Catchment chaos: Greens condemn stress for families as Labour Council u-turn

Greens have welcomed news that the secondary school catchment areas for the city will remain unchanged, following months of lobbying from local parents and students concerned about the negative impact of new proposals.

Local Green Councillors have slammed the Labour Council for failing to adequately manage a ‘chaotic’ schools allocations process, after proposals to change school catchment areas drew intense criticism from parents across the city.

Green Councillor Alex Phillips, spokesperson for Children, Young People and Skills Committee, has criticised Labour for making such a late u-turn and for failing to respond to widespread concerns from parents earlier on in the process.

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The Green Group of Councillors have supported petitions from parents opposed to planned reductions of form sizes in local primary schools, calling for a proper investigation into the impact of these changes.

Councillor Phillips said:

“After defending their unworkable proposals for school catchments for months, against the repeated concerns of parents, students and Councillors alike, the Labour Council has now done a complete u-turn on their failed school admissions plans. These included deeply unpopular proposals to cripple two of our best performing primary schools, Hertford and Benfield, by reducing them to just one class – hardly a sustainable position; and the pursuit of a deeply flawed set of catchment changes, with seemingly little engagement with the city’s existing secondary schools, who have since offered to extend their intake.

“Whilst the information from the secondary school heads that they were willing to expand their classes is to be welcomed, parents and students in their droves have come time and time again to the Labour Council explaining that their proposed catchment plans were untenable for local communities. It has taken months of banging this drum for Labour to finally listen. Parents will be breathing a sigh of relief, but after months of campaigning, the Labour Council’s belated thanks for their input will not erase the stress this has caused our city’s parents and young people, who have been left in limbo for months.”

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Cuts to youth services

Guest blog by Sue Shanks, co-Chair of the Green Party

The cuts to youth services in Brighton and Hove just announced will mean the end of the local authority youth service and a loss of financial support for several voluntary youth projects. As lead member for children’s services in the last administration I was proud that, under the Greens, we had protected this important service.

I have worked as a youth worker, youth work manager and latterly a tutor on university qualifying courses for youth and community workers. I have published articles and a book on youth work (as Sue Robertson) and  I am still involved in the field as a trustee of youth organisations and an external examiner.

All around the country, local authorities are cutting youth services as they are ‘non statutory.’ Although the local authority is supposed to provide some services, there is nothing laid down as to ‘how much.’

Youth work is a vital service to young people. It provides space for young people, somewhere to go, a friendly adult to build a relationship with, someone to talk to. Plus, it provides activities – something to do. Most of this will be accessible precisely to those who can’t take ‘something to do’ for granted; they may not have the family income to access it.

In the 1960s the Albemarle report led to the building of local authority run youth centres across the country. These were built on the council estates; Hangleton, Moulsecombe, Whitehawk .  I have recently been interviewing past users of the 67 Centre in Moulsecombe for a celebration of its 50 years, and men in their 50s look back on the times they spent at the centre and the trips they went on with real joy.

In the 1980s I ran a youth centre and took young people to the mountains and on trips abroad – these are things their families could not do. Their eyes were opened to ideas and activities they had never experienced. Surely this should not be confined to those young people with parents who can afford it? Parents who can afford it spend large amounts on ferrying young people to clubs, is there to be nothing for our more deprived young people?

The council spends a huge amount on targeted social work services but intervention often comes too late. The impact of youth work was recognised by the council’s own review in 2011: ‘the evidence base clearly shows that youth work can have a positive impact —– reduces destructive behaviours.’ Youth workers help young people through difficult times, signpost them to services, accompany them to court, support them in finding employment or housing and crucially, young people trust the worker because of the relationship they have built up with them – whether on a rock climbing trip or simply over a game of pool.

Open access work means that young people are not stigmatised and can enjoy their leisure time in a safe space with their peers. I feel the council has a duty to support young people who are not necessarily in ‘trouble’, though they may be having difficulties at home or in school. Research by the Youth Collective in August 2015 found that for every pound spent, over £6 is created in social value.

Last November the council proposed that it would no longer provide open access work but that this would be commissioned from the voluntary sector. Following this a decision was taken to set up a Youth Trust, and money was given by the Government under the Delivering Differently programmes to produce a report: its recommendations were never acted upon, which means £35,000 thrown away. The commissioning process was started and was due to end on December 7th. Local voluntary organisations have spent a great deal of time, as have council officers on these processes. This is a huge cost when budgets are tight.

This cut is being made at the worst possible time. Young people are expected to work hard at school, are put under immense pressure and as we know, many end up with mental health issues. Youth work can be a vital lifeline for them. As it is a voluntary service that young people can choose to engage with, they are often more likely to seek help. Youth work provides a safe space for young people; something we all surely deserve.

Joining a youth club, activity or taking part in discussion groups or activities helps young people to make friends and have good relationships with their peers and adults, a vital part of growing up.  Yet again young people in their teenage years and those who work with them are losing resources. Although it may be easier to get protests going about ‘cuter’ causes, we must defend this service.

The false economy of cuts to our children and families

BY CLLR ALEX PHILLIPS

At next week’s meeting of the Policy and Resources committee, we will see the final budget proposals from the Labour council in Brighton and Hove, which look set to propose unprecedented cuts to services for children and young people. In years to come, we may look back and realise that this was when everything changed – when the city sent a clear signal to its youth that it could no longer invest in their future.

The cuts will see massive reductions in early years parent groups and targeted home visits, and an end to intensive courses for new parents struggling with their first child.  It will see the end of open-access youth work by Council teams and massive reductions in services in places like the Moulsecoomb 67 centre, which has served young people in our city for nearly 50 years.

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Children centres will see massive reductions in services

This is the inevitable product of an ideological and fundamentally flawed agenda of austerity, forced upon the country by an out-of-touch Conservative government.  They came into power to fix a “broken Britain”, but all they have achieved is soaring inequality and increasing queues at newly established food banks.  If Britain wasn’t broken when they started, it sure will be by the time they’re through.

The services for children & young people which are set to be cut are absolutely vital.  They help parents to make the right choices for their children and give them the skills, guidance and help they need from an early age.  Youth Services keep young people engaged and happy, ensure they stay on the right track, and allows us to intervene as needed to keep them away from self-harm, substance misuse and crime.

As some of you may know, I used to be a Secondary School French Teacher, as well as teaching German, PSHE and Citizenship and supporting pupils as a form tutor.  Being a teacher provides a remarkable insight into the lives of families and children from all backgrounds.  I have heard from countless parents how important early years support was in allowing them to cope and overcome depression.  I’ve also seen first-hand how children hit puberty and are bombarded with thoughts and feelings they can’t always process, and the right guidance and support is critical at that time.  Teachers face tremendous pressure and rely on youth services to provide this additional support.

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As a former secondary school teacher I understand the importance of early years and adolescent services

These cuts are short-sighted and make no sense. We will see more parents unable to cope, and more young people getting into crisis, self-harming and committing crime.  We’ll see more children being taken into care or needing costly services from the NHS or local authority. The immediate value of any cuts will be completely wiped out by the cost of crisis services.

These cuts reveal that the Labour Council, faced with a huge cut in income from central government, has no plan beyond uniform cuts across the board.  When the Greens weathered a similar storm in their own administration, they used every resource to keep frontline services going.  In contrast, the Labour leadership has thrown its hands up in the air.  In opposition, Greens can only watch if Labour unites with the local representatives of their Tory masters to force these cuts through.

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The Playbus is another vital service under threat

Back in May, Labour promised to offer the change that neighbourhoods and families need. Nationally, the Conservatives committed to giving children the best start in life.  Yet we see both pushing forward with massive cuts which will hit parents, children and young people when they most need our help. We should instead be investing in services as a preventative and cost-saving measure.

It’s not yet a done deal.  Greens will oppose these cuts and I urge the other parties not to abandon our children and young people, for the sake of our city.  Join us in standing up for a better future.