I was more than a little surprised to find out that I had been mentioned in the Belfast Newsletter today – in an article that seems aimed at damaging the reputation of the Northern Ireland Assembly Speaker, Robin Newton MLA.
I had always assumed that if you were to be mentioned in a Newspaper article that the journalist – in this case Sam McBride – would do you the courtesy of contacting you to check the accuracy of the piece and to alert you to the article. Apparently not!
The article actually has very little substance to it, and hangs on an exploratory paper I wrote for a meeting of some people at the Policing Board with myself, Charter NI and representatives of the PSNI. The article attempts to frame the meeting as some kind of conspiracy to channel money to Charter NI without going through the normal protocols that surround public funding. The article mentions myself and also Dr Jerome Stein (though it doesn’t really tell you who either of us are). The journalist also publishes the daily rate I had budgeted for my time on a project (more of that shortly) at £350 per day – presumably to try to suggest that the rate is somehow excessive.
Pretty sloppy journalism in my view.
The meeting was arranged to discuss Learning Dreams – a model for addressing the academic under-achievement of children by working with their parents on their own learning – built around a passion that the parent had, but lost in the pressures of life in difficult circumstances. If Sam had even googled me he could have easily found my blog-posts on the project. It was developed by Dr Jerry Stein of the University of Minnesota – and is proven as a highly effective way of addressing educational under-achievement. If Sam had asked me I could have told him of the many attempts I have made to pilot this model in Northern Ireland previously in my role as CEO of Public Achievement and currently in my role as a freelance trainer and facilitator. In terms of the Policing Board, there has been interest among members in Learning Dreams for several years, and long before any mention of Charter NI.
In short – the story is a non-story.
At the meeting, it was made very clear that it was a purely exploratory discussion. I was very clear indeed that any proposal would have to be in response to a public procurement process. My paper – which the Newsletter “…obtained by other means”, was purely to aid discussion. The potential involvement of Charter NI – which was a very recent development for me – was in terms of the access they had to families in areas where some of the most serious levels of academic underachievement (especially in the well-documented case of protestant working-class boys) persist. As I no longer run a charity, any Learning Dreams project would need an organisational home, and Charter NI was one potential option that we were simply exploring at that point.
I have put a huge amount of my own time and resources into promoting Learning Dreams as a concept here, and Dr Stein has visited Northern Ireland on a number of occasions to discuss it, often at his own expense. I firmly believe that Learning Dreams as an approach could be far more effective than most of the approaches – including school reform – that have been tried and tried again. My daily rate is normally between me and my clients (and varies depending on the client), but has to cover the days I am not working, the overheads I have as a one-man business and the time I have to spend doing research and chasing potential projects, and also now, responding to non-news!
In May this year, Jerry visited again at his own expense. During the visit we met with a wide range of interested parties, and he and I spent time with a Charter NI worker – Gareth Beacom – who took us around the ‘Diamond’ area at the top of the Albertbridge Road. Both of us were really struck at Gareth’s skills and instinct in his work locally and how good a fit he would be as a Learning Dreams practitioner.
I am not sure what the agenda of the Newsletter or the person ‘leaking’ my paper is – but I don’t appreciate being collateral damage in someone’s attempt to damage the DUP. If you know me, then you know I am not a fan – but I can see nothing in Mr Newton’s involvement in this that is in any way improper. He saw Learning Dreams as a potential way to change outcomes that have been hugely resistant to change in his community. Frankly I wish more MLAs were as interested in the welfare of their constituents!