Thursday, August 31, 2006

Piggybacking on terror in Britain: "Two days after British authorities broke up an alleged plot to blow up multiple aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean, the "moderate" Muslim establishment in Britain published an aggressive open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair. It suggested that Mr. Blair could better fight terrorism if he recognized that the current British government policy, especially on "the debacle of Iraq," provides "ammunition to extremists." The letter writers demanded that the prime minister change his foreign policy to "make us all safer." One prominent signatory, the Labour member of Parliament Sadiq Khan, added that Mr. Blair's reluctance to criticize Israel increased the pool of people whom terrorists can recruit. In other words, Islamists working within the system exploited the thwarted Islamist terror plot to pressure the British government to implement their joint wishes and reverse British policy in the Middle East. Lawful Islamists shamelessly leveraged the near death of thousands to forward their agenda.... "
Australia now educating lots of Brits

That their own government cannot afford to educate

For most British youngsters, Australia and New Zealand are unbeatable places to while away a gap year. But now increasing numbers are being lured Down Under to further their education. Since 2002 the number of British students seeking to study at under and postgraduate level there has risen by more than a third, with more than 6,250 studying there last year alone. This year, as 53,000 students look unlikely to gain places at British universities, five leading antipodean institutions are offering scholarships to encourage them to look farther afield.

Sports sciences, health sciences and Asian studies have attracted British students in the past, but now people who want to study medicine or veterinary science but have failed to gain a place at a university in Britain are considering the move, says Kathleen Devereux, from the Australian Trade Commission. "You'd think of the UK market as being a fairly mature market, but we have had 12 per cent year-on-year growth from 2002 to 2005, which is extraordinary," she said.

With Australian fees averaging between 4,800 and 10,000 pounds a year, payable each term, the courses are more expensive than those in England, which has 3,000 pound fees payable on graduation. Fees for degrees in medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences are higher still. But with lower living costs, a strong pound, and thirteen Australian and three New Zealand universities in the world top 200 universities, according to the Times Higher Education Supplement, they are a big draw. "Tuition fees bring into parity the cost of going to a British or Australian university at undergraduate level. The fees in Australia are higher, but the living expenses are much less, so it's an attractive alternative," Ms Devereux said.

Of the 3,888 British students in Australia last year, more than half were undergraduates. By June this year 3,328 students had registered.


The British love of revealing biographies is under threat because of a legal case about a Canadian folk singer determined to keep the public from finding out what lay under the linoleum in her Irish cottage. The ramifications could also affect "kiss-and-tell" stories in print and on television, and could give stars the power to veto photographs taken in public.

Publishers and media organisation are now mounting a legal battle against the "backdoor" assault on freedom of expression. Loreena McKennitt, whose albums including The Book of Secrets and The Mask and Mirror have sold 13m copies worldwide, went to the High Court in London to stop a former friend from publishing a book about her. While the details of the case are not judged to be important, it was what Mr Justice Eady said in his judgment that has exercised legal minds. They fear that the most trivial or anodyne details about a celebrity's life, even ones that are known to the public, could now be hidden under the guise of protecting privacy.

Times Newspapers (publishers of The Sunday Times), other newspaper groups, the Press Association, the BBC, BSkyB and a number of magazine publishers will go to the Court of Appeal on September 4 to seek permission to intervene in the case. They also fear public figures such as politicians and celebrities will use the case in an attempt to muzzle information that has already been made public. One media lawyer said: "It would be like trying to make someone a virgin again."

Literary and other public figures who have fought to block unauthorised biographies include JK Rowling, Bono, Mary Archer and Sir John Mortimer. Eady awarded McKennitt 5,000 pounds damages and an injunction preventing Niema Ash from Hampstead, northwest London, publishing specific passages in her book Travels With Loreena McKennitt: My Life as a Friend. These included such mundane matters as what was under the lino of the house in Ireland, how many bunk beds were put up when visitors came to stay and what happened when McKennitt was aroused from sleep.

But his judgment went much further. For the first time a British court drew on a 2004 ruling at the European Court of Human Rights that said photographs of Princess Caroline of Monaco shopping in a public place or in a swimming costume at a beach club breached her right to privacy. The judge claimed there was a "significant shift" taking place between, on the one hand, the right of freedom of expression and the corresponding interest of the public to receive information and, on the other hand, "the legitimate expectation of citizens to have their private lives protected".

He said information about an affair between two people could be protected even if one of them decided to reveal it to the public; incorrect information could breach someone's right to privacy; and the fact that something was already in the public domain did not always mean it could be published again.

Ash has lodged an appeal and the media organisations are seeking to join in the action when it is heard later this year. McKennitt has said in an interview: "Privacy is integral to people's emotional and psychological wellbeing. It doesn't matter if you are a so-called public figure."

Media lawyers say the case has wider ramifications than the long-running one brought against a tabloid newspaper by Naomi Campbell, the supermodel. She won 3,500 pounds damages from the Daily Mirror after it revealed her fight against drug addiction. The Court of Appeal overturned the award but the House of Lords then allowed the model's appeal against that judgment, saying the newspaper had gone too far in detailing her medical treatment.

Under the Eady judgment, celebrities will be able to sue for breach of privacy over the slightest affront to their feeling of self-importance. They will not have to prove that something is untrue, but just that raising it has invaded their privacy.

A spokesman for the solicitors Farrer & Co said: "This judge has clearly recognised the development of privacy cases in Europe. This judgment will be much quoted in future `kiss-and-tell' actions."

U.K.: Organic milk controversy: "Organic milk is healthier than standard pasteurised milk, scientists have said in a call on the Government to revise official advice. A letter written by 14 scientists that was received today by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) claims that organic milk has higher levels of Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which are thought to boost health and provide protection from coronary heart disease. The authors of the letter want the FSA to change its stance on organic milk and "recognise that there are differences that exist between organic and nonorganic milk". But the FSA said: "On the basis of current evidence, the agency's assessment is that organic food is not significantly different in terms of food safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally."

Blood worth bottling: "Blood products taken from people who have recovered from bird flu could be useful for treating other patients in the event of a pandemic, research has suggested. An analysis of how such transfusions were used in hospitals during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 has indicated that they reduced the risk of death and eased symptoms, raising the prospect that a similar approach could be used against H5N1 influenza. Although vaccines and antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu are likely to be the front line of defence today, blood plasma transfusions could provide a valuable back-up. They could prove a particularly valuable weapon against the H5N1 virus in developing countries with poor access to vaccines and antivirals, scientists said yesterday."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Headteacher who never taught again after daring to criticise multiculturalism

Early yesterday afternoon, Ray Honeyford was listening with unconcealed delight to the radio commentary from the C&G Cup final at Lord's cricket ground as the Sussex batsmen, already 68 for 5, battled to find some form. Lancashire, Mr Honeyford, noted cheerfully, were doing rather well, as he watched through the window while his wife, Angela, and a friend tended to the garden. "My wife does all the gardening," Mr Honeyford says, "partly because I'm too lazy, partly because she doesn't want my help." He motions towards the potted flowers that sit on the polished table in the centre of his living room. He says he cannot name them, this by way of proving his horticultural ignorance.

The plants are Angela's, as are the prints of the Cezanne paintings and the black and white family pictures that line the walls of the living room of their modest house in Bury, Manchester. There are some framed medals of Mr Honeyford's uncle, a "Manchester lad like me", who was killed in the First World War, but nothing that reflects his own career as a teacher. No qualifications behind glass to recall the achievements of the boy from the large impoverished family who had initially failed his 11-plus, but nevertheless managed to become a Bachelor of Arts by correspondence and then a Master of Arts.

There are no photographs of him pictured with his students. But that was all a long time ago now. Mr Honeyford, 72, "retired" more than 20 years ago as the headmaster of a school in Bradford. Or, at least, that was when he was vilified by politically correct race "experts", was sent death threats, and condemned as a racist. Eventually, he was forced to resign and never allowed to teach again.

His crime was to publish an article in The Salisbury Review in 1984 doubting whether the children in his school were best served by the connivance of the educational authorities in such practices as the withdrawal of children from school for months at a time in order to go ''home" to Pakistan, on the grounds that such practices were appropriate to the children's native culture. In language that was sometimes maladroit, he drew attention, at a time when it was still impermissible to do so, to the dangers of ghettoes developing in British cities.

Mr Honeyford thought that schools such as his own, the Drummond Middle School, where 95 per cent of the children were of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, were a disaster both for their pupils and for society as a whole. He was a passionate believer in the redemptive power of education, and its ability to integrate people of different backgrounds and weld them into a common society. He then became notorious for, among other things, his insistence that Muslim girls should be educated to the same standard as everyone else.

Last week, 22 years on, he was finally vindicated. The same liberal establishment that had professed outrage at his views quietly accepted that he was, after all, right. Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, made a speech, publicly questioning the multiculturalist orthodoxies that, for so long, have acted almost as a test of virtue among "right-thinking" people. As Miss Kelly told an audience: "There are white Britons who do not feel comfortable with change. They see the shops and restaurants in their town centres changing. They see their neighbourhoods becoming more diverse.

Detached from the benefits of those changes, they begin to believe the stories about ethnic minorities getting special treatment, and to develop a resentment, a sense of grievance. We have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness. These are difficult questions and it is important that we don't shy away from them. In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture, have we ended up with some communities living in isolation of each other, with no common bonds between them?"

Miss Kelly's speech comes two decades too late to save the career of Mr Honeyford. And asked last week whether the minister's speech would change anything, Mr Honeyford shrugged resignedly and said it was too late for that, too. He remains, understandably, bitter about the whole episode. He had been striving to do his best for very disadvantaged pupils, and was branded racist for doing so, and made to live like a fugitive for many years. Asked whether he was impressed by Miss Kelly's recent speech, he said that she was only a politician, a bird of passage, minister of education one day and minister of communities the next, and like all politicians liable to say whatever was fashionable or useful to her career at the moment.

The fact that we have a Communities Secretary at all, more than 30 years after the Race Relations Act was passed, is testimony to failure, as well as to the bureaucratic instinct for survival. Official attempts to guide our racial and intercultural relations having apparently achieved very little so far - Miss Kelly's speech was made at the launch of yet another quango, this one called the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. For those who want to establish new quangos, nothing succeeds like failure: the more failures, the more quangos.

Her speech comes about a year after that of Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, who wondered whether the nostrums of multiculturalism had done more harm than good, and suggested instead that immigrants and children of immigrants needed to be given some means of becoming British. The constant emphasis on the worst possible interpretation of British history would, in the end, lead to a society not merely of separate communities, but of antipathetical ghettoes. In his speech last September, he said: "Residentially, some districts are on their way to becoming fully fledged ghettoes - black holes into which no one goes without fear and trepidation and from which no one ever escapes undamaged. We are sleepwalking our way to segregation."

Around the same time, the man who was then mayor of Bradford, Mohammed Ajeeb, is adamant that he did the right thing in calling for Mr Honeyford's dismissal. Mr Ajeeb recently said: "I had no doubt in my mind that the man was a racist and I insisted he must go." Yesterday, Mr Ajeeb told The Sunday Telegraph that he felt that his decision was the right one at the time, because the tone of Mr Honeyford's article was inflammatory, and showed "an inclination to demonstrate prejudice against certain sections of our community". He was afraid that if Mr Honeyford stayed, there might be riots because the two races in Bradford at the time were very polarised.

Mr Ajeeb's own views of the means by which education might serve to integrate people have changed in the past 20 years. Previously, he was against the idea of dispersing Muslim children throughout other schools (bussing, in effect, such as had been done in the United States), which is now his preferred solution, so that no school in Bradford's inner city should have more than 70 per cent of any one race. He thinks that most of the Muslim parents would approve of this solution, though he concedes that implementation would be fraught with political difficulties. But 20 years ago, wouldn't he have considered such an idea, and anyone who proposed it, as racist?

Mr Ajeeb received death threats at the time of the Honeyford affair. So did Mr Honeyford, who had to live for a time under police protection. His school was constantly picketed by activists, and eventually burnt down in an arson attack. The situation was explosive, though, even to this day, interpretations vary as to who was to blame.

There are slight grounds for optimism for the future, however. An apocalyptic conflict may not happen after all. Manningham, the area in which the Drummond Middle School is situated, has come up in the world in recent years - or, at least, parts of it have. Gentrification is pushing its green shoots into the area; Bradford was once a very grand city, its grandeur ruined as much by the depredations of 1960s and 1970s town planners as by those of economic decline. Manningham is now less segregated, or mono-racial, than it was a few years ago. This is because of an influx of immigrants from other parts of the world, particularly Eastern Europe. One of the benefits of migration from many countries might be the dilution of populations so that ghettoes become less ghetto-like. New immigrants always gravitate to cheaper housing, encouraging the dispersal of previous immigrants. To all appearances, the people of different races rub along well enough in an area that had once been startling by the uniformity of its Muslim population.

Moreover, the people willing to speak - among them Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovakians, people of Pakistani origin - said last week that what they wanted for their children was a British education, so that the children would integrate themselves fully in society and secure good jobs. No one wanted to be Balkanised into competing and antagonistic communities, preserving their customs in pristine perfection, unaffected by the fact that the communities now lived in Britain.

Mr Honeyford's school has been rebuilt at great expense. It is still predominantly Muslim, with a 15 per cent Somalian intake; in an act of what some view as outstanding multicultural political correctness, it has been renamed Iqra, though it is still known locally as the Drummond. Shanaz Anwar-Bleem, the new headmistress, speaking in a personal capacity, said that the withdrawal of children from school to return to Pakistan or Bangladesh for months at a time was still a problem, but the authorities were trying to clamp down on it.

The school is twinned with another in Bradford, which her pupils, who would otherwise grow up solely among their own ethnic and cultural group, visit so that they can learn about the way other children live, and even make friends there. Religious education is not monolithic: the children go to mosques, but also to churches and even to synagogues. Mrs Anwar-Bleem, the daughter of immigrants, says that the parents of the pupils are clear about the essential role of English in the education of her pupils and of knowledge of British culture. She blames Government policies for the de facto segregation that still exists in Bradford.

This does not seem so very different in spirit from what Mr Honeyford said in the mid-1980s. The fact that he published his article in The Salisbury Review, seen as so Right-wing as to be completely off the scale of respectability, was part of the problem; if he had published it in an equivalently Left-wing journal, it would have been very much less objectionable. The article also included asides, not strictly relevant to the subject matter in question, about the political style of the Indian subcontinent, and particularly Pakistan, that could hardly have been pleasing to some of the people in the area, even if true. In so delicate a situation, these asides were perhaps impolitic. Yet those people in Manningham who still remember Mr Honeyford seem to do so with fondness. They do not think of him as a racist, much less a BNP type. Amit Shah, 65, said, "It was all political what happened to him. He was a very nice headmaster, and the children liked him." It is hard not to conclude that a terrible injustice was done him.

Mr Honeyford had made the mistake of espousing anti-multiculturalism before it was socially acceptable to do so, just as it was once wrong to be an anti-communist before everyone became one. He lost his career because his tone was wrong, and he did not subscribe to the then "correct" views of a very thorny subject. Hell hath no fury like a bien pensant contradicted.

So why has the Government finally come round to a point of view that is, at least by implication, a little like Mr Honeyford's? Miss Kelly was forced to act after months of mounting public concern, and increasingly hostile headlines, about the value of multi-culturalism and immigration. The prospect of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the new EU countries, Bulgaria and Romania, entering Britain on January 1, 2007, has focused minds, as have official figures showing the true extent of the numbers coming to Britain - 427,000 have registered to work here since 2004, it emerged shortly before Miss Kelly's announcement.

The debate has been given added urgency by the shock of the recent alleged terror plots hatched by British citizens to blow up airliners. Miss Kelly is no doubt aware of the deep anxiety and even anger in the country that politicians have hitherto failed to acknowledge, and that threatens one day to erupt through the relatively calm surface of daily life. The recent refusal of passengers to allow an aircraft to fly until two Asian men (who appeared to be speaking Arabic) were taken off the flight was possibly a harbinger of far greater nastiness to come.

As for Mr Honeyford, were he not suffering from the early stages of Parkinson's, he could have been forgiven for celebrating his long-awaited victory with a jig around his Manchester living room yesterday, before leaving to watch his beloved Bury football team achieve a similar resounding result against Grimbsy at Gigg Lane. But neither time, nor Miss Kelly's admission, can heal the scars for this martyr to multiculturalism.


The liberal legal establishment has been condemned by the Director of Public Prosecutions for its patronising attitude towards the public and victims of crime. Ken Macdonald, QC, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said that elitist attitudes had helped to break the bond of trust between the public and the criminal justice system. In an extraordinary warning, he said that the country would enter dangerous territory if the public felt that justice was not being delivered by the courts.

Mr Macdonald also called for a move away from the position held by many lawyers that only the defendants' rights matter. Greater emphasis should be given to the rights of victims and witnesses, he said. "Few sounds are less attractive than well-educated lawyers patronising vulnerable victims of crime with inflexible platitudes."

The speech has been made public as new figures show that while 80 per cent of people think that the justice system is fair to the accused, only 36 per cent are confident that it meets the needs of victims. It also comes after a series of high-profile killings by criminals released from jail on parole.

Mr Macdonald said that in some cases the victims of crime had been treated as "pariahs" by the system and witnesses were handled in an appalling manner. The DPP added: "The perception that no one looks out for them and that it's only defendants whose rights are taken seriously is not wildly wrong." He said that there had to be fairness for both victims of crime and suspects: "The view that only defendants' rights matter, still quite commonly held by many criminal lawyers, appears to me to be a fundamentalist position that we should move away from. "My own view is that liberal commentators need to start by acknowledging that the public have a point. The service given to victims and witnesses has traditionally been appalling."

The speech is Mr Macdonald's most controversial since he became director three years ago. Made in May at a seminar organised by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, and passed to The Times, it will provide useful ammunition for the Government, which announced plans to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the law-abiding majority last month.

Mr Macdonald said that the old-fashioned idea that thecriminal justice system sits above the public and consists of principles and practices beyond popular influence or argument was "elitist and obscurantist".

David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, had seen the need for a democratic element to criminal justice which, while not slipping into "vigilanteeism, serves to temper an increasingly dangerous disconnect between our people as a whole and the traditional judicial and practitioner establishment", Mr Macdonald said. He added: "If people, including victims, feel they cannot secure justice through the courts, we are entering dangerous territory".

The speech, which was given to an audience of lawyers and criminologists, will provoke anger among many lawyers, particularly those representing suspects, and it will raise suspicions that Mr Macdonald wishes to water down traditional legal safeguards for defendants. But in it he insisted that the principles of jury trial, presumption of innocence, a right to appeal and full disclosure of the state's case were all non-negotiable.

Last night Richard Garside, acting director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said: "It is important that we make a distinction between a legal system treating people with respect and a defendant whose guilt has still to be proved."

John Cooper, a leading criminal law barrister, said: "The fundamental of a trial in the criminal justice system is the analysis of facts and evidence to decide if the prosecution have proved their case. "It is not, and never should be, an arena where victims primarily undertake a cathartic exercise for the allegation that is tested at the trial."



The Director of Public Prosecutions has given warning that the legal system will stray into "dangerous territory" if people feel justice cannot be achieved through the courts. However, the widespread perception is that the law and the legal profession have already lost the confidence of victims and the general public.

The British Crime Survey 2005-06 reflects this view: 80 per cent of respondents thought the system was fair to the accused, but only 36 per cent were confident that it met the needs of victims. The widely held opinion is that criminals receive soft sentences, paedophiles are pitied, foreign terrorists are given vast sums in legal aid and illegal immigrants who commit crimes are never deported. Ordinary people who stand up for themselves and their families are either punished or become victims. Perhaps worst of all, the rights of such victims are ignored.

Last month a judge was heavily criticised after sentencing a paedophile, who had repeatedly sexually assaulted an 18-month-old baby boy, to four years in jail. Judge Simon Hammond, sitting at Leicester Crown Court, said that Christopher Downes, 24, needed help for his "undoubted problems". Michele Elliott, of the charity Kidscape, said: "There is something wrong when a man could admit to sexually abusing an 18-month-old baby regularly and be out of prison in two years."

The concern of campaigners is outstripped by the anger of the families of victims. Last month the family of Natalie Glasgow described as laughable the sentence imposed on Mark Hambleton, an electrician whose van hit and killed the 17-year-old girl as she walked home from a party. Hambleton was given a 100-hour community service order and banned from driving for a year. The dead girl's father, Paul, said: "The law says it doesn't matter whether you hit a teenage girl or a lamppost in terms of the charge of failing to report an accident. That can't be right. It must be changed."

The apparent downgrading of victims' rights, compared with those of the defendant, also causes anger. The defence of Kamel Bourgass, the Algerian terrorist trained by al-Qaeda who is serving life for murder and conspiring to make ricin toxins, cost the public purse 996,934 pounds in legal aid. The family of DC Stephen Oake, who was stabbed to death by Bourgass in 2003, received only 13,000 pounds from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Judges reply that the legislative straitjacket is the cause of many of the current problems. The case of Craig Sweeney attracted huge attention. Sweeney was jailed for life by Cardiff Crown Court for abducting and indecently assaulting a three-year-old girl but Judge John Griffith Williams cut his minimum tariff in recognition of his guilty plea. It meant that Sweeney could be considered for parole in five years.

As The Times reported last month, John Reid, the Home Secretary, said that this was unduly lenient. Vera Baird, QC, the Constitutional Affairs Minister, had to apologise after saying that the judge was wrong. The judiciary rallied round the judge, saying he had followed the law to the letter.

Both Victim Support and Nacro, the crime reduction charity, say that perceived soft sentencing and the treatment of victims are separate issues. Paul Cavadino, chief executive of Nacro, said: "The sentencing in this country is harsher than most other Western Europe countries. And we have the highest prison population in Western Europe, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the population. "I don't accept that you can measure how supportive a criminal justice system is to victims by the sentences given out. "It is not in the interests of victims to pass sentences that don't reduce future offences."

A spokesman for Victim Support said: "Victims want a system whereby we deal with criminals properly and we give out punishments that are an effective deterrent. Our experience is that even if victims are happy with the result in court, the happiness is short-lived because their lives have still been altered."

Liz Jones said that she lost her faith in the criminal justice system when a teenager who smashed her cheekbone avoided a jail sentence last month. Dexter Hungwa, 16, attacked Ms Jones, a headmistress, because she had asked him to shut a door. Ms Jones, 51, said: "At first I was frightened because I thought he could turn up at any time. The experience was horrendous but when I found out that he had been given a referral order, I was really, really angry."


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Socialist planners at work

"More than 1 billion pounds has been wasted by the [U.K.] Government on transport projects that have been cancelled or delayed, leaving roads and railways struggling to cope with huge growth in traffic.... The Government has repeatedly claimed that rising costs have made new road links, tram networks and rail upgrades unaffordable. But official figures uncovered by the Conservatives reveal that more than 1 billion has already been spent since 2000 without providing any extra capacity.

The most expensive single scheme on the list of stalled projects is Crossrail, the plan for mainline rail tunnels under Central London to relieve congestion on the Central Line. It has cost 254 million since 2001 without an inch of tunnel being dug. The Government has yet to commit itself to fund the 16 billion project and officials privately admit that, even if it goes ahead, it may not be ready until 2020.

Almost 300 million has been spent preparing for tram schemes in Portsmouth, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester that have either been cancelled or greatly reduced in scope. In 2000 John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, promised 25 new tram lines by 2010. So far two have opened: in Nottingham and the London City Airport extension of the Docklands Light Railway. The Thameslink 2000 project to upgrade the north-south rail route across London was due to open six years ago but is unlikely to be ready for another decade.

More than 80 million has been spent on preparatory works at St Pancras, including tunnels that will be boarded up and a station that will remain half-empty. Another white elephant is Stratford International Station, in East London, which cost 210 million but might never be used by the Eurostar trains for which it was built."

More here

The Government is facing an investigation by the statistics watchdog over claims that it tried to "bury" bad news of poor primary school test results. Figures showed last week that the number of seven-year-olds who were competent in reading, writing and maths had fallen, and all the Government's key targets for 11-year-olds were missed. But the primary school results were published at exactly the same time - 9.30am on Thursday, August 24 - as GCSE results, which dominate news bulletins every year. The timing was a break from tradition. In recent years primary school figures have been released on the Tuesday, two days before GCSEs. The change led to allegations that ministers were trying to bury the damaging story of falling standards in primary schools and missed targets.

The Statistics Commission has now called for a formal explanation from the Department for Education and Skills. A formal investigation could follow. Richard Alldritt, chief executive of the Statistics Commission, said: "A concern was expressed to us that the timing of the release changed for reasons of political advantage or news management. "Having had a verbal assurance from the DfES that that is not true, we have asked them for something in writing. We will consider whether to pursue the matter." It was understood that the commission had received a letter from the head of statistics at the DfES but had not yet been able to consider it.

The code of practice on government statistics states that figures should be released as soon as they become available. Holding back primary school results - even for two days - in an attempt to gain political advantage would risk breaking the spirit of the code, if not the letter, according to sources at the commission. If the commission found against the Government it would revive the damaging charges of "spin" laid against ministers since 1997 and which they have been desperately trying to counter. Perhaps the most damaging example was when Jo Moore, who was a special adviser at the Transport Department, sent an e-mail to colleagues in which she suggested that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, made it a good day to bury bad news.

David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, told The Times Educational Supplement that people might suspect that ministers were trying to "bury" the bad news of the primary school results. "If so, it would not be the first time the Government has sought to bury bad news in this way," he said. But a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills rejected the suggestion. "The Statistics Commission has not launched an inquiry and we do not believe there is any reason for them to do so," he said. "The publication of the data was carried out in accordance with the rules governing the publication of national statistics."


Three women who met as cancer patients are planning a joint legal action to win access to Velcade, a drug for treating multiple myeloma. The "Velcade Three" - Jacky Pickles, Janice Wrigglesworth and Marie Morton, from Keighley in West Yorkshire - are among hundreds who will be denied access to the drug if the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) sticks to its ruling that it is not cost-effective. Velcade is the first new treatment for multiple myeloma in more than ten years and has been licensed for more than two years for patients who have relapsed.

The drug is available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of Europe. Health insurers such as BUPA and PPP pay for it because they believe that it is effective. But primary care trusts in England take their cue from NICE, whose appraisal committee will hold its final meeting next week. Its consultation document, published last month, shocked specialists in the disease.

The International Myeloma Foundation said that the ruling was "ill-informed, unjust and unfair". Eric Low, the chief executive of the British branch, said at the time: "This is an extremely disappointing decision that has sent shockwaves through the myeloma community. Failure to have this preliminary recommendation overturned would represent a catastrophic blow."

Mrs Pickles, 44, said yesterday: "We're waiting for the final guidance from NICE. Hopefully it will change its mind. But if it doesn't, we're going to look to legal action. "We're going to go as far as we can, for each other's lives and for every other myeloma sufferer. Velcade is the best thing for myeloma for four decades. Mrs Pickles, a midwifery sister at Bradford Royal Infirmary, had the disease diagnosed five years ago and has undergone chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and a course of thalidomide, the drug that caused birth defects in the 1960s but which has been reborn as a myeloma treatment. All worked for a while before her condition worsened again. Last October she was put on a trial of Velcade, which costs 18,000 pounds for the full eight cycles, and was restored to normal. "That trial did well for me, but I could need the drug again at a later stage," she said. She met Mrs Wrigglesworth, 59, and Mrs Morton, 57, while having treatment and they are giving each other support. "We're in this together," Mrs Pickles said.

The NICE analysis found that the claims made by the drug's manufacturer, Janssen-Cilag Ltd, were not justified by the evidence. One trial showed a 41 per cent reduced risk of death in the first year of treatment. But the NICE view was that the benefits did not meet criteria set for NHS prescription.

Senior Brit Defends the Sign of the Cross

A player in a Scottish Catholic football team was recently reprimanded by the police for blessing himself with the sign of the cross while on field. It is good to see that one senior member of the British government, Ruth Kelly, has attacked the reprimand on obvious grounds:

"I am surprised because this has traditionally been a country which has valued religious diversity - and cultural and racial diversity as well - and where there has been freedom of expression, both to express religious symbols but also other cultural symbols as well."


Monday, August 28, 2006

Britain freezes Muslim charity: "A charity at the centre of concerns over the funding of the alleged terrorist plot to attack trans-Atlantic aircraft has had its assets frozen. The Charity Commission is investigating the activities of Crescent Relief, which raised large sums from British Muslims for the humanitarian operation after the earthquake in Kashmir last October. The inquiry follows the revelation that one of the men arrested at High Wycombe, a town near London, in connection with the alleged plot was a fundraiser for the charity. It has also emerged that a co-founder of the charity was Abdul Rauf, from Birmingham, whose son Rashid is in custody in Pakistan, where the authorities claim that he is a "key figure" in the conspiracy".

Brits wanting out: "One in five Britons - nearly 10m adults - is considering leaving the country amid growing disillusionment over the failure of political parties to deliver tax cuts, according to a new poll. The extensive survey conducted by ICM, the polling company, shows that - contrary to the current approach of both Labour and the Tories - an overwhelming majority of voters do want to see cuts in income and inheritance tax. The results will raise alarm in both political camps, but particularly for David Cameron, who has yet to solidify the Conservatives' lead over Labour in the opinion polls. The Tory leader, who has ditched his party's long-standing commitment to tax cuts in favour of "economic stability", has maintained a solid lead over Labour since May in most of the polls, but is still well short of securing a majority. Today's poll shows that many people are highly disillusioned with the British political system"
Top British schools discard dumbed-down government exam system

Some of Britain's most academically successful schools will sink to the bottom of this year's official league tables because they have abandoned "too easy" GCSEs. The schools, including Harrow, Rugby and Manchester grammar, now put their pupils through the international GCSE (IGCSE), which is considered more academically stretching, in subjects such as maths, science and English.

Many experts believe that rather than damage the reputation of the schools, the move will call into question the credibility of the league table system by placing some of the country's best-performing schools near the bottom. The government will this year for the first time publish a national ranking based on the proportion of 16-year-olds gaining five GCSEs at grade C or above that include maths and English.

IGCSEs are not counted as part of the official results because they are not approved by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the government's exam regulator. Many independent schools are dropping the state-approved GCSEs in favour of the international versions because the latter are viewed as more challenging and as a better preparation for A-levels. The exams have mainly been developed for schools overseas and are closer to the former O-levels, scrapped in 1987, rather than to ordinary GCSEs.

Schools offering the IGCSE in maths and English will see steep drops in the number of their pupils getting ordinary GCSEs in these core subjects, pushing them down the rankings. The Department for Education and Skills has no intention of overhauling the league tables to take IGCSEs into account.

Concerns over the academic usefulness of the rankings will be compounded by the high marks given to GNVQs - vocational qualifications. Many state schools have boosted their rankings by encouraging pupils to take GNVQs - vocational qualifications which are rated by the government as equivalent to good GCSE passes.

Ministers have refused to allow IGCSEs to be included in results because the exams do not have official approval. State schools, even the highest achieving, cannot switch to the IGCSE because the government will fund only officially approved courses. The IGCSE is growing in popularity among private schools. Cambridge International Examinations, one of two boards that sets the IGCSE, said that 100 schools offered at least one exam this year.

Independent school heads believe that the decision not to include the IGCSE will make a nonsense of the national school league table. Tim Hands, headmaster of Portsmouth grammar and chairman of the universities committee of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), said: "It is extraordinary that schools like mine will be listed as getting 0% for maths GCSE, yet (the IGCSE) is an exam that is highly rated by universities." The highest take-up of IGCSEs is in maths. It is preferred to the state GCSE because it includes calculus and does not include course work.

More here


Teachers have told a bright GCSE student she would have to dumb down in order to pass her exams, prompting concerns that examiners are unqualified to mark some papers. Katie Merchant, 16, was marked down for giving a sophisticated answer in her mock Latin exam. She achieved an A* - the highest mark possible - but lost marks on one question because her answer was too sophisticated. Teachers warned the girl she would be similarly penalised in the real exam, prompting her to express her disappointment in a letter to her Brighton college headteacher, Richard Cairns.

Speaking today, Mr Cairns said examiners often marked papers in subjects they knew little about and that he warned his pupils they would often know more about the subject than the marker. He said: "The very brightest are definitely constrained by the exam marking schemes." He said exam boards awarded the highest marks for prescriptive answers containing key words, meaning a pupil who displayed originality was penalised. Mr Cairns said the problem affected all exam boards. He said markers rewarded children for thinking "mechanistically" rather than "outside of the box". "We're getting very good at teaching children to pass exams but less and less good at teaching them to think laterally," he said.

After consultation with Oxford and Cambridge universities, Brighton college is reducing the maximum number of GCSEs students can take from 10 to nine and making time in the curriculum for critical thinking. Mr Cairns said: "Through league tables, teachers [have] become accountable to their pupils. As a result, [they] want more and more information about how to achieve an A*, which has encouraged exam boards to be more prescriptive and killed off independent thought."

He went on: "I tell my students, 'You must expect the examiner to know less than you. He or she will be working to a rigid marking scheme and they need to look out for key things whether or not they're actually relevant." The independent college was the first school in England to introduce the mandatory study of Mandarin for all Year 9 pupils earlier this year.


More than 300 babies a year are being left with brain damage because of oxygen starvation caused by lack of proper care at birth. The National Health Service litigation authority, which handles damages claims from hospital patients, has for the first time released data from every hospital in England showing the number of babies damaged by botched deliveries. The accidents are being blamed on staff shortages leading to inadequate monitoring.

In the 12 months to April more than 300 families began legal action for severe injuries suffered by their babies. In most cases the damage means children are unable to walk, talk, feed themselves or have any hope of independent life. In the same period medical staff reported a further 174 incidents through a system to help budget for legal claims.

Legal costs and damages for victims reached a high of nearly 175m pounds in the last financial year, but the real costs are said to be much higher because special education, nursing care, continuing health problems and social services are not included. In the five years covered by the data there were 2,763 claims. Of the total, 6%-10% are estimated to be from mothers whose reproductive organs were damaged. Another small group relates to failures to diagnose conditions such as Down's syndrome. Most are children whose brain damage was caused because hospital staff did not deliver them fast enough when the babies were suffering oxygen deprivation.

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, come days after a report condemned childbirth services at Northwick Park hospital near Harrow, northwest London, for failures that led to 10 new mothers dying between 2002 and 2005. The new figures show the Northwick tragedies are not an isolated problem.

Jane Rodrigues, 34, from Dartford, Kent, blames the damage suffered by her two-year-old son Louis on the fact that midwives had failed to recognise that her 4ft 10in frame would have difficulty delivering the 10lb baby she was about to produce. She almost bled to death when her uterus ruptured. Her baby was classed as stillborn but was resuscitated.

He has been left mentally handicapped, unable to walk or talk. "I am sad and angry for him," she said. "He is going to be dependent on other people for the rest of his life." She is pursuing a complaint against Darent Valley hospital in Dartford. The trust has apologised but denies liability.

The cost of such accidents is exemplified by cases such as that of Nathan Hughes. In May he was finally awarded 1.65m pounds, plus 315,000 pounds a year for life, to pay for his needs because the medical team delivering him 14 years ago at Rush Green hospital, northeast London, failed to notice he was being strangled by his umbilical cord. "These disasters happen again and again," said Eve, his mother. "I found out later that the hospital where he was born was known by doctors as the `spastics factory' because of the number of birth injuries."

Others believe the real number of children affected is even higher than the statistics show. "I have certainly met people with damaged babies who have said they don't have the strength to take on the NHS," said Karita Massara, whose son Jack, 9, was awarded 850,000 pounds this year for injuries suffered during a botched delivery at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, London. "When you are looking after a disabled child, it is physically and emotionally exhausting."

Scope, the charity that works for cerebral palsy sufferers, estimates that up to 13,000 people or 10% of Britons affected by this form of brain damage suffered avoidable birth trauma.

More here

Last week’s appointment of Caroline Flint as Britain’s first “minister for fitness”, charged with combating the alarming rise in obesity, is just the latest of the middle class’s perennial — and doomed — attempts to reform the lower orders. Political correctness forbids Flint from admitting her campaign is primarily aimed at the underclass, but the statistics for London tell their own story: the lowest rates are in posh Kensington and Chelsea, while downmarket Barking and Dagenham show the highest.

Throughout its 600-year history, the middle class has looked askance at the underclass: the great unwashed, hooligans and now hoodies. Sherlock Holmes always carried a revolver “east of Aldgate” — and the inhabitants of our dingier streets and estates have ever brought forth admonitions from the nanny state.

More recently, Jack Straw promised that new Labour would purge the streets of “aggressive begging, of winos, addicts and squeegee merchants” so that the “law-abiding citizen” could walk abroad undisturbed.

Middle-class to the tips of his toes, Tony Blair believes access to education will convert underclass youth into biddable, ambitious and hard-working citizens. But we have been here before; a middle-class visitor to the Oxford Industrial school in 1879 was comforted by the sight of children from “the dregs of the population” undergoing instruction that would halt their slide into “the criminal and dangerous classes”.

United by its dread of the underclass, the middle class has always disagreed about the reasons for its existence, and how it might be tamed and admitted into civilised society. But the underclass has manfully resisted attempt at reform: Victorian licensing laws and legislation outlawing bull-baiting and cock-fighting were seen as “them” telling “us” what not to do.

At every stage of its existence, including today, the middle class has been united in believing that reasoned and well-informed debate offers the best solution for all human problems. Its flattering image of itself has always been as industrious, prudent, self- disciplined and sometimes godly. When the 1832 Reform Act gave the middle class political dominance, it projected itself as the “intelligence” of the nation and the banner-bearer of progress.

Arrogant perhaps, but this description was accurate insofar as the middle classes have always been brain workers. An Elizabethan social analyst defined the middle orders as those who lived solely through the exercise of their wits. They practised law and medicine, managed estates, were schoolmasters, creative artists, merchants, shopkeepers and financiers. The industrial revolution provided new jobs for what, from about 1800, was called the middle class.

In 1900 it was calculated that the middle classes comprised a tenth of the population; by 2000 it was nearly two-thirds. A form of classlessness now exists, although what it means is that we live in a society that frowns on the idea of judging individuals simply because of their birth, education or possessions.

But egalitarianism is a recent phenomenon. For most of our history, class differences and deference have been taken for granted and religiously observed. Until the 19th century the middle classes existed within a hierarchical order, positioned between the landed aristocracy and gentry on one hand and the broad base of artisans and manual labourers on the other.

This tripartite society represented God’s will and it was accepted that those in the uppermost strata possessed a superior wisdom which entitled them to guide and discipline their inferiors. But as it began to expand, the middle class accumulated power. Its magistrates enforced laws framed to control the underclass and its excesses. The astringents of the statute books were supplemented by the gentler therapies of charity and persuasion.

This urge to rescue and reform runs like a thread through the history of the middle classes. It was nannyism before its time and, like its modern counterpart, it rested on the premise that the middle class knew what was best for everyone.

A medieval cleric deplored the habitual drunkenness of the poor, their addiction to “idle plays and japes” and, most alarming of all, their “sturdiness against men of higher estate”. In 1717 a Cumbrian tenant farmer invited his landlord’s steward to “kiss my arse” when taken to task in court. It’s reminiscent of the Wiltshire “chavette” who recently swore at a magistrate and boasted of her vices.

Defiance was understandable, given that middle-class programmes for the regeneration of the poor always rested on that Cromwellian axiom: “what is for their good and not what pleaseth them”.

However, it was not unknown for the middle class to kick over the traces — just usually well hidden. In RS Surtees’s Handley Cross (1843) a formal dinner for foxhunters and hare coursers ends in a drunken fight that spills onto the streets.

Victorian Britain is often — wrongly — cited as a golden age of civil tranquillity when the laws of God and the Queen were universally respected and obeyed. But at the beginning of the Queen’s reign, a public hanging at Devizes was marked by “disgraceful and indecent behaviour” and “beastly drunkenness and debauchery”.

At its end, hooligans including “pistol gangs” of teenagers rampaged through the inner-London suburbs, scaring the middle classes and prompting editorials about the nation’s terminal moral decline.

The Victorian middle classes may have civilised industrial, urban Britain with street lights, sewers, museums, art galleries and public baths, but they never curbed the violent instincts of the underclass. Hooligans were followed by teddy boys, mods and rockers, skinheads and hoodies. We have been here before, although it may be no comfort for today’s middle class to know that their experience and fears of street crime and abuse were shared by their ancestors.

Modern correctives may ultimately become redundant if future miscreants can be identified at birth. Spotted in their cradles, they will receive treatment and grow into responsible and maybe huggable members of society.

The brave new world of the bar-coded baby is at hand — the government is considering a plan to track the progress of every child born in Britain — and, its architects hope, it will be one where the middle classes will finally enjoy that peace of mind which has eluded them for so long.

Yet perhaps some humility is now required and we should concede that human nature cannot be changed completely, either by compulsion, lectures about diet or even the scientific monitoring of toddlers. But such an admission would have been and perhaps still is unthinkable to a class which has inherited its predecessors’ assumption that the world would be a better place if everyone behaved and thought as they did.


Conservatives were right after all (as usual)

Quick, somebody buy a wreath. Last week marked the passing of multiculturalism as official government doctrine. No longer will opponents of this corrosive and divisive creed be silenced simply by the massed Pavlovian ovine accusation: "Racist!" Better still, the very people who foisted multiculturalism upon the country are the ones who have decided that it has now outlived its usefulness - that is, the political left.

It is amazing how a few by-election shocks and some madmen with explosive backpacks can concentrate the mind. At any rate, British citizens, black and white, can move onwards together - towards a sunlit upland of monoculturalism, or maybe zeroculturalism, whatever takes your fancy....

It has all been a long time coming. Some 22 years ago Ray Honeyford, the previously obscure headmaster of Drummond middle school in Bradford, suggested, in the low-circulation right-wing periodical The Salisbury Review, that his Asian pupils should really be better integrated into British society. They should learn English, for a start, and a bit of British history and a sense of what the country is about; further, Asian (Muslim) girls should be allowed to learn to swim despite the objections of their parents (who did not like them stripping down even in front of each other). Muslim kids should be treated like every other pupil, in other words.

For these mild contentions, Honeyford was investigated by the government, vilified as a racist by the press, ridiculed every day by leftie demonstrators outside his office and was eventually hounded from his job. He has not worked since. Perhaps it will be a consolation to him, as he sits idly in his neat, small, semi-detached house in Bury, Lancashire, that he has now been comprehensively outflanked on the far right by a whole bunch of Labour politicians, including at least one minister, and indeed the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. Then again, perhaps it won't.

It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of this shift. To give you an example of the lunacy that prevailed back in Honeyford's time: then, the Commission for Racial Equality was happy to instruct Britain's journalists that Chinese people were henceforth to be described as "black" because that, objectively, was their subjective political experience at the hands of the oppressive white hegemony.

I don't suppose they asked the Chinese if they minded this appellation or derogation - the question would not even have occurred. By definition, people who were "not-white" - from Beijing to Barbados - were banded together in their oppression and implacable opposition to the prevailing white culture and thus united in their political aspirations. People from Baluchistan, Tobago and Bangladesh were defined solely by their lack of whiteness. This was, when you think about it, a quintessentially racist assumption, as well as being authoritarian and - as the writer Kenan Malik puts it - "anti-human".

We are not born with a gene that insists we become Muslim or Christian or Rastafarian. We are born, all of us, with a tabula rasa; we are not defined by the nationality or religion or cultural assumptions of our parents. But that was the mindset which, at that time, prevailed.

This is how far we have come in the past year or so. When an ICM poll of Britain's Muslims in February this year revealed that some 40% (that is, about 800,000 people) wished to see Islamic law introduced in parts of Britain, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality responded by saying that they should therefore pack their bags and clear off. Sir Trevor Phillips's exact words were these: "If you want to have laws decided in another way, you have to live somewhere else."

My guess is this: if such a statement had been made by a member of the Tory party's Monday Club in 1984 - or, for that matter, 1994 - he would have been excoriated and quite probably would have been kicked out of the party. "If you don't like it here then go somewhere else" was once considered the apogee of "racism".

More here

Tea healthier than a glass of water: "The belief that drinking tea leads to loss of fluids and possibly dehydration has been quashed by scientists. They say drinking four cups a day can be beneficial - and better than plain water. Tea not only rehydrates but also protects against heart disease and cancer - as well as cutting tooth decay and possibly improving bone strength. The key component is a group of antioxidants called flavonoids which help prevent cell damage. Like fruit and vegetables, tea is a good source of flavonoids - three cups contain eight times the capacity of an apple. "You don't find these antioxidants in pure water," chief scientist Carrie Ruxton said. The British research was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition."

U.K.: "Organic" is "in": "As celebrity crazes go, this latest one is reasonably harmless: not hard-core drinking, drug-taking or even excessive slimming. No, the current fad for celebs who make a living out of appearing on the covers of Heat magazine is nothing other than knobbly vegetables. And free-range pigs. Fried up, that is, with some organic onion rings. "Green" food, grown without pesticides or hormones, is so hot at the moment that no right-minded member of Soho House would dare to throw a dinner party without a slab of organic fare on the menu... Being green is now accepted as being rather chic; a straightforwardly good idea worth signing up to, rather than something outwardly virtuous which requires a keen commitment to body hair and a vegan diet... Yet probably the single most crucial factor in helping to encourage this cultural sea-change is the celebrity take-up of green zeal. Liz Hurley, whose adoration of an organically reared (and very hairy) Gloucester Old Spot ended up in most of the papers last week, is said to be converting her 400-acre Cotswolds farm to organic production and launching a brand of organic baby foods (whether the labels will be designed by Donatella Versace is, as yet, unknown)".

Sunday, August 27, 2006


GCSE exams in English and maths are to be made harder as part of a major government crackdown on schools that are failing to teach basic educational skills. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, has introduced the tough new measures in one of the biggest shake-ups of the exam system in a decade. 'Every single young person must have a good grasp of the basics,' Knight told The Observer. 'We are changing the way we measure performance and toughening up the English and maths GCSEs to ensure that young people master the three Rs.' In addition, coursework, which counts towards GCSE grades, will be overhauled in a bid to eradicate pupils cheating by using the internet, helping each other or receiving parental help. More work will be done under exam conditions at school.

Knight said the main change to exams would be to build in 'the functional' skills in English and maths that employers required. There would be more rigorous testing of grammar, for instance in the context of writing a clear, coherently presented letter, and of mathematical concepts like percentages in the context of real-life problems. While the present system allows pupils to get a pass in English or maths without mastering such skills as long as an overall points total is reached, that will no longer be the case. 'In the future, employers will have a guarantee of the quality of the school-leavers they are taking on. A good pass will mean that young people are equipped with the basics. That means being able to write and speak fluently, carry out mental arithmetic, give presentations and tally up a till at the end of the day', Knight said.

The tougher new courses will be piloted this autumn. The move has been announced before Thursday's publication of this year's GCSE results, which are expected to show a further sharp rise in the number of pupils achieving an overall 'benchmark' pass. The existing system requires at least one C-grade in any five GCSE subjects. Under the new measures, an overall pass will require at least a C in both English and maths.

There has been a growing clamour in recent years from education experts and businesses against what they see as the poor standard of literacy and maths skills of many school-leavers. In a report to be released tomorrow, the Confederation of British Industry will warn of widespread levels of dissatisfaction among employers. The CBI says the economy is losing up to 10 billion pounds bn a year through staff not being able to read, write or perform basic arithmetical exercises to a sufficient standard.

In today's Observer, the philosopher and educationist Baroness Warnock issues a scathing critique of the government's education policies for having left many school-leavers 'unable to write intelligibly, read critically or think analytically'. She predicted that one result would be that the country could soon find itself without any world-class universities.

As well as tougher exams, league tables of GCSE results are to be overhauled to include separate rankings based on English and maths, in the hope of bringing pressure on schools to raise their game. 'Alongside the usual five good GCSEs measure, every parent will be able to see how well their school is doing in securing the basics of English and maths', Knight said.

Ministers will receive fresh evidence this week of problems among pupils when results of standard assessment tasks (SATs) taken by 11-year-olds in English, maths and science are published. Sources say these will show that the government has failed to reach its self-imposed target that 85 per cent of the pupils should have demonstrated competence in the subjects by 2006. But the proportion attaining the required standard has risen from 60 per cent to more than 75 per cent since 1996. This year's GCSE results are also likely to show a drop in the number of pupils taking French and German, after the government two years ago abandoned the requirement for 14- and 15-year-olds to study a foreign language.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have indicated they may scrap AS-levels, which pupils take at the end of their lower-sixth form year, in order to relieve the pressure of repeatedly preparing for and sitting exams throughout pupils' careers. Students now spend so much time concentrating on exams that their basic education is suffering, said David Willetts, the Tories' education spokesman. He said there was a 'very strong argument' for scrapping AS-levels and restoring the break from having to take exams in the year between GCSEs and A-levels. The current system, whereby teenagers take SATs at 14, GCSEs at 16, AS-levels at 17 and then A-levels a year later, was leading to a situation in which schools 'teach to the test'. 'The whole process of examining is in danger of getting in the way of real education,' said Willetts.


They're not fussy: Mothers, kids, who cares? Everybody still gets their salary and nobody is ever penalized significantly

Ten women died during childbirth or shortly afterwards in a hospital that suffered from a lack of clinical leadership, a poor working culture and an overloaded maternity unit. The deaths, at Northwick Park Hospital in northwest London, occurred between April 2002 and April 2005, and involved women giving birth or within 42 days of birth. The Healthcare Commission publishes a detailed account today of each of the deaths.

In April 2005 the commission recommended "special measures" to restore good standards at the hospital, which included calling in an outside team to safeguard women. In today's report it says that these measures are working. But the report lays out in painful detail what can happen in a maternity unit that has inadequate systems. In nine out of the ten cases, the report says, there are grounds for criticism. It summarises these as:

* Insufficient input from a consultant or a senior midwife (in five cases), with difficult decisions often left to junior staff.

* Failure to recognise and respond quickly when a woman's condition changed unexpectedly.

* Inadequate resources to deal with high-risk cases: there were too few consultant obstetricians and midwives; not enough dedicated theatre staff; a reliance on agency and locum staff without adequate support; and a lack of a dedicated high-dependency unit.

* A culture that led to poor working practices.

* Failure to learn lessons on the unit, leading to mistakes being repeated.

* Failure by the North West London Hospitals NHS Trust board to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. It was aware of the number of deaths, and should have acted sooner.

Two aspects of the service are singled out for praise. The report says the anaesthetists and the haematology department, which provided blood for the patients, responded well under difficult circumstances.

Of the women who died, six were Asian, two African, one Afro-Caribbean and one European. The hospital serves half a million people in Brent and Harrow, two boroughs with large black and minority ethnic populations.

The causes of death varied. Strokes following pre-eclampsia (very high blood pressure) were the cause in three cases, with bleeding after giving birth in four other cases. One women died of viral encephalitis, one of a cardiac arrest.

The hospital investigated the deaths from a predominantly legal point of view, as if seeking to defend itself, the report says. Common factors were not found, but the commission says that they did exist and should have been identified.

Marcia Fry, the commission's head of operational development, said: "We hope this report gives some answers to the families involved. "We expect trusts across the country to read this report. Most women give birth safely. But there are risks and the NHS must ensure it does all it can to reduce them. There can be no excuse for failing to learn the lessons from tragedies of this kind." Since April 2005 three additional consultants and 20 more midwives have been recruited. The inspectorate also believes there is a better team working among consultants, obstetric staff and midwives.


Ruth Kelly broke with decades of Labour support for multiculturalism as she admitted the Government's failure to impose a single British identity could have led to communities living in 'isolation'. The Communities Secretary became the first Cabinet minister to question the idea that different faiths and races should not be forced to integrate but should be allowed to maintain their own culture. In an extraordinary volte face, she appeared to concede that Government policies had contributed to communities drifting into segregation. 'In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture, have we ended up with some communities living in isolation of each other, with no common bonds between them?' she said.

In a keynote speech launching a new commission on community cohesion, Miss Kelly said: 'We have moved from a period of near uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness.'

Tony Blair and other senior Labour ministers have repeatedly underlined their commitment to multiculturalism and its doctrines over their nine years in power, insisting it allows different communities to promote their own cultures while co-existing happily. But Miss Kelly conceded that its central planks were now being challenged by a series of Britain's leading ethnic minority figures. Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and most recently, BBC newsreader George Alagiah have expressed serious doubts.

Miss Kelly called for a 'new, honest debate' about the dangers of segregation. She signalled a series of possible policy rethinks about the way different cultures and religions are treated in Britain. She suggested wider teaching of English to immigrants as a way of encouraging them to integrate better into British communities. And she said young children from segregated communities should be made to mix with other cultures. Miss Kelly proposed 'twinning' schools with different ethnic and faith profiles and student exchanges between them.

In West Yorkshire, Spring Grove, a majority Asian primary school in urban Huddersfield is already twinned with Netherhong, a majority white primary school in the rural Holmfirth Valley. Pupils aged between six and ten are matched with pupils with similar interests and encouraged to correspond and interact. The policy is reminiscent of an experiment in the 1970s which involved transporting Asian children from Bradford's city centre to schools on the outskirts.

In 1975, the Race Relations Board decided that 'bussing' ethnic minority children into white communities contravened the Race Relations Act. The board argued it was being done on the basis of racial or ethnic identity rather than educational need.

Miss Kelly said the question was more urgent because patterns of immigration into Britain were far 'more complex' today than they were when the Empire Windrush arrived in 1948, carrying 492 Jamaicans who wanted to start a new life here. 'Our new residents are not the Windrush generation,' she said. 'They are more diverse, coming from countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from South Africa to Somalia.'

Miss Kelly admitted global tensions were increasingly reflected on the streets of Britain's communities as a result. 'New migrants fell the fierce loyalties developed in war-torn parts of Europe. Muslims feel the reverberations from the Middle East,' she said.

She said some white Britons 'do not feel comfortable with change'. 'They see the shops and restaurants in their town centres changing. They see their neighbourhoods becoming more diverse,' she said. 'Detached from the benefits of those changes, they begin to believe the stories about ethnic minorities getting special treatment, and to develop a resentment, a sense of grievance.'

Miss Kelly adopted former Tory leader Michael Howard's slogan from last year's election campaign, insisting it was 'not racist' to have concerns about immigration and asylum. 'We must not be censored by political correctness and we can't tiptoe around the issues,' she said. 'For example, it's clear that we need a controlled, well-managed system of immigration that has clear rules and integrity to counter exploitation from the far right.' She said Government policies would not be based on special treatment for minority ethnic faith communities. 'That would only exacerbate division rather than help build cohesion,' she said. 'And as a society, we should have the confidence to say "no" to certain suggestions from particular ethnic groups but, at the same time, to make sure everyone can be treated equally, there are some programmes that will need to treat groups differently.' Miss Kelly said the new commission, charged with improving community cohesion and tackle extremism, would be more than another 'talking shop'.

But critics pointed out that a series of official reports dating back to 2001 had warned of dangerous segregation between communities. And the idea of a cohesion commission was first floated by the Government last July in the wake of the London bombings. For the Tories, shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: 'Previous Government initiatives have proved to be more about grabbing a day's headlines than working on the roots of the problem. This time, it must make a proper long-term commitment to solving the problems. 'There is a huge and vital challenge to be met in helping Britain's new communities integrate fully with the mainstream values of British society.'

Another stupid straight-line projection: "More than 12m adults and one million children will be obese by 2010 if no action is taken, a report by the Department of Health is predicting. The Health Survey for England also warns 19% of boys and 22% of girls aged two to 15 will be obese. The figures would mean the government would fail to meet its target to halt the rise in childhood obesity... The report warns that, based on current trends, 33% of men and 28% of women will be obese by 2010. The government says it is the "most accurate estimate so far" of future obesity rates. The data is published just days after a "minister for fitness" was appointed."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

British government stumped by illiteracy and innumeracy

Labour's record on improving standards of literacy and numeracy came under attack last night after the publication of results for GCSE examinations and primary school tests. Pass rates at GCSE rose for the eighteenth successive year but achievement in English and mathematics at primary school level has stalled well below the Government's targets. Almost half of 16-year-olds failed to achieve at least a C grade in GCSE maths and four out of ten were below this standard in English. Employers said that the education system was "failing to deliver".

The proportion of GCSEs awarded grades A* to C rose by 1.2 percentage points to 62.4 per cent this year. But English increased by only 0.7 points to 61.6 per cent and maths by 0.9 to 54.3 per cent. At age 11, the proportion reaching level 4 in the national curriculum English test was unchanged at 79 per cent. It rose one percentage point in maths and science to 76 per cent and 87 per cent respectively.

The results left primary schools far off the Government's target of 85 per cent for both English and maths by this year and still trailing its 2002 target of 80 per cent in English. The proportions achieving the expected standard at age 7 in reading, writing and maths also fell across the board this year. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, defended the Government's record. "The attainment of young people at the end of their primary years has vastly improved on what it was in 1997 and is higher than ever before for those reaching the end of compulsory education," he said.

But David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, said that the primary school results showed that the Government's strategy had "run out of steam". He added: "If you go back to 1997 and what Tony Blair said about the importance of education, it is clear that missing the targets on literacy and numeracy is a big thing. "Forty per cent of pupils are still leaving primary school without having mastered the basic skills in the three Rs. This is letting down the nation's children, who then spend their lives playing catch-up."

Richard Lambert, the CBI's Director-General, said: "We must not lose sight of the severe problems which exist. Ministers must step up their efforts - they have made the right noises, but will be judged on delivery."

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said that the pass rate in maths was lower than for all other major subjects. He said that standards in many schools would be exposed by changes to performance tables this year, which will rank them for the first time by the percentage of pupils passing five good GCSEs including English and maths.

Professor David Jesson, of York University, said that the primary school results showed that "the concept of continually improving performance for ever has to be questioned". Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrats' Shadow Education Secretary, said: "There are holes appearing all over the Government's strategy for secondary education, illustrated by the drop in teens studying languages and the shocking number quitting school altogether after GCSEs. "Too many young pupils are leaving primary school without the basic skills they need to successfully tackle the secondary curriculum."


Final clearance has been given for women in England and Wales to be given Herceptin for early-stage breast cancer. NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, dismissed an objection to its draft guidance from Newbury and Community Primary Care Trust. As a result, all PCTs will be expected to provide Herceptin.

Several women have gone to court to establish their right to a drug that trials have shown can cut their risk of a recurrence of cancer by up to 50 per cent. Draft guidance was issued by NICE in June, but Newbury PCT said that it was a perverse interpretation of the data. Today's ruling dismisses the PCT's case and reiterates the advice that women should get the drug if they have the type of breast cancer against which it is effective, and their heart function is monitored.

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, said: "Our assessment of Herceptin shows that it is clinically and cost effective for women with HER2-positive early breast cancer. The guidance has been issued rapidly to ensure consistent use across the NHS." Newbury PCT said that it had wanted NICE to consider whether shorter courses of Herceptin could be as effective as the 12 months recommended. The PCT also raised questions about exactly who should be chosen for treatment.


But say something derogatory about homosexuals or Muslims and they will be on your doorstep in no time

A father has been shot dead in front of his fiancee and young son by a gang of young men after being terrorised for months. Peter Woodhams, 22, staggered to his front door in Canning Town, East London, after being shot in the chest and collapsed onto the ground. His fiancee, Jane Bowden, 23, who rushed out with their three-year-old son, Sam, to see what was happening, claimed that the same gang had stabbed Mr Woodhams in the neck in January, narrowly missing his jugular vein. She said that she gave the names and addresses of his alleged attackers to the police but no-one had been arrested and officers had not even taken a statement from her.

Speaking about the fatal attack she said that Mr Woodhams had come home from a trip to the shops on Monday and had said that there had been some trouble before going back out. When she heard shooting she ran out with her son in her arms. "Peter turned to me and walked a few steps. I could see blood on his clothes," she said. "Then he just collapsed into some bushes and I started screaming. He managed to drag himself up and walk over to the front door and then fell on to his front. He had been shot in the chest and a bullet had gone through his hand where he had tried to protect himself. Peter was still conscious and talking to me. He kept saying that he couldn't breathe, he was panicking."

Mr Woodhams, a television satellite engineer, had been to the local shops in his car where there is believed to have been an altercation with some youths. Ms Bowden told the Evening Standard how Mr Woodhams had been held down and stabbed in the neck several times at the beginning of the year after he confronted them for throwing a stone at his car. "They wrestled him to the ground and one said, `Hold him down'. Three held him while one slashed his face and stabbed him in the neck. They knew what they were doing - they tried to kill him. "I phoned the police every day for five weeks and they never even came to take a statement from me."

She said that since then the gang of youths, believed to be aged between 14 and 18, had mounted a campaign of intimidation against them. "They knew they had stabbed Peter and got away with it. They thought they were untouchable. He was traumatised by it, but he was determined not to let them win. He wanted to stand up to them and protect me and Sam - that's the way he was." Shopkeepers and residents in the area said that the gang terrorised everyone and regularly stole from cars and shops.

A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard said that "a full review" would take place into the initial stabbing inquiry to make sure the "correct police procedure" was followed. She said that at the time a full statement was taken from the victim and officers were given a list of names and addresses of possible suspects but no arrests had been made in connection with the stabbing.

The spokeswoman said: "Following the tragic murder of Peter Woodhams, officers from the Specialist Crime Directorate were made aware of a serious stabbing incident involving the victim in January 2006. Officers from the SCD have been liaising with the senior officers from Newham borough to establish the outcome of this incident; as a result a full review is currently being conducted to ensure correct standards of police procedure were initially taken." A 14-year-old has been arrested in connection with the murder.


Friday, August 25, 2006


What the article below does not mention is that the role of alcohol in Scottish university life would be a shock to many Americans

At an age when most toddlers were singing along to Raffi, Zarya Rathe got hooked on Celtic music. She listened with her mom-a violinist-and played herself. So when the time came for college, Rathe applied to four schools in Scotland, ending up at the University of Edinburgh. "I wanted to do something different," she says. Except that when Rathe arrived in Gaelic 101, she was hardly alone. "It was all Americans."

Rathe is one of a growing number of U.S. students heading to kilt country for college. The main attraction: a quartet of medieval universities-Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and St. Andrews-known as the Scottish Ivies. Since 2000-01, American participation in study-abroad programs has increased by 20 percent; England and Canada still attract students looking to attend a foreign school. But U.S. enrollment in Scottish colleges is up 80 percent in the past decade; at Edinburgh, it's tripled since 2003, and more than a tenth of St. Andrews' students are American.

Part of the appeal is esthetic. For Americans taken with the looks of an Ivy League campus, Scotland's ancient universities can hold an ever-richer store of history. Aberdeen was founded in 1495, 141 years before Harvard; St. Andrews has stood on the cliffs of Fife for nearly six centuries. Stephanie Gorton got into Columbia-her dream school-but that dream faded after a weekend visit to Edinburgh, the youngest of the lot. Compared with better-known British schools like Cambridge or Oxford, the Scottish colleges offer a curriculum that strikes a nice balance between the foreign and the familiar. An English undergrad education lasts only three years, and students must specialize in a single subject from day one. Scottish schools, while offering far fewer electives than their U.S. counterparts, still boast a four-year program that allows undergrads to study several subjects before settling on a major.

The Scottish Ivies are selective-but not nearly as competitive as the American elites. The typical student admitted to Harvard, Yale or Princeton scores about 750 on each section (Math, Verbal and Writing) of the SAT; Edinburgh requires 600. Top Ivies accept about 10 percent of applicants, but St. Andrews takes 20 percent of the 500 Americans who apply annually. One drawback: cost. Due to subsidies, Scottish natives pay only $4,000 in tuition, but foreigners pay $15,000. With room, board and travel, Americans can expect to fork over about $25,000 a year-and there's no financial aid available to ease the burden. Yet some find the cultural immersion priceless. Rathe, now a junior, recalls an evening on the Black Isle when she dined on haggis and watched neighbors recite Scottish poetry. "You got shivers down your spine." It's a far cry from toga parties at Delta House-but for a certain kind of student, that's precisely the point.



Leading universities are warning teenagers that they will not gain admission if they study "soft" A levels in the sixth form. The universities are insisting that pupils take traditional subjects if they want to be considered for degree courses. Those applying with A levels in subjects such as media studies or health and social care would rule themselves out. Up to one in six students took A levels this summer in at least one of 20 subjects listed by Cambridge as "less effective preparation" for entry. In what will come as a surprise to some schools and students, the list includes business studies, information and communication studies, and design and technology.

The move to spell out "unacceptable" A levels emerged after the pass rate rose for the 24th successive year to a record 96.6 per cent. The rise in the proportion of A grades awarded was the second largest in 40 years. In a backlash against the growing popularity of subjects such as sports studies, and tourism and dance, institutions such as Cambridge, the LSE and Manchester are telling applicants to concentrate on the more academic A levels. Admissions tutors insist that a lower grade in an academic subject, such as history or mathematics, will be of more use than a high grade in an apparently easier alternative. However, they believe that thousands of working-class pupils are losing out when they choose their A-level courses, because schools are failing to give them the best guidance. The proportion of state school pupils and those from low-income families attending university dropped to its lowest level for three years in 2004-05.

Tomorrow more than 700,000 teenagers will receive their GCSE results. Cambridge has posted a notice on its website telling youngsters: "Your choice of AS and A-level subjects can have a significant impact on the course options available to you at university. "To be a realistic applicant, a student will normally need to be offering two traditional academic subjects. For example, mathematics, history and business studies would be an acceptable combination," Cambridge's online prospectus states. "However, history, business studies and media studies would not."

Geoff Parks, the admissions tutor for Cambridge, said that a significant number of students were given no advice on what options might be closed to them if they chose a poor combination of A levels. Last week it emerged that just 42 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds in England were attending university in 2004-05, the second successive drop in two years. Few, including the Government, now expect to meet the target of half that age group attending university by 2010.

Generous bursaries for the worst-off and outreach programmes appear to be making little headway in encouraging students from poorer backgrounds to apply. Universities are baffled and the Government has ordered an audit. Tessa Stone, director of the Sutton Trust education charity, which provides summer schools to encourage more underprivileged children to apply to university, believes that poor A-level guidance could be one reason. Dr Stone says that Cambridge's direct approach may appear hard, but it is fairer to candidates in the long run because they are less likely to drop out if they have studied the right subjects.

While many universities do not explicitly exclude subjects, Dr Stone says, in reality they do. At Bristol, few A levels are explicitly discouraged, but for a BA in English, the prospectus states that GCSEs and A levels "in classical or foreign languages" are an advantage. In the same way, law A level is "acceptable but does not give any advantage". Malcolm Grant, Provost of University College London and chairman of the Russell group of research universities, said that students must not be put off learning, however. "I do think universities must be more explicit than implicit in guidance, but they must also widen participation. There are also so many things that switch kids off and being advised to do subjects that don't match their aspirations could be a disaster."

Long service awards are 'ageist'

Council bosses in Norfolk are planning to axe long service awards for staff - in case they are accused of being ageist. New laws that come into force in October will make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of how old or young they are. Bosses at Broadland Council say they are "reviewing" their policy of handing out awards to employees, in case they breach the rules.

According to The Sun an insider said: "The council officers are terrified of contravening the new legislation. "Officially they are saying the axing of long service awards is just one of a number of options being considered. But the word here is that they've already taken the decision."

Stuart Beadle is leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, which serves the Norfolk Broads and out-lying areas of Norwich. He said: "I think we ought to have a bit of common sense. If people have served councils or business for a very long time it should be recognised."

Local Age Concern worker Luis Santos added: "This is totally outrageous - absolute madness. If a person is 60 or 70 and going to get an accolade they wouldn't see it as being branded old. "It is very good for people when their contribution and achievements are recognised." A council spokeswoman said: "We are looking at all processes in terms of age, gender and race."

BBC Goes to Water over Comedy Programs

Those cartoon troubles again:

"A radio comedy show containing a joke about Rolf Harris drawing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad has been pulled by the BBC because it was deemed too controversial..."


Rolf Harris is probably Britain's most famous childrens' entertainer and is famed for his lightning-quick sketches.
Hotel Manager Cleared

When a British hotel manager sacked a black she caught stealing, he accused her of racism and was taken seriously enough for the matter to go to court. Happily, the manager has now been cleared of wrongdoing:

"The tribunal panel said it was satisfied anyone in Mr Coke's position would have been suspended by Mrs Downey, given she believed he was guilty of an offence.


I originally covered this story on 7th..