Sunday, 26 April 2015

All About April

Well April’s certainly seen some lovely weather, with warm sunny days that hint more at summer than spring. I’ve certainly been enjoying the warm spell, experiencing my first spring in my new rural home – you can read more at

Of course, one of the big stories of the moment has been the election campaign with all its related debates, broadcasts and inevitable slanging matches – candidates running down the opposition as opposed to concentrating on their own policies. Like many voters I’m finding this a tough one to call, although I think that I’ve finally decided on how I’m going to vote. Key issues for me include saving the NHS, protecting our children’s education and putting an end to the ‘rob the poor to make the rich richer’ mentality!

With regard to education, I’m continuing my campaign to call for a complete review of Ofsted, please join me with that by tweeting #OfstedNoConfidence or lobbying your local MP.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get away for a short break this month, enjoying some time with my daughter and toddler grandson at Camber Sands. The weather was unbelievably kind to us and we were able to build sandcastles on the beach and even paddle in the sea! My daughter had booked us in at Pontin’s, which had caused me a little trepidation as I’d heard some damning reviews in the past, but I was pleasantly surprised. Although the accommodation was a little tired, the staff were lovely and the facilities pretty good. You’ll be able to read more about my stay in a future post.

Although I’m only a very occasional visitor to McDonald’s I recently went to my local branch that had recently been refurbished – and promptly despaired at the service! The branch has taken on a new Argos-esque persona whereby you queue twice – once to order and another to collect said order. The waiting time seemed much increased from the old system and the staff appeared more interested in distributing balloons than serving customers. This is no doubt another subject I’ll revisit in a future post.

Hope you’ve all had a great month, soaking up the sunshine and hopefully not becoming too disillusioned by all the political speak. Feel free to share some of your April highs and lows in the comments section of this blog!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Return Of The Random Thoughts

It’s been some time since I last shared some of my random thoughts with you, so here goes...

I’ve been enjoying the indulgence of the variety of little desserts that come under the heading ‘Pot Of Joy’ (current favourite Terry’s Chocolate Orange), but feel that there may have been a mistake with the labelling. I think it should read ‘Pot For Joy’, then they could all be mine!

Whilst out shopping recently, I bought an item that for some reason proceeded to set off the alarms in nearly every store that I subsequently entered. Annoying? Yes. But what was actually quite worrying was that in none of the shops that I visited did anyone check what was causing the problem. I could have been walking out with half their stock for all they knew!

So much for Tesco’s new, permanently low prices. Some of the targeted items that I’d started buying in the store have risen by as much as 40p during recent weeks. Granted, some products are still cheaper than elsewhere, but is this the start of a slippery slope, reverting back to higher prices quite quickly?

Talking of Tesco, I’m thoroughly frustrated with their freezer arrangement in my local store. The items seem to be displayed using some sort of spring-loaded system, meaning that if you select an item that you subsequently want to put back, you can’t fit it in. Even selecting an item in the first place makes you feel like you’re under attack – it’s a worrying experience.

Believe it or not, I’ve only recently discovered wine boxes! I often enjoy a glass of wine with the evening meal, sometimes adding a splash to a dish that I’m cooking, and I like to have a bit in reserve should visitors descend. I previously made sure that I had a bottle or two in stock, but after being given a box of wine as a present I’ve been converted. With boxes containing the equivalent of between three and six bottles of wine and lasting some six weeks after opening (keeping fresh, not magically refilling) they can be a handy, cost-effective buy. I’ve not been tempted to drink more because of the discovery; it’s just nice to know there’s enough to offer round if unexpected guests arrive!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ofsted – Review and Reform

Over the last few months I’ve written a couple of blog posts Are Ofsted Off The Mark? and Ofsted - The Response highlighting the inconsistencies of Ofsted reports and calling for a review of the system. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have joined in the #OfstedNoConfidence campaign, see hashtag/ofstednoconfidence
The reasons that I would like to see a total overhaul of Ofsted stem both from personal experience and the accounts that I read and hear from others concerning inconsistent and unfair reports.

For a number of years I worked in schools as support for the visually impaired. One school in particular that I went to had been given a glowing report, but turned out to be the worst school I’ve ever set foot in. Behaviour was appalling, morale was low (teachers and students) and lessons were not taught with any energy or enthusiasm.

A few years ago my son’s school was put into special measures by Ofsted, despite it being a high achieving establishment with a sense of pride and belonging. When I challenged Ofsted they admitted they had marked the school down on teaching and behaviour purely for it to score low enough to be put into these measures. Their main gripe was financial management, but as the school had no bursar or finance department, perhaps all that needed to happen was to agree to instigate one or the other. For some reason their agenda included getting rid of the (great, to my mind) head, by promising him that if he resigned other posts would be safe. As soon as he was clear of the school all the governors were dismissed and certain teaching staff ‘disappeared’ overnight. So much for making that deal good.

More recently there have been some other appalling, and quite sad, stories in the news about popular schools that have been condemned by Ofsted to the incredulity of staff, parents and pupils alike. Think Durham Free School, Bisham Primary School and The Ilfracombe Academy, to name a few.

Appeals and complaints directed at Ofsted themselves cut no mustard and The Department of Education seem to think that it’s nothing to do with them. So it’s down to us – the parents, teachers and students – to make enough noise to force an independent review of the situation.

It would appear that Ofsted don’t always work to the agenda that you would expect. Are some schools merely condemned just so they can be controlled by some of the dubious trusts that exist? To quote the Green Party, “Ofsted has become a political tool, as schools put into special measures can be fast-tracked to Academy status”. This is just one point of view, but I personally believe Ofsted have a different motive than is first apparent.

What reforms do there need to be? Well, here are a few ideas for starters.
- Change the existing forms designed for parents to complete, from tick boxes to forms that allow free and full comment.
- Include parents in the inspections themselves, holding a discussion session that can be attended by all those who would like to have their say.
- Ensure that all Ofsted teams are made up of a fair mix of inspectors from different backgrounds, beliefs, ages etc
- Ensure that all relevant data and comments are considered during the inspection, to include press (good and bad), parental complaints, evidence of community involvement, details of particularly difficulties that the school has had to overcome and so on.
- If a school genuinely falls down on a particular category, assistance should be provided to overcome that particular issue, rather than dismiss the head/close the school/put the school in special measures when there is often a solution available.

If there are ideas that you would like to see added to this list, please leave a comment on this blog, or tweet me @blogsbyjoy

Thank you for your support, please remember to use #OfstedNoConfidence on Twitter!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Death Of A High Street

Many High Streets have seen a large number of shop closures over the last couple of years, with some towns suffering more severely than others.

In some cases, closures have been the result of the demise of whole shopping chains, whilst others have been due to localised closures, where retailers have had to reduce store numbers to avoid total collapse.

I’ve visited some High Streets and shopping centres that appear to be holding up quite well, but others are ghosts of their former selves. One in particular that falls into the latter category is Chatham in Kent.

I was born and bred in Medway, having lived in various locations around the towns, often using Chatham as a place to shop. Although I have now moved out of the Medway area, I have made a couple of recent trips back to Chatham High Street when visiting relatives and can’t believe the change in the place.

As a child I loved to go and spend my birthday and pocket money in the town. There were some great toy shops (Youngsters and Gees) in the town and lots of big High Street stores such as Marks and Spencer, Woolworths, British Home Stores (as it then was), Co-op and Featherstones.

In the 1970s the Pentagon shopping centre opened (I remember going there to see the Wombles turn up for the official opening) and some of the stores from the High Street, such as WHSmith and Boots moved inside, as well as new shops arriving such as C&A and Etam.

Today both the High Street and Pentagon shopping centre are shadows of their former selves. Marks and Spencer and the now rebranded BHS moved out years ago and of course, Woolworths disappeared from all of our High Streets, but what is more concerning is the number of other retailers that have pulled out of the town, seemingly making it their first choice of towns from which to withdraw.

In light of the news that Tesco needed to close a large number of stores, Chatham was put on the hit list. Now WHSmith have also announced they’re shutting up shop and rumours are flying about who else is set to go.

Over the years national chains such as Next, Peacocks, Mothercare, HMV and The Early Learning Centre have, one by one, left the town, although all still exist in nearby Maidstone.

The only new shops that seem to be opening in the town are pound stores. Poundland, 99p Stores, Poundworld, The Mighty Pound, Around-a-pound – talk about in for a pound! Now whilst these shops may have their place, there are a hell of a lot of things you can’t buy in them and not all of us want to shop in them. It seems the more that the council allow these shops (along with betting shops, pawnbrokers and dubious ‘market-stall’ type shops) move into the town, the more the long-standing stores decide to leave. I always thought councils looked carefully at the balance of shops in a town, limiting numbers of any one type of shop, to maintain diversity.

shops are packing
up and going!
There was a time when people would have travelled to the town from all around Kent because of the great selection of shops on offer. Now the choices are miserable, the town looks dowdy and people not only don’t visit there to shop anymore, but even locals choose to travel elsewhere.

The decline of the town’s High Street is very sad and is largely due, I feel, to bad town management. It will take something miraculous to revive this dismal High Street.

How are High Streets near you holding up?