority of Havering’s academies publish their GCSE results in a severely edited fashion. Only three* of the eighteen publish results in full. This makes it difficult for parents to make informed decisions. This discussion is focused on the missed opportunity of using the results as a diagnostic tool. Reference will be made to the fifteen academies which don’t publish results informatively.

Abbs Cross Academy make this remark about the 2020 results:-

“Results in core subjects were particularly strong with over 73% of students attaining a grade 4 or above in English and maths.

Some of the individual student performances are staggering in terms of the number of optimum grades attained. 11% of our students gained grades 7-9 in all subjects – a phenomenal achievement. Whilst acknowledging the enormous achievements of the most able is very important, what gives us the greatest pleasure is the consistent progress that many of our students make irrespective of their ability, personal circumstances or starting point.”

This statement focuses on two subjects, English and Maths, with an undifferentiated summary leaving the reader to consider the 27% of students who achieved Grades 1-3. Abbs Cross does however acknowledge the existence of those achieving grades 1-3, unlike many other schools.

Bower Park Academy Astonishingly there’s no information about GCSE outcomes for 2020 or any other year. They do however have 27 policy statements. The OFSTED report added nothing to the narrative.

Brittons Academy The 2019 results have 51% of the cohort achieving Grades 1-3 in English and Maths. Grade 4 is normally thought of as a ‘pass’ grade. There are no results for 2020.

Campion School They publish a detailed summary of ‘A’ levels and BTECH. For GCSE there are bald truncated information boxes. The key metric is the GCSE 5+ passes of 77.9%. The 5+ result is useful and shows consistent performances across the curriculum. There are no results for 2020.

Drapers Academy There are three years of comparative statistics laid out in a useful way with the number of entrants stated and the percentage outcome. Explanatory notes guide the reader through what could be a quite confusing set of results. There are no results for 2020.

Emerson Park Academy The website is excellent in its clarity. Not only is there a full display of the GCSE results, which includes 2020, but there’s an interpretation of those statistics. The only thing missing is the number of students for each subject. Maybe it’s overkill but a grade by grade statement would have been useful.

Gaynes School The website remarks, “These results reflect the dedication of the staff and students…[and] The fabulous support of our students from parents, especially over the last few months of their schooling is very much appreciated. It is not an easy time to live with a teenager; the support that has been shown through attendance at revision events and ensuring their children have the right working environment at home has enabled our students to flourish and subsequently celebrate these wonderful results.” This is a wonderful comment on the trauma of the pandemic for all concerned with the progress of the students.

The results statement is truncated and uninformative.

Hall Mead School Astonishingly there’s no information about GCSE outcomes for 2020 or any other year. They do however have 27 policy statements. The most recent GCSE examination results available were for 2017.

Harris Academy, Rainham The website remarks that, “67% of students achieved Grade 4 or above in English and Maths. Another way of putting this is that 33% didn’t pass the two principal subjects. The academy follows an Olympic Gold Medal style of reporting with five high achieving students. Between them they got 49 Grade 9s or 53% of all the Grade 9s the school achieved. There are no results for 2020.

Hornchurch High School Astonishingly there’s no information about GCSE outcomes for 2020 or any other year. Their website directs the reader to the government site which offers very bald summary statements. These are effectively useless to the parent.

Marshalls Park Academy There is a comprehensive list of subjects with the relevant percentage grade for each level apart from Grades 1-3. There is no explanatory note about what the grades mean. There isn’t an indication of how many students would have been entered for each subject. There are no results for 2020.

Redden Court School Astonishingly there’s no information about GCSE outcomes for 2020 or any other year. Their website directs the reader to the government site which offers very bald summary statements. These are effectively useless to the parent.

Royal Liberty School There is a comprehensive list of subjects with the relevant percentage grade for each level apart from Grades 1-3. There isn’t an indication of how many students sat each examination, which matters for Russian for example. They follow the Olympic Gold Medal approach of other schools identifying ten students with stellar achievements. The principal subjects are solid at Grade 4-9.

Sanders School The website is interesting. It has a series of comparators which doesn’t include any specific subject. At the bottom of the page there’s a gated access point where the reader has to request access. Presumably this can be denied. One wonders why access is gated and why, potentially, it can be denied. The gated section lists ten students who gained stellar results, so why they’re gated is incomprehensible. There are no results for 2020.

St Edward’s Church of England Academy They’ve embraced the Olympic Gold Medal approach. Five students had a stellar performance with one featuring in a large jubilant photograph. Examination results are summarised in an incoherent way without any attempt to indicate, for example, how many candidates for Mandarin there were. Mandarin achieved 100% grade 5 -9 but how many candidates: two? Or, a 100? There are no results for 2020.

Discussion Point One

GCSE results can be a diagnostic tool. Praising success is important but these schools are non-selective and significant numbers of students aren’t succeeding. Why? By not publishing results there’s a suggestion that students have failed the school as opposed to being failed by the school.** Schools praise success and claim credit. Who’s responsible for failure? To assist this diagnostic strategy, results should be published in full, grade by grade. This would drive home the results narrative. Being in denial about significant numbers of students is unprofessional.

Discussion Point Two

In 2020, examinations were abandoned and schools awarded their students GCSE grades. There is therefore no reason why any school shouldn’t publish results by October, 2020 (the time of writing). That schools awarded their students the 2020 GCSE grades is also a way of discovering how well teachers think they are doing. Teacher assessment is a matter of self-awareness of their performance giving them a classic opportunity to review the effectiveness of their classroom achievement.

Notes

* The three are Coopers’ Coburn, Frances Bardsley and Sacred Heart

** During the 9th September, 2020 Council meeting, the Leader of the Council, Damian White, blamed his poor education on the failures of both Primary and Secondary schools he attended. Not everyone is as resilient as White and some are permanently damaged by school experiences. See the council webcast at 1 hour 50 mins for his speech https://aisapps.sonicfoundry.com/AuditelScheduler/Player/Index/?id=980fc1ad-8bc8-4ed9-a60c-548e1f6c560b&presID=52e9140a88324a8fa193e7954f87df451d

Sources

All information and data was taken from the current websites of the named schools.

Havering Council Tax: Is It Too Low?

Council tax is loosely based on the value of property. Because of political cowardice, the 1991 valuations haven’t been revised. Havering has seen significant increases in house prices since then. The financially ruinous, but politically adroit, freezing of council tax in Havering wasn’t sustainable. It must be revised upwards.

After a quick look at Rightmove,a house on Harrow Drive, Hornchurch seemed like a good starting place. It’s on sale for £1,400,000 (August 2020). In 2012, it sold for £655,000. The untaxed profit on this property is £745,000 or £94,375 per year.

The band H council tax for this house is £3,592. This means they’re paying 0.25% of the value of the house. In 2012, the council tax was £3022 or 0.46% of the value of the house at that time. Council tax has reduced by 0.21% over the last eight years. 0.21% doesn’t seem much does it? But on £1.4 million it’s an additional £2,940 per year.

Merely maintaining the value of the 2012 council tax means this house in Harrow Drive should pay £6,532 per year. That isn’t an increase,it simply maintains the property tax relationship of 2012. If this principle was used across the entire housing market in Havering the borough wouldn’t be flirting with bankruptcy.

Sources

https://www.gov.uk/council-tax

https://www.havering.gov.uk/info/20000/council_tax/168/council_tax_bands_and_bills

https://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-95369375.html

Book Review: Linda Rhodes and Kathryn Abnett ~ The Romford Outrages: the murder of Inspector Thomas Simmons, 1885 (2009)

The beauty of local history is it offers a terrific opportunity for fascinating minutiae which is lost in academic writing. The Romford Outrage has rigour as well as wonderful microscopic detail. For people in Havering there’s the joy of ‘knowing’ the locality. The book opens with an incident on South Street, Romford, where Simmons shows his heroic personality.

Another aspect of local history is the opportunity for lavish illustrations, which add to the story. The authors have 61 none of which are padding. Taken together this book is irresistible.

One of those convicted of murder wrote about the causes of crime in an amazingly modern way and his preference for the death penalty,

“….he wrote that of all the terrors awaiting the convict, including the ‘cat’* and hard labour, it was the long periods of silent, solitary confinement which had filled him with most dread and had contributed most to his alienation from honest society. He asserted that the three major causes of crime were heredity, locality and the police system.” p154

I thoroughly enjoyed this well written book, which is an excellent example of local history.

* Cat of nine tails. For more information see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_o’_nine_tails#:~:text=The%20cat%20o%27%20nine%20tails%2C%20commonly%20shortened%20to,judicial%20punishment%20in%20Britain%20and%20some%20other%20countries.

Available on Kindle for £3.99 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Romford-Outrage-Murder-Inspector-Simmons-ebook/dp/B009EE27VS/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+romford+outrage&qid=1597680573&s=books&sr=1-1

Havering’s Raphael Park and Lake Rise, Romford

Havering’s Raphael park is in an urban setting. Lying on a busy road, there are good links with central Romford with ample car parking immediately opposite. Its principal feature is a lake. The paths have a good surface with many benches, mostly in good condition. Tree cover means there’s plenty of shade. Also in the park is a Turkish restaurant with al fresco dining. A pleasant experience without being outstanding.

Sitting on a lakeside bench gives a view of houses whose gardens sweep towards the lake. I wondered what impact the public’s investment in Raphael Park had on Lake Rise’s house prices. The surveillance society meant finding out was easy.

Two houses, virtually opposite each other, were sold in the recent past. 21 and 22 Lake Rise vividly illustrate the private benefit flowing from public investment. Number 21 was sold in August, 2018 for £780,000, whilst 22 went for £850,000 in June, 2019. There are 18 photos illustrating number 22. Three show the lawn sweeping down to the lake. Raphael Park is being monetised for lake view houses. Number 22 has a 9% premium over 21 because of the view.

Maintaining parks is costly and is therefore a political decision for the Council. George Osborne’s Age of Austerity attacked Havering’s revenue base,` meaning there were many hard decisions about spending priorities. The untaxed profit made from buying and selling houses like those in Lake Rise is an anomaly which needs to be addressed.