Posts Tagged ‘chris willetts’

I’ve not been very successful at updating this blog on a regular basis over the past couple of years. Partly this is due to time, and partly it’s due to the energy to keep it flowing.

During the Lutfur years, the overriding whiff that there was something rotten in the Kingdom of Rahman meant it was much easier to invest that time and effort.

Since then, that same stench of maladministration has dissipated. The Government Commissioners gave their seal of approval and have been gone for many months.

But that’s not to say they were right to do so and that there isn’t anything to see.

Tower Hamlts Momentum

This from the Momentum Tower Hamlets Facebook page seems to back up suggestions they’re not exactly representative of the borough’s population

The politics are as nasty, complicated and divisive as ever — exacerbated in part by the growing strength of Momentum and the SWP newspaper sellers over the Tower Hamlets Labour party (not to mention the fall out from Shiria Khatun’s sacking as deputy mayor by John Biggs).  More on that in another post, soon.

But rather it’s the Grenfell factor that acts as a spur to blog again. The ‘dull but worthy’ stuff needs doing. Except that the guest post below is by no means dull.

In a borough so historically split – or perceived to be split – on race grounds, there are few better unifiers among us all, but particularly schoolchildren, than sport. Invest in sport and you get so much more than the odd medal or rosette.

Over the past decade, one of the great success stories in inner city Tower Hamlets has been the huge improvement in the borough’s schools – and that’s so much more than exam results. The borough’s attitude to sports, especially as there are relatively few playing spaces, has been great.

In many ways, this has been down to the leadership of a few individuals. Former councillor Abdal Ullah deserves credit for his promotion of football, that’s for sure, but it was the ex-headteacher of Langdon Park School in Poplar, Chris Dunne, who has been the real visionary (he was Ed Miliband’s English teacher and he once taught me a lesson after he rightly challenged me over one of my pieces years ago).

His championing of the borough’s school sports partnership made it one of the best in Britain. But as he spells out below, all this is now at very real risk of being undone.

He blames John Biggs and Labour. Well, more than blame…his anger boiled over to such an extent on Wednesday night, that he was escorted out of the chamber by council officers. (I’m now in good company…).

The mayor and Labour, meanwhile, will no doubt say this is all about austerity and government cuts. Let’s hope they’re not playing politics.

OK, take a breather, sit back and enjoy this really excellent piece by Chris Dunne (pictured below).

By Chris Dunne

governance-sub_01Mayor John Biggs and Labour councillors on Wednesday night did to the children of Tower Hamlets what Michael Gove did to the children of the country. Just days before the fifth anniversary of the London Olympics they voted to make the staff of the most successful youth sports partnership in the country redundant and wind up its operations.

Why am I so angry with this? Well, first let me admit it is personal (I Chair the Foundation that supports its work), but also because I passionately believe that when we make promises we should mean what we say. As a country we won the right to stage the Olympics because we said we would use them to establish a lasting legacy for all young people. One year before the London Games the Coalition Government trashed that idea in public when Gove, representing the Coalition Government, dismantled the school sports partnerships that were already making such a huge and effective impact across our country.

On Wednesday night the Mayor of a Borough that is still proudly claiming to be ‘Olympic’ trashed the only partnership left in the country still providing all the opportunities we had promised to the world – and providing them not for well-off children but for some of the poorest and most deserving children in the nation.

What do I know about it? Pretty much everything, having been involved from the start 12 years ago.

I was Headteacher of Langdon Park secondary school from 1992 to 2013. In 2005 we became the first Sports Specialist College in the borough. As such we were designated by the Government to run one of the 500 School Sports Partnerships in the country. It was one of the very few times in my life when I can remember a Government both setting schools some hugely ambitious targets and providing them with the resources to reach them. In essence the SSPs were designed to do the following:

• Increase (to a specific percentage each year) the time spent weekly by children on sport and physical activity
• Increase substantially the number of different sports on offer to all children
• Each secondary school to release a trained PE teacher for half the week to work in a cluster of local primary schools helping to train primary colleagues to deliver quality PE lessons
• Create clear pathways for children to pursue their involvement in sport beyond the school gates and after they leave school, through links to local clubs

I was responsible for making this happen in 45 schools in Tower Hamlets, and the Government sent me the money to do it.

Chris Willetts

Chris Willetts

I advertised for someone to manage this project and was fortunate to secure the services of a young man called Chris Willetts who, since 2005, has with a highly committed team quite simply transformed the sporting landscape for the youth of our Borough.

A second SSP was established at the Council to do the same thing with the other half of the Borough. It rapidly became obvious to us that it made sense to combine the two SSPs and to let Chris manage both. He and all the staff we subsequently appointed were employed by my school, but on behalf of the Borough in whose schools they all worked.

Between 2005 and 2010 Chris worked tirelessly (at one point I later discovered he was sleeping in his car while he sorted out somewhere to live) to make this one of the most successful SSPs in the country. In 2005 the percentage of children in the Borough getting two hours or more PE / Sport a week was 25%. By the time Gove did his work five years later that figure had increased to 90%, and we had exceeded Government targets every single year.

The number of sports on offer was rapidly increased to 25, where it still stands – though not for much longer. Sports specialists were appointed in a range of sports, both to work in schools skilling up pupils and enthusing them to enjoy their sport, but also to establish after-school borough-wide clubs, identify talented children and link them up with clubs to develop their prowess. The year before Chris started work there were 2 inter-school sports competitions in the borough. Chris and his team set themselves highly ambitious targets and in very little time that number of competitions had increased to 70+ a year, where it stands to this day – though not for much longer.

Currently 12 of our sports have borough squads or academies. Two examples:

• In 2005 there were no judo clubs in Tower Hamlets. Our newly appointed coach Marius, rapidly established three clubs in the borough, still attended by hundreds of youngsters, many of whom compete at a high level. Along the way he spotted a very young boy called Leo in one of the primary schools who he believed had exceptional talent. Leo, now 18, fights up and down the country and abroad and has been identified for Junior Team GB, and Marius is still at his side.

• In Tower Hamlets many youngsters are very keen on cricket, especially among the borough’s large Bangladeshi community. Tower Hamlets has no cricket club. Chris Willetts is a serious cricket player himself and soon after arriving here joined Blackheath Cricket Club in Greenwich. The first youngsters from Tower Hamlets went to Blackheath in Chris’s car, more joined them in other staff cars, and more still could follow when we bought a minibus and appointed Jahid, an ex-Essex County player to lead the sport’s development. Dozens of our youngsters now play at Blackheath as members, some of them have progressed to county level, and one became the first young Bangladeshi to win a contract with the MCC. A couple of days ago we played the fifth of our annual matches against the MCC, where our youngsters, mostly Asian, get to play against (and have lunch and tea with) some very talented adult, and incidentally mostly white, cricketers.

Hope you’ve spotted the most important factor here. Our coaches are not just coaches in their sport – for many of our youngsters they become mentors, surrogate big brothers / sisters, personally involving themselves in overcoming many of the obstacles that our youngsters in particular often face. When one of our young cricketers was told by his family that he could not stay overnight on a tour of the West Country Chris Willetts drove him back to his house in Bow then picked him up the next morning to drive him back to Somerset.

When Gove destroyed the national SSP scheme, in Tower Hamlets we decided that this was too important to lose. Headteachers agreed to pay subscriptions to a new organization (we set up a Foundation that became a company and then a charity), Langdon Park agreed to continue to employ the staff, and the Council agreed to underwrite potential future redundancies, to passport the money they spent on the London Youth Games to the new Foundation and to commission services from it wherever feasible.

For four years of the past five the Foundation operated in surplus, but it was becoming apparent that things needed to change if we were to secure the future. Firstly, Langdon Park (I retired as Head in 2013) quite understandably did not want to employ the staff ‘ad infinitum’. Secondly, schools’ budgets were coming under increasing pressure. Thirdly, the Council had not only commissioned no services from us; they had not even paid us any money for schools to enter the annual London Youth Games. Indeed, a report commissioned by the Council itself showed that by comparison with similar boroughs they spent far less on young people, not least because of our Foundation’s existence. In reality everything that was happening in youth sport in the borough was being managed by us and paid for largely by the schools, together with some corporate sponsorship raised by the Foundation.

Trustees of the Foundation (by then I was the Chair) alerted the newly elected Mayor John Biggs to this in Autumn 2015 and sought his urgent intervention to construct a plan with us to secure this work for future generations of children. Apart from one conversation about taking the staff into the Council’s sports department almost nothing happened for a full year, which I wrote to the Mayor to point out. By the time any real discussions were being had a number of unforeseen factors had led to a small deficit being accumulated for the financial year 2016/17. We made it clear however that not only was this a blip (after four years of operating with a surplus) but one that could be easily remedied if the Council had the political will, and in particular was prepared to share the funding of this work with their schools.

dunne and miliband

Chris Dunne with his former pupil, Ed Miliband

This blog is not the place for a detailed account of the discussions between us. In essence, in our proposed business plan we asked the Council to transfer the staff from Langdon Park into the Council for an interim period while we examined the feasibility of setting up an independent trust (transferring staff to the Council was their own first suggestion, and would cost them nothing since they already underwrite redundancy costs). The Council declined, insisting instead on the transfer of all the staff (with their existing borough terms and conditions of employment) directly and pretty much immediately to the Trustees of the Charity.

Furthermore, they insisted that we produce a second business plan both to reflect this and to remove everything from our programme that was not school-based. Or to put it more clearly, to remove everything that I have already described in this article, and much more like it.

No more squads and academies. No more competitions. No more talent identification and nurturing. No more mentoring. No more children playing sport at the highest levels possible. No more county. No more national. No more Junior Team GB.

The Council surely can’t have been surprised when the Trustees told the Mayor that they found this an impossible prospect. To take on the costs of employing borough staff on borough terms and conditions would in itself have been very challenging, but to do so knowing that the programme they would be offering would be hugely less attractive both to the schools that would provide the bulk of their income and to the corporate sponsors who provided the rest, made it totally unviable. To this day the one option that was / is totally viable remains on the table, unopened. It’s really very simple:

• The Council transfers these ‘borough’ workers from Langdon Park to its
own direct control – funded by school subscriptions or made redundant (at no extra cost) if the schools do not buy the service

• The Council redresses the imbalance in spending of its existing budget for sport – an imbalance pointed out in a report it itself commissioned – to focus more resources on the very high youth population in the borough, thus reducing the costs to schools, who currently face enormous pressures on their budgets

In Tower Hamlets for the last five years schools and the Foundation have been doing everything in their power to keep the best sports partnership in the country alive in this seriously deprived ‘Olympic’ borough. In addition to everything I have already described, since we started our work over 200 teachers every year are trained by our staff to deliver high quality PE to their pupils An award-winning scheme has seen 2,500 teenagers, boys and girls of every race and religion, trained to lead and coach sport for younger children across the borough. Three youngsters have made it into Junior Team GB. Since we took over the running of our entry to the London Youth Games we have improved our position from 25th (out of 33 boroughs) to 9th. This year Tower Hamlets won “most improved borough” status at the London Youth Games.

Despite all of the above the Council made the decision to close the programme down and make the staff redundant. In typical cavalier fashion it was announced in an internal bulletin for Headteachers before any of the staff concerned had been officially informed. In fact, at the time of writing this article some of the staff concerned have still to be notified officially!

In just 10 days more than 6,000 children, parents, teachers, club officials and residents had signed a petition, and many dozens of them from every part of the borough had attended a rally at the Town Hall before the Council Meeting at which the petition would be debated. Hundreds of residents, young and old, have left messages of support on the on-line petition, pleading with the Council not to allow this service to go under. Their comments, some of which are reproduced below, make heart-warming reading.

A Bengali Muslim PE teacher is rare and I’ve only managed that because of THYSF. I get to be a role model for so many young girls out there and make a positive impact to our community. 

The Youth Sport Foundation was founded in Tower Hamlets to get young kids into the world of sports. It has positively impacted many kids within the borough to pursue their interest in sports and reach their goals through the help of many talented and highly experienced coaches. The Youth Sport Foundation has now become the target of the brutal and extensive budget cuts within the borough of Tower Hamlets and I am pleading with the many out there who feel as passionately as I do about the programme. Please take a few minutes to sign the petition I have provided so that we can keep this great cause alive. The Youth Sport Foundation has also helped me to pave my career as a teacher and I would not be where I am today without the support and guidance of the programme. 

This organisation has been doing an incredible job in a very troubled and impoverished borough. It has set me on to bigger and better things in life, I am currently in the NHS as a therapist but without Tower Hamlets Youth Sports, I wouldn’t be here. 

This program is amazing, It played major part in mine and many others individuals developments and integration to UK. 

I’m signing this because the company helps a lot of people get off the streets, also it has personally helped me massively THYSF is a fantastic organisation and I would never have been able to play at the high level of hockey which I do without being introduced into the sport by them. 

The Chair of the Youth Sport Trust, and the woman who oversaw the funding of Team GB, Baroness Campbell, had written to the Mayor to express her worry and disappointment at the decision.

All the Council were being asked to do differently, since the staff of the Foundation are already borough employees, was to help schools with the cost of running these programmes, by redirecting some of the £3.8m in their sports budget to this hugely successful enterprise. The Council’s own report has already shown that they spend far less on children’s sport because of the Foundation’s existence.

Seb (Lord) Coe wrote recently about the enormous damage done to youth sport in England in 2011 by “meddling and ill-informed government ministers” when they dismantled the highly successful school sports partnerships that were already making such a difference to young people’s lives. At Wednesday night’s council meeting Labour councillors, either because they don’t care or because they had been given false or inaccurate information by their Mayor, voted down a motion to protect the Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation and secure a sporting future for our children, and voted instead for an unpublished “plan” proposed by the Mayor that he must know is simply undeliverable.

The Mayor, protected by Standing Orders that clearly very few councillors understood, and that both denied them the right to ask me questions and me to have any right of reply, made a string of assertions that were either gross distortions of the facts or simply untrue.

The Mayor has apparently told his supporters that his plan will “support youth sport, including the provision of inter-borough, School Games and London Youth Games and support local clubs and elite sport”. Since he hasn’t bothered to seek the advice of the staff who have been delivering this service, including Chris Willetts, the man who has led this transformation for over 12 years, I have to assume that this “plan”, if it even exists, is just another example of the politician’s art, of saying a lot while intending to deliver little or nothing.

Those of us who have been involved with this Borough for many years know precisely what the sporting future now holds for our children and their families, as we rapidly return to the days when fewer and fewer sports are on offer, most of them without a borough squad or academy, when only a few children have the resources and connections to find their way to specialist clubs, almost all of them outside this borough, or to compete at the highest levels, leaving all that to children from more comfortably off families in more affluent parts of the country. All the while being forced to listen to ignorant and sickening drivel from privately educated politicians, bemoaning the fact that so many members of Team GB have come from independent or private schools.

Before security officers showed me to the door of the Council Chamber, and despite the best attempts of the Speaker to drown me out by banging her gavel, I managed to tell the Mayor and his supporters on the Labour benches (I’m a Labour Party member incidentally) that thousands of children and their families would never forgive them and that they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. So they should, and I intend to go on calling out this Mayor in public, to expose the lies and deceptions and downright incompetence that underlies this decision.

Let’s hope the Mayor will have the guts to face me in public rather than hiding behind the totally undemocratic ‘regulations’ that allowed him to rubbish our work and distort the facts, and not give me any right of reply. I’m not holding my breath.

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