Thursday, 31 October 2013

Gove and IDS vow to destroy the Expressive and Performing Arts. Stop Them.

Under this Coalition Government it does not do to be: Poor, Disabled, Unemployed, Living in Social Housing, Working Poor, Single Parent, Sick, Female... The list goes on. But now add to that - Any child who aspires to become an actor, singer, sculptor, textile designer, dancer, ceramic artist. Likewise any current actor earning less than 11k per year. For Gove and Duncan-Smith see the performing and expressive arts as "soft options" and not worthy of being studied or pursued as a career.

Living in N Wales, where a Labour Welsh Assembly valiantly tries to deflect the excesses of the coalition in Westminster, the mass exodus of Drama teachers from England is already being felt. Indeed in my sons school, the new Drama teacher previously taught in Chester, but had to look for a new teaching post in Wales as schools are axing Drama from the curriculum under Gove's guidance. Many more are following. Gove lives in the world of the 1950's Grammar School where a narrow curriculum is deemed to be the new Yellow Brick Road. This week in The Sunday Times there has been discussion on removing Drama, PE, and Media Studies from the list of GCSES and reducing these subjects to either lesser qualifications or as an extra curricular activity.

Imagine for one moment children being deprived the chance to be the next BAFTA award winning actor? A world where children have no opportunity to explore the world of dance? No school plays - where children learn teamwork, negotiation skills, costume design, painting and set design. Will Simon Cowells banal exploitative X factor shows be the only chance a child has of showing their singing skills? And God forbid fast forward 10-20 years when we have no festivals that shine the light on the talent of perhaps the next poet of the likes of Seamus Heaney, or we have the opportunity of not being able to purchase amazing creative textiles.

On our streets will be either the academically gifted accountants, solicitors and children of bankers or dead eyed factory workers locked into zero hours agency employed contracts. No multi diverse jugglers, street performers, dancers, actors, sculptors-  all denied the chance to study Drama/Expressive Arts in school. Does Gove truly want a society where we have no performing arts.. No culture? Oliver Cromwell was the last man to try this and failed miserably. A world with no colour, a world made up of automaton workers. Is this the Tory idyll? Bankers in suits? We need to put a stop to this now before it is too late,

Iain Duncan-Smith has stealthily decided to support Gove through another route. In April 2014 all low paid actors, singers, musicians will be automatically deemed as being Self Employed. This is to ensure that under Universal Credit they will be deemed as earning the minimum income floor of 11k per year. In reality many actors, singers and musicians earn far less and have periods of unemployment. But under contributory based JSA, they may not have enough contributions to then claim JSA while they are unemployed. Also Job Centres have the right to then give part time actors etc 6 months to get more work or be taken off tax credits and forced to seek paid employment in another type of job if they do not earn the minimum income floor of 11k per year.

There have been many struggling actors, down to their last pennies who then get a break that sees them land a good acting role which has led on to better things. Are we to be denied the joy of seeing that actor develop.. That great role never to be accomplished?

And what of that child who has a special flair for the expressive arts. More poignantly for me, what of that disabled child who has found their niche? My 14 year old autistic son took Drama GCSE this year, (2 years early Mr Gove) and gained a Grade A GCSE. Also at Drama school a London College of Music Distinction in Acting. No fluke. He worked damned hard. I saw the GCSE work Mr Gove and it was no soft option at all. Whether my child is disabled or not, I will never let you take that achievement from him, in the name of academia. He is a huge fan of Brian Blessed - an actor steeped in both TV and theatre. Someone in the future we may not have if the Coalition pursue this destruction of the Expressive Arts.

And what gives this unelected, unwanted unmandated Government the right to take away our future talent, our colour, the very people who make life worth living? I do not want an Oliver Cromwell Puritan style UK where children are sent to a life of work that involves a narrow curriculum of study. And how will you spend your evenings Mr Gove? No theatres as there are no actors. Watching Tory political party broadcasts on TV a la Orwell's 1984 may not be your cup of tea either.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Kids priced out of certain GCSES - Cameron's Biggest Betrayal.

My youngest son is enjoying the first month of taking Home Economics- Cookery GCSE to you and me. It's been tough as the permanent experienced teacher suffered a heart attack in the late summer and so the class has a run of supply teachers. However, while we shop for recipe ingredients each week there are those children in his school who fall into 2 categories: Those who did not choose the subject due to the costs involved buying ingredients etc and those who took the subject but are now finding the weekly costs too high to cope with.

My son took Drama GCSE last year. He thoroughly enjoyed it, but it requires many theatre trips to get a feel and love of drama, black clothes to perform in. Those who could not afford the extra trips seemed to be those who did not get the desired A-C results in the summer.

Pause to reflect for a moment. We have children in our schools who cannot afford to take a particular GCSE subject due to cost. Discrimination? Certainly. But a discrimination of the poor. Last week my son was making 2 recipes with ingredients costing £11 in Home Economics. There are 17 children in the class - all taking GCSE. A total of 9 did not bring in any ingredients to make the recipe and universally I was told this was down to cost. Not being able to afford to cook. Outside school one boy remarked "My mum has cut down food shopping to £20 per week for me and my sister. She says she can't afford for me to cook at school, unless the school provide the ingredients."

Unless the children cook the recipes and learn from them, these children have no hope of even being entered for the GCSE next summer. Schools ever wary of spiralling exam costs, will not enter children who have no realistic chance of even  getting the very lowest grades. This is worrying and sinister.

Some children who are not as academic as others perhaps have chosen to take a Beauticians course at the local academy school that has partnered up with the High School. But the numbers who chose the course but then dropped out in the first week have been dramatic and the reason the teacher tells me is cost. For this course children need their own Beauticians box of tools etc that are personal to them at a cost of £50. Many found that completely unaffordable and so have dropped out.

In 2013 it is incredible that due to the economic crisis and "have's and have-not" policies of Gove, Cameron and co we have a state where children cannot afford to take certain GCSE subjects for fear of costs involved. To me it is incredulous, and a total affirmation that this Government are so completely out of touch with ordinary people that they have no idea that a Cookery GCSE is now a luxury subject option in high schools for many children. For families where energy bills, bedroom tax, and even Foodbank visits are a grim reality, the burden of providing ingredients for recipes, theatre visits pale into insignificance when faced with the daily strife of surviving.

The waste of unknown talent, learning opportunities and our children's wider broader learning experiences are a national scandal and scourge of the policies taken by this Coalition government. And while Cameron and Clegg's children look forward to numerous foreign holidays and enriched learning in schools with small classes and oodles of extra-curricular activities, our children in state high schools will lag further behind. Failed by a government who are behind the biggest social division, social cleansing of the past century. Betrayal of our children will be Cameron and Clegg's worse legacy.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Austerity Generation: Sharing Shoes and Sharing Roofs

My second eldest son is 21. On my advice after seasonal unemployment on the stark N Wales Coast and exploitation by employment agencies who sent my son turning up at the doors of factories for "ghost jobs" I have advised him to go back to college which he has this last month. He is doing an access to University course for 1 year, followed by 3 years at Uni. He will be 25 by then. It is now down to his dad and I to support him, although he has managed to find bar work on weekends to help predominately with transport and materials to college.

David Cameron is almost word perfect on "doing the right thing" - go to school, go to college, go to University, get a job, buy a flat..." It's became his mantra. Life is certainly not allowed to get in the way of his idyll. He makes no mention of already stressed parents having to support adult children aged 18+. We are happy to help our son find a route out of low paid, zero hours contract, agency work, but we know it is putting an enormous strain on stretched family finances and with our younger sons who both want to go to University in 2 and 3 years time respectively we wonder just how we will struggle to support them all. There is no help for parents. Child benefit will end, but we will still have substantial costs in order to help our children out, and as we are the Working Poor, I wonder how we will manage.

My sons friend is in a low paid  zero hours contract factory job and also combines this with a bar job mid week. My son works weekends. They could not afford a suit and shoes for interview each, so as they are of the same build and shoe size they bought a suit and shoes between them. The shoes are worn by my son on a weekend and then handed over to his friend mid week. The suit is passed for occasions and any upcoming interviews. I must admit to a few laughs when I heard of the arrangement. Some friends on twitter congratulated their thinking over the deal. I then reflected and wondered how had we got to this when 2 young men, in Cameron's own words "struggling to do the right thing" had come to this. Sharing a suit and shoes.  It's 2013 not 1946!

But for many young adults of this generation whose parents are not well off and are struggling to pay their own bills and keep a roof over their heads this is the reality. Cameron has ominously pledged to stop all housing benefit for under 25's if elected in 2015. Of the Tories own admission they haven't worked out how to "deal" with 169,000 single parents living alone aged under 25.  We don't all  live in a society where all can go to school, Uni, get a well paid job, get a flat. This is only on Planet Tory! Why should young adults who may have low paid jobs and are working poor who perhaps may consider marriage at 23 or 24 and need a small percentage of their rent paid in housing benefit  be denied a life? Just because the Robber Baron Landlords have seen an opening in Tory society where they can charge extortionate rents, should that deny a young couple the chance of a roof over their heads? The Tories have brought in market rents for council and housing association homes too which in some areas are out of the range of affordability for those on minimum wage. Cameron is saying to parents, you have no choice, you must keep your adult children supported until 25+. Many parents will do this, but many will not. The outcome will be soaring homelessness and family life stressed to the hilt.

My eldest son is 24 and he lives in a rented house with his partner. They both work full time in Care Homes for the elderly, and I am so proud of my son who has qualifications in Health and Social Care and believes passionately in making the lives of older people rewarding. If anyone is "doing the right thing" my son and his partner are. Regularly paying £750 per month to a greedy landlord for a tiny 2 bed house. Yet supposedly they do not earn enough to get a mortgage. Yet they are paying out a mortgage in rent every month. Where is the help for them Mr Cameron? They can't afford to save up the 5% deposit required under your Help to Buy Scheme, they are on minimum wage and wouldn't qualify anyway! Yet they do a job the vast percentage of the population would refuse to do and they do it well. If anyone deserves a Living Wage care staff do. Andy Burnham has this completely right to enhance the status, qualifications and wages of people who care for our elderly.

Cameron asked the electorate to let him "finish the job" in his speech to the Tory faithful at conference. For the sake of our young adults and the next generation don't let him. Or he will finish many jobs for many people and throw Generation Rent onto the scrap heap: the first generation to be far worse off than their parents.