Saturday, 24 April 2010

They recall cars don't they - and shoot horses?

When manufacturers discover there's a fault with a model of car, they recall it. And I think that's only right and proper and professional.

Now, although this government's "academy"-building programme has proved to have made no difference to academic standards, but instead is only damaging the emotional well-being of the children and their communities, the powers-that-be [i.e. government, council], strangely enough, carry on chopping up said communities, shuffling round school staff, and allowing some teachers, at the absolute peak of their professional ability to take early retirement, at a time when their experience and expertise are most needed.

When PFI [Private Finance Initiative] school buildings suffer from poor design and poor construction our powers-that-be carry on regardless - no follow-up, no evaluation. [I can't get out of a half-day training session these days without having to fill in an evaluation form!]

Let's be clear about what constitutes poor design: Music [and other] rooms with fixed furniture, with not enough space for the big acoustic instruments, practice rooms on the other side of corridors out of sight of main teaching room, un-sound-proofed practice rooms, "state-of the-art" recording studios with no technicians for back-up; poor acoustics in halls, whistling wind through doors to Drama hall; little or no natural light in practice rooms; outside staircases with concrete floors and metal grill sides [looks like a prison]; open galleries for children to throw things or spit down on others on floors below; inappropriate and undedicated Drama spaces.

And poor construction: uneven walkways between one building and another so the rain collects in puddles and doesn't drain. Roofs have blown off [not just one school]; whole hall floors have to be relaid after two years; flooded music rooms [not just one school]. Within the first month of opening, the whole of South Leeds High School new PFI was flooded, and everyone had to be sent home.

PFI schemes allow private companies to put up the money for the buliding; and then they get to "manage" the site. Also we, the tax-payers then spend 25 years paying back the money for the school we didn't want in the first place.

First casualties are the caretaking, cleaning and dinner staff - now employed separately by the company. Once the ancillary staff were part of the team. Not now. [The untold dinner-lady counsellor stories are legion.] Here is just one story of many:

In November 2009 I was returning two instruments to a newly-built school. The school opened in September; but not yet its outdoor sports facilities or the car park. I drove to the gates that were nearest to the Music department, but they were padlocked. I drove round to the other side of this new school, parked on some double yellow lines, and put the two steel pans inside the nearest doors. Spotting a caretaker, I asked if he could carry them across to the Music Department. "I might be able to do that tomorrow" he advised me. A passing cleaner sighed, and she and I picked up the two very heavy steel pans and staggered across the quadrangle with them.

Now I had just taken two of this school's students to play with my award-winning steelband to play at the Royal Albert Hall. And I would do anything to get inner-city children to achieve this standard of play, and anything to make sure that they managed to get to London. And, as it turned out, I rather think I did. [A thank you letter from the headteacher might have been nice, but a co-operative caretaker would have done.]

Reader, I just managed to drive off the school site before they locked the gates to stop the children escaping at lunchtime. And, it's now April - the students were allowed on the outdoor sports grounds this week, but, eight months after the school opened, there's still no carpark.

By the way, the title of this blog is a totally unecessary allusion to a film about the Depression starring the wonderful Jane Fonda. Well almost unecessary.

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