For over three years now people in Totterdown have been promised a far-reaching consultation on the 10,000 seat Arena that may or may not be built just yards from their homes.
Despite a stream of warm words and guarantees, initially from the city council and the SWRDA and then from the public-private developer gang – BWA (Bristol Waterside Arena) – they set up, no such consultation has ever happened.
Neither has BWA – theoretically a partnership of the city council, the SWRDA and billion pound multinational corporate concrete interests – bothered to update or inform the local community on any aspect of this major development project in over a year.
City council planners, meanwhile, have washed their hands of the whole affair telling locals it’s the responsibility of the secretive and uncommunicative BWA to keep them informed.
However, while the adult population of Totterdown is studiously ignored by the developers that’s not the case with the local children. For it seems a team of ethically-minded corporate PR consultants employed by BWA have visited the local primary school, Hillcrest, to take classes with the seven year olds there!
The result of these visits can viewed at the school – a stream of letters from cute little kids explaining why an Arena would be really, really good for kids and improve their lives no end while anything else on the site like, say, a supermarket would be really bad. Well fancy that! How on earth did the kids ever reach these Arena-friendly conclusions?
Providing corporate PRs free and open access to our children’s classrooms to sell their products at any time is an extremely dubious practice. But as the city council also has a number of interests in the Arena development as the land owners and the planning authority already, you have to ask what the hell they think they’re doing using their local education authority to directly market these interests to 7 year olds? It’s certainly an interesting interpretation of their legal responsibilities to these children and the duty of care they are supposed to be upholding.
Neither is this an isolated incident. Back in 2003-2004 a row exploded between The City Academy, St George and the local community in Whitehall when the school wanted to fence in a local open space, Packers Field, and stop all public access. During the course of an extremely bad-tempered planning process, the city council received a number of letters supporting the school’s proposals from children attending both The City Academy and the local primary school.
The content of these letters was quite extraordinary. The letters claimed that Packers Field must be ‘saved’ from the campaigners who wanted to stop the children using it. Many bluntly stated that the campaigners were trying to ‘make money out of it’. And showing an admirable knowledge of local government organisation, all the letters had been addressed by the children to Stephen McNamara, the Head of Legal Services at Bristol City Council.
Further investigation quickly revealed that these letters has been written in lessons by the kids with the help of teachers who had also provided all “the facts’ on the matter. None of the campaigners from the community were ever invited into these schools to put their point of view across – although they might have thought it inappropriate to encourage the involvement of primary age children in the row anyway.
Are there not rules for schools and the local education authority about exposing children to political bias? These may relatively small, local issues but they’re political nonetheless.
More worrying is the fact that in both cases the children have only been provided with one highly partial point of view on the issues and then been pressured into reaching a pre-arranged conclusion suitable to the local authority. There’s no educational value whatsoever in any of this although there’s potentially huge political capital to be gained by the perpetrators. Why is it allowed to happen?
And you have to wonder where the university educated teachers and LEA staff responsible for this are coming from. Surely their education didn’t just consist of being spoon fed a line that they would faithfully spout back on request… Did it?
Maybe the LEA could get their resident ethical expert, Behaviour and Attendance Consultant Esther Pickup-Keller, to look at these matters and issue some guidance urgently?
Or then again maybe not… As she spends her spare time promoting and publishing half-truths, faked documents and dodgy PR on behalf of the local Labour Party it’s doubtful she’d find much wrong with our schools becoming marketing opportunities for her party’s friends in the concrete industry.
As for Esther’s husband Derek “the Dalek” Pickup, the new education boss, his soppy claim to “believe in learning through play” already looks like more threadbare New Labour bollocks. He can say he believes in what he likes but what he’s running is more akin to “brainwashing through corporate PR”.
(Additional reporting on Packer’s Field from: Packer’s Field: Reminds me of another time and another place)