Sunday, 5 October 2014

Using personal tragedies to silence the opposition - Cheap!

In response to Michael Gove appearing on Any Questions:
Dear AA

There should be a ban on the use of dead and sick children in political debate. When Michael Gove described another panellist's attack on the Tories' plans for NHS as cheap he showed just how out of touch he and his like are. What  is cheap is to bring into the argument his own son's life-threatening illness, thereby alluding to David Cameron's personal loss of a child.  No panellist can take that up without risking the audience baying at their assumed insensitivity.

And why he is on Any Questions anyway? He is an intellectual lightweight for all his Oxford education.

Victoria Jaquiss
Leeds teacher and great lover of NHS

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Leeds Carnival to be more inclusive?

Foxwood Steel popped up at Leeds Carnival 2013
This is my letter printed in Yorkshire Evening post Friday 22 August 2014.
 I ask this question, not just because none of my own bands are welcome at Leeds Carnival anymore, but because there are good many people who would like to see and hear us, and a good many Leeds school children who would like to know that if they learn pans at school there's a good chance that one day they might be able to play their home town carnival - as indeed used to be the case.
Here's the full letter:
local kids curled up on our cosy banner
Letter to YEP re Culture and Carnival

I am concerned about the nature of the culture that Leeds is putting forward in its bid to be capital of culture, especially as it seems to be pinning a lot of its hopes on Leeds Carnival.

For size and longevity, Leeds Carnival is certainly a winner, but that seems to be about it. We read that Carnival will be bigger and better, but this year we now we also have "authentic Caribbean". Is this a way of explaining, I wonder, why music from other cultures is not included?

Cities like Liverpool, Cardiff and Bristol have expanded their carnival events in order to welcome and include their more recently arrived immigrants. I am sure I am not the only person who would like to see and hear a bit of Bhangra, dohls, samba, Junkanoo, New Orleans style marching bands, circus acts, gypsy music, and maybe even a Yorkshire brass band,  parading around our streets, and filling Potternewton Park and the streets of Chapeltown with all these different wonderful sights and sounds.

And, since when did an "authentic Caribbean" carnival only include one steelband, and why only the one run from the West  Indian Centre itself? Besides the many local Leeds bands, eg Casablanca, Sea, Sun and Sand or my own Foxwood Steel/Sparrows there are other UK steelbands that could come and visit Leeds as Foxwood Steel does every year for Huddersfield and Manchester?

My last point regarding the size of Leeds Carnival is that its size, colour and vibrancy depends not just on Leeds troupes but on all those who visit from other cities such as Huddersfield, Birmingham, Nottingham and Luton. All credit here to Leeds for inviting and making them welcome, but let's shout out for them too.
Annette and Victoria

It's a sad legacy that Leeds Carnival which originally did so much to unify newly-arrived West Indian immigrants with the host nation does not now include other than its own steelband, nor open up its own heart to the immigrating nations that followed. 

Victoria Jaquiss FRSA
Band leader Foxwood, East Steel, Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows,
steelband leader Leeds Carnival 2000-2010

Monday, 26 May 2014

Can charities spare a thought or even a dime?

 Here is the link to Yorkshire Evening Post who printed my letter on that perennial Musicians' problem: Work Not Play.
And here is the full text:
Spare a dime?

I’d like our charities to spare a thought or even a dime, for our local musicians.

On a regular basis my [steel]bands and I asked to play for charity events – races, summer fairs usually. And I like to play them if we can and if we can afford it, because I understand the power of live music. We like playing good cause gigs. But there is always that awkward moment when I bring up the question of budget, expenses, not even pay; donations, refreshments.

We get- it’s for charity, and, of course, if that was a one-off that would be okay. And there are some close-to-home events, eg Unity Day when I do volunteer to play, and payment is not a consideration.
For races the organisers have to get security barriers, marshalls, water; the risk assessments and general admin must be phenomenal. Do they all work for nothing, because they work for a charity. Do the ice-cream van give away ices? Is it only musicians?
All bands spend years learning their craft, saving up for and buying instruments, paying for lessons, then paying to tune and upgrade, buy insurance, maybe save up for a van, hire rehearsal space, get baby-minders. And in the run-up to all events leaders spent their time ensuring we have enough players, enough transport, a van, know all the new tunes . . . And the bigger the band the harder that is to organise!
Good musicians generally are trying to earn a living, so are charities expecting only to use amateurs, or are they asking professionals to work for free?  A band brings occasion to an occasion. We create an atmosphere, drive the runners on, bring in the passers-by from the streets outside. We choose and change the repertoire to suit and encourage the runners, or the toddlers skipping round the cake stalls, or do requests for Memory Lane. Are we just a nice extra or integral to an event? [Two years we met runners afterwards from a Leeds town centre race who said that hearing us as they turned off Briggate and up Albion Place gave them the strength to keep going.]
Organisers sometimes suggest that playing their event will give you publicity, but we have played the endless sides of endless roads only to find, in the local press, we rarely get name-checked or our pics shown.
Curiously it’s often the smaller organisations who make the effort to offer donations i.e those playing with less money. One such group [actually not so small] that I would single out for praise is Otley Carnival. The year that they couldn’t afford the previous year’s fee, they wrote and asked us if we could play for less. They always give us pride of place on a huge float, and always name-check in the local paper. Here we are treated with such respect; it is an honour to play for Otley.

A few years ago I tried to have this conversation with a big cancer charity’s event. On this occasion I did agree to play for nothing.  Later they wrote and thanked us, said they had made over £8,000. Taking into account our costs on the day, as well as the years of study, we ended up paying to play. We felt deflated and used. As a music teacher [obviously my main source of income] I encourage my students to consider music after school both as a hobby and a career. I would think that the pleasure and value that local musicians bring to local events is worth paying for.
Victoria Jaquiss FRSA

Bandleader, music teacher


City of Leeds School takes a stand on EAL, then gives the school away

This is my letter in the Yorkshire Evening Post April 2014 re the latest sad school-giveaway, and below is the text of letter

playground at City of Leeds School

I support City of Leeds School's brave stand in in declaring so publicly that its students need extra lessons in English as an Additional Language. Head teacher, Georgie Sale points out correctly that even four years in the UK is not long enough to have acquired enough academic English to get the exam grades that reflect any child's natural ability.

However, as a previous long-serving and ultimately ousted governor, I know that this is a long held view; that attention has always been given to EAL, and that, despite our children not getting the grades that would keep Balls and now Gove off our backs, we went on passing inspections, with the EAL dept always getting an honourable mention in the dispatches.

Two years ago we gained School of Sanctuary status - first UK high school to do so. What an honour! And how would anyone like to be remembered as the teacher, the support assistant, the school that supported you in your darkest hours as well as your best, or the robot following orders in the exam factory?

Sadly, I see that the IEB (interim executive board) has applied for academy status. This will not, in any way, improve the overall average grades. The school will continue to languish quite unfairly in the eyes of the government, the media and the local public. Worse, all the emphasis on EAL will inevitably be directed to improving average grades; and inevitably away from offering the individual children the sanctuary and personal support that any school should be offering as well.

However, until we a government that has an education secretary who genuinely gets Blunkett's old slogan that Every Child Matters, children will be forced down inappropriate routes that only serve in the pointless competition that is one country's educational system against another.

And we won't get this government unless we as citizens stand up for ourselves and we as teachers, stand up for our charges.

Victoria Jaquiss FRSA [teacher, writer, ex-governor, local resident]

Sunday, 9 February 2014

City of Leeds Public Consultation not quite Public Enough

When is a public consultation not a public consultation? Answer, when the public don't know about it. 

This is best done by private academy consultation company, Artelia, who used similar methods at Heath Hayes Primary School, in Staffordshire, as they are trying it on at City of Leeds School.

The only piece of advertising for this public consultation in public was in the North Leeds News, a local newspaper with intentionally a small circulation. Sadly, the date given of the public meeting was inaccurate, so the very few who were readers weren't given a chance to attend. 

City of Leeds School has, for decades, attracted its students from all round Leeds, in particular, but by no means exclusively, from those areas at the other end of the No 1 bus route: Beeston and Holbeck, and also, Harehills, Chapeltown and East End Park. Were their local papers not considered worth contacting?

At the school Reception there was a little display of the academy proposal fliers, but this is a high school. Students are either dropped off in cars or make their own way.

The only  parents waiting in reception tend to be the Polish speaking, Polish reading parents, waiting to enrol their children (yes increase the numbers on roll, and in all different school years). Not only Polish, of course, but you get the point -  new parents, whose interest in and understanding of the intricacies of UK education system will necessarily be restricted to - can my children come here?

In my opinion, if, as it said on the natty little green and white document, our "views are important to us", if this true, and if you have the money to employ this private firm, with its Sevenoaks' office address, then you have money to take an advert out in the Yorkshire Evening Post. Or even do a press release to the local tv and radio stations, as well as the local papers.
If you do get hold of the document, the middle section is turquoise green, most writing in black, fairly hard to read. At least the important contact details were on a different colour! Sadly that colour is red. Now that is unreadable. As are the words: Consultation ends at 9a.m. On 30th January 2014. 9 a.m!

At the most recent Anti-Acadmies Alliance AGM, we found out that Artelia used the same tactics at Heath Hayes - lack of proper publicity, same hard to read colour scheme etc. All a bit shabby, all a bit can't really be bothered. 

This fight is for City of Leeds to lose. And, if Artelia loses it, well, there's plenty more schools in deprived areas, and the more traumatised immigrants [I'm simplifying here!] they get, the worse the academic results, and hey presto - it's the school that under-performing! And, all the good teachers must have left! 

Three years ago, City of Leeds School became the first UK School of Sanctuary. No mention of this anymore; and the sign outside the gates, long since taken down.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Leeds to be Cultural Capital?

Thanks to Yorkshire Evening Post for printing my letter [20 December 2013]:

I see that Leeds is planning to to bid to be cultural capital (YEP 5 Dec). I am looking at the things that Leeds has been losing, and I am wondering exactly what it still has to offer.

The article mentions the West Indian Carnival, Henry Moore Institute and Opera North HQ. but this town, my adopted home town, seems to be a sorry state. For a start, the skyline from the motorway is a guastly mash-up of toy town designs, including the infamous Bridgewater. Beautiful Victorian buildings, like Royal Park are demolished; hideous PFI schools proliferate; Leeds has become a centre of shopping centres.

East Steel at YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic Town Hall Concert
But I would most certainly support this bid, with a few provisos: that the culture should include us all. For a start I would give the orchestras, choruses and special needs music charities their homes back, either at the West Park Centre, or on its present site, or somewhere equally suitable. The YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic Christmas Concert, playing its 30th concert last week at the Town Hall, is certainly a cultural asset to be celebrated.

For a second I would examine Leeds West Indian Carnival a bit more closely. The only live band in the procession is its own steel band. No other live acts - samba bands, djembes, or marching  bands from any other cultures get a look in, and my own steelbands (Foxwood, Sparrows etc) were banned three years ago, on the grounds that a live band might provoke a riot! Leeds Silver Sparrows played London Southbank two years ago to celebrate the Festival of Britain. Foxwood wowed Wonderland this weekend on Briggate. Alas they were not considered worthy to pay their own home town carnival!
Foxwood Steel at Leeds Waterfront Festival 2013

In other cities, Liverpool and Cardiff for example, they have reconsidered what Carnival means to their cities, and reinvented them, bringing in acts from more recent immigrants to reflect their cultural diversity. Huddersfield, for example has renamed its carnival "Huddersfield Carnival" and is setting about becoming more inclusive, without losing its West Indian roots. 

So, by all means apply to be the centre of culture, but first let's have a good inwards look at ourselves.

Sparrows play Festival of Britain at London Southbank July 2011
Victoria Jaquiss FRSA