Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Environmental wardens

A few months ago we reported that the environmental warden job - that's been based in the ward for five years - has been saved.

However it's well known we're having a bit of a battle to keep the warden based in the ward.

The ward councillors have responded vigorously to a city consultation on the future of wardens.

What's happened is the city has found money from the Working Neighbourhoods Fund to continue employing all 40 environmental wardens in the city. Most, like ours, had been employed locally through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund.

City managers came up with a plan to keep 20 wardens in a central team and place 20 in each constituency - that would be one shared per ward. The central team would do blitzes, which managers in regulatory services feel deliver their objectives.

But there's a big difference between being in a team and working on your own. And we've said this repeatedly. We think the wardens should be based one for each ward. They can be brought together in teams, locally or city-wide, when necessary.

A good warden working in the ward can take on board a problem and keep working at it, chipping away at it. Like the pub that sometime ago agreed to having recycled bins on its car park. But now it's got two problems - the car park being used for commuter parking and people dumping by the recycling bins. We need the warden to work on this.

Every neighbourhood is different. Ours has acres of land at the back of properties, used for access drives, and with no clear ownership. Most of it is now gated to prevent burglaries, dumping and anti-social behaviour. But it doesn't always stay clean and often there's local dumping.

Our wardens have worked with residents' groups on neighbourhood clean ups on the. They can coordinate the delivery of skips and make sure they are used for clean-ups, not for dumping household rubbish. They've also helped coordinate the installation of security gates over the last year.

Then there's the problem of dog fouling by a local school. It's been going on for years, on and off - there's something about the neighbourhood, perhaps because the school's on the way to a park. It's nasty when it happens and can pose a severe threat to the health of young children. It's also very illegal.

It's hard to catch people who do this and if residents or the school rings the city contact number when it happens, the response is far too slow. A locally based warden knows there's a problem and can organise, possibly with the police, a fast response.

As things stand the warden is with us until next April after we stepped in to prevent his removal to the city team. The same applies in neighbouring Oscott ward. We're hoping we will win this battle - but if not we have contingency plans!

Amazing school improvement!

Congratulations to Perry Beeches secondary school which achieved England's most dramatic improvement in its GCSE results this year!

Last year just 21 per cent of pupils gained five GCSEs, including English and Maths, at grade C or above. It led to the school repeatedly being targeted by the government as one of England's so-called "failing" schools and also a devastating Ofsted report.

This year that figure shot up to 51 per cent. That's an increase of 30 percentage points.

Perry Barr ward councillor Jon Hunt wasn't surprised at the result. As chair of the city's children and education scrutiny committee he's been taking a close interest in the school's progress.

Jon says: "I'd paid several visits to the school and the head Liam Nolan, deputy head and several pupils came to the scrutiny committee and several pupils came to give a presentation on their work in June.

"It was an impressive presentation - and these results now show that everything they said was justified.

"It also highlights the disgraceful way lists of so-called 'failing' schools were issued during the summer term by the Government just as pupils were sitting their exams."

In the press the school has stressed aspects such as hard work and discipline. But the school has pushed pupils hard. Most pupils sat some English GCSEs early last autumn. That meant that many had the crucial English exam under their belts by the time they came to sit more exams this year.

This is all good news for Perry Beeches which has traditionally been seen as one of the least successful local secondary schools.

And it has some other interesting implications.

For in Handsworth families have been complaining for some time they cannot get their children into Perry Beeches. And in July some information was compiled for the Perry Barr constituency committee on school admissions.

This showed that it was easier over the last year to get into Great Barr school (which is a much bigger school) than Perry Beeches if you lived in Handsworth. So people in Handsworth need to start applying to Great Barr rather than Perry Beeches.

For people in Perry Barr and Great Barr this means, that when applying for school places this autumn, they have an equal chance of getting access to Great Barr or Perry Beeches. And both schools now have respectable academic results - so there's going to be many families with a great deal of thinking to do about their school choices.