We must listen and we must rebuild

It will be a relief when it is Friday morning. After the 3 months of referendum campaigning, arguing and debating comes the important part – the voting. This process of the People of the United Kingdom deciding what kind of country we want to be is a crucial and we must not forget, an emotional one. At the heart of the leaflets and posters and television quarrelling are important statistics and expert opinion. But it is feelings and passions which are going to make the difference this week. It has never been more important than ever to get people out to vote – and figures and numbers are not as stirring as spirits and emotions.


The Leave campaign have had much success with ‘Take Back Control’ and ‘Get Our Country Back’. These phrases alone are rallying cries for the disenfranchised, the disillusioned and the frustrated. Britain is going through a period of change and adjustment, after a global recession and politicians who do not appear to listen, and this referendum is giving a voice to this disenchantment.

But we have also witnessed a minority voice of hatred, of fascism and of violence. The brutal murder of Jo Cox MP has universally shocked and horrified the country – on both sides of the debate. We are appalled that such violence can happen on our streets, in broad daylight, and to a courageous and inspirational woman who was going about her business as a public servant. The last few days of quiet reflection on the campaigning front have been a welcome reminder of the importance of priorities, and the responsibility we all must have to conduct ourselves sensibly and sensitively in a period of high emotions and passionate debate.


The Remain campaign have also had success with their ‘Stronger Together’ message. The challenges we face in the future – climate change, conflict, economic growth and tackling inequalities – are all better faced through co-operation and working together in a European Union which has real power and influence in the world. The EU is not perfect – it needs reform and it needs to represent the will of the People – but this does not mean it is bad for Britain.

On June 24th, the UK has a huge task ahead to heal the divisions which have appeared during these referendum arguments. Whatever the result – and we can agree that it is very close – we all want the best for our country, and we all want a strong and unified Britain. As Jo Cox declared in her maiden speech in Parliament last year “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Bridges will have to be built between people who have spent 6 months asserting clearly opposing views – and that is not just between elected politicians. That is also between us – the millions of the people in the UK who have been gripped or put off by the debates in equal measure.


The people of the United Kingdom are honest, outspoken and passionate about the communities in which we live. We need to harness this engagement and this willingness to encourage change, to be motivated and to make a difference.

If you have been enthused by your passions in this debate – if you have been moved by the spirit and commitment shown by Jo Cox – then please consider taking your motivations to the next level and get involved more in developing your local area, your parish, your town, your council. Because it is only through constructive debate and engagement that we are going to improve our country. And this EU Referendum has demonstrated that across the UK, there is no lack of desire for change.

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It’s not the EU that is undemocratic – it is Westminster

eu_01“I’m voting to Leave the EU because of our democracy, sovereignty for the UK and I want my country back.”

“If I dislike you enough – I can vote you out. I cannot have the same effect with the EU set up.”

It is understandable that many voters in this referendum on the EU are choosing not immigration, but sovereignty as their central issue. We are told that the EU now writes all our laws, limits our powers and is not accountable. We are told that the EU is run by unelected bureaucrats, ignoring the people and bossing us about. We are told that the EU is undemocratic, and that if we Vote Leave everything in the UK will be run by a fairly elected Parliament of politicians – who we can kick out when they fail us.

This is not the reality.


Take the issue of “unelected bureaucrats who we cannot name, running the EU.” There are 28 commissioners in Brussels – 1 per member country. They set objectives and propose legislation, which then *must* be debated and voted on by the 751 elected MEPs in Parliament. If they are not happy, they send it back. The Commissioners are not dictators. They are supported by 23,000 workers in Brussels who run the departments and keep the EU ticking over. Contrast this with the UK and Westminster, where we have 2,000 unelected senior civil servants at Cabinet Office ‘advising’ our ministers. And over 480,000 civil servants across the UK working in Depts of Work and Pensions, Revenue and Customs and many more.

None of our civil servants are elected. They are all employees not of Parliament, but of The Crown. Not particularly democratic.


Our MEPs are elected proportionately in the UK, and sit in loose political groups with likeminded members in Europe. Not one political group dominates – the European Parliament has reformist groups, conservatives, liberals, socialists, greens and the far right. There are 73 UK MEPs (nearly 10% of the total) representing 10 different parties. All of whom have collective influence in their political group.


Contrast this with the UK Westminster Parliament, currently dominated by the Conservative government. In our First Past the Post electoral system, this party got only 11 million votes in the UK. 18 million people voted for any other party except them – and yet under this FPTP system, their votes do not matter. Conservatives won, run the country and the other 18 million of us have to wait until the next election before we can ‘kick them out’. Which will be unlikely, because the voting system is against that possibility happening. 11 million people got the Conservatives a majority of 332 seats in 2015. 4 million voted UKIP and got just *one* seat. This is why people across the country are angry. It’s not the EU which is undemocratic – it is our own Westminster Parliament. 

We have thousands of unelected bureaucrats running our country – not a couple of dozen commissioners working with elected MEPs. We have a government elected by a distinct minority of voters – nearly twice as many of us voted for somebody else!

The democratic deficit is not in Europe. It is here in the UK. The EU is being made out to be the bogeyman to blame for all our ills. It is actually our *own government* causing them. 

Please empower yourself with knowledge and facts. Share them with your friends. If you are choosing to VOTE LEAVE on the 23rd June, make sure it is for a decent reason. And if you really want to gain sovereignty and improve our democracy – join campaigns and parties across the country who want Proportional Representation for Westminster. This is the only way you will be sure to Kick out the Government – our current system completely disempowers you.

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Holiday fines, Isle of Wight and the way forward

Isle of Wight father Jon Platt hit the headlines this week, as the High Court ruled that he had no case to answer regarding fines against him after he took his daughter on holiday during term time.


Regular school attendance is central to progress and leaving school with good results. When it comes to GCSEs, only 12% of pupils with 80% attendance or below get 5+ grades A*-C (including English and Maths) compared with 68% of those students with 95% attendance or above.

However, how we improve school attendance should not be as a result of draconian government intervention consisting of these fines given out for a myriad of circumstances, including family funerals, weddings and important experiences together when it is exceptionally difficult to do this during school holidays.

Parents want the best for their children – and that is a mix of excellent attendance at school, family time together and experiences away from home.

Rather than hitting parents with fines and causing a great deal of resentment between schools, councils and families, we must think of more imaginative and positive ways to ensure students are in school for the maximum time possible.


Re-organising term dates on a county or regional basis would allow holidays to be spread across the year, demand at peak times to be reduced and the cost of holidays outside of term time to become less outrageous. Shortening the long 6 week holiday to 4 weeks and adding the extra fortnight earlier in the summer would also increase flexibility for families. Allowing headteachers greater discretion in the decision as to whether any holiday taken can be accepted, rather than straight to court fines, would also be a clearer way forward.

Instead, the Conservative government and Department for Education are now looking to change legislation to tightening up fines for all families who take any holiday at all during term time. They are not looking at the more positive solutions – instead they simply wish to increase fines.

I ask the DFE in the light of the High Court ruling to look at all alternatives to fines to ensure our pupils are in school, having fun, learning and working hard and making progress towards the bright citizens of the future. Time away from the classroom is a crucial aspect of achieving this – our children need to get away from the desks and out into the big wide world beyond.


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Let our Kids, be Kids!

testThousands of parents of six and seven year olds will be keeping their children at home on Tuesday May 3rd as a protest against the government national SATS exams.

The Green Party are very clear on this – we would abolish external SATS, and trust the professional judgement of teachers to assess their pupils in a much less pressurized environment. As Green Party national spokesperson for Education – and also a parent of 3 primary-aged boys and a working teacher – I have every sympathy with parents making the tough decision to withdraw their children from school.

Education at primary school level must be about a broad, child-centred curriculum with a wide variety of experiences and opportunities which will engender a love of learning and equip them for life. This over-emphasis on external testing is zapping the creativity out of our teaching and learning, thereby stifling the inquisitive nature of our children and limiting their future prospects.

The Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign has led the strike, saying that English children are ‘over-tested, over-worked and in a school system that places more importance of test results and league tables than children’s happiness and joy of learning’. It is a clear message to education secretary Nicky Morgan and her department that enough is enough, and we should not put our children through such a narrow and high-stake learning experience.

rosenI fully support families getting behind our main teaching unions who have repeatedly called for an end to the over testing in our schools. Even the head of the usually moderate NAHT (Headteachers’ union) Russell Hobby has criticised the tests: “Testing has a role to play in the assessment of children, but the poorly designed tests and last-minute changes we have seen this year do not add value to teaching.”

I back the campaign against over testing of our seven year olds. I know that those children out of school on May 3rd will have a happy and enriching experience away from mock tests and box ticking.

The government needs to listen.

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Celebrate! The compelling case for Carnival learning


The celebratory arts are like no other. They are ambitious, energetic and bring communities together. The scale of the enjoyment, the drive for excellence and the passion for the diversity of our planet: they have so much to teach us – most importantly, how to have fun.


This Friday I am honoured to be speaking at ‘Celebrate! The compelling case for Carnival learning’ – a two day conference in Portsmouth which is bringing together policy makers, creators, teachers, universities, youth workers, school governors and carnival participants to examine and evolve the role of the participatory arts in education today.


Saturday 30th April will have a focus on accessibility and diversity with speakers from across the UK and beyond. Friday 29th April has a focus on Carnivals and Education, and the conference will be addressed by members from the Arts Council, Artswork and universities. Ian Comfort, CEO of the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) and trustee of London’s Carnival Village Trust, will be talking of the opportunities that carnival learning can bring within our current education system.


The Green Party emphasise the democratisation of access to culture and the arts – which is shared by the aims of the celebratory arts. In an age where film and television is dominated by the privileged few, we must work hard to open up the arts to participants from a diversity of backgrounds – and carnival is in the best placed position to do just that. Classroom time devoted to the arts has been reduced, pressures are on schools to stick with rigid grammar and numeracy – it is for the arts that we must find time and fight for space. And so carnival, with its plethora of opportunities and scope for cross subject learning, can be so central to the arts for our young people.

Celebrate! has been organised by Carnival Network South in association with Artswork and other groups. You can get tickets here or email carnivalnetworksouth@gmail.com if you are a Green Party member and ask about special rates.



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Parents Defending Education

13091991_10156822995790258_1595070917703864776_nThe Green Party has been campaigning strongly for bringing academies back into democratic control and to stop the over testing of our children for many years now. Today I was privileged to attend in London the first of many public meetings to bring all parents together in this fight – and to end the privatisation of our schools.

Be under no illusion that the Conservative government are trying to rail road through sweeping changes to the education of our children in this country. Yet parents are mobilising, and they are organising in force.

And they are angry.

Last month, the day before George Osborne’s ‘robbing from the poor to give to the rich’ budget, the government leaked details of their new Education White Paper. All schools in England were set to be ordered out of democratic control and to be forced to become academies by 2020. Understandably, this has met with a high level of outrage and anger and concern – from teachers, unions, governors and local authorities. But it is parents who are the largest group to be hit by these changes after the children. Yes, teachers can strike and boycott, governors can have meetings and councillors can write letters – but parents have strength in numbers. Parents are voters and citizens. Parents can kick up fuss. All we are waiting for is a campaigning group to bring all the individual anti testing, anti-cuts and anti-academies groups together across the country. And today we gained one.


Enter Parents Defending Education. At today’s inaugural meeting we heard passionate testimony from parents about how becoming an academy has wrecked the trust between family and school. But we also heard from Mary Bousted of ATL and Kevin Courtney of the NUT – who have been campaigning against forced academisation and over testing and cuts to education for many years now.


13094163_10156822991670258_6574323861312362704_nMichael Rosen, Professor of Children’s Literature and a very loud and critical voice when it comes to government education policy, began the meeting by voicing all of his concerns with great clarity and humour. He is concerned about the vulnerable children, who academies are already failing, as unlike the local authorities they have ‘no legal requirement’ to meet all needs. He was most animated when discussing the KS2 grammar tests and ‘made up’ linguistic concepts such as ‘fronted adverbial’ which are complete nonsense. Finally he pointed out that as academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum, the crazy regime of testing will be the only future measurement to test schools and teachers – and will become even more central to control over the content in our classrooms. The influence of this white paper will be felt for many years to come.


Mary Bousted from teaching union ATL detailed how it has been a terrible week for the Department of Education (DfE). Their accounts have detailed multi-million pounds overspend, due to the increase in the number of academies and the difficulty with monitoring this. Then there was the flag ship grammar test for 7 yr olds – which turned out was not a fair test as the specific paper had been used by schools as an online specimen for weeks – and has been scrapped. A humiliating withdrawal. And then she relayed a conversation she has had with the Schools Minister Nick Gibb, where Ms Bousted (pHD in English) had informed the minister that primary schools should not be about rigid grammar and linguistic rules, but narrative and poetry and modelling. “You’re wrong” said Mr Gibb. But I have studied this for many years, replied Mary. The minister replied “I don’t believe you.”


Philippa Harvey from the NUT read out a statement from the ‘Let Kids be Kids’ pressure group, who are co-ordinating the national kids strike on May 3rd where they will refuse to go to school to sit the KS2 tests. “We must end the SATS exams and testing now – parents do have a voice”. Fiona Forest, a single parent from Lewisham and representing the group ‘Rescue Our Schools’ got the longest applause of the afternoon after narrating her family’s experience of their school becoming an academy. No morning break time, no pastoral tutor groups, and pupil academic rankings posted on the walls resulting in bullying were just a handful examples of the demoralising culture at their school. “Where’s the partnership?” she asked. “There’s no communication and no trust.”


The effect on SEN and vulnerable and excluded children was the focus of south London parent Lucy Cox. She gave us the statistics that in 2013, 5,000 pupils were excluded from secondary schools in England – half from state schools and half from academies. But at 17,000 the number of state accountable schools is almost six times the number of academies (3,000) – exclusion levels in academies is vastly disproportionate to the number of schools. And these are vulnerable young people who should not remain hidden – they are entitled to an education and their removal from the classroom is very much a safeguarding issue.


Kevin Courtney of the teaching union the NUT summed up the situation – that teachers need an alliance with parents to fight the triple threats of forced academisation, over testing and cuts to education funding. A strong parents association will in turn support and boost the morale of our teachers. And therefore the meeting concluded by formally adopting the launch statement along these lines – and the Parents Defending Education campaign has officially begun.


Existing grassroots parents groups are urged to contact this national campaign at parentsdefendingeducation@gmail.com to collate a register of the great level of activity up and down the country. But new parent groups are also needed. If you as a parent, governor or councillor are concerned about the road taken by our conservative government and education department – please contact Parents Defending Education and set up a local group today.


More detail can be found on twitter @PaDefendingEd, facebook and the wordpress blog https://www.parentsdefendingeducation.wordpress.com

Vix Lowthion

Green Party National spokesperson for Education



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Conversion to Academy closed our small school

budgetThe forced privatisation of every school in England has begun in earnest this week, as the government have today announced draft legislation to force all schools to become academies.

At a time when we desperately need stability in our schools, the modernisation of our national curriculum and greater accountability to parents and communities, all of this is set to be ditched in the quest of giving away all our schools to private businesses to run.

The Green Party are committed to ending the wasteful and failed academy program, and taking all schools into local authority control – where they are accountable to the community and not large private organisations.

There is no evidence that becoming an academy boosts standards in our schools. In fact, some parts of the country where you find the lowest test results – such as the Isle of Wight – have had for years nearly every secondary school converted as an academy. If standards are not to be raised by this move, then what is the motivation for our government?

Only 5 days ago, the head of OFSTED, Michael Wilshaw, declared that he had ‘great concern’ about ‘serious weaknesses’ in the ability of multi-academy trusts to direct school improvement. Yet tomorrow, the Chancellor George Osborne will announce an expansion to the programme which will compel all schools to leave the accountability of the local authority and become an academy.

Since 2010, schools have been granted the ability to ‘opt in’ to convert to academy status. In addition, schools deemed to be ‘failing’ have been ordered to become academies. However, 40% of secondary schools and 80% of primary schools have made an active decision not to take on academy status.

Across the country, school managing bodies do not have any burning desire to become academies. “We will see a decline in the opportunities offered to pupils,” a local chair of Governors told me this evening. “A real lack of accountability, no cooperation between schools, teacher pay scales out of the window so we will have even higher paid “super heads” earning mega bucks – and less funds for good teachers and for the pupils in our care.”

On thwestone Isle of Wight, parents failed to save a small primary school from closure at the end of 2015 – only 4 years since it was awarded academy status as part of a program to keep it open. Staff and pupils at Weston Academy Primary School (run by multi-academy trust AET) were given just 3 months’ notice of its closure, only days after they began the academic year.

AET dissolved the governing body, AET made the decision for closure – and there was no consultation nor discussions with parents or the local community. Academy trusts can close schools with minimal notice and reason. One parent at the school said today “If I even sniff an academy I’ll home school.  I am surprised people still don’t realise that academies have no closure guidelines – and the repercussions of that.”

Forcing academisation will have financial consequences for our smallest primary schools and threaten their future viability. We should instead be concentrating on raising standards, retaining good teachers with improved work-life balance and creating happy and thriving learning environments for our young people. There is no evidence that academies do any of this. I will oppose every forced conversion and support every school in England who must challenge this damaging piece of legislation.



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