Feb 11 2007

New figures reveal shocking number of arson attacks in schools

Teachers need more powers to deal with violence and disruption says Bob Blackman

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East expressed alarm at new figures which reveal that the police have been called into schools across the country over 1,000 times in the last two years because of arson attacks – the equivalent of almost two incidents a day.

According to information uncovered through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Conservative Party, in London, there have been 101 reported cases of arson or suspicious fires on school property.

  • The total cost of arson attacks in schools has been put at over £100 million, taking fully into account the disruption to pupils, teachers and parents, and waste of fire service and police resources.
  • 93 per cent of school arson attacks have been found to have been carried out by young people under the age of 18. Most of these are by pupils, ex-pupils or those with siblings at the school. One third of attacks are carried out during school hours.
  • The figures underline the need to implement Conservative proposals to give headteachers the power to ban, search for, and confiscate any item they think likely to cause violence or disruption in schools, including lighters and matches. Labour Ministers are against these essential reforms.

Bob Blackman  commented:

“Action is needed in response to the shocking news that there have been 101 arson attacks in London’s schools in the last two years alone. Teachers must have greater power to deal with violence and to remove disruptive pupils. Head teachers must be able to search for, and ban, any items that could lead to deliberate damage to school property, violent behaviour or disruption. Only Conservatives have committed to taking the action that is needed so urgently.”

Notes to Editors

OVER 1,000 CASES OF ARSON IN TWO YEARS

Freedom of Information Act requests by Conservatives have uncovered the scale of arson attacks in schools.

Police authorities were asked ‘how many times in each of the last two years (the calendar years 2007 and 2008) you have been notified or called in for cases of arson or suspicious fires of schools or on school property’.

Police force

Arson attacks in schools

January 2007 to December 2008

England

1,249

Metropolitan Police1

101

 

1 Could include nurseries

2 Location contains word ‘school’

3 In school with ‘fire brigade turnout’ code

4 Nurseries and sixth forms included

5 Have words school in location and are also education premises

6 School and college

7 Includes universities and colleges

Police authorities not included in the tables (West Yorkshire, Suffolk, South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Kent, Nottinghamshire, Avon and Somerset did not respond, or cited high cost as an exemption to providing the data).

GROWING CONCERNS ON ARSON & VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS

£100 million cost of arson attacks: A report in 2001 found that arson attacks in schools cost over £100 million in terms of disruption and inconvenience to pupils, teachers and parents, and waste of fire service and police resources.

Arson attacks carried out by pupils: Research suggests that 93 per cent of school arson attacks are carried out by individuals under the age of 18. Arson is most commonly carried out by pupils, ex-pupils or someone with siblings at the school. One third of attacks are carried out during school hours.  

Children as young as five suspended for violence and sexual misconduct: Last year over 1,000 children aged 5 and under were suspended for assaulting another pupil, and 20 were suspended for sexual misconduct (Hansard, 3 November 2008, col. 195W).

344 children are suspended from school every day for assaulting other pupils: The number of fixed period exclusions for physical assault has risen by 2,720 – from 62,670 to 65,390 in just one year (House of Commons Library Deposited Papers 2008-24.60, October 2008).

Head teachers overruled. Head teachers are increasingly having their authority over discipline undermined.  Exclusions appeals panels overrule head teachers on expulsions in a quarter of the cases they hear, and 40 per cent of these pupils are then returned to the school from which they were excluded (DCSF, Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions from Schools in England 2006/07, 24 June 2008).

CONSERVATIVE PLANS TO IMPROVE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

Good discipline is essential to ensure that all pupils can benefit from the opportunities provided by education, without disruption from others.  Conservatives have set out detailed plans to give teachers back control of the classroom:

  • Schools will be given the final say on the exclusion of disruptive pupils, by abolishing the appeals panels which too often overrule them.
  • The law should be changed to give teachers unequivocal powers to maintain discipline, including confiscating items such as lighters and matches if the school has banned them.
  • Home-school contracts will be made enforceable as requirements of admission and grounds for exclusion.
  • To ensure better provision for those excluded, there will be greater use of voluntary and independent providers of remedial education, rather than relying solely on Pupil Referral Units.
  • Teachers should be given greater protection from malicious allegations made by pupils.

The Government has rejected calls for a general search power for headteachers. Labour Minister, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, has asserted: “Children have human rights as much as adults do, and it comes down to the fact of it [a general power to search] being proportionate” (Times Educational Supplement, 20 March 2009).

Feb 10 2007

Whitehall makes it more expensive to move – as house sales plummet

New figures expose collapse in housing market across Harrow thanks to Government

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, published new figures showing the extent of the collapse in the housing market across Harrow. This comes as new Government red tape will push up the cost of moving home – in the middle of a recession.

  • Parliamentary Questions have revealed that across the country the number of housing sales in 2008 halved compared to 2006 levels. The latest national figures so far for 2009 show even sharper falls have happened this year. In Harrow, there were 2,157 housing sales in 2008, compared to 4,020 in 2006 – a fall of 50%.
  • Yet new Whitehall rules will make it even harder for home buyers and sellers. The Government’s Land Registry is hiking fees in July to register a new home or to buy an official property search. Ironically, the Land Registry are blaming the recession for forcing them to put up prices as housing transactions have fallen so much, cutting their income.
  • The increases in the costs of official searches will in turn increase the cost of the already expensive Home Information Packs (HIPs). This comes as new HIP rules came into effect in April which will further hinder sellers from putting their homes onto the market.
  • Conservatives are calling on the Government Ministers to use their emergency powers to suspend HIPs immediately, and then abolish them completely. They are also calling for the stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers to be raised to £250,000, taking 9 out of 10 first-time buyers out of stamp duty altogether, giving an important boost to Harrow’s housing market.

Bob Blackman said:

“The new figures expose how Gordon Brown’s recession has sent (area’s) housing market into freefall. It is incredibly short-sighted for Labour Ministers to increase red tape on the housing market in the middle of a recession and make it even worse.

“We need action to revive the market, by reducing moving costs for home owners and giving extra help to help first-time buyers get onto the housing ladder.”

Notes to Editors

SOARING LAND REGISTRY FEES

On 14 April, the Land Registry announced massive hikes in the fees charged for registering a property and for property searches. Fees will increase by as much as 33% and will see the cost of registration of a property worth between £100,000 and £200,000 go from £150 to £200.

The Land Registry ironically blame the housing market crash for the hikes:

“As a government agency with trading fund status we need to cover our operating costs and return on capital employed from our fee income. Due to the downturn in the property market and the deterioration in the economy generally, our intakes of work fell heavily in 2008 and 2009 leading to an unsustainable reduction in our fee income.”

NEW HOME INFORMATION PACK RED TAPE

  • HIP required before you market your home: The Home Information Pack rules apply to England and Wales. Since 6 April 2009, a seller must have a completed Home Information Pack before putting their home on the market. Previously, they merely had to commission a Pack, which can take many weeks to assemble – especially in the case of complex leasehold properties. This is the end of the so-called ‘first day marketing’ provisions.
  • Property searches must be complete: In another change to the HIP rules, Home Information Packs will also take longer to produce. From 6 April 2009, every property search “must be complete”. Previously, insurance could be taken out to protect against the delayed searches missing vital data. This previous provision was introduced because of the delays in obtaining information from local authorities.
  • Pointless property questionnaire: All Home Information Packs must also now have a new ‘Property Information Questionnaire’ that must be completed by the seller before the home is advertised. The questionnaire includes questions on past history of flooding, past insurance claims, treatment for dry rot or damp, when electrical wiring was last checked, if planning permission or building regulation approval was given to past structural alterations and rights of access. However, there is no external checking of the accuracy of the form, and in all those cases, the seller can merely tick a box “don’t know”.
  • HIPs unreliable and add to costs: The independent Carsberg Review in June 2008 warned that HIPs were the “worst of both worlds”, adding to red tape and costs, but not providing reliable information. It warned that they were duplicating costs, since “a substantial number of conveyancers ignore its existence and recommission searches on receiving instructions from their buyer client” (RICS, Sir Bryan Carsberg’s Review of Residential Property, June 2008, p.42).

HOUSING MARKET IN FREEFALL

Answers to Parliamentary Questions have made the Government publish figures for the number of house sales in each local authority, according to Land Registry records. They show that housing sales have fallen by 52% compared to 2006 levels.

The very latest figures show that housing transactions have plummeted even further in the beginning of 2009, with total sales across England and Wales falling to 13,131 in March 2009 – compared to 106,341 in March 2006.

Hansard, 24 March 2009, col. 314W and Hansard, 24 April 2009, col. 969W.

LOCAL FIGURES

The table below shows the number of housing sales in each year since 2006, by local authority.

House sales

2006

2007

2008

% change since 2006

England & Wales

1,331,229

1,276,562

645,405

-52%

 

Brent

4,041

4,369

2,096

-48%

Harrow

4,353

4,020

2,157

-50%

 

Sources:

Hansard, 24 April 2009, col. 963W.

Hansard, 2 February 2009, col. 915W.

Feb 10 2007

Concern raised over Government cuts to local schools and colleges

Double whammy of cuts to sixth form funding and to colleges’ building programmes

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, demanded that Government Ministers reassure schools and colleges across Harrow, facing cuts to their funding because of Whitehall blundering.

Sixth form cuts: After telling schools and sixth form colleges how much funding they would receive next year for teaching 16-18 year olds, the Learning and Skills Council, a government quango suddenly changed its mind. It failed to predict the number of students accurately. It has now cut school budgets across the country by up to £350,000 for sixth form colleges and £55,000 for an average school. Bob Blackman is demanding action to ensure that local schools and sixth form colleges in Harrow will not have to turn away students next year because of this gross bureaucratic incompetence.

College building cuts: This latest catastrophe comes just weeks after the Government froze 144 further education college building projects, including Harrow College. Bob Blackman is calling on the Government to come clean about what will happen to these projects.

Together, these Government blunders could deprive thousands of young people of the opportunity to study.

Bob Blackman commented:

“Just a month after reassuring schools that they would be fully funded, the Government has pulled the rug from under their feet. Because of Whitehall incompetence, schools and colleges are being forced to turn away thousands of sixth formers who are desperate to learn and acquire the qualifications they need to succeed.

“Further education colleges have also been plunged into financial turmoil by having their building projects frozen. This is yet more proof that the Labour Government is failing to deliver and can’t be trusted with taxpayers’ money.”

Notes to Editors

SCHOOL FUNDING CUTS

Learner numbers miscalculated: The Department for Children Schools and Families failed to anticipate that there would be an increase in the number of pupils staying on in schools and colleges post-16. There were “predictions of a falling cohort and a participation rate of 78%. This resulted in predictions (by DCSF) that… provision would not grow in 2009/10… [but] we have seen significant increases in recruitment” (Learning & Skills Council letter to schools and colleges, 30 March 2009).

Learning and Skills Council announces funding cuts: On 9 January, the Learning and Skills Council wrote to schools and sixth form colleges giving provisional funding allocations for 2009-10. On 2 March, the Learning and Skills Council wrote again to confirm the funding. They indicated that the number of learners was ‘in excess of the anticipated number’ and that they were seeking permission to fund the learners in full. On 30 March, the LSC wrote a third time, revising their ‘final’ allocation, and cutting funding for schools and sixth forms.

The Association of School and College Leaders has said a sixth form of 250 pupils would be £50,000 to £55,000 worse off next year, while a sixth form college of 3,000 would lose around £350,000 (BBC News Online, 31 March 2009).

Funding reduced: Funding has been reduced in three key ways: The Government originally promised an annual increase of at least 2.1 per cent in funding per learner – the ‘Minimum Funding Guarantee’ – for all school sixth forms with a funding rate per ‘standard learner number’ under £3,200. This has been scrapped.  Schools and colleges which have recruited above their allocation in 2008-09 will not be funded for those learners in 2009-10. This means that learners already on the school or college rolls will not be funded next year – i.e. many students could face having their funding cut halfway through their course. The Government will only fund colleges and sixth forms at their average 2006-07 or 2007-08 levels – whichever is lower.

Ministers approved cuts: In their letter to schools and colleges the Learning and Skills Council confirmed that “[the Department for Children, Families & Schools] have been involved throughout and approved the changes and this briefing note” (LSC letter to schools and colleges, 30 March 2009).

COLLEGE BUILDING CUTS

The school cuts follow the Learning & Skills Council making cuts to plans for further education colleges’ building programmes.

  • 144 colleges have had their building projects frozen -over a third of all colleges:  In early March, the Government announced that they would be a freeze on the 144 (DIUS Press Release, 4 March 2009). Many of these colleges have already started their building programmes, with the encouragement of the Government. The freeze will result in higher costs for institutions, in many cases running into millions of pounds.
  • No guarantee for colleges facing bankruptcy. Sion Simon, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further Education, refused to give an assurance that colleges would not face bankruptcy: ‘I can’t give you [an assurance they won’t go bust]’ (BBC Radio 4, Today programme, 19 March 2009).
  • The Government has known about the funding crisis since at least November: Concerns over the affordability of the capital programme were expressed at a November 2008 LSC meeting. The November minutes had claimed that capital projects had not been considered due to a lack of time. But this was misleading. The December minutes contain a correction, stating that the “main underlying reason” capital projects had not been considered was due to ‘concern over affordability’ (LSC, Minutes of National Council Meeting, 17 December 2008, released to Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act). Sources say the LSC had “known for months” but that DIUS had vetoed any advanced notice of the freeze (Guardian, 20 January 2009). The December meeting was attended by a representative of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

List of frozen capital projects

(If a college appears more than once, this is due to multiple projects being frozen).

College Postcode (of main campus)
Harrow College HA3 6RR

 

Source: Letter from LSC to David Willetts MP, 26 March 2009.

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