Saturday, October 07, 2006

Must not Joke about Political Correctness

We read:

"It was supposed to be a joke, but colleagues in a politically correct town hall failed to see the funny side when a Tory councillor suggested that nowadays Noah would have been unable to insist on taking only animals of the opposite sex in his Ark.

David Clutterbuck, 72, is facing calls to be sent on "compulsory equality training" after his quip was added to a group e-mail about the bureaucratic obstacles Noah would have to overcome in the modern world.


The councillor is not apologizing.

How Jamie and school meal fascists turn kids into junk food addicts

Her words are enough to make Jamie Oliver tear his hair out. Joanne, 14, a pupil at a large comprehensive in London, is sucking her Triple Power Push Pop as she explains to me why she insists on stuffing her mouth with such sweets.

"I don't buy any of the stuff in the canteen, it's disgusting,' she says. "The drinks are vile - there's no sugar in them. And as for the food, well, it's all salads and vegetables and stuff - and I don't like that.

"So I stock up before school on crisps and lollipops and chews, then at lunchtime I go and eat them where none of them nosy teachers is looking."

Joanne's friends laugh and agree. They say that since the school got 'sick-bag food', they never go to the canteen. They much prefer to munch their sticky, fatty snacks in secret where no 'health police' can find them.

It's not quite what the Government intended when it set up the healthy food initiative. New legislation, which came into effect three weeks ago, demands that school caterers ensure pupils are provided with 'high-quality meat, poultry or oily fish on a regular basis' and that a 'minimum' of two portions of fruit and vegetables accompany every meal.

Prompted by the wrath of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who highlighted the horrors of junk-food school meals in his School Dinners programmes last year, the Government has pumped hundreds of millions of pounds into providing healthy school meals.

I am staggered by the change I have seen in my own secondary school canteen. I have always quite liked the food there but this term I have found it to be of a much higher quality - the pasta and rice dishes, in particular, are delicious.

In common with all state schools, sweets, chocolates and crisps have been taken out of the vending machines and off the meal counters. Bowls of fresh fruit have replaced racks of doughnuts with jugs of water and sugar-free drinks being served in place of bottles of fizzy pop.

But the Government overlooked one crucial point when it instituted these changes - and that is that changing the law doesn't change children's minds. Any teacher will tell you that children don't learn much when they're being taught by fascists. While children's food intake is very heavily policed in school, outside the gates they are free to do what they want.

Sweet shop owners around the country must be rubbing their hands with glee. Where I live, shopkeepers tell me of a huge upsurge in business before and after school. They're raking in money by the bucket load but the school canteen coffers are virtually empty.

One school caterer I know called Jane, said: "It's a real disaster for us. We're losing 70 pounds a day compared with last year."

Explaining that the new guidelines mean food preparation is much more labour intensive than before, she added: "I've had to hire more staff to make the food but the kids are just not coming along. The canteen is half-full at lunchtimes. I feel in a state of despair."

So where are the children? At Rawmarsh Comprehensive in South Yorkshire, they have been pressing against the school railings every lunchtime reaching for chips, burgers and fizzy drinks that two enterprising but misguided mothers have been serving to them in an attempt to give them what they want to eat.

In many other schools, where headteachers have taken the hardline decision to ban pupils from bringing sweets and chocolates on to the premises, the rebellion against healthy eating is much more secretive and I have heard about a number of pupils who are buying junk food before they come to school and, like Joanne and her friends, consuming it where they cannot be seen by the teachers.

Some 16-year-old pupils I have heard about are even running a thriving black market in mini-cans of fizzy drinks at their school in Surrey. "The drinks are c*** and expensive in school so you can make quite a killing if you buy a batch of pop wholesale and flog it at 30p a shot," one budding entrepreneur told me.

But not all children are sugar junkies. Many others are in favour of the changes. Their only problem is the price - they simply can't afford it, with the new regulations adding up to 40p to the price of a canteen meal.

As a consequence of the higher prices and dubious popularity of school meals, many parents have started providing packed lunches for their children. This has set the noses of the control freaks twitching and their fingers pointing accusingly at packed lunches which aren't healthy.

Shelley, a parent I spoke to in Bristol, said that her daughter's primary school had been hijacked by 'food fascists' - teachers who remove the chocolate biscuits and fizzy drinks from her daughter's lunchbox and reprimand her for attempting to eat such 'junk food'. Shelley was furious because she had supplied the drink and biscuits as a treat - normally her daughter eats healthy foods.

Other schools are even using computers to monitor each child's daily intake. Heywood Community High School in Lancashire logs what pupils choose for their dinner and a summary of their intake is included in their end-of-year report. Each pupil is identified by means of a biometric thumbprint scanner. This is really scary stuff.

The problem is that the whole initiative was started by Jamie Oliver, who gave the Government a very big kick up the backside when his Channel 4 programmes highlighted how school kitchens had been neglected for decades. But while Oliver may know how to cook, he certainly doesn't know how to educate.

His yobbish style and approach has cowed and influenced many politicians, educators and bureaucrats throughout the country and his abrasive imperatives have been adopted by the food police in our schools and our Government.

While these people stop short of calling parents 'tossers' and effing and blinding at anyone who disagrees with them - as Oliver does - their sanctimonious injunctions are eerily similar to his.

As any good teacher will tell you, knee-jerk reactions, rigid rules and blind dogma are not good educational tools. Issuing orders is not the way to win over reluctant children. Such pupils need to be coaxed into eating healthily in a careful, caring fashion. They should be introduced to eating vegetables and fruit gradually.

A chilling doomsday scenario could unfold if the Government isn't careful - the canteens could go bankrupt and close down, leaving all pupils to munch on whatever they like.

If this happens, many pupils will not even get a glimpse of healthy food. The whole initiative would have then produced exactly the opposite effect of what it intended - there will be a total free-for-all, with our schools becoming awash with sugary sweets and fat-filled fodder.

It is time the Government stopped reaching for quick fixes and taking orders from yobs such as Jamie Oliver before our school canteens close down and chaos descends. There are already major warning signs with many canteens heavily in debt and children surreptitiously chomping on goodness-knows-what at lunchtime.

It is time the food fascists were knocked off their self-satisfied perch and some real educators were called in to rescue the situation.


Breast milk 'does not boost IQ'

Breastfed babies are smarter because their mothers are clever in the first place, not because of any advantage of breastfeeding itself, a study suggests. Researchers found breastfeeding mothers tended to be more intelligent, more highly educated, and likely to provide a more stimulating home environment. However, they stressed that there were still many advantages to breastfeeding.

The British Medical Journal study was carried out by the Medical Research Council and University of Edinburgh. Lead researcher Geoff Der said: "This question has been debated ever since a link between the two [high IQ and breastfeeding] was first discovered in 1929. "Breastfed children do tend to score higher on intelligence tests, but they also tend to come from more advantaged backgrounds."

The researchers analysed data from more than 5,000 children and 3,000 mothers in the US. They found that mothers who breastfed tended to be more intelligent, and when this fact was taken into account, most of the relationship between breastfeeding and the child's intelligence disappeared. The rest was accounted for by other aspects of the family background.

The researchers also looked at families where one child was breastfed and another was not. This confirmed the earlier results - the breastfed child was no more intelligent than his or her sibling. Putting the results together with other studies that measured the mother's IQ confirmed this pattern. Mr Der said: "This research shows that intelligence is determined by factors other than breastfeeding. "But breastfeeding has many benefits for both mother and child. It's definitely the smart thing to do."

Breastfeeding has been linked to a range of health benefits. Just one day of breastfeeding is thought to be enough to stabilise a baby's blood sugar levels, and provide natural antibodies against disease. Breastfed babies have been shown to be less prone to diarrhoea, vomiting, and respiratory infections. Breastfeeding may also have a long impact on reducing blood pressure and obesity.

Rosie Dodds, of the National Childbirth Trust, said the study was not conclusive. She said a study in the Philippines - where, unlike the West, poorer women are more likely to breastfeed - showed that breastfed children were likely to be more intelligent. However, she added: "Women do not breastfeed because of any benefit to their baby, they do it because it feels like the natural thing to do. "It is important that women make a decision that is right for them, and their family, and they should not be pressurised either way, but we would like to see more support for women who do decide they want to breastfeed."


Injured British soldiers 'on NHS waiting lists'

They can't even care for the troops -- or don't they want to? People who are willing to put their lives at risk on the command of their government surely deserve better

The treatment of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan was described as appalling by the man who commanded the British army during the Falklands war. Field Marshal Lord Bramall said once injured soldiers were brought back to the UK they were left to languish on NHS waiting lists. "This is where I think they're not being treated properly," he said.

But the MoD's director of health care denied soldiers were being abandoned in the NHS and said after-care was good. Air Commodore Paul Evans said most of their recovery took place in military rehabilitation centres. He was responding to Lord Bramall, who was particularly critical of the treatment of soldiers when they initially left hospital.

"They then have to go onto after care and then they get lost in the NHS, they have to join waiting lists and so on. "This is where I think they're not being treated properly and this goes for the TA [National Guard] as well."

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported that 5,000 soldiers are waiting for treatment on the NHS, while a military hospital, the Royal Hospital Haslar, in Hampshire, is vastly underused. The MoD prefers the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham to the Haslar hospital. Injured troops are sent there initially before being referred to their local NHS hospitals and GPs.

But Lord Bramall said not enough resources were being provided for Selly Oak. "It was going to be the centre of excellence, but of course not enough money has been put into it, there's no proper accommodation, there's no nurses' accommodation. "They've only got one and half wards in the hospital, a surgical ward and half a trauma ward."

The MoD said that Selly Oak's "excellent health care" and training opportunities could not be met at Haslar hospital but a spokeswoman said she could not confirm the 5,000 figure. She said the "vast majority" of troops would not have been injured during combat but may have been in a car accident. Air Commodore Evans said the majority of recovery time for soldiers was within a military environment, after NHS care had seen them through the "acute phase".

Rehabilitation takes place either at 13 regional centres around the country or at the main centre at Hedley Court in south London, which specialises in intensive physiotherapy, he said. "There they can spend many months to bring them back up to a maximum functional outcome in a military environment," he said.


Payoff for phonics revival

Primary school children today are 12 to 18 months ahead in spelling compared with children of the same age 30 years ago, new research suggests. In tests completed by 4,000 children last year, pupils of all ages at primary school did better than their peers who took the same test in 1975. A score of 26 or more out of 40 was achieved last year by the top 50 per cent of children aged eight to eight years, two months. In 1975 the same percentage success was not achieved until pupils were aged nine to nine years, two months. In 1975, only the top 25 per cent aged eight to eight years, two months achieved 26 or more.

The findings suggest that the introduction of key stage testing and the National Literacy Strategy has helped more children to focus on spelling. Colin McCarty, of the Test & Evaluation Consortium, who compared the results of tests completed by 4,000 pupils in England in 1975 and 2005, said that a return to the teaching of phonics might also be responsible for the change by providing the tools to build words. That children now started school earlier had also probably helped, Dr McCarty said. “Children are now starting school in the reception year as the norm and this is likely to have increased the exposure to spelling and reading.”

The Graded Word Spelling Test, which was devised by the educationist Professor P. E. Vernon in 1975, uses 80 words that are a close match with the vocabulary and phonic structures in the National Literacy Strategy. The test has been revised by Dr McCarty and his colleague Mary Crumpler and is reissued this week by the publisher Hodder Murray. The spellings get increasingly difficult, starting with “in”, “am” and “see” and ending with “erroneous”, “abscess” and “menagerie”.


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