Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Making a believer out of Boris...

London Mayor, Boris Johnson started to follow me on Twitter yesterday. I was able to welcome him and say how pleased I am when later on in the evening I bumped into him at the London Voluntary Service Council's 100th anniversary celebration at the Mansion House. It was a super evening with a great many familiar faces, including Drew Stevenson who was Chair when I was on LVSC’s board, John O’Brien (CEO at London Councils), Peter Lewis (CEO at LVSC), my old friend Stephen Bubb, CEO at acevo and of course Boris.

I always enjoy Boris’s speeches. As you travel with him to the destination of the point he wants to make, it often feels like a ramble, but it always turns out to be the route with views. He told us how incensed he was by the story during the snowy winter of the chap who was told not to clear snow from the path in front of his house in case anyone slipped on it, in which case he would be liable. Our mayor lamented a culture where people are put off taking responsibility. I thought of the heroic initiative taken by social entrepreneurs like those running the Parent Promoted Foundation, which was hinted at in Michael Gove’s interview with the BBC this morning, who are really willing to do something about my local, shambolic school.

Picking up Boris’s theme and that of schools I am very aware that we are entering the 'school trip' season. I hate school trips. I do not understand how schools that do not feel able to examine children for head lice feel confident in taking them abroad. Nor do I accept the ridiculous expense of these trips. To put it into perspective the state pays roughly £3000 per head for each child to attend a primary school per annum and yet parents at my school are asked to stump up a whopping £550 for each child to go to the Dordogne where they won’t speak French, eat French food or study French history. Instead they will bounce on French trampolines and jump out of French canoes.

In my day it was a day trip to Kew Gardens or memorably Southampton Docks to look at the cargo ships. I am particularly anti as my eldest Joe, an otherwise fit and healthy boy with manageable asthma has been hospitalised twice in his life, both times upon return from school trips. The last time I remember standing in a hospital ward watching Joe, oxygen mask on his face, fighting for every breath whilst I talked on my mobile to the Head teacher who explained that they had not been able to take him to a doctor in France, when he failed to respond to his medication, because she didn’t have sufficient staff. This is not in loco parentis but it is consistent with a society where teachers don’t feel they can put sun cream on kids on a sunny day, and need a signed parental permission slip to lead a class to the post box in front of the school to post a letter!

The number of parents struggling to make ends meet is rising in our neck of the woods, as the recession continues to bite and yet the cost of these mad trips is rising. The pressure on parents not to stigmatise their children by failing to come up with the goods is immense and yet seems of no consideration. As these jamborees occur during term time, children not on the trips have to go to school, by themselves. I think all such ventures in primary schools should be limited to day trips and while we are at it teachers should be able to put on sun cream, and every school should have a 'nit nurse' to stem the rising plague. Then and only then I might trust them to get as far as Southampton docks but would only want to sign up if the cost was affordable for everyone, and I mean everyone.

Tonight is the big night. We have our AGM and hustings. The line up includes our minister, Angela Smith and her Conservative and Liberal Democrat counterparts Nick Hurd and Jenny Willott. We have over 150 social enterprise leaders coming and chocolate and condoms to pass out. Thanks to Divine and Global Ethics for sponsoring the event and illustrating the fabulously diverse world of social enterprise. I hope to see you there, but if you can't make it you can follow the whole thing on Twitter under #VoteSocEnt10.

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