Thursday, 12 December 2013

The challenges of implementing the new primary curriculum

I've written a report which analyses the challenges our primary schools face in trying to implement the new Primary National Curriculum.

It's available as a free download here:

Monday, 25 November 2013

Education - Ofsted

Most who know me know that the reason I got involved in politics is education, and in particular Michael Gove.

Having participated in and quietly contributed to consultations on education policy over the years I saw first hand how all consultation ended in 2010 and only too clearly understood the implications of that.

With an unusually deep background in the economics of education and the underlying associated issues of professional freedom, I could clearly see that the vast majority of Mr Gove's initiatives were without and foundation and were destined to catastrophic and vastly expensive failure. 

The one bright light seemed to be that he stated he was determined to improve the way Ofsted functioned to allow schools greater professional freedom.  So I watched the inquiry which took place over the winter of 2010/11 to discover how to achieve this closely. I took to the discussion forums to try to explore possible ways forward and was horrified to find that I was subject to systematic and extreme abuse, the systematic deletion of my posts, partial moderation and, when these tactics failed to deter me from posting, to being banned from posting and threatened with legal action if I wrote about what was going on.

Meanwhile inspector after inspector visited the enquiry stating clearly that Ofsted could not be improved.

Satisfactory became the new unsatisfactory, inspections became more brutal and ministers used Ofsted as a tool for pursuing their own pet policies.  Schools still had no rights whatsoever to challenge decisions in any circumstances (except to Ofsted and Mr Gove) so no matter how ignorant and inappropriate the inspection outcome schools are left with Hobson's choice of accepting it or objecting, brining more negative attention on the school and getting nowhere for it.

I gave up my plans to write a PhD in maths education and pursued instead the objective of creating free forums.  This was an objective which was achieved on some platforms by the beginning of 2012.  Coaxing people into posting in public and giving them the time they needed to develop their thinking and fluency on policy issues has taken longer.

Meanwhile I also researched policy surrounding Ofsted, making a substantial breakthrough when I started to look at best practice in regulation policy and methodology outside education.  I discovered that there were established codes of best practice in regulation to which Ofsted could be obligated using the same legal framework already in place for the vast majority of regulated UK organisations.

This was the resulting policy (note the references are at the end of the document after the other policy motions):

The motion got 100% support and is now widely understood and accepted and supported within the Liberal Democrats:

I've worked hard to get it adopted by other parties and by unions, but so far have been unable to move beyond getting the support of individuals without those groups.

I'm publishing this because I am horrified by what's going on in Cumbria with Ofsted now.  This could have been avoided if I'd managed to get sufficient wide based support to take on Mr Gove.

I'm easy to find if anyone wants to help.

Rebecca Hanson
12 Kirkgate, Cockermouth.  On and Facebook.

Friday, 18 October 2013

In Praise of our Foodbank

I was delighted to hear the Trussell Trust calling for a public enquiry into the reasons behind the surge in the use of food banks. 

In this report Kelly Taylor talks about the humiliation of visiting a foodbank but then reflect on the reality that prior to the Foodbank existing she stole for food and ended up in prison.  When your life is falling apart, rapidly plugging a gaping hole like being able to feed yourself and your family helps you deal with the many other issues you have to face.  Where people are adjusting to reduced circumstances food parcels which are accompanied by personal advice on how to make that adjustment effectively can stop a crisis escalating.  It is clear that Foodbanks are providing a substantial benefit to both the people affected and to society which was not previously available and that much of the work they do falls into this category.  It is also clear this work will continue to be of great importance to society in the future as global population growth and the consequential competition for resources will prevent the kinds of rising levels of affluence we saw in parts of the 20th century. 

However we need to know whether our systems of ordinary state provision, and in particular our benefits system, is now inadequate (and if so precisely where its inadequacies lie) so that we can address those weak points efficiently and effectively.   At present most feedback comes through individual cases which are reported to MPs and Councillors who then try to analyse the implications of the cases they have heard during policy debates at their political conferences.  This process of feedback is also essential and I would strongly advise anyone who knows of a case which need to be understood for policy reform to support the individual or individuals affected in meeting their MP or councillor and if they would like to they are also warmly invited to contact me.  However a detailed report from the circumstances of the people Foodbanks are supporting would greatly improve the quality of the debate.  This is why I sincerely hope this analysis recommended by the Trussell Trust goes ahead.
In the meantime I would strongly recommend everyone supports the organisation we have.  More food donations are urgently needed and more volunteers are also needed to help the hundred who drive vans and staff the warehouse and the five distributions centres in Cockermouth, Workington, Whitehaven, Maryport and Wigton.  Between April and August this year they gave out food to 1789 people in crisis (about 120/week) and West Cumbria is a much better place because they did that.  The team are an inspirational bunch of volunteers who are very welcoming to people who can only offer a little time or only offer time for a short period.  If you’re in either category I strongly recommend getting involved not only because you’d be able to do a great deal of good but also because it will help you better understand West Cumbria.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Cockermouth Traffic and the Story Homes Development

Sadly Story Homes have decided to continue to try to promote the view that it is possible to build hundreds of houses on the east side of Cockermouth without building any road infrastructure to carry traffic away from the development.  They also still want to block off the roads which were build to connect Slatefell and Gable Avenue to Strawberry How road.  

This will create very serious safety issues as well as substantial delays for residents on the east side of Cockermouth.  In this letter I've attempted to explain exactly why this is the case.  This letter is published here for open criticism and comment.  If I am wrong and there are ways to easily sort out the traffic infrastructure problems that we have then I want to know what they are.

Steven Eggleston: Traffic specialist for the Story Homes development at Strawberry How
Cc: Pieter Barnard, Cumbria Highways.
Cc: open circulation for open critical comment.

19th September 2013

Dear Steven,

Thank you for your time yesterday and your patience in talking to me and exploring the traffic issues involved in Story Homes’ proposal for housing at Strawberry How. 

I am very disappointed that Story Homes are choosing to pursue attempts to create the impression there is sufficient road infrastructure in place to cope with over 300 more homes on the East side of Cockermouth.   The purpose of this letter is to lay out in detail why this is not the case to help you move forward in understanding why your development is currently facing universal opposition.

The essence of the problem is the limited capacity of the junction between Lorton Street, Station Road and Station Street which I will refer to as junction A.  This is a substandard junction with four way lights allowing each road to have full priority (required because the junction is so narrow) and a pedestrian phase on request.  This junction is under stress due to the volume of traffic using it and generally continues to flow only because so much traffic manages to use Kirkgate and Market Place despite the limitations of that route.

However Kirkgate is often shut due to there being a substantial single width strip of road with no pavements which has to close whenever work is done to the services underneath the road or to the buildings which border it.  The frequent closures of Kirkgate are part of life in Cockermouth and must be expected.  Although they are usually done during the school holidays or at off peak times, they still cause junction A to fail to cope in a very severe way.  Junction A backs up in all direction.  On the East side of Cockrmouth the queue of traffic rapidly extends beyond the top of Kirkgate.  Traffic therefore queues for very long periods of time to access this route from all roads but most importantly from the substantial Slatefell/Gable Avenue estate.  Because the alternative routes via Embleton and Southwaite are so long and involve roads many drivers choose to avoid, vehicles which would be prepared to use those routes are blocked by those which aren’t and cannot exit their roads and estates as each has only one exit. 

This creates a severe safety hazard as obviously emergency vehicles cannot access these areas of town.

By creating an extra 200 cars/hour we know you will be inflicting these issues on us all the time rather than just when Kirkgate shuts.  We will also have to cope with much more serious issues Kirkgate shuts as it inevitably will.

There is no need for any of these issues as we live in an area where it is perfectly possible to construct suitable infrastructure. 

Story Homes’ continued assertion that significant improvements to traffic flow can be made through minor modifications exists despite the obvious reality that this not true.  This is obvious to all Cockermouth residents and it the fact that this assertion is still being made seriously undermines Story Homes’ espoused commitment to being a responsible developer.  Given my knowledge of what has already been done I would challenge you to come up with any modifications which will create any improvements whatsoever.  Given the reality that we live in a context where other developments, most particularly the new hospital, will also impact negatively on traffic flow it’s unrealistic to expect anything other than a deterioration even without the development you are proposing.  If you really do have any ways of improving traffic issues with minor changes I would ask you to share them and we are very open to new ideas which stand up to scrutiny.

It is not, for example, the case that simply modifications can be made to the phasing of lights at junction A which improve things.  When the junction is beyond capacity traffic backs up in all directions, most obviously uphill from this junction where the next junction also fails to flow due to downhill traffic being backed up beyond it.  It’s important to understand the lights do substantially favour Lorton Street but that traffic can use junction A at a slow rate due to the tight angle and the narrowness of the junction.  Each large vehicle causes significant delays. 

Unless Story Homes decides to address the serious loss of amenity to the town and the safety issues which would be caused by building this development without the construction of essential road infrastructure they it’s unrealistic to expect anything but unified opposition from the whole town. 

Best regards,

Rebecca Hanson MA(cantab.) MEd, FRSA.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Make a FUSS over West Cumbrian Familes - a promise to the future

In this post I thought I'd write about an idea I've been talking about for quite a while now - in the hope that people will talk about it, share it, remind me of it or perhaps even think of getting involved in it.

So many households in West Cumbria, especially many of those with young children, are functioning in states of extreme stress.  The vast majority never complain, mainly because most of them don't think of themselves as being needy. 

We have a society of nuclear families and households living side-by-side on the same street without ever knowing each other.  As I knocked on every door in a street and chatted to groups of neighbours while canvassing in May it struck me forcefully how weak our local community bonds are. 

In particular it's obvious that we have young families who are under colossal stress living alongside people plenty to offer them but who don't know what's needed or how offer. 

Hence I think we need a charity which actively links families with young children up with neighbours and other local people who want to offer them support.  The obvious thing would be to appoint 'local grandparents' - one for each child, who spend an hour a week (ish - when they're around) ensuring that child has done his homework and is heard to read and is generally heard by an extra adult.  But once such a charity was set up and active it could do so much more.

Let's make a FUSS (Families under stress support) of our families.

When I suggest this to families the response from mothers in particular is quite overwhelming.  They give honest, rational and positive responses but quite often they're welling up with tears at the thought of how much they wish this had been there for them.  And how many fabulous parents do we have around out there who've raised their children and know what it's like and would love to be grandparents but won't be for ages and even when they are might be to kids who live hundreds of miles away?

Young families are good at making friends with each other but they also need friendship from people at different life stages. 

I don't think I'm the best person to set up such a charity - but I'll offer my full support to anyone who will.  If you're interested in being part of an organisation like this please do get in touch so that I can start to link people together.  Just add a comment to the blog or find me through Facebook or linkedin.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Broadband in the Cockermouth Area

While I was out canvassing in the villages of Cockermouth South in May I spoke at length with many villagers about the problems they are having with internet access.
I consider internet access to be of vital importance for both our economy (as so many of us in Cumbria work from home) and for our quality of life.  As a fellow of the RSA I write about and explore the importance of mass online discussion in enlightening society and improving the quality of democracy.

I’ve been startled by the level of complexity and chaos that I’ve found.  In this blog I’m going to try to describe what’s going on.  I may not have got it right and I’d be very grateful if others could add comments to help improve what I’ve written.
Two Routes for Broadband

The two routes for acquiring broadband are Connecting Cumbria (funded by BDUK and ERDF) and the RCBF (The Rural Communities Broadband Fund).  It is estimated that Connecting Cumbria will ensure 'superfast' (which is defined as being 24Mb/s or greater) broadband reaches 93% of properties in Cumbria by 2015.  Communities not receiving 24Mb/s can devise their own schemes and apply for RCBF funding.  
Connecting Cumbria

This scheme has been highly controversial as virtually all funding has gone straight to BT to help them upgrade their exchange equipment – something which they would have had to have done anyway (but would have had to do more slowly).  Another major problem with the scheme has been that BT have, in many cases, failed to release information regarding which houses will be in the 93% and which will not. There has also been criticism of the quality of the broadband some homes which are covered by the scheme will receive as alternative proposals planned to provide speeds in excess of 500Mb/s.
On a more positive note, 93% coverage is a very substantial undertaking in a very rural county.  Let’s look at the numbers.

According to Wikipedia 496,200 people live in Cumbria.  Of these 318,271 (64%) live in the 20 biggest towns and villages in Cumbria.  Distington is the smallest of these top 20 with just under 4000 people (Cleator Moor has 7000).  So let’s assume people who live in these places are covered.  That leaves 178,000 people in the smaller villages, hamlets and isolated dwelling of Cumbria.  Of these remaining people about 143,000 (80%) should be covered by Connecting Cumbria.  Clearly this figure must include most of our villages.   
On the other hand that still leaves about 35,000 people without broadband and far more with reason to doubt whether the quality of the broadband they look set to receive will meet current, yet alone emerging needs. 

In theory funding is available to help communities to set up their own schemes.   In practice this has been highly problematic due to not only to the uncertainty regarding what Connecting Cumbria will provide but also due to the complex red tape and the legal exposure those seeking to develop schemes have had to face.  Some progress has now been made as Cumbria County council have agreed to act as the accountable body for projects including Eden Valley Digital, Great Asby and Northern Fells.    The Northern Fells group are probably our best source of advice being located nearby (four of the seven parishes involved are in northern and eastern Allerdale).  I hear the BARN (B4NW) project is also making good progress in South Cumbria.

So what’s happening and what should be happening here in West Cumbria?  Your views are invited here, through public or private message on my Facebook page or by contacting my directly (even snailmail to 12 Kirkgate is welcome).
Rebecca Hanson.

Further information is available on the web via the following press releases:

Throughout this article my calculations assume we have the same average number of people per household in isolated dwelling as we have in urban areas.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Draft submission regarding traffic issues associated with the proposed development of around 350 houses at Strawberry How, Cockermouth

I am publishing the submission I intend to make regarding the traffic problems associated with SCO/2013/0008 which is the substantial development of approximately 350 houses on the land at Strawberry How.  All comments and suggestions are invited.  I intend to make my final submission on Wednesday 17th July 2013.

Although traffic flow is the only issue this submission attempts to address, it does not assume traffic flow is the only issue which needs to be addressed before this development can proceed.


Cockermouth suffers from traffic flow pinch points which are associated with its rivers.

This proposed development lies in the part of town which is to the east of the river Cocker.  There is no connection to the A66 on the east of the river Cocker (both Cockermouth junctions are to the west of the river Cocker).  This means that all west bound traffic from the East side of town has to travel through the centre of town.

The land to the east of the river Cocker is split into three land blocks by two small rivers:
A. The Riverdale Estate & Strawberry How to the south of Tom Rudd Beck.
B. The Slate Fell Estate which lies between Tom Rudd Beck and Bitterbeck.
C. The hospital/school/Rose lane Estate which lies to the north of Bitterbeck. 

There are currently no road links between the three blocks of land except in the centre of town (Kirkgate area).

This development straddles Tom Rudd Beck and so must include a bridge which will link the first and second blocks of land.

The Three Key Issues:

This development poses three issues which must be addressed before it can be authorised. These issues are:

1.      That the road links between land blocks A and B need to be completed.

2.      That there needs to be a link to the A66.

3.      That this development needs to be compatible with the building of a road to land block C.

Issue 1: That the road links between the first and second land blocks need to be completed

The land proposed for this development lies beyond a very substantial housing estate in land block B (Slate Fell).  This estate currently has only one road exit onto Kirkgate which is a very narrow road.  A substantial extension to the Slate Fell estate (the Gable Avenue part) was only allowed on the proviso that a second road exit would be created which linked it to the first block of land, providing the enlarged estate with the road infrastructure it needs.  Thus when this estate extension was build two roads were left open ended;  one from the Gable Avenue estate extension (at Ullswater Drive) and one from the main estate (now from Bellbrigg Lonning).

 It was originally intended that the connections would be rapidly made to support the estate extension when the intended factory which justified the building of the Gable Avenue estate was built on the land on which this planning development is proposed.  However the plans for the factory fell through leaving this estate with incomplete and inadequate road infrastructure until an alternative development plan could be found for this piece of land.  One of the key reasons why the land on which has this development has been consistently identified as being suitable for development it’s development can enable the completion of this road infrastructure.

Astonishingly the development proposed blocks off both these roads and chooses instead to develop this estate as a cul-de-sac from the first block of land.  By doing so it prevents the substantial Slatefell/Gable Avenue estate from ever having the essential road infrastructure planned for it.  Clear direction needs to be given to the developer by all relevant authorities on this issue.

Issue 2: That there needs to be a link to the A66

Following the completion of the Riverdale estate, the development of Strawberry How and then the opening of Sainsburys , the issue of traffic exiting from land blocks A and B got substantially worse.  All traffic from these routes has to pass either though the substandard junction at the end of Lorton road or down Kirkgate.  In 2004 all options were explored to improve the flow of traffic through both routes including the development of one way streets and systems were considered.  All changes which could be made to improve things were made.   

It was concluded that a junction with the A66 was needed on the East side of town at this time.  Our councillors agreed to campaign for this and to act to prevent further development until it was provided.  Anybody not party to these consultations is welcome to contact me to view the details of them which I have in hard copy form.

In the meantime we have evolved a system whereby the confident drivers who know local driving well and who are not afraid of having to back their cars substantial distances use Kirkgate (employing complex established systems of giving way which get traffic through the difficult junction at the bottom at the rate of about 600 cars/hour) which the less confident driver generally use the substandard light controlled junction at Lorton Street.  This system is obviously not ideal due to the volume of traffic pouring through the mainly pedestrian Market Place area as evidence by the very heave wear on the road surface, however the main barrier to it being effective is the fact that Kirkgate is a main artery for services located underneath the road.  As a single width road without pavements in places it is therefore closed when works are needed which, as records will demonstrate, is often and for long periods of time.  During these periods Cockermouth gridlocks and the roads fail to function, with people being stuck for typically 45 mins or more. 

This issue can and must be addressed before further housing development takes place which will inevitably substantially exacerbate this problem.

Issue 3: Problems of access to the Rose Lane/school/hospital estate

Traffic from land block C is also beyond its road capacity, relying as it does on the use of Castlegate with its long single width restriction.  Further housing development in town will exacerbate this problem.  The development which is being considered is proposed for land where the required road infrastructure could be located.  Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is a coherent plan in place for this road infrastructure which is not blocked by inappropriate planning of this development.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Lessons learned from the consultation regarding the geological repository. Suggested recommendations.

This consultation is specified here.  Responses are required by 10th June 2013.

I am keen to stimulate debate and am therefore openly publishing my initial suggestions regarding recommendations on this site.  Your comments are welcome.  If you wish to correspond with my privately please find me through my Linkedin or Facebook profiles or through Twitter @cyberrhetoric.

Rebecca Hanson MA(Cantab.), MEd, FRSA

Draft Response:

In 2007 the consultation regarding geological disposal of higher level radioactive waste succeeded because it was open and evidence based.  In 2013 I believe it failed for the reasons listed below.  While much can be done to make it more likely that a process of consultation will succeed, we should always remember that should evidence arise which indicates that the proposed way forward is not the best route or is unsafe in ways which have not been considered, any credible consultation should recognise this and should be designed to fail if it cannot effectively respond to the concerns raised.

Firstly the evidence base was not sufficiently wide and was not kept up to date.   Several major countries had focused on developing reactors to process their waste.  Their progress and the potential of this technology was not properly understood by the consultation.  The Cumbria community contains many who can generate world class conversations on this topic.  They should have been finding that the insights their conversations generated were already available as part of the evidence base for the debate but instead they found that the scope of the consultation had excluded all other technologies since 2007.   Regarding geological disposal, the videos being used which summarised what is happening in other countries were the same in 2013 as they were in 2007.  In 2007 they were convincing.  The fact that no further information had been added at a time of great technological development left them looking like propaganda six years later.

Recommendation 1: that the research base to be widened to include all methods of disposal and that the publicly presented research base be regularly updated.

Secondly the methods of consultation, which were set up to be transparent in 2007, predated mainstream social media and were therefore not transparent in 2013.

All major decisions are now analysed and challenged by the ‘Facebook chatterers’.  In many cases this is a very positive thing.  It enables the intellectual content of decisions to be more freely crowd sourced and it can create fuller transparency and deeper engagement as it allows the scrutinising public to ask all the questions they want to ask before making a decision.  However it is only a positive thing if the organisation making the decision engages with social media intelligently and if those running the consultation are empowered to assimilate and change the course of action based on relevant and genuine crowd sourced information received. 

It seemed that in this consultation the official consultation and the social media consultation were like big ships that passed in the night, aware of each other on their radar but not communicating or building a clear visual picture of what the other was.   It also seemed that the ‘consulting team’ were not really a consulting team at all.  They were a team there to convince people of a conclusion decided long ago by others.  Social media makes such behaviours deeply toxic.   Oppositional evidence such as that presented by Stuart Hayzeldine is introduced and discussed at length.  There are contributors (and I was one of them) who will try to balance the evidence but I and others found that we couldn’t.  The evidence simply wasn’t available or if it was it wasn’t in a form where I could access and analyse it sufficiently rapidly.

Recommendation 2. That a team be set up to work together to engage with social media.   They need to include people who fluent in engaging with social media by evidence basing comments, never attacking individuals, never responding to personal attacks and so on (more here).  They need to have fluent, evidence based answers to points which are raised by critics such as Stuart Haszeldine which they should present every time his points are made.   But, most importantly, they must have the capacity to influence things if they find evidence which justifies alternative ways forward.

Thirdly, it seems ludicrous that only sites in Cumbria were being considered This led to a situation where many Cumbrians felt that a Cumbrian solution was being forced on them.  It also made it virtually impossible to have any objectivity regarding the compensation package to be offered.

Recommendation 3. That sites be considered outside of Cumbria

Fourthly, it needs to be recognised that there has been a breakdown of trust and a failure to learn lessons from the past While the adoption of recommendations 1, 2 and 3 will help to restore trust, this consultation process has exposed cases where decisions have been made at and implemented at Sellafield in cases where individuals knew that these decisions would not deliver the results claimed. 

Recommendation 4. That cases of past failures such as the MOX fuel plant be openly investigated.