“To the barricades!”

May 20, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Open letters

On 13th May 2013, Diane Abbott MP put out a call to the 10th London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) Conference: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.

"Michael Gove at Chantry High School" by Regional Cabinet (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“Michael Gove at Chantry High School” by Regional Cabinet (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

For the past 13 years, the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) has been campaigning for equality and justice in schooling and education and against the practice of excluding a disproportionate number of African heritage children.

Diane Abbott has demonstrated a passion for schooling and education over very many years, especially on account of the schooling experiences of children of African heritage.  In 1999, she held two conferences in her constituency the London Borough of Hackney on ‘Hackney Schools and the Black Child’.  In 2000, the third of these was held which, like the previous two, attracted some 400-500 people.  In 2002, Abbott joined forces with the newly elected London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and started the London Schools and the Black Child conferences which ran annually until 2009.

Those conferences proved very popular with African parents, teachers and community activists, some 2000-2,500 of whom attended most years.  However, although the focus of the conference was schooling and the ‘black child’, fewer than 50 black school children attended in any one year.  The conferences generated a great deal of heat and excitement, but typically very little action.  They allowed for no resolutions or demands to be put to government and each succeeding conference failed to focus upon whatever action those who attended in the preceding year may have taken in their communities in response to the issues debated.

Meanwhile, the Labour government of the day continued to pass laws, whittle away rights and allow schooling practices which were as detrimental to ‘the Black child’ as anything the Conservative administration had done prior to the Labour victory at the polls in 1997.  Yet, year on year, the Education (or Schools) Minister would attend Diane’s conference to tell ‘the black community’ what the government was doing to raise standards and tackle the endemic underachievement of African Caribbean children in the schooling system.

Diane Abbott intends that this conference would address the question: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.  Some of us might think it even more pertinent to ask the question: “‘Before Gove, what?“.  Read the rest of this entry →

Tackling school exclusion

May 13, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks

Fenton Classroom, by Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Fenton Classroom, by Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Gus John, Chair of the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) announces another annual report (2012/2013) and sets out the challenges facing this charitable, community-based organization that deals with almost 1,000 school exclusion cases each year:

The current education climate is such that CEN’s work and purpose become more crucial in the struggle to defend children’s fundamental rights and support the self-empowerment of parents/families as partners in their children’s schooling, education and personal development. Communities struggle perennially to encourage schools to see themselves as important spaces and places not only for their students but also for the communities to which those students belong.

Given the complexity of those communities and of the challenges students face as part of them, it is legitimate for parents and students to expect schools to have due regard to the community’s aspirations and the diverse needs of the student body, especially given the range of obstacles students must overcome if they are to set, believe in and realize their high ambitions. Read the rest of this entry →

Play the accordion with Sir Michael Wilshaw

February 28, 2013 in Blog

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, is passionately committed to closing the gap between high performing schools and those struggling to deliver meaningful and saleable schooling outcomes to children. He rightly identifies school leadership as a key factor in this. But, he appears to want to widen an already existing and pernicious knowledge and skills gap within the membership of governing bodies in the very attempt to raise school standards and narrow the achievement gap. Clearly, one of his lesser known abilities is his prowess with the accordion.

Ofsted's channel on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/Ofstednews)

Ofsted’s channel on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/Ofstednews)

There is though a certain logic in Wilshaw’s position. If the nation’s schools are increasingly multimillion enterprises run by magnates or entities capable of putting up a couple million pounds of their own to be matched by 15 to 30 times that from the public purse while they retain control of the lot and are answerable to no one but themselves, then surely the composition of the corporate boardroom (the non-executive directors) must match up to the task of ensuring that the enterprise produces value for money and could beat off the competition.

The ordinary parent, shopkeeper, grassroots football coach or bus driver cannot be assumed to have the knowledge, understanding, skills or social and cultural capital to monitor or direct what the captains of that marketized schooling industry do, far less the temerity to hold them to account. Read the rest of this entry →

CEN releases its annual report

October 15, 2012 in Blog, Briefing note

Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) has spent another year supporting vulnerable children and their often bewildered parents in the face of institutional practices in schooling that are often demeaning, unfair, discriminatory and damaging to the life chances and well-being of children and to the confidence of parents and families in the schooling system.

This year’s Annual Report (covering the period from April 2011 to May 2012) provides details both of the range and extent of the interventions CEN is called upon to make and of the disproportionality of exclusions involving African and African Caribbean school students. It is now an all too familiar story and one that has a history of which the entire nation should be ashamed. But, rather than looking at the systemic reasons for the continuing over-representation of African heritage students in exclusion statistics, the Government is hell bent on removing the only recourse they and their parents have to an independent scrutiny of headteachers’ exclusion decisions.

As the report points out, even under the former regime that pre-dated the Education Act 2011 which took effect in September 2012, only a very few exclusion decisions were overturned with a direction from the Independent Appeals Panel that the student be either reinstated within the excluding school or assisted by the school to find an alternative place elsewhere. Read the rest of this entry →

Should families take the blame for youth crime?

October 5, 2012 in Blog, Print

On the eve of a conference organised by the Seventh Day Adventist Church into parenting and last summer’s riots, the Lambeth Weekender asked professor Gus John: are families to blame for what children do

Lambeth Weekender: What impact did parenting have on the 2011 England riots?

Professor Gus John: This is a very broad and complex question and it needs to be much more nuanced. When do parents cease to have direct responsibility for their children’s conduct? At what age are children thought to be criminally responsible? How many young people below the age of 16 were involved in the riots? It seems to me that there are questions about parental responsibility in respect of children who were involved in the mayhem on the streets and who would not ordinarily be seen as old enough to be home alone.

There is a much wider question about whether or not some parents routinely let their young people who live at home go and come as they please and at whatever hour they please, without bothering to find out where their children are or who they are with. I do not have the statistics at hand, but there were many young people arrested for involvement in the mayhem who do not fit that profile but found themselves on the streets out of curiosity or because they saw an opportunity to get back at the police.

The broader question of why so many young (and older people of diverse ethnic backgrounds) clearly were not acting with moral purpose on those nights is one that concerns more than just parents. Young people acquire values and use them as a compass for their public and private conduct from parents, schools, the media, the conduct of public leaders and politicians, films and popular culture, etc. The majority of those taking part in the disturbances were from urban working class families, but not all.

The question as parental responsibility was not posed at all, or not put in quite the same way during the disturbances that accompanied the student fees protests. Was that because the majority of those protesting and confronting the police were white and middle class? Is parental failure deemed to be responsible for the widespread fraud committed by MPs in the recent expenses scandal, or the high level white collar crimes that are committed in this country every day, much of which goes unreported? Read the rest of this entry →