I welcome the fact that all but one school in the London Borough of Hounslow has opened to eligible pupils and students. In addition, the Government has made it clear that all schools are now safe for our children to return.
I also welcome last week’s announcement by the Department of Education to allocate a further £650 million across state primary and secondary schools over the 2020/21 academic year to be spent on small group tuition to enable children to catch up on their education.
I want to take the opportunity of this blog to thank our head teachers in Chiswick directly. They have worked tirelessly throughout this crisis to continue to offer an education service. They have been called upon to show the levels of flexibility, adaptability and magic only found in the Genie of Aladdin. Moreover, as I write this blog, our head teachers are pulling another rabbit out of the hat by preparing to offer catch up programmes in the next academic year as well as getting ready to say ‘good bye’ to our year 6 and year 11 pupils and to welcome the new cohorts in September.
Teachers know that they cannot do their work without the support of parents at home. In order for the child to get much out of online education during the lockdown, credit also has to go to the parents at home working in partnership with the school. So with my teacher hat on, I want to thank all of our parents.
Black Lives Matter and implicit bias
In the past few weeks we also saw the sad death of George Floyd and the anger that followed it. I’ve personally had to step back for a moment to reflect. I am glad that so many people have reached out saying that they understand the anger at injustices that have continued to be felt by the black population here and abroad.
I have been on the receiving end of a fair amount of racism in the past and continue to suffer the many racial biases that are implicit in our society. To me, the BAME acronym is too broad a term but if gets our society talking about race that’s fine. My experience of race as a first-generation immigrant from an African background is very different from that of a black person from a Black American or Afro-Caribbean background.
My ancestors did not endure slavery, but three out of my six foster parents were Afro-Caribbean and they can trace their lineage back the transatlantic slave trade. The fourth was, Charita Jones an African-American (Momma Cherri of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares fame) who fostered me for almost two years in Chiswick. I still remember the posters of Martin Luther King on the walls of the flat denoting the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
So it was fitting that all these years later that it fell on Charita’s shoulders, on a platform in front of what seemed to be thousands in Brighton, to address those who had congregated in solidarity in the name of justice and equality. She would agree that we have come a long way as a society in Britain on issues of race but there is more to be done if we are to achieve a lasting change in our national story.
That change means facing up to our own implicit biases. There is even technology online from some very smart psychologists at Harvard that can help people to unearth whether they harbor implicit biases on race. Their findings are remarkable. But it is these truths, and the open conversation that follow, which will determine our appetite for change.
I’m currently reading a book by a new author, Candice Brathwaite, called I Am Not Your Baby Mother. It is an autobiographical account of the implicit biases that she has encountered with medical professionals, even from her own race, during pregnancy. In one moving account she recalls:
“It all became clear – just how bad the treatment had been from beginning to end. How I had not been cared for, let alone listened to. How there was this general expectation – even from healthcare providers who looked like me – for me to be strong and silent, or grin and bear it. ...Feeling unwell and not having my symptoms taken seriously was not a one-off experience.”
Brathwaite’s account would not be out of place in many parts of our society. The awareness generated by the Black Lives Matter movement will gives us the opportunity to reflect on issues such as the diversity on school boards of governors, on local charity boards and amongst councillors.
Last week I had a meeting with the LBH fostering team. They have been doing a brilliant job during lockdown in continuing to provide a service for children in care. I have said previously in one of these blogs, that councillors are co-opted as corporate parents to around 250 looked after children in the borough. We are an extension of their parental network, looking at issues such as placement, education and welfare. Hounslow Council have also established a Virtual College programme to support our looked after children’s academic endeavors.
There is, however, an impending crisis that will emerge after the lockdown. According to Barnados, one of the leading fostering agencies, there has been a 44% rise in referrals for children needing to be placed in foster home as compared to the same period last year. They report high levels of abuse and neglect under the lockdown, while the number of enquiries from prospective foster parents has dropped sharply by 47% in the same period.
I spoke to the senior officer in charge of fostering at Hounslow council and she anticipates that those figures will not be far from the local picture. The most pressing concern for her is the lack of foster parents willing to foster a young mother and their child. She is also worried about the pool of potential foster parents going through the assessment process, who will be willing to welcome siblings into their lives.
My hope is that just as we have come together as community under Covid-19 with food parcels, NHS responders, befriending neighbours, and even standing together in solidarity against racism, we can come together once more and find individuals in the community willing to come forward as foster parents.
For further information on fostering in Hounslow see here.
Cllr Ron Mushiso