Lynne Featherstone MP holds special class on Government at local school

Lynne with students from Coleridge PrimaryTo give students from Coleridge Primary, studying the UK political system, a chance to hear first-hand experience of life in Government, Lynne Featherstone, Home Office Minister and MP for Hornsey and Wood Green on Friday held a special class with years five and six.

The Crouch End students got to hear about the challenges of being in coalition, of how a bill goes through Parliament, asked questions about local campaigning, about becoming an MP, and meeting David Cameron and the Queen.

Lynne Featherstone MP comments:

“The Coleridge kids are an impressive lot! Not only have they already learnt loads about the UK political system and the coalition – they also came really well prepared with clever questions and a genuine hunger for learning about the world we live in.

“It’s fantastic to see such enthusiasm and outstanding teaching. I’m sure these kids are in for great things, and who knows, maybe some will even be future MPs!”

Crouch End CPZ and road safety measures

Thursday saw the AGM of the Haslemere, Waverley and Christchurch Road Residents Association, which was in Sue Hessel’s garden. And how lovely it was as she provides refreshments so it is social as well as business.

My Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Lyn Weber was there too – as was Sergeant McGrath from the local Neighbourhood Team. So – after drinks etc – the three of us sat to take questions.

The big issue was the CPZ. What shocked me was that many people there had not received either the consultation on the proposed CPZ nor the consultation on Coleridge School Safety Scheme. The latter is about the road traffic and safety schemes needed to deal with Coleridge School’s expansion from two to four form entry and which will mean that the school is divided by a very, very busy road.

The school will be up and running this autumn – but the CPZ and the safety scheme (or rather, whatever emerges after the consultations) won’t be there in time for its opening. That has to be a concern both in safety terms for the kids but also in terms of the residents who will have extra pressure on parking from the school in their roads (the triangle of roads around the new building) – where parking is already under stress.

There seemed to be also quite a lot of concern that Haringey Council would provide parking permits for teachers of infinite number. Whilst everyone was quite happy for a few permits to be issued on the basis of need – there was a view that simply being a teacher at the school should not be the qualifying criteria for any such permits. If that were the only criteria – then the number of permits would make parking impossible for the residents who are already going to experience the extra weight of traffic in their roads.

So – we will see what Haringey Council is going to do to both ensure safety and deal properly with the parking stress. It simply cannot be right for the school to open without any measures in place.

Coleridge School

Surgery all morning. So many people just sort of on the edge of society with such tremendous battles on their hands to even get through the day. Obviously the details are confidential – but today was full of people who have truly fallen by the wayside with no one to pick them up. What do you do when you are so ill and receiving severe medical treatment that you are too ill to deal with letters which you receive? That leads to unpaid bills or unattended issues – which leads to family breakdown, utilities cutting you off and then ultimately homelessness. All because for some the right intervention just isn’t available at the right time.

After surgery rush to meet parents at Coleridge School gates. Despite the rain – quite a large turn out. This is just a dreadful situation. Coleridge two form entry school with fab reputation is lined up for expansion to four form – making it the biggest primary school in the country. Local would-be parents are desperate for their children to go to Coleridge because over the last few years there has been a vast shortage of local places for local children. However, existing parents fear the expansion will ruin the family atmosphere of the school; that the disruption of building works will be detrimental over quite a long period for their children; that the dangerous road that divides the proposed second site from the first will mean injured or worse to their children at some point; that the need for places is in a different part of the local area.

This all heads towards decision at the Schools Organisation Committee on Wednesday. The really awful part is that the parents I met simply hadn’t had a real opportunity to talk to the necessary people. Their input has been limited and their concerns not addressed directly with them. Moreover, this is an occasion when the committee really should make a site visit before deciding.

No doubt this is a difficult judgement. However, it has to be made on real facts and proper proposals. Concerns have to be addressed satisfactorily. The issues around the road have to have safe solutions before proceeding. The planning of school places and their locations must be sound and based on proper research. All avenues need to have been explored so that the resultant recommendations deliver the best possible solution for both existing and future parents.

More school places in Crouch End

Flashed over to St Ann’s for a road show and meeting on the “restructuring” of mental health services in Haringey. If this is more care in the community then it had better be better resourced – given that so many people with mental health challenges come to my surgery as the support for them in the community is not adequate. The police, doctors, CAB, politicians who hold surgeries – and ultimately prisons – are all paying the price for inadequate care in the community. Don’t get me wrong – the more someone can stay in the community the better – but the services and the support just is not there in enough quantity to support the number of people who need it.

In fact – and interestingly – Haringey is the one of the ‘worst’ health authorities because they have mental health inpatients for longer than most anywhere else. However, their return rate is one of the lowest. Methinks someone should be looking at that as perhaps an indicator that shoving people out too early (much like in general health) can mean lots of return visits.

I asked for a comparative figure for the budget for drug therapies used versus budget for talking therapies. It wasn’t a question the Chair and Chief Exec could answer on the spot – but they acknowledged it was a good question and that they had no means of collecting such data. Behind my questions lies the fear that the Government is willing – as are health trusts – to fund drug therapies but not talking therapies to the same extent. I suspect this is partly because of cost – though drugs can be very expensive – but mostly because they can’t measure outcomes so easily in this target driven world we live in. Patients like talking therapies – they find it therapeutic – and possibly therein lies the point.

The other question – even better than mine – was from a user who was asking what choice the patient had in their treatment. If the patient feels better and more secure with a particular method of treatment their recovery would be better. So why should the patient have no say at all? The Chair and Chief Exec agreed that there was no choice!

The scooted over to a public meeting on the proposed expansion of Coleridge Primary School in Crouch End. Lord knows – residents, colleagues and I all campaigned and worked to get Haringey Council to buy the old TUC building to provide desperately needed school places. Crouch End parents, not surprisingly, have been going mad over the last few years over the shortage of places for their little ones.

Anyway – the building was purchased. The issue now is that the site is directly opposite an existing school – Coleridge – with a busy road between the two. So, should Coleridge be expanded, using the new site, to be a four-form entry? This would make it one of only twelve schools in the country to be that big at primary level.

The Head, the Council and the architects had obviously done a huge amount of work on designing a structure and form that would make the children still feel like it was a small family atmosphere school. However, all the work in the world could not offset the anxieties of the existing parents that their children would be ‘swamped’ in such a vastly expanded school.

The argument from the panel against creating a second school across the road, rather than expanding the existing one, was that it would split the community. But they really didn’t seem to have spent much time on an alternative – and the proposal to expand was clearly what they all regarded as the only viable option. I suppose there is some truth in that if there was a second school parents who put Coleridge as their first preference but ended up at the second school might feel that they got second best.

When asked if this was a genuine consultation and that if enough people were against the expansion would that change the outcome, Ian Bailey (Deputy Director of Education) said yes. But it did feel like the only game in town from the way it was presented.

It is now vital that they consult even better – as many people at the meeting had only just about heard about the plans. The main thing, however, whichever way this goes forward is that there will be more school places available in the area for local children – which is brilliant.

Hustings at Coleridge School

One week gone – half a stone lost! Thank goodness for election.

Lunchtime visit to Coleridge School. All the candidates are invited separately – a wise head clearly. Music plays as the children aged about 7-11 walk in and sit cross legged in rows. I guess there were about 200 all staring up at me. Terrifying!

I just tell them a little about the Lib Dems and then two children have been chosen to ask the questions selected by the school council. Very good questions – better than most adult hustings I thought – as it wasn’t full of party hacks or planted questions. I remember an education hustings at Fortismere School last time out where there were about 20 people in the audience, almost all of whom were party people.

One of the questions was what about pollution. So I asked them if the had heard of the congestion charge. Yes – they all said. Was it a good thing I asked. No – they all said. Why not – I said. Because you have to pay – they all said. Was pollution bad? Yes – they all said. I then attempted to demonstrate the link between the two.

School dinners were high on their list of questions. Thanks Jamie. Did they like salads I asked? Not a totally positive response – but at least Jamie has brought the discussion and got them thinking and talking. They also asked what I was going to do about fast food outlets in Crouch End. No correlation again!

I really enjoyed it. Not my usual target audience – but voters of the future. Lots of them came up after to say they would vote for me. Perhaps we should revisit the voting age?

In the afternoon – meet BBC London camera team. Well I guess they are stretched as the team was the camera man and interviewer all in one. He followed me knocking on doors for a couple of hours. Several of the LibDems we found wouldn’t give permission for the film to be used (drat) – not dressed, wet hair, no make-up. The BBC man knocked on each door after I had called to ask permission – nothing goes out without it.

Matthew Taylor MP canvassed with me and calls me to say hello at a door with a Tory mother (going to vote Lib Dem because Tories can’t win here), a daughter who doesn’t know, her friend who is LibDem and whilst talking on the doorstep, the son (I guess around 15) arrives and shouts Labour (at his mother).

One woman today said she was going to vote for Respect and was clearly put out when I informed her I didn’t believe there was a Respect Candidate standing. But she was the only person in all the canvassing I have done who has mentioned Respect here.

Back to HQ dropping camera man and Matthew off at tube. Noticed just before getting into car that microphone had fallen off. And as we have no idea when it detached itself – may have to do whole thing over again!

At HQ stuffing envelopes is the order of the day. The glamour of democracy in action!