NEWS: Erdington parents ‘threatened with fines’ for children not returning after half term

Words & pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… The images used in the article are archive pictures of schools in Erdington and ARE NOT RELATED to the people who have supplied quotes or their children.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or have any updates or developments from a school in Erdington, please get in touch – you can send us a direct message via the Erdington Local Facebook page or email sue@erdingtonlocal.com

As schools reopen after the half term holidays, families across Erdington are being ‘threatened with fines’ if they still feel the classroom is not COVID-19 safe and keep their children at home.

Despite another national lockdown closing the country from 5th November, parents and carers are being told that all young people must go back to school this week – or literally pay the price for any absences.

Birmingham City Council had previously taken the stance to not impose the fixed penalty notices, which had been set by the Department of Education in July, electing to wave the fines for the first half term.

But as school gates open for the last few weeks of the Autumn term, families keeping their children at home could be charged up to £120 for every empty chair they now leave in the classroom.

With increased concerns over the rising cases of coronavirus, many Erdington parents and carers feel they should be allowed to choose what is best for their children – without facing even more debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natasha Court has two children at primary school in Erdington, she says: “I believe it is completely wrong that the City Council are threatening parents with fines for actively carrying out their duty of care to protect their children whilst still ensuring they are being educating them at home.

All children need an education, 100%, but a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate, particularly in the midst of a worsening health pandemic.”

She adds: “I have two children with health conditions who would both be at heightened risks of serious complications should they catch COVID-19. I have my own health conditions too. No matter what schools do, they cannot protect our children in a class of 30.

Fines will hit the financial and mental wellbeing of the families who are already struggling. So the ‘alternatives’ they are left with are to send them to school and be put at risk, or de-register and be let down by the system that is supposed to help ALL children get a strong start to life through education. This is not right nor fair.”

Another Erdington parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I have been threatened with fines from the Council if I now don’t send my child into school.

This is completely unfair. How can they tell me school is safe for my child when they have already had cases in the school?

With cases and deaths rising sharply now all I want to do is protect my whole family, yet I am unable to do that due to potentially being fined.

Attending school during a pandemic should be the parents’ choice to make.”

Schools across Birmingham open for the final weeks of the Autumn term from Monday 2nd November.

As set by the Department of Education in July this year, fixed penalties of £60 can be imposed for any absentee child – increasing to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

Minister for Education, Gavin Williams, announcing fines on LBC Radio (first broadcast on July 29th)

For the latest information on coronavirus restrictions in Birmingham, issued by Birmingham City Council, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/coronavirus_advice

For the latest information on the lockdown starting from 5th November, issued by Government, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november

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LOCAL PROFILE: Nikki Tapper

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Nikki Tapper

Erdington Local is proud to support Black History Month. The newspaper will be releasing a local profile piece each week focusing on black members of the community, amplifying these voices and celebrating the richness of multi-cultural Erdington.

Erdington resident Nikki Tapper professes to wear “three hats. Teacher by profession, radio broadcaster and event host.” She is a familiar voice to many local people via radio airwaves, working for BBC WM since 2003.

Her regular BBC WM programme ‘Sunday Night with Nikki’ focuses on ‘stories that matter to the Midland’s African and Caribbean communities.’ Erdington Local explores her varied life as a local personality.

Born in Smethwick, Nikki now lives and works in Erdington. She tells Erdington Local about her experience as a teacher.

I started off lecturing in Business Studies in Wolverhampton for four years. I left there and came to Kingsbury – now Erdington Academy – and taught there five years.” She fondly remembers a student who would call her teasingly call her ‘Miss TT’ after the Audi TT car she owned at the time.

Nikki made the tough leap from mainstream education to teaching at City of Birmingham School, a citywide Pupil Referral Unit [PRU] with sites across Birmingham. In her own words, these are often for “emotionally based school refusers – they struggled with anxiety and had mis-diagnosed learning needs, or were diagnosed with being autistic or ‘on the spectrum’”.

Whilst Nikkiloved teaching” at the PRU, she bemoans the way that young people from difficult backgrounds or with emotional needs continue to get inadequate support – even in PRUs. She feels like the educational system is saying: “if you don’t fit the mainstream setting, then we’ll put you in another setting that will just fit the mainstream setting again.”

Nikki’s work at City of Birmingham School understandably caused her a lot of stress, bringing with it more challenges that a mainstream educational setting.

Nikki remembers one time “one of my students got stabbed and I ran after one of the perpetrators,” and rather boldly “went straight back to work after that.” She also recalls how “last year we had an attempted kidnapping, to do with ‘County Lines’” – the system of recruiting young people to courier drugs and contraband in and out of the city.  

From working in one of the toughest teaching environments, Nikki is now self-employed. She wants to “take how I would like to work with young people, work with them in a small group setting, help them build their confidence and self-esteem.”  

Nikki is also a familiar voice across Birmingham radio, having presented shows on BBC Radio West Midlands for over 20 years. Recently Nikki also presented a six part series called ‘COVID Conversations’ on Newstyle Radio, speaking to ‘people living and working in Black Communities across the West Midlands to understand how COVID has affected their lives.’

Also known for her long running Radio WM show ‘The Gospel Lounge with Nikki Tapper’, she commenced her radio career in Christian radio: “I’m a proud wife, mother, and committed Christian” proclaims Nikki.

She recounts an early job with radio being to “run around Church notices boards in Birmingham noting down service times” – gathering content and information for congregations, announcing on air: “St John’s in Great Barr, Sunday service starts at eleven O’clock, with Bible study on a Wednesday at seven.”

Now a prestigious broadcaster working for the BBC, Nikki thoroughly enjoys working in radio, saying it’s “a great medium to use your imagination,” and a “great way of not having to stress about what you look like. That’s why I tell people I look like Halle Berry!”

In her time as a broadcaster, Nikki has interviewed a high calibre of celebrities, including singer Mary Wilson from The Supremes, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, musician Tito Jackson from the Jackson Five, comedian Sir Lenny Henry, Dawn Butler MP, and one of her favourites DJ Trevor Nelson.

A champion of her city and community, when asked about Black History Month Nikki tells Erdington Local: “I struggle with Black History Month, if I’m honest. Black history is just HISTORY. It’s history across the year.”

She recalls, as a teacher, that “my education and teaching head would say ‘Oh here we go again, we better do black history; let’s put up Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. We didn’t really change the conversation, the rhetoric, we didn’t really look at the curriculum.”

But the agenda of Black History Month is still a relevant one, with the global struggle for, and through emancipation, an ongoing and important conversation. Nikki notes some huge milestones to celebrate in 2020, such as “The National Trust saying ‘actually, 93 of our stately homes have been built by slaves.”

Talking about her personal experience as a black woman, she felt growing up she was “not really valued,” and that the opinion was that “the race that I come from didn’t add anything, other than ‘let you run for my country. Play your music – I love your music – play a bit of Bob Marley.’”

Adding to the narrative, Nikki has a positive call for the future way black history is thought of: “I want people to recognise that actually yes – in the 18th century, 19th century, there were black people that could have been utilised differently, and they were only presented as subservient.”

Erdington Local asked Nikki her thoughts on Erdington itself. “I love Erdington,” she says with a smile. Speaking of its past, she continues: “it was like this little unknown jewel in the north of the city that had this eclectic mix of characters, those who had money, those who didn’t, those who were very creative, those who just wanted to get on with it.”

She expresses concerns, however, for Erdington today: “what I’ve seen change in our part of the city has been neglect for those who really need help.”  She praises the huge efforts by volunteer groups and churches “such as Oikos Church, St Barnabas, the Arts Forum, Standing Ovation,” to make Erdington a better place to live.

With plans for more investment into the High Street, Erdington “could be like Brixton,” suggests Nikki. “Let’s just hope we don’t price ourselves out.”

For more on BBC WM’s ‘Sunday Night with Nikki’, visit www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07pcktr

To find out more about Nikki Tapper, visit www.nt-events.co.uk 

For more on Birmingham Back History Month , visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

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NEWS: Erdington Academy given green light for £6.8m expansion to cater for 300 more pupils

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington Academy has been given the go-ahead to increase the number of its pupils from 900 to 1,200 after Birmingham City Council agreed to inject nearly £6.8 million into the school.

The Kingsbury Road secondary school will be refurbished and a brand new two story teaching block will be built on site – with work beginning next month and completed by Christmas 2021.

The new teaching block will include science labs and prep rooms, a drama teaching space, staff work rooms, office space and new staff and pupil toilets.

Birmingham City Council’s cabinet approved the £6,825,463 capital investment after a report from Dr Tim O’Neill, Director for Education and Skills, which said the authority had “a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient pupil places.”

The near £7m bill will be paid for from the Department for Education (DfE) Basic Need Grant and School Condition Grant.

However, consequential revenue costs arising from additional places including additional staffing, utility costs and any on-going day to day repair and maintenance will be the responsibility of Erdington Academy.

Balfour Beatty has been chosen as the construction partner for the scheme and ground is set to be broken at the school on November 23.

Councillor Jayne Francis, cabinet member for education, skills and culture, backed the new investment into Erdington Academy.

She said: “We have a duty to ensure that sufficient school places are available in our city.

Erdington Academy currently has 900 pupils, and the proposal is to expand two forms of entry to 1,200 places for pupils aged 11 to 16 years old.

There’s been a slight delay with planning, so it will be heard toward the end of September and once secured we will be able to carry on with completion of the work.”

Erdington Academy (formerly Kingsbury School and Sports College) converted to an Academy within the Fairfax Multi Academy Trust (FMAT) in 2016.

To find out more about Erdington Academy visit www.erdingtonacademy.bham.sch.uk

For more on Fairfax Multi Academy Trust (FMAT), visit www.fmat.co.uk

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FEATURE: Concerns and mixed emotions across Erdington more children go back to their classrooms

Words by & pics by Ed King

From 15th June, more Erdington children will be brought back into their classrooms – as Government guidelines encourage ‘face to face time’ with Years 10 and 12, whilst giving primary schools ‘greater flexibility to invite back more pupils.’

But as the school doors are increasingly creaked open ahead of the summer holiday, parents and carers across Erdington are still voicing their concerns – according to a constituency wide survey conducted by Erdington MP, Jack Dromey.

When asked, nearly two thirds of Erdington’s parents and carers had doubts about their children returning to the classroom – with over 50% stating: ‘I do not think children should be going back and I will not be sending my children back.’

Over half of these fears were rooted in educators being unable to implement adequate physical distancing, with the ever present worry that there would be ‘an outbreak of the virus in school.’

Approximately a third of parents and carers were worried about a ‘lack of PPE and safeguarding’ – with a similar concern expressed over there being no ‘testing available’ for young people returning to traditional education.

But a significant number of parents and carers identified concerns over mental health and wellbeing, with 56% stating ‘Children finding the social distancing measures upsetting / unsettling’ as a pertinent concern.

In response to questions about what would build confidence, around a quarter of parents and carers wanted clearer ‘information’ and ‘understanding’ from both Government and educators – with 56% stating ‘Headteachers, teachers and teaching unions being confident it’s safe’ would help allay their fears and concerns.

However, as voiced by much of the country, a significant fall in new cases reported or the introduction of a vaccine would be the best way to build public confidence – with 73% stating these as the most inspiring sign posts on the road map through the coronavirus crisis.

In response to the findings of the survey, Jack Dromey MP – who has represented Erdington in the houses of Parliament since 2010 – issued a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, addressing ‘the actions that are urgently needed to instil confidence in parents that schools are safe for their children.’

‘There can be no doubt about it,’ the letter continues, ‘we need to ensure a return to school as soon as possible. But crucially, this can only be done when it is safe. Children across the country are missing out on vital education, especially those who are due to take exams this year.’

Erdington Local also reached out to parents and carers across the constituency, asking what school life was like for the children who had returned to their classrooms.

My youngest son went back to nursery last Monday,” tells Sarah Hodgetts – whose son, Harry (4), attends Paget Primary School Nursery.

His school have put so many new procedures in place that I had originally said no but changed my mind and so glad I did. School is very safe and even at age four he understands and follows instruction. His mental health has been the best improvement; he’s a happy child again. 

We’ve gone from him worrying about everything to sleeping well again, wanting to play at home more and more settled in himself, definitely did the right thing allowing him to go back to school.”

Laura Crowley, whose child Jessica Rose (6) went back to Birches Green Junior School on Monday 15th June, tells “I have not long collected my daughter from school. She came out with a huge smile on her face and when asked if she’s has a good day she replied ‘yes’ –  she also said ‘social distancing was fun’ which reassured myself that teachers and staff are trying to make the whole situation a positive one for the children.”

Alongside a “staggered approach to children coming in and out of school using the one way system,” Jessica Rose is also “now in a class of seven rather than 32… called their ‘family bubble’.

All children have their own desks and packs containing any resources they will need for the day, to ensure they’re not touching/sharing equipment. They’re not allowed to take coats into school and are required to be in a clean uniform every day; PE will also be done in uniform to avoid PE bags been taken into school. 

The school communicated all changes very well, on the school website a video was uploaded showing these changes to allow us parents to show these to our children prior to sending them back to school.”

However, local mum Maria Rooney has been keeping her son Billy (5) at home since the lock down began – choosing to continue home schooling and not send him back to Abbey RC Primary Schoolas the medical advice seems to be at odds with Governmental direction. Press have warned there may be an imminent second wave of the virus so we chose to keep Billy at home for the moment.

We start ‘school” at 10am each morning,” continues Maria, “and try to do around 2.5 hours each day with snack breaks in between.

We also have a 4 year old who’s just left nursery so coordinating activities to suit both has been my biggest challenge. We’ve mostly created our own ideas for learning – bugs and habitats in the garden, outer space and our planet – along with the maths apps from school, craft making and art. 

The communications from the school have been adequate and they’d kept us updated as they’ve been updated. I believe the schools don’t know the government’s plans until the last minute – which has been much more frustrating for the school staffing community rather than the parents.”

But whilst parents and carers are making individual decisions about the safety and schooling of their children, one thing seemingly unites them – the need for clearer guidelines from Government and more support for educators, many of whom have been forced into making radical changes to their classrooms with little practical advice.

A clarion call for clarity reiterated by Jack Dromey MP, who states: “I am calling on the Education Secretary, and the Government, to work with the Labour Party to build a cross-party consensus around the return to school that would give parents the confidence that sending their children back is safe. 

We need to end the chaos and confusion and build a unity of approach around the return to school for the good of the nation.” 

For the latest news and developments from the Department for Education, visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education

For more from Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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