Thursday, October 26, 2006

British pupils 'cannot locate UK'

One in five British children cannot find the UK on a map of the world, a magazine's research suggests. National Geographic Kids said it also found fewer than two thirds of children were able to correctly locate the US. The magazine, which questioned more than 1,000 six to 14-year-olds, said it found several London children did not know they lived in England's capital.

Teachers' union the NASUWT said the findings were "nonsense" and did not reflect staff and pupils' hard work.

National Geographic Kids also discovered 86% of the children interviewed failed to identify Iraq and one in 10 could not name a single continent. Boys seemed to show a slightly better geographical knowledge than girls, with 65% able to locate a number of countries around the world compared with 63% of girls.

Scottish children appeared to be the most geographically aware with 67% able to point out the most countries, out of England, the US, France, China and Iraq, on a world map.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the findings were "rather frightening". "These results underline the need for education to concentrate on the essentials. "How are children going to be able to get as much out of their life if they fail to have an understanding of the shape of the world?"

The Department for Education and Skills said geography was a compulsory subject on the National Curriculum for five to 14-year-olds. A spokesman said all 14-year-olds should be taught to use atlases and globes, as well as learning about places and environments in the world.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "The constant desire for groups to produce statistics to do down the English education system is quite appalling and does nothing to recognise the excellent work of children and staff."

The magazine carried out the study to mark its UK launch and highlight "gaps in children's geographical knowledge". Environmentalist David Bellamy said the world was still an undiscovered place for many children. "Making geography fun and exciting is so important because it makes children aware of the importance of caring for the environment and, by learning about the world, it helps bring other people's worlds and cultures closer to their own."


Bishop attacks British faith schools plan

Plans for new faith schools in England to admit up to 25% of pupils from other religions "must be resisted", the Archbishop of Birmingham has said. The most Rev Vincent Nichols described the plans as "insulting" and "divisive" and has urged the head teachers of Catholic schools to voice their fears.

The plans were introduced in an amendment to the Education and Inspections Bill last week. The government has said schools are in a position to prevent social division.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson met with representatives from the UK's major religious groups on Monday for a so-called "inclusion summit" to discuss the role faith schools can play in improving relations between the faiths. The Department for Education and Skills said the meeting had been productive and Mr Johnson had made it clear that the amendment would only apply to new faith schools. He also explained that where there is local opposition, a local authority will need the consent of the education secretary to approve a new faith school with fewer than 25% of non-faith admissions.

The Church of England has said its new schools will admit up to 25% of pupils from outside the faith - but said other religions should not be expected to offer the same commitment. But the amendment has met with opposition from Muslim, Jewish and Catholic groups.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper, the archbishop said coercive measures by the government would not win co-operation and branded them "ill-thought out, unworkable and contradictory of empirical evidence". He said Catholic schools on average welcome 30% of pupils from other faiths or none, and they were likely to have better academic records and less likely to encounter bullying or racism. He added that the government appears to hold the view that, left to themselves, Catholic schools would be divisive. "Since the evidence suggests the opposite, I can only assume that this view rises from muddled thinking or prejudice," he wrote. He warned: "The introduction of 'admissions requirements' is a Trojan horse, bringing into Catholic schools those who may not only reject its central vision but soon seek to oppose it." The way forward, he said, was a "mutually respectful co-operation" between faith groups and authorities. But this amendment, he warned "seems to signal an alternative and deeply divisive step. It has to be resisted."

Last week, he wrote to the head teachers of 2,075 secondary and primary Roman Catholic schools urging them to write to their MPs to voice their concerns. He has also called for talks between the government and the Catholic church.

Rabbi James Kennard, head teacher at King Solomon High School in Ilford, Essex, shared his view, saying Jewish schools had not been able to explain their position. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, he said: "The Jewish school is the traditional institution where a youngster's Jewish identity is shaped, through an all-embracing ethos that runs alongside, and integrates with, the educational requirements of the country where Jews are living. "The Jewish community is small, needs to maintain its distinct identity and ethos and has no interest in spreading its message to others." He added that when people have a good grounding in their religion, they tend to be able to participate in wider society.

The Department for Education said it welcomed the steps faith groups have already taken to improve community cohesion and said they were talking to them about how to build on this


"Naughty" Wrong

We read:

"Parents should not call their youngsters 'naughty' because it damages their self-confidence, a childcare expert controversially claimed.

Annette Mountford, chief executive of the parenting organisation, Family Links, said that children's self-esteem is run down by such branding, even if they are behaving badly.


Scottish disgrace: "We must thank the University of St Andrews for that rare opportunity - the chance to employ with a straight face the clich‚ "it's like Caligula appointing his horse as consul". How so? Because Scotland's oldest university has decided to award an honorary doctorate of law to former President Khatami of Iran "in recognition of his efforts to encourage interfaith dialogue". I kid you not. No less a person than Sir Menzies Campbell, the university's Chancellor, will bestow the accolade on the acceptable face of violent, arbitrary clerical rule. It will come to be seen as one of the most shameful days in the university's history - on a par with the honorary degrees granted by the University of Edinburgh to Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, or the Central London Polytechnic to Elena Ceaucescu, of Romania. They, too, were once fashionable items among the appeasing classes, of which Sir Menzies is the contemporary personification."

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