Sunday, 5 July 2009

In the Gateau

I think that the Guardian’s missing an opportunity in its historic mission to explain to the parents of Britain and to counter the malign Right just why the present system of State-funded and State-assigned school places for the country’s children is the best possible one, and one which needs further improvements along the same lines to exceed its present level of perfection.

Children are our future and especially now that (thanks to New Labour’s brilliant economic policy of the housing boom, taxing pension funds, expanding public sector employment, money supply inflation, bank nationalization and increasing public borrowing) they’re going to spend their adult lives gainfully employed chasing fewer and less-well paid jobs which will be provided ever-fewer and progressively higher-taxed companies and paying higher taxes themselves to leave them with lower incomes for their own pensions and personal expenditure on more expensive and narrower ranges of goods than would have been available had not Gordon Brown’s economic genius been in charge from the word ‘go.’

The least we can do for the little ones is to prevent any risk of market-led inequality into the happiest days of their lives.

Ed Balls calls for crackdown on parents lying for school places

The schools secretary, Ed Balls, today called for an investigation into the number of parents who lie about where they live to secure school places for their children.

Lying about where one lives is pretty wicked and I for one am looking forward to MPs framing a new law which makes it a criminal offence across the board to falsify one’s address for personal or family gain. There may have to be a few exceptions to such a law, and the House of Commons is just the right institution to decide what they should be.

The inquiry comes hours after a London council dropped a prosecution against a mother accused of lying about her address, to secure a place for her son at a popular primary school.

Harrow council had taken Mrinal Patel to court for allegedly applying for a place for her five-year-old son, Rhys, at Pinner Park first school using her mother's address last January. The council said it withdrew the action to avoid potentially expensive legal costs.

You see? That right there is an opportunity lost. It’s not just what she did, but that she lied about it that hurts. There must have been a great deal of public expense and effort put into making the council’s choice of primary school for Rhys what it is today and I can understand the hurt feelings of teachers, classroom assistants, governors, cleaning and maintenance staff at that school when they heard that Rhys and his mother had tried to reject them, to turn their backs on their beloved school for another, less suitable one elsewhere.

Harrow was prosecuting the 41-year-old under the Fraud Act 2006, but has now been told that it is no longer clear whether the legislation covers this type of case.

I think the legislation needs amending straight away. If a local education authority goes to the trouble to provide a particular combination of activities, assessment strategies and school yard bullying on the one hand, and then carefully blends its broad subject areas which have now fortunately replaced the old Imperialist academic’ subjects with the latest in educational theories and classroom practice to fit the profile of children in area A, then it stands to reason that little Rhys is not going to blossom so well at school B, where the mixture has been constructed to fit the profile of pupils – sorry, students – in that area.

Mrs. Patel was obviously trying to fit a square peg in a round hole there and most LEAs don’t allow the children to do that until the middle of Year Three when they’ve mastered mud, Basic Running and Introduction to Anthropogenic Climate Change.

Balls has called on the chief schools adjudicator, Ian Craig, to investigate how many parents are falsifying information on school application forms and whether councils have sufficient powers to deter them. The findings of the investigation will be divulged in November, Balls said.

We already know the answer to this one, don’t we? Of course they don’t have enough deterrent powers and only a die-hard reactionary would balk now at the creation of a criminal offence with perhaps a minimum sentence of two years.

It’s bad enough that private secondary schools are still legal, and hence they can act as magnets for all the best teachers and all the best maths (which was invented by Islam) and physics and Shakespeare's best bits, but if private citizens are allowed to use their children to upset these delicate ecological systems at the primary level, then education becomes a consumer choice like a market commodity; something to be bought and sold at the whim of laymen and women unaware of the value that, for example, Rhys would have given to his assigned classmates at School A.

At the very least, his classroom’s population would have become one fewer than the optimum level set for that school by the education authority, and as all enlightened teachers and educationalists are aware class sizes are very important to children’s’ emotional and educational development. It’s important that classes are filled up right to the door.

The Local Government Association has said it is "concerned at the worrying trend of increasing numbers of parents willing to break the law". A study it made of 31 councils 18 months ago found that 24 had seen a rise in the number of parents who had lied on application forms in the last three years.

And it’s a good law that’s being broken – not an evil one like the Poll Tax or the one that tried to protect the imperialist beer drinkers of the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town as they colluded in the British occupation of the north of Ireland.

It’s all very well forgiving and forgetting and later rewarding the occasional technical infractions of unjust laws, but it's a very different thing to allow individualists to treat public services as their own property and thus to bend its provision to their own unqualified and possibly divisive points of view.

Balls said councils had the right, under the admissions code, to withdraw a school place if they thought a parent had falsified information. He said the legal advice he had received was that the Fraud Act did not apply in cases such as Patel's.

"It's never been our intention to make this an issue of criminal sanctions and the use of the criminal law," he said. "It is not a criminal offence in education legislation to give false information in order to gain a school place.

"It is down to admission authorities themselves whether they want to go further on a case-by-case basis, and it is for the courts to set a precedent in wider criminal law."

Balls is weak on this, and the providers of education would be justified in feeling angry that their careful preparation of the finest school system in the world (bar Socialist Sweden’s) and expert knowledge is so offhandedly left to the poorly funded LEAs themselves to use the doubtful validity of the law in what is at heart a human rights issue for teachers, caretakers, teacher training schools, and for progressive parents and governors alike


He added that it was important that parents who were playing by the rules were not disadvantaged by those who were not.

And the rules are the rules, after all, and they are good.

Patel told the BBC that Harrow's decision to drop the prosecution was "a great relief for me and my family".

There’s no sign, needless to say, of remorse from her for the lasting harm that she was trying to inflict on countless education professionals and children by treating Rhys’ future as if it were her own private concern.

She added: "It's been an extremely difficult ordeal, and I'm happy to put the matter behind me.

"I have, from the outset, denied the allegations, and the council's unconditional withdrawal of the proceedings confirms my innocence."

Patel, who denied the charge, was thought to be the first parent in the country to be taken to court for school application fraud.

And there you have it in black and white. This unjust system has been allowed to persist for far too long because the councils and the education authorities do not have enough power over the school system and the children in their areas.

Mrs. Patel and her mother should have been made aware that justice would be swift and sure if they tried to use fraudulent addressing to steal Rhys a school place that he did not deserve.

There should also be a system of child registration requiring an internal ‘passport’ whereby students could be kept safely within the authority where there family homes are and so receive a level of education uniquely suited for their own and their community’s needs.

This would be cheap to set up and administer, requiring only a small staff to uphold it so that the ideal of equal schooling for all children everywhere could be enforced and so that the individualist/market model that would otherwise produce a postcode lottery in schooling could be escaped.

David Ashton, the Harrow council leader, said local authorities needed powers to deter parents from submitting false information when applying for school places.

He added that authorities could withdraw a place only if they discovered the information was wrong.

"But this is not a punishment," he said. "It is the equivalent of telling a shoplifter to put the baked beans they have taken back on the shelf."

And here we see the wisdom of the council starkly contrasted with the cold and selfish calculations of Mrs. Patel.

Castle City is in fact planning to establish a progressive system just like this for its grocery services.

We all know that eating is a basic human right and that food itself should not be treated as a consumer good to be bought and sold like footballers or other luxury goods and so a comprehensive feeding system is to be set up in the city based on geographical areas.

Northwester House is in the catchment area centred on its Marks and Spencer store, and so Mrs. Northwester and I will be henceforth entitled to shop there for all our food and drink needs. Previously we had flitted between the Iceland, Sainsbury's, Morrison's and Asda stores and the Co-op and a Booth’s in nearby villages at will; scattering our cash randomly and arbitrarily according to whatever selfish whims, anxieties over pricing and an obsession about the availability of certain brand ranges and specialist products (we are vegetarians and always buy expensive seeded bread for the omega fatty acids that we can no longer get from fish.)

We no doubt created a huge and dirty carbon footprint in the process.

Now, it is true that our Marks and Spencer is actually a longer distance for either casual shopping as we walk home from work each day than Sainsbury’s and Iceland, and there’s no free parking, and they don’t stock dried goods at all or any Quorn (which is not a St. Michaels brand, of course), or many of the cheap household goods that the other supermarkets stock. Oh, and its goods are generally more expensive than the Co-op or the other stores, but the quality is good 9especially the chocolate cakes) and if our choice of vegetarian meals will strictly limited and its fresh fruit and vegetables are less varied and less affordable, then that’s still a small price to pay to prevent people criss-crossing the city; creating more traffic and of course being demanding and whiny with the staff whose welfare we have not been accustomed to regarding as an important part of our shopping duties.

We'll also be setting a good example to less well-educated diners by demonstrating our healthier eating habits, which is a major benefit of the comprehensive shopping system.

Ashton suggested parents should be fined. "We need some sanction that will stop parents from thinking they'll 'have a go'. We aren't asking for something draconian, but otherwise it is open season for parents. Government has failed to give us ammunition to ensure this is fought fairly."

In the academic year for which Patel applied, 2008-09, 411 parents expressed a preference for Pinner Park and 90 places were offered to children living less than a mile from the school, Harrow council said.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that this might just be a case where bringing back corporal punishment for individuals like Mrs. Patel might be required.

And his Momma cries...


ivan said...

If Ed had some Balls he would declare the education system unfit for purpose and scrap it. In fact we need an education system based on what was available when I trained to be a teacher in the late 50s. We also need to get away from the strange idea that all children, indeed all people, are created equal - except that some of the polis are more equal than everyone. All people are NOT equal and never will be, despite all the political rhetoric in the world from the socialists.

James Higham said...

Let the Labour government near anything and they'll bugger it up.

JuliaM said...

"We also need to get away from the strange idea that all children, indeed all people, are created equal.."

Just give them equality of opportunity, and the rest will sort itself out.

Barking Spider said...

Ed Balls or anyone else in the Labour Government, for that matter, are the last people who should be lecturing parents on lying about their address - THEY have been doing it for years!

North Northwester said...

Hello Ivan, welcome, and thanks for your comment.
They're witches exorcists you see, socialist teachers - intending to keep the dread demon Inequality away. Which is why I never criticize them for laziness- these Gramscian parasites are industrious in the harm that they do; just as the traditionalists work hard in their shrinking corner. I love the replacement option, though - full-funding vouchers now and we hand the school buildings over to commercial lettings agencies who take a fixed percentage per voucher to hire out the schools. 10 years establishes the right to buy for head teachers; and set the price as low as you like.

Turn the teacher training schools into motels and let the real teachers learn their trade from private companies instead- you going to hire teacher strained by Etonians and other high achievers, or by the staff of Crystal Meth City Academy?

James; consider who and what there is to replace them. As I commented on your blog, I fear the Tories won't cut it either and Julia, if Snuffy [who's blogging again!] feels afraid of her colleagues, then we must be afraid for them all.

Barking Spider hello BS, and thanks for following me - and your comment.
In a country with a free press and free broadcasting, these words would be on every front page and comedy show in the land.

Ah, it appears I've found anothe ruse for the Conservative Party - if only they'd listen.


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