Monday 19th June 2017
During my entire career in teaching, I have worked in an environment where cutbacks were the norm. Initially it was in the area of continuous professional development, as it's called nowadays. One council's policy was that a hazardous incident was when over 50 kg of material fell off a building. If 45 kg of material falls off a building, it will still knock your block off.
Now many schools are in a situation where 3 pupils share one book. New build schools are falling apart because:
They were badly built in the first place;
There has been no maintenance done on them.
The last classroom that I was in consisted of a classroom converted from a computer suite from which the computers had been removed along with the benches. The carpet had been taken up. The tables and desks were a motley collection scrounged from around the school. The book cupboard had doors that were falling off. It was a cheap chip-board item of furniture which was so weak that it had lozenged. The school was less than ten years old (it doesn't appear in its present form on Google Earth). The paintwork was decidedly scuffed and shabby. There were holes in the plasterboard walls. It was an educational slum in what is a rather pleasant classic Yorkshire village.
The same is even more evident in old-build schools up and down the country. Maybe you, dear reader, are doing your Physics A-level in one such. Or you are teaching in one such.
We are going through a turbulent time. As I write this, there was yet another miserable terrorist-related incident in London, in which a man in a van tried to murder people coming out of a mosque, who were coming to the aid of an old man who had been take ill (and has, sadly, passed away). Fortunately the bystanders got the man, and gave him the leathering he deserved before handing him to the Police. He must and will be punished severely.
Many tens of thousands of words have been written about the appalling tragedy at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington. South Kensington is an area that is noted for its fabulous wealth. In that particular area (once a village to the West of London) live some of the richest people in these islands. The tiniest flat there costs between five and ten times the value of my house. A house once occupied by a labourer now is the up-market residence of a banker. The council has the highest reserves of any in the country. Five hundred metres from this, administered by the same council, are some of the poorest and most deprived wards in the entire country. Here live people on zero-hours contracts. The minimum wage seems like untold riches to them. Some of the rich residents of South Kensington have boasted of how they pay less tax than their office cleaners. Some have talked about social cleansing.
Much comment that is far more relevant than I can write has been written. It is obvious even to a non-expert like me that the cladding spread the fire. The fire was caused by a fridge that happened to be next to an open upvc-framed window. It spread to the cladding which was not fireproof because it was cheaper - a grand total of £4800 on an £8 million job. Someone was probably so chuffed that he had saved five grand. It works out at £2 per square metre. At the latest estimate, 79 lost their lives. Some right-wing commentators have tried to blame EU regulation. Wrong - Germany banned that form of cladding. It shows what happens when there is a bonfire of regulation. For those right-wingers who don't get the message - regulation is there to enable:
people to be safe, however nit-picking that may be;
systems to work properly so that they are useful to those whom they are meant to serve.
My own view is that these towers, a brutalist idea from the conceptual architect Le Corbusier (real name Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (1887 - 1965)) should be demolished. No high-rise development should be taller than the highest turntable ladder. The jets of water directed at Grenfell Tower reminded me of a small boy piddling on a wall. That is certainly NOT to disparage the undoubted bravery of the fire brigade who worked tirelessly and tried their hardest to rescue the residents. One young fireman had been on the job for five days when she was called out to that job. She saved at least twenty people.
What strikes me forcefully is that a building like that had no fire-fighting equipment. From what I read is that the small accidental fire could have been put out with a suitable fire hose or extinguisher. But like all such events, the damage doubles every second. Then why was there only one staircase? Every school building I have ever worked in has multiple fire-exits, accessed by several staircases. The object was to evacuate the building in three minutes.
People complained, and were threatened with eviction for doing so. The response by voluntary groups was heroic; that of the council was (and remains) pitiful. I am glad that I am not the one who has account for all of this while facing a charge of corporate manslaughter.
I am hoping that now Hard Brexit will be abandoned, and that compromises will be made to reduce the self-harm that both this referendum and this general election have caused. The EU is now making an economic recovery as the Brexit led recession is starting to take hold. Watch this space...
In the meantime, the sorry process has started. I think I would prefer a Coalition of Chaos to a Coalition of Mayhem, supported by one of Europe's most reactionary parties, a party that has had a murky history with the UVF, just as Sinn Fein did with the IRA. They pilloried Corbyn for talking to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein has a murky past, but is now a main stream party. The self-righteous sanctimony of the right-wing press is nauseating.
Until the next time I saddle up my high horse, enjoy and good luck. I hope you do well.