Sunday, November 26, 2006


Their favourite way of meeting their "targets"

The government has been accused of failing to meet a promise to scrap mixed-sex wards in NHS hospitals. The Department of Health said its targets had been achieved, and 99% of trusts are providing single sex accommodation. But patients groups said they were getting an increasing number of calls from people who think they have been in mixed-sex wards.

There appears to be confusion about the definition of the term. Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said there had been 25-30 calls in the last month to the charity's helpline, mostly from elderly patients, who had been nursed on mixed-sex wards.

Andrew Lansley said it was not acceptable to claim that partitioned single-sex bays on mixed-sex wards were doing the job. "If you can be seen by patients of another sex, and they are coming and going past your bed in order to go to the toilet facilities you may not think you have the privacy you want."

The government pledged to scrap mixed-sex wards when it came to power in 1997. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said most trusts offered single-sex wards, but said more could be done.

More here

Britain: School helper who refused to remove her veil is sacked

A teaching assistant who refused to remove her Muslim veil in the classroom has been sacked. Aishah Azmi’s dismissal from a Church of England primary school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, followed a lengthy period of suspension over her insistence on wearing the niqab in lessons led by a male teacher. She had already failed to persuade an employment tribunal that she was a victim of religious discrimination and harassment by Kirklees local education authority.

Mrs Azmi, 24, said that it was her Islamic duty to wear the black veil, which covered her face except for a narrow slit at the eyes, in the presence of adult males who were not her blood relatives.

Headfield Junior School argued that its pupils, many of whom are learning to speak English, found it difficult to understand what Mrs Azmi was saying when her mouth was hidden.

In a statement issued yesterday, the LEA said that the school governing body’s staff dismissals committee had recently held a hearing to discuss Mrs Azmi’s case.

“As a result of the hearing, the committee decided to terminate the employment of the employee concerned,” it said.

Shahid Malik, the Labour MP for Dewsbury, said that the Azmi case had not been about religion but about seeking the best possible education for children at the school.

More than 90 per cent of Headfield’s pupils are Muslim, many of them learning English as a second language.

Earlier this year, Ofsted criticised “exceptionally low” standards of achievement by pupils and said that many of the school’s difficulties were caused by “speech and communication problems”.

Mr Malik said: “I’m obviously disappointed that a compromise could not be reached. While I defend her right to wear the veil in society, it’s very clear that her wearing the veil in the classroom inhibits her ability to support children.”

When she was observed during lessons, the tribunal heard that, “it was readily apparent that the children were seeking visual clues from her which they could not obtain because they could not see her facial expressions”.

Mrs Azmi did not wear the veil when she was interviewed for the Headfield post, nor at her first training day, but problems arose soon after she started work on a one-year fixed contract last September. Although the school’s other female Muslim teachers wore a headscarf, Mrs Azmi insisted on wearing the niqab.

Mrs Azmi taught at the school for only a few weeks before being told that she must be unveiled during lessons. Soon after she went on long-term sick leave due to stress. She was suspended on full pay in February and took her case against the school to an employment tribunal which sat for four days in July.

Kirklees LEA renewed Mrs Azmi’s one-year contract after it expired on August 31, even though she was under suspension at the time.

When the tribunal issued its findings last month, it rejected her claims of discrimination and harassment but awarded her £1,000 for “injury to feelings” caused by the way her case was handled.

Mrs Azmi, whose appearance before the tribunal was a test case brought under new religious discrimination regulations, vowed to continue her fight for the right to wear the niqab.

She attacked the Government for treating ethnic minorities “as outcasts” and said that she was “fearful for the consequences for Muslim women in this country”.

Mrs Azmi’s lawyer, Nick Whittingham, of the Kirklees Law Centre, said that he had not yet received a decision in writing following this week’s disciplinary hearing.


Prestigious British private schools exported

In what is believed to be the first venture of its kind, Brighton College, a leading independent school, is planning to export British public school education to Russia. Boarding schools in England have attracted interest from growing numbers of wealthy Russians in the past decade who are keen to give their children a high-quality education in a secure, friendly environment. Brighton College is seeking to build on these links by building its own public school, 50 miles south of Moscow.

Several elite schools, such as Dulwich College, Harrow and Shrewsbury, have set up in the Far East to feed a growing appetite for British public school education, but none has so far attempted such an undertaking on Russian soil. Four hundred boys and girls will be offered Mandarin, polo and cricket, and taught a European-style curriculum, in English, in the grounds of a school near Borovsk, south of Moscow. Estimated to cost 18 million pounds, it could open as early as 2009. The school is the brainchild of Mikhail Orloff, a Russian businessman and the grandson of King Farouk, and it hopes to blend the best of English education with Russia's culture and history. It would operate mostly as a weekly boarding school.

Richard Cairns, the headmaster of Brighton College, said that Russian parents were attracted to the school because they would no longer have to send their children abroad for a top-class education. "Parents have been sending their children to Europe, but they don't like it because when they come over, they stay," he said. "They believe that Russia is losing her children. But this way, they hope to keep the same value system and the children."

The cleverest pupils would be able to spend their last couple of years studying A levels at Brighton College, which also has partnerships with schools in China and Australia. Mr Orloff approached the college after it became the first private school in England to make Mandarin compulsory for all new pupils. Brighton College is developing a three-year plan with Lord Skidelsky, an economist of Russian origin and chairman of its board of governors, to raise the money. Richard Niblett, the director of music, is overseeing the project. He has been living in Moscow since September to undertake feasibility studies and raise to funds for the school. "The concept is to draw on the best of both education systems - the logic of science and maths, which the Russians excel at, and the house-style system and arts of British public schools," he said. "Teaching in Russia is quite dogmatic, whereas we tend to help them think outside the box more."

There would certainly seem to be a market for it. According to the Independent Schools Council, which includes 1,288 of the Britain's 2,500 private schools, 343 Russian students were attending its schools in 2005-6. These parents were paying more than 5.5 million pounds for one year's school fees. Brighton College charges about 16,000 a year for weekly boarders, but their Russian affiliate would charge just 10,350 a year.

While Russia already has a handful of good Western-style private day schools, such as the Anglo-American School, the English International School and the British International School, they are not linked to any leading independent schools in Britain. The advantage of its model, Brighton College argues, is not only that it will follow a tried and tested method of schooling, which has worked well for centuries in Britain, but will also take children out of the pollution of Moscow during the week


British Airways buckles under pressure: "British Airways is to lift its ban on workers openly wearing small crosses after an unprecedented backlash from MPs, bishops and customers. BA made the decision after 100 MPs and 14 bishops joined a campaign of support for Nadia Eweida, a check-in worker who lost an employment appeal to wear a tiny cross. It comes after condemnation by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a threat from the Church of England to sell its 9 million pound stake in the airline. Despite winning a legal battle against its employee, the company said it would review its uniform policy to find a way to allow symbols of faith to be worn openly.... Miss Eweida, who has begun a second appeal, issued a statement saying that she hoped that it would help her to win her case. "If they are going to review the policy and allow Christians their place in the workforce, it is a big relief." The ban on Miss Eweida caused outrage because members of other faiths, such as Muslims and Sikhs, are allowed to wear religious symbols..... Ann Widdecombe, the former Conservative Home Office minister, said: "I cannot believe that a major company couldn't have worked out weeks ago that the way out of this was a review instead of taking everything to the wire and losing custom and goodwill en route."

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