Friday, September 22, 2006


Instead of solving the problems that their failed educational theories have created, they are just running away and hoping someone else can solve them

The worst-performing secondary schools in the country face being taken over by the best or shut down completely, The Times has learnt. Head teachers of schools with trust status, an initiative designed to give them greater independence from local authorities, will be able to act as chief executives overseeing the progress of less successful institutions. The plans come amid concerns that Labour's record investment has failed to improve standards at the bottom of school league tables, with more than one in six secondaries now providing a second-rate education.

A confidential government hitlist has identified 512 secondary schools, from a total of 3,385, that are officially classified as "underperforming" because only 25 per cent or less of pupils attain five good GCSEs. An estimated 400,000 children attend these schools, with many leaving at 16 without the skills to get a job. They include Montgomery School in Canterbury, where just 1 per cent of pupils achieved five A* to C GCSEs, including maths and English, in 2005, against a national average of 44.3 per cent. Also on the list is Ridings School in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, which achieved notoriety in 1996 after pupil behaviour and staff action plunged it into chaos. Despite the help of troubleshooting head teachers, just 5 per cent of pupils managed five A* to C GCSEs, including maths and English, last year.

Under the new plans, such schools would be taken over by high-achieving schools, linked together by a single independent trust. The trusts, set up under the new education Bill, would be run by a chief executive, usually the existing head of the lead school in the partnership. The chief executive would appoint new heads for each of the partner schools and would have the freedom to take whatever other actions were necessary to raise standards, including the removal of up to 20 per cent of staff. Sir Cyril Taylor, head of the Government's specialist schools programme and the architect of the reforms, said that a large number of heads in high- performing schools had already expressed an interest in taking over underperforming schools nearby.

The key in turning round an underperforming school was good leadership and a strong vision. "I believe that the strong should help the weak. Best practice can be replicated with good leadership in even the most challenging schools," he said. Sir Cyril said that the reforms would help to nurture new leaders and address the leadership crisis in schools. At present 1,500 English primary and secondary schools lack a permanent head. "If we are short of 1,500 head teachers, it will clearly be difficult to find sufficient outstanding head teachers for every underperforming school, and this is where collaboration and co-operation between schools can be crucial in raising performance," Sir Cyril added.

High-performing schools can already take over failing schools by forming a federation under existing legislation, but such arrangements cannot be permanent and have limited powers. Under the new education Bill, expected to receive Royal Assent this year, a new breed of independent school trust, free from local authority control, will be possible. In a speech today at the Federations and School Leadership conference in London, Sir Cyril will say that trust status will be key to making school partnerships work. Those underperforming schools that were not taken over by others should either be closed down completely, if their pupil numbers were falling, and their pupils sent to nearby schools, or they should seek private sponsorship to become academy schools, he said.

Teaching unions are generally in favour of the move towards more partnerships between schools, provided that heads and teachers from failing schools who lose their jobs are properly compensated. John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The principle of a successful school supporting a less successful one in partnership is an excellent one." However, he questioned the idea of classifying as "failing" all schools with 25 per cent or less of pupils attaining five good GCSEs. "It will depend on the ability of the children when they join a school," he said.

Examples of successful take-overs include the Ninestiles Federation in Birmingham. In 2001 the highly successful Ninestiles School took responsibility for the Waverley School, then on the brink of special measures. The partnership finished in 2005, by which time the proportion of Waverley students gaining five good GCSEs had risen from 16 to 75 per cent.



Judging by deeds, not words

After the July 7 attacks Tony Blair and Charles Clarke, then the Home Secretary, promised to remove extremist clerics from Britain. But more than a year later, many "preachers of hate" remain in the country with no apparent action taken against them. They include:

ANJEM CHOUDARY is the leader of al-Ghurabaa, which was formed from the remnants of al-Muhajiroun and banned along with the Saved Sect. Mr Choudary, 39, organised the protests outside the Danish Embassy against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. He was arrested during the march and, in July, fined 500 pounds for failing to give police the required six days notice of the demonstration. He is being investigated in connection with last Sunday's protests outside Westminster Cathedral over the Pope's comments about Islam.

ABU UZAIR is a British-born civil engineering graduate and co-founder of the Saved Sect. He has repeatedly praised the September 11 hijackers as "brave warriors". After the July 7 bombings in London he said: "The banner has been risen for jihad in the UK which means it is allowed for [suicide bombers] to attack."

AZZAM TAMIMI, a Palestinian-born academic based in Britain, advocated martyrdom when addressing an Islamic convention in Manchester. He told the 8,000-strong audience that dying for one's beliefs was just, adding: "Martyrs are those who stand up in defiance of George Bush and Tony Blair." He has said that he would be prepared to be a suicide bomber in Israel.

ABU MUWAHHID is said to be a disciple of Omar Bakri Mohammad. He praised Osama bin Laden and called for all sinners to be killed in video broadcasts in July: "Capture them and besiege them and prepare an ambush from every angle." He mocked the victims of 9/11 and called for a Muslim state in Britain with a "black flag" over Downing Street.



Once a stuffy scientific body, Britain's Royal Society is now searching for relevance by becoming a very political lobby group. Report below from "The Guardian"

Britain's leading scientists have challenged the US oil company ExxonMobil to stop funding groups that attempt to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change. In an unprecedented step, the Royal Society, Britain's premier scientific academy, has written to the oil giant to demand that the company withdraws support for dozens of groups that have "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence". The scientists also strongly criticise the company's public statements on global warming, which they describe as "inaccurate and misleading".

In a letter earlier this month to Esso, the UK arm of ExxonMobil, the Royal Society cites its own survey which found that ExxonMobil last year distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society says misrepresent the science of climate change. These include the International Policy Network, a thinktank with its HQ in London, and the George C Marshall Institute, which is based in Washington DC. In 2004, the institute jointly published a report with the UK group the Scientific Alliance which claimed that global temperature rises were not related to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. "There is not a robust scientific basis for drawing definitive and objective conclusions about the effect of human influence on future climate," it said.

In the letter, Bob Ward of the Royal Society writes: "At our meeting in July ... you indicated that ExxonMobil would not be providing any further funding to these organisations. I would be grateful if you could let me know when ExxonMobil plans to carry out this pledge." The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, adds: "I would be grateful if you could let me know which organisations in the UK and other European countries have been receiving funding so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public."

This is the first time the society has written to a company to challenge its activities. The move reflects mounting concern about the activities of lobby groups that try to undermine the overwhelming scientific evidence that emissions are linked to climate change. The groups, such as the US Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), whose senior figures have described global warming as a myth, are expected to launch a renewed campaign ahead of a major new climate change report. The CEI responded to the recent release of Al Gore's climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, with adverts that welcomed increased carbon dioxide pollution.

The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due to be published in February, is expected to say that climate change could drive the Earth's temperatures higher than previously predicted. Mr Ward said: "It is now more crucial than ever that we have a debate which is properly informed by the science. For people to be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can't have people trying to undermine it."

The Royal Society letter also takes issue with ExxonMobil's own presentation of climate science. It strongly criticises the company's "corporate citizenship reports", which claim that "gaps in the scientific basis" make it very difficult to blame climate change on human activity. The letter says: "These statements are not consistent with the scientific literature. It is very difficult to reconcile the misrepresentations of climate change science in these documents with ExxonMobil's claim to be an industry leader." Environmentalists regard ExxonMobil as one of the least progressive oil companies because, unlike competitors such as BP and Shell, it has not invested heavily in alternative energy sources.

ExxonMobil said: "We can confirm that recently we received a letter from the Royal Society on the topic of climate change. Amongst other topics our Tomorrow's Energy and Corporate Citizenship reports explain our views openly and honestly on climate change. We would refute any suggestion that our reports are inaccurate or misleading." A spokesman added that ExxonMobil stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute this year.

Recent research has made scientists more confident that recent warming is man-made, a finding endorsed by scientific academies across the world, including in the US, China and Brazil. The Royal Society's move emerged as Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, warned that the polar ice caps were breaking up at a faster rate than glaciologists thought possible, with profound consequences for global sea levels. Professor Rapley said the change was almost certainly down to global warming. "It's like opening a window and seeing what's going on and the message is that it's worse than we thought," he said.

The Guardian, 20 September 2006

Oil companies greatly dislike the way they are constantly demonized (you would too) so Exxon may well cave in


(From The Daily Telegraph of 16 May 2005)

I've had a letter from Sir David Wallace, CBE, FRS. In his capacity as treasurer and vice-president of the Royal Society, he writes: "We are appealing to all parts of the UK media to be vigilant against attempts to present a distorted view of the scientific evidence about climate change and its potential effects on people and their environments around the world. I hope that we can count on your support."

Gosh! The V-P of the Royal Society! How could anyone not support such an eminent body, especially as Sir David warns: "There are some individuals on the fringes, sometimes with financial support from the oil industry, who have been attempting to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change." I say! A conspiracy as well. Definitely time to rally round, chaps, and repel fringe individuals. To help us do so, there's a "guide to facts and fictions about climate change written in a non-technical style" that even non-members of the Royal Society can grasp.

There's no doubt that this is a difficult subject that arouses strong emotions and which, if the more pessimistic projections turn out to be anywhere near the truth, will cause mankind some serious problems in the coming decades. Yet I fear I am going to be a great disappointment to Sir David.

However vigilant we may be against attempts to present a distorted view of the scientific evidence, he cannot count on my support, and it's not merely because of my instinctive leaning towards individuals on the fringe. In his helpful, non-technical guide, he refers to a survey of 928 papers (count 'em) on climate change published between 1993 and 2003, which found that three quarters of them accepted the view that man's activities (anthropogenic, in the jargon) have had a major impact on the climate. Amazingly, not a single one rejected it. Never mind that this is probably a greater consensus than can be found for the theory of evolution, the lack of a single dissenting voice smacks of the sort of result Nicolae Ceausescu used to get in his Romanian elections. So just what was this survey?

It is by one Naomi Oreskes, and was published in Nature last December, and it has surprised those whom Sir David might describe as fringe individuals. Among them are eminent researchers who have discovered periods in history when the Earth was hotter, even with lower levels of carbon dioxide than in today's atmosphere, and other scientists who believe that solar activity is the biggest cause of recent climate change. These people are not nutcases, nor are they in thrall to the oil companies (even if they were, does anyone seriously believe that Big Oil wants to destroy the planet?). They are just as capable of doing serious science as those who take it as an article of faith that global warming is all our fault.

Six such individuals have just published a paper* arguing that cosmic ray intensity and variations in solar activity have been driving recent climate change. They even provide a testable hypothesis, predicting some modest cooling over the next couple of years, as cosmic ray activity increases cloud cover. Since the conventional - sorry, consensus - wisdom says we are on a rising temperature curve to disaster, a couple of cool years would deal a serious blow to the anthropogenists.

There is much more in Sir David's briefing paper that other experts could challenge. One of the more terrifying aspects of global warming is the threat of rising sea levels as the polar ice melts, and the oceans expand through rising temperatures, threatening the millions of people who live in places only a few feet above sea level. Dramatic pictures of receding ice shelves in Antarctica seem to back this up, but a report in February to the Earth Observation summit in Brussels found that the ice masses there seem to be growing. Sea level does not appear to be rising; satellites can't detect any change, and low-lying islands such as Tuvalu are refusing to disappear beneath the waves.

As I said, this is a difficult subject, and it would be foolish to assume that everything will turn out fine, whatever we do. But that hardly justifies Draconian measures that will make us poorer, unless the scientific evidence is overwhelming. This was what the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change was set up to do, and its findings form the basis for the Kyoto treaty. Yet a closer examination of the scientific case shows that what are now considered by the doomsayers to be firm forecasts of temperature rises are actually "scenarios" of what might happen on different assumptions.

There is a huge margin for error here, certainly enough to justify America's refusal to sign up to the treaty. It's fashionable to claim that George W. Bush has rejected Kyoto because he's too stupid to see the problem (and, of course, he's in thrall to Big Oil), but he can just as plausibly argue that the treaty is based on bad science. Climate change is an important, perhaps vital, debate, but it remains just that. Warning of disaster has become a global industry, and the livelihoods of thousands of scientists depend on our being sufficiently spooked to keep funding the research. The worry is that many of these researchers have stopped being scientists and become campaigners instead. I do hope that the vice-president of the Royal Society is not one of them.


An email from Dr. David Whitehouse (

I wonder if I am not alone in finding something rather ugly and unscientific about the letter the Royal Society has sent to EssoUK (part of Exxon). It is reproduced in today's Guardian newspaper.

It demands EssoUK stop giving money to groups and organisations who do not believe that human activities are totally responsible for global warming. It also asks EssoUK to provide details of all the groups it funds so that the Royal Society can track them down and vet them, "so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public," the letter says.

My disquiet about this is nothing to do with the status of the debate about anthropogenic global warming but about the nature of the debate and the role of the Royal Society in it and the sending of such a hectoring and bullying letter demanding adherence to the scientific consensus.

Theories come and go. Some become fact, others do not. As scientists our ultimate loyalty is not to theory but to reason and to open enquiry even when some think it ill judged. We should value that above all and I am surprised the Royal Society is acting this way. Einstein once said, "Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth." However the Royal Society sees its role in debates about science, is it appropriate that it should be using its authority to judge and censor in this way?

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