Gazette letters: Nature’s decay, schools and political disagreements

Fungus along the old railway track from Finsbury Park to Highgate. Picture: WILL McCALLUM

Fungus along the old railway track from Finsbury Park to Highgate. Picture: WILL McCALLUM - Credit: Archant

The evenings arrive at my window intimidatingly early, reminding me I’ve barely managed to see daylight today, writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

The weekends have fast become more special – necessary time enjoy what little blue sky of the summer is left and bask in autumn colours.

I left the city by the Lea on Saturday. Fair weather and a newly fixed bike made the river towpath an attractive prospect. Down Springfield Hill, a flock of thrushes loudly agreed. The swans eyed me suspiciously – not sure who was the greater enemy between me and my bright yellow bicycle, and the eight beginner rowers nervously getting into their boat. It is my favourite way to cycle out of London, along the Lea – from the heart of Hackney to Hertfordshire in an hour.

To really appreciate the change in season, though, I headed out running along the old railway track from Finsbury Park to Highgate. Silver birch, sycamore, horse chestnut and ash trees provided the perfect autumnal backdrop – each gust raining down leaves in various states of decay. Some brightly coloured fungus creeping up the back of a tree stump was the highlight for giving off a slightly sinister edge to match the darkening sky.

In his article describing why he left teaching, writes Pat Turnbull, Handley Road, Hackney.

Callum Jacobs said: “In some cases, and this seems to be more of an issue in schools that are part of the corporate academy chains, there’s also the insidious shift to an ethos that attempts to control and subjugate children, lest they challenge the system, point out the hypocrisies, and the whole thing comes crashing down. So silence is demanded, straight lines must be formed and don’t even think about asking to use the loo during a lesson.”

A couple of weeks ago during Open House weekend, two senior pupils showed me round Hackney’s first and flagship academy, Mossbourne School, opened in 2004. They explained how the principle on which Michael Wilsher, its first head, ran his school was “constant surveillance”. They showed me how the sides of the staircases are covered in so pupils can’t make eye contact with the pupils going up the stairs above them. They explained that the strict rule is silence in the corridors. They showed me the glass-sided classrooms: the glass is frosted at pupil eye level but plain above so the teacher can see into the corridors.

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I looked down into the classroom where pupils can be watched from the balcony above. I went to the sixth form study room and heard how there are panels in the ceiling so that the teacher in the office above can see down into the room. There is no staff room because teachers are expected to be on constant “surveillance” duty throughout the day. All parts of the playground, which is rather small for a large secondary school, can be watched from a balcony along the side of the school.

Is this education, or is it control?

The publication of Hackney: Portrait of a Community 1967-2017 (“Pubs, beards, riots, reggae: Hackney Society celebrates 50th birthday at town hall”, Gazette) provides a useful guide as to how Hackney has changed over the years, writes Christopher Sills, Dunsmure Road, Stamford Hill.

– but as each chapter was written by those involved at the time and individual authors did not share their drafts before hand some interesting differences have emerged. This was highlighted by the articles on the Battle for De Beauvoir and on the Conservative-controlled council from 1968 to 1971

The article on the Battle for De Beauvoir implied that the Conservatives could not run a whelk stall but – because of Alderman Bridgehouse, imposed on us by Conservative Central office – somehow managed to save De Beauvoir by accident.

The reality was rather different. Firstly, Alderman Bridgehouse was invited to help us because we realised that we had gaps in our expertise. I interviewed him on either May 8 or May 9, 1968, to ensure he supported our plans to stop the bulldozers. The other key person brought in was Alderman Ken Lightwood.

The view of many Labour Party members at the count was we would collapse in chaos and the Labour party would be back in control within six months. By June we had proved we were capable of running a local authority and. I still remember the look on the faces of the Labour Party members just eight weeks after the count when they realised we intended to stop the bulldozers (amazement followed by horror) and, worse, they could do nothing to stop us.

In fact Alderman Bridgehouse returned to the backbenches in January 1970 until May 1970 on doctor’s advice, but the Conservative reforms continued unchecked.

We had been concerned about the treatment of homeless families in Hackney as typified in the television documentary Cathy Come Home referred to by Laurie Elks. While Alderman Bridgehouse was on sick leave we decided to implement our plans to close bed and breakfast accommodation in Hackney and from May 1970 to May 1971 there was no family in bed and breakfast accommodation.

To their eternal shame, the Labour Party reversed our policy on regaining power.

It is my hope that as a result of the borough elections in May 2018, this enlightened policy will be resumed.