Friday, 17 April 2009

'Supersizing' schools and community

In response to John Roberts’ article about ‘supersize’ schools (Dec, Yorkshire Post), I should like to make one or two observations.

I do not think children’s experience of school is dependent on the size of the school per se, although I agree that children respond well to ‘being known’ - which is usually easier to achieve in a smaller institution . Whether a school is successful is dependent, in my experience (as a former teacher, parent and former officer in local education authorities), on the quality of relationships both within the school and between the school and the community.

I have just spent a morning as a guest at Kingswood, a secondary school in Hull, with Year seven. The children couldn’t have been better behaved or more engaged and thoughtful. I was very impressed. What I noticed was the mutual respect and good humour which was evident between staff and students, and the politeness and good listening skills of the students. In addition to a high respect factor, I understand that Year 7 is organised in such a way that students do more discussion and project work than is usual in secondary schools, and I suspect that this allows for a more relaxed and student-led approach to learning than the usual dominance of ‘subjects’.

When students (of any age) are allowed to learn about things which interest them, and at their own pace, they learn faster and more effectively. This is why we need to remove from our schools the frenetic drive for pressure to ‘perform.’ The well-known struggle to reach state-imposed subject ‘targets’ often becomes a barrier preventing staff and students from acknowledging and respecting each other as people. The school scenario becomes dominated by stress and competition with many falling behind in the race and feeling disaffected and disgruntled.

Many children come to school with huge personal issues which are rarely addressed due to the time pressure created by ‘state’ obligations. A Green education, on the other hand, would be child-centred, firmly based in the community but also looking outwards to the rest of the world, and founded on respect for each individual and his or her unique contribution.

Shan Oakes

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Greens: more jobs per mile!

  • 200 jobs created
  • £4.5 million saved on people's bills a year
  • £150 average reduction in fuel bills per year
Right now we're facing three crises: the recession, climate change and ‘peak’ resources. All need urgent action and only the Green Party offers policies that are high in jobs and low in consumption, to tackle all three in one go.

For example, it's Green Party councillors in Huddersfield who have led the way in providing free insulation for homes. This does three things all at once: it cuts pollution, creates local jobs and saves people hundreds of pounds a year on fuel bills. Average bills are down £150 a year per home making a huge dent in fuel poverty. Kirklees Council is saving people £4.5 million a year - and created about 200 jobs locally.

Green policies like clean energy, better public transport, good local food and modernised homes, bring more jobs per megawatt, per mile and per tonne.

Some people might try to tell you our problems are caused by immigration. But it wasn’t immigrants who caused the credit crunch, or the recession or the climate crisis, so don’t be fooled.

We need strong, supportive, elected representatives putting genuine Green policies into practice.
And we need them on local councils, in Westminster - and in Europe.

Shan Oakes

Monday, 6 April 2009

Discussing the Shore at Shores

I attended a meeting at the Shores Centre in Withernsea on Friday about coastal erosion and offshore dredging. Local residents feel that the dredging is speeding up coastal erosion, so Graham Stuart MP had asked several aggregate producers to be there with their charts and exhibits – which included woolly mammoth tusks and other fossils. About 60 people turned out on a blustery cold evening.

The aggregates representatives explained the high demand for and the origins of the sands and gravels. Residents said that the beaches and cliffs were rapidly disappearing. Reference was made to the village of Hallsands in Devon which was completely swept away after dredging had removed a gravel bank out at sea. A local fisherman, who spends 8 hours a day off Spurn, described how dredging ‘left everything dead – just broken starfish.’ The silt kills shellfish in the pots. He said the sands and gravels are nurseries for shellfish. East coast fishermen are getting together as the dredging is putting them out of business.

Bill Rigby from Marinet gave an impassioned speech about the effects of aggregate removal on the marine ecosystem. He said that the whole food chain is affected and the consequences are unknown as the areas being dredged are the ancient stony river beds which have sheltered marine life for thousands of years. They cannot ever fully recover.

Prof Mike Cowling, a representative of the Crown Estate, was also present. He said that the coast has been receding for thousands of years and what we see is just a small snapshot in time. A local town councillor retorted, ‘But it’s our moment in time’. The Crown Estate receives a royalty for every tonne dredged (£17.7 million in 07/08). Although much of this revenue goes to the Treasury, many people seemed to feel that it was not surprising that Prof Cowling saw no problem with the dredging. Professor Mike Elliott of the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies at Hull University also seemed to feel that observed changes were only natural.

My contribution was to point out that we all have a responsibility to reduce the demand for gravel and sand. We can stop putting gravel on our gardens for a start. Grass or vegetables are better for averting flooding, better on the eye and the purse. We can live without more airport runways and roads. We can relearn to build our houses with renewable materials such as straw bales – which are cheap to build and have excellent insulation value. We need a joined up approach to coastal management which involves listening to local people. We need Green policies which are not based on ‘growth’ but on life: policies which are not swayed by vested interests, corporations, or funding for weapons and wars.

Shan Oakes