Dear Councillor Bewick,
I hope this finds you well.
I am writing on behalf of UNISON members, who are both parents of children in our local schools and employees within school support.
We are deeply concerned that the apparent response to the decision made by these parents to remove their child from school as part of an action regarding concerns around testing in schools, was a legalistic response around fining these parents for removing their children! I am sure you will agree that these parents care very much about the good education of their children as well as about maintaining the good mental health of their child through their years at school.
I have no doubt that you appreciate the issue of why parents are taking such action and this issue requires careful thought rather than a “knee-jerk” response about being fined! A mature discussion needs to take place to understand parents’ concerns, and threats about fining do nothing to add to the conversations required. You have said they should express their views at the ballot box…..all very well but by 2020 the damage to these children will have been done. A response such as this again, in our view and those of our many members, is not helpful nor does it add to the content of the discussion needed.
Many of our members affected by this action who work in schools, are in lower paid posts and the comments I have received with regard to the response you have given (and presumably agreed by the Labour Group as a whole) are not printable here. To not engage in a somewhat more open and detailed discussion does little to help find resolution.
I would also like to make you aware of the stress levels faced by school support staff – teaching assistants, admin workers and others. In part this level of stress is down to how the school copes at SATS time. A new UNISON survey has revealed that more than half (52%) of these staff within the UK have and are experiencing stress, anxiety and/or depression. Almost half of support staff are considering leaving their job thanks to low pay, stress and unmanageable workloads. Teaching assistants in particular are forced into taking on teaching roles on a regular basis, covering classes with no support and causing high stress levels and ill-health,. Is this the kind of environment that any of us wish to see our children being educated in?? I’m sure not!
The current Labour Group rightly asks the public to consider who is to blame for the current ills in public services at this time. We can agree that the blame lies fairly and squarely on the decision making of this current government. For you to then respond to such an impassioned action as that taken earlier this week by parents surely evidences that this Labour administration appears not to care any more than the Government does on this issue.
I would be grateful to receive a more detailed response to the Group’s view on this action so that this (together with this e-mail) can be shared with our affected members, both parents and employees of the Council in schools.
I look forward to hearing from you
UNISON Branch Secretary
Brighton & Hove Branch
Reply From Cllr. Tom Bewick
Thank you for your letter which I have noted.
I stand by the public comments I have made in this matter. As a father of children at council schools in the city, I am very attuned to the concerns about testing and the impact that can have on them.
I am clearly on record, going back many years, that I oppose the current top-down testing regime as it has been constantly changed and used by this government.
I have a duty in public office however to ensure the law is applied fairly. Parents know the law. They cannot expect me to support them in this regard therefore, whatever the specific merits of the case regarding the current SATs regime.
I believe council officers have also been fair and proportionate in the guidance they have issued to schools. It is for head teachers to take the responsibility to record absences.
You should be aware that parents who did not engage in this action have written to me asking why the Administration has not taken a much tougher line.
Councillor Tom Bewick
Lead Member, Children, Young People and Skills
Labour and Co-operative Councillor for Westbourne Ward, Hove
Reply From Sue Beatty, Branch Sec Brighton & Hove Unison
Dear councillor Bewick,
Thank you for your response.
I do not believe I requested that you should support breaking the law; my mum had an old adage which was “if you can’t say anything helpful, don’t say anything at all” and this is what I believe our members feel. It is not the lack of “support” that our members are criticising, it is the fact that you chose to make such a statement around fining parents when the issue is clearly a far bigger and deeper one than that and other comment could have been made which was more pertinent!
As an elected member and given that a significant number of these parents are traditional Labour supporters, it was interesting that of all the comments that could have been made, mentioning parents being fined seemed inappropriate and upsetting.
I’m curious as to how the Administration could take a tougher line; it is not for any elected member to impose sanctions on parents acting in the best interest of their children, but the Heads of the affected schools.
UNISON Branch Secretary
Brighton & Hove Branch