Sunday review #4: UCL gets a head; HS2 United; She’s having a baby

Sunday July 3, 2011

* I WONDER what Sylvia Jones thinks of the latest developments at the UCL Academy taking shape in Adelaide Road. She’s the headteacher from Redbridge who took the job of headteacher at the soon-to-be open school in Swiss Cottage and then walked away from the project as the organisers waited for a government commitment to support the scheme and a funding decision. I say wonder, the post was still vacant when Michael Gove signed off the cheque – was it too be late for Ms Jones to change her mind again and say actually I do want to come after all…? If she did, UCL Academy clearly said toooooo late and this week appointed Geraldine Davies to be the first principal instead. That’s headteacher in our language.

* If you haven’t seen this already, you’ve been on another planet. Sad to say, Ed Miliband is not alone in being happy enough to give the same answer to whatever questions is posed to him. You could have asked him: what’s your favourite football team? and he would have answered: I think it’s wrong that strikes are taking place at this time, reckless and provocative, reckless and provocative, reckless and provocative, printer is offline, press alt-ctrl-del… I’m glad this spin nonsense has been roundly exposed again. Won’t change anything though. All sides do it. Just not  usually this badly.

* High Speed 2 was meant to be all about unity this week. Supposedly, all four parties at Camden Town Hall are opposed to the superfast rail link to Birmingham trampling all over our neighbourhoods. Only supposedly, though. The Conservatives were certainly dithering over the wording of a joint statement right up to its release on <onday night. Their amendment made it clear that ‘councillors from all parties’ rather than ‘all parties’ were fighting the demolition-heavy scheme. With David Cameron and Phillip Hammond so outwardly enthusiastic about HS2, maybe a few long game players don’t want to kick over the applecart just yet. Labour remains divided too internally on the issue. Don’t say they aren’t – they are. There is a still a clear strategic difference of opinion: splitting the let’s fight them on the beaches (or railyway sidings) camp with those who feel it’s time to negotiate rather than protest. The latter believe ostrich heads in the sand miss the fact that consultation schemes will not change the course of HS2, that Cameron won’t spin his head when votes up north are there to be won, that Hammond can’t afford to let the project fall and that. In those circumstances they prefer to deal. And as such they had a meeting with HS2 on Monday, cracking open discussions just as protesters were making banners for them to stand behind in the evening.

* There is a never said out loud suggestion which occasionally pops up in pub discussions among the meannest sceptics that one of the best ways to insulate yourself in the public sector during the recession is to… get pregnant. Nobody gets made redundant on maternity leave, do they? The figures for the number of maternity pay agreements settled for Camden Council staff, released this week, don’t dramatically bear this out. In the first six months of this year, however, there are a similar number of maternity pay arrangements in place to what the council might expect over an entire year. Those figures: 2007 – 151. 2008 – 135. 2009 – 125. 2010 – 163. 2011 so far – 145

Rightly there have always been contingency plans in place to pay for maternity leave cover and surely this needs to be protected. It always seems a shame that mothers who work in the private sector feel they have to rush back to work weeks after giving birth. You can’t get those special months back.  But those contingencies need to be paid for and imagine if you are the head of a department at the council or any other public institution with a smallish team and orders to make big cuts and redundancies – and by the coincidence and quirk of past recruitment you have a team of people thinking it’s about time to twin careers with starting a family. There is a horrible risk that bosses, as the squeeze tightens, start to have this in mind when appointing people – perhaps, if we are generous, subconsciously. This has always happened to some respect in the naughtiest private firms. Employment legal cases should await those who get found out.

2 Comments on Sunday review #4: UCL gets a head; HS2 United; She’s having a baby

  1. Peter Smith // July 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm //

    Having been appointed and then found she could be potentially unemployed at the whim of Gove making a decision on the future of the Academy, who could blame her for staying in her present post?

    The Governors of Valentines School in Redbridge obviously felt they were unable to appoint her successor when advertising her position first time round since no appointment was made. This, incidentally, was prior to the announcement that all BSF projects were on hold. As a result the post was unfilled when the news came through as to the uncertainty of the UCL Academy. I do not think they would have been best pleased if she then decided to go off to UCL some months having taken her back.

    Did she want to come back? I doubt it; she has more integrity than that!! Too imply that she went and asked for her post at UCL back is really too much and totally without foundation. Please check your facts before speculating – a bad journalistic habit I have noticed over recent years.

    • Richard Osley // July 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm //

      Thank you for your feedback Mr Smith (and your correction). I’m not saying that Ms Jones went back and asked for the UCL post again, I’m lamenting that the moment had passed for her – when she must have been excited about the opportunity in the first instance.

      I would suggesting that the way the government delayed the decision on schools funding, some might say dithered, had knock on effects for everybody. Everything was in place before the election and people made life choices based on it.

      It’s ok to say an MP or a minister is only secure as the electorate allows them to be – that should not be the case for teaching staff. Ms Jones should have been given the full facts from the start. I’m sure UCL did the best it could, but the government could have been clearer. Don’t you think?

      I don’t think it is fair to say that it is speculation that Ms Jones was excited about the job opportunity and new challenge awarded to her at UCL. She was interested in the job – that’s why she went for it and got it – but sadly when the job was available in its proper terms, many months later, the moment had gone for. No, nobody can blame her to going back to Valentines but it is fair to be critical of the government on her behalf. She deserved better.

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