Sunday, January 07, 2007


Some lucky British nurses discover the wonders of tropical Cairns. Brits from North of Watford generally settle well in Australia

The first of more than 70 nurses from the English town of Stoke-on-Trent have reported for work in tropical north Queensland. The group of medical staff lost their jobs in a round of health spending cuts last year and were due to start 2007 on the dole. But when managers at Cairns Base Hospital heard about their plight they flew to Britain to offer them jobs.

The first of the Stoke nurses are on the wards in Cairns and enjoying the laid-back Queensland lifestyle. Katey Kitchen, 22, migrated with her boyfriend at the end of last year. "I had only been working as a nurse in Stoke for a year before I was made redundant," she said. "I was really upset. I didn't know what I was going to do. "Now I'm so glad I applied to come to Cairns. The atmosphere at the hospital is great and I love the weather. "We've booked a dive course for February and can't wait to get out on the reef. Life's brilliant here."

As well as the Stoke contingent, Cairns Base Hospital has a hired a further 80 nurses from hospitals across Britain. Most are due to arrive in the next few months but Katie Hollis, 31, arrived from Birmingham three weeks ago. "I'm married to a Cairns guy and we were looking to move here anyway, so it was a real stroke of luck when I heard about the recruitment drive here," she said. "Now I smile to myself every time I walk out into the sunshine after my shift."

The 150 British nurses - who are bringing about 250 partners and children with them -will solve the hospital's staffing problems and take the nursing roster to 700. Director of nursing Glynda Summers said she was thrilled with her recruits. "They are very well-trained nurses and they hit the ground running when they arrived here," she said. "They're settling in very well and they loved spending Christmas in Cairns."

Cairns businesses have offered jobs to the nurses' husbands and wives and local developers have agreed to reserve three new unit complexes exclusively for their families. The hospital has even devised a "tropical chums" scheme to help the newcomers settle in, matching Australian members of staff with the new recruits.

The Cairns nurses are part of an influx of foreign health professionals into Queensland. No statewide figures are available for the numbers of overseas staff recruited directly by individual hospitals, but Queensland Health's "Work For Us" recruitment drive has so far brought 98 overseas doctors, 53 nurses, 46 allied health staff and seven dentists to Queensland. Another 648 applications are being processed.



Thousands of doctors qualified to become consultants could face unemployment instead, the NHS says. A leaked copy of the Government's pay and workforce strategy reveals that by 2011 there will be 3,200 more consultants than there are jobs. It suggests that they will be employed in more junior roles at lower salaries, a move bitterly opposed by the British Medical Association. The document, leaked to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), also suggests that by 2011 there will be a shortage of 14,000 nurses and 1,200 GPs, while there will be a surplus of 16,200 physiotherapists, healthcare scientists and technicians.

The document, discussed by the NHS board at its meeting last month, indicates that training programmes and actual demand for staff are seriously out of kilter. It suggests that the era of guaranteed jobs for doctors is over, with a new, fluid market emerging and unemployment being used to drive down salaries. Cuts in the clinical excellence awards given to the best consultants are also suggested as a way of saving money.

The BMA reacted with anger to the proposals. Jonathan Fielden, the chairman of the BMA consultants' committee, said: "It is absurd to suggest that the NHS in England needs fewer hospital consultants. NHS consultants have driven the massive cuts in waiting times and continue to deliver real improvements in patient care. To suggest that there should be fewer consultants, and of a lower grade, will destroy the gold standard of specialist care that patients rightly deserve."

Workforce planning is one of the toughest tasks that the NHS faces. It takes at least 11 years to train a doctor to the level of consultant, which is marked by a certificate of completion of specialist training (CCST). Doctors with a CCST can apply for consultant jobs.

The document says that by 2011 there will be 3,200 doctors with CCSTs that the NHS "cannot afford to employ". Increasing numbers now midway through their training will not be matched by a similar increase in posts. Today there are 31,600 consultants, 200 more than the 31,400 posts. But the gap will swiftly widen. By 2010-11, demand is expected to be 32,700, while the supply will have reached 35,900. By then there will be a shortage of junior and staff-grade hospital doctors amounting to 1,100, and 1,200 too few GPs. Overall there will be enough doctors, but they will be trained in the wrong ways for the jobs available.

In a free market, doctors would move to where the work was, or the excess supply of consultants would drive down salaries, enabling more to be employed. But the NHS is dominated by centrally negotiated contracts that allow little such flexibility. In particular, the suggestion of a new "sub-consultant" grade is a red rag to the BMA. "Patients deserve the best possible care, not a dumbed-down service based around a sub- consultant grade," Dr Fielden said. "Workforce planning in the NHS has for many years been woefully inadequate. The BMA has repeatedly tried to suggest improvements in workforce predictions to the Department of Health and NHS employers."

The Government has already started to try to force down costs by proposing a below- inflation 1.5 per cent increase in pay and salaries to all NHS staff for next year. In another paper leaked to the HSJ, a senior offical wrote of "a real danger of industrial unrest" if the rise were set below 2 per cent.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Over the next few years the NHS needs to consolidate improvements in patient care, reduce waiting times to a maximum of 18 weeks, respond to patient demand for care closer to home and to become more efficient in its use of is therefore only sensible to analyse what the workforce make-up should be to meet those challenges." He added: "This work is at an early stage and the ideas in the paper are very much what any health expert would be expecting the department to be considering."



OFFICIALS from the Government agency championing the fight against climate chaos have taken 60 gas-guzzling domestic flights in the last year. Environment Agency Wales (EAW) have been sending its staff on an air trip less than every two weeks - at the same time as urging everyone else to use other means of transport.

The revelation has provoked a series of attacks from shocked environmental groups, who say EAW needs to "get its house in order." But this week EAW hit back, insisting meetings flown to were "business-crucial" and staff could not have attended otherwise......

More here

Classics in British schools are 'facing extinction'

The teaching of Classics in British schools has become a postcode lottery, with Latin and Greek likely to disappear from the state sector in some parts of the country in as little as five years. A study into the demise of classical languages suggests that they could vanish from all schools within 25 years unless substantial changes are made to the GCSE.

Bob Lister, one of only two lecturers in England to train Classics teachers and author of the research, said that the subjects will soon become the preserve of a wealthy elite, unless urgent steps are taken. Since Latin and Greek became optional under the national curriculum in 1988, geographical blackspots have begun to emerge, where virtually no children study the languages. Fewer than one in ten state schools now offers both subjects at GCSE and in the past 18 years the numbers taking Latin in comprehensives has dropped by 63 per cent to just 1,707.

In the East Midlands, only nine schools — of which just two were comprehensives — offered Latin candidates for GCSE, while eight of the nine were in Lincolnshire, the only county in the region with grammar schools. In contrast, three times the number of schools in the West Midlands offered candidates. In the South East, where there are large numbers of grammar schools, 73 put forward pupils for the exam.

Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum and Latin translations of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit may be flying off the bookshop shelves but, according to figures in Mr Lister’s forthcoming book, Changing Classics in Schools, the number of schools entering Classics candidates at GCSE has reached a low. He told The Times that part of the problem is that the amount of time allocated to study the course has decreased, making Latin one of the toughest subjects in which to achieve top marks at GCSE.

“I can’t see how Latin can survive in the next 25 years unless substantial changes are made to the GCSE,” Mr Lister, a Cambridge don, said. “It’s not that it’s necessarily more difficult, but it’s more difficult in the timetable available — especially when kids compare it to languages like French and see what they have to do to get an A or A*.”

Earlier this year a study by Durham University of the GCSE and A-level results of 200,000 students, revealed that, at grade C, Latin was a grade harder than the next hardest most difficult subjects, such as chemistry or physics.

Overall only 257 state schools entered pupils for Latin GCSE in 2003, of which 86 were grammar schools. Of those, 11 per cent entered a single candidate, 24 per cent entered fewer than five, and 49 per cent fewer than ten candidates.

The danger, according to Mr Lister, is that schools may drop Latin from their GCSE options. He said that the Latin GCSE should be made easier, with less translation from the original and more about the cultural aspects of Roman civilisation. He added: “There is now a serious danger of a downward spiral, with schools dropping Latin from the curriculum if they are unable to recruit Classics staff, leading to fewer classicists from maintained schools on classical language courses at university, fewer therefore eligible for the [teaching degree] and fewer newly qualified teachers likely to go into maintained schools.”



Where would they get the thousands more high-quality teachers they would need? Teacher standards are already dropping, not rising

Pupils would be able to choose what they study, ask each other for help in answering questions, mark their own work and grade their teachers' performance under ambitious government plans to tailor education to the needs of individual children and young people. Traditional grades or marks would go, to be replaced by "feedback", where the teacher would suggest what steps a pupil could take to improve performance. Pupils would be entered for exams as soon as they were ready to take them, rather than wait until they reached a certain age.

Catch-up classes for those who trail behind and extra tuition for the brightest pupils are also recommended in a review of personalised learning published today. The review, written by Christine Gilbert before her recent appointment as head of Ofsted, sets out the Government's vision for schooling by 2020. It aims to stop some children falling behind by replacing a "one size fits all" approach to teaching with one designed to fit the needs of each child. At the centre is a relentless focus on "keeping up", through regular assessments and individual target-setting. This could involve grouping children according to attainment, not age. There would also be surveys of pupil and parental satisfaction to ensure a shared understanding of each pupil's goals.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, emphasised that personalised learning did not involve teaching each child differently. It meant involving each child in its own learning. He said: "Many disadvantaged pupils are bright and talented but lose interest or motivation. We need to make sure that no one is left behind at any point - from the most gifted and talented children at the top of the class to the uninterested child at the back."

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said that the personalised classroom would look very different. "[It] might involve `traffic-light cards' to show if they are confident they understand - and asking those who show `green' to explain to those who show `red'," he said.

Personalised learning has long been an objective, and one that has become more urgent with the widening of the gap between pupils who perform best and worst. Yet the focus on standards, national testing and the perceived inflexibility of the national curriculum have made it difficult to achieve. Today's report notes that "many pupils still report that their experience of school is marked by long periods of time listening to teachers or copying from the board or a book". It suggests "learning conversations" with teachers so that pupils get into the habit of thinking about their learning and how to make progress. It also suggests that all pupils be allocated a "learning guide" - a teacher or classroom assistant to monitor their progress.

Teaching unions gave the report a guarded welcome. Chris Keats, of NASUWT, warned ministers against the development of an "overly bureaucratic processes" to put personalisation in place.



A rather "correct" portrait but it shows that food "correctness" has a long way to go in Britain. It seems unlikely that even the most gimlet-eyed food fascist will ever be able to defeat British stodge

Oh, the dilemmas of fine dining. Should it be mushy peas or regular? Let's go for the bright green ones. And perhaps a glass of Chenin Blanc to accompany your lunch, sir? Certainly not; the only proper accompaniment to fish and chips is a large mug of tea and a slice of white bread and butter. Of course, sir; the tea will be o1.59 but the bread comes automatically.

This does not feel like an establishment on the brink of collapse. The restaurant is spotless and bright, the staff attentive without being overbearing. The meal comes within five minutes of ordering. It consists of a Himalaya of chips and a haddock the size of a sturgeon, with half a fresh lemon to squeeze over it, all for 6.99 pounds.

Shame about the industrial batter with which it was enrobed in Young's frozen food factory. Still, top marks for the Heinz ketchup and HP Sauce arriving in proper bottles instead of those infuriating little sachets, which never contain enough for those of us hooked on the many derivatives of spirit vinegar.

Are we really in the Little Chef on the A127 in Essex halfway between the East End and Southend, that road of life for the aspiring Cockney? We are, and it is a surprisingly good advertisement for a supposedly failing chain of roadside caffs, a world away from a greasy spoon. Perhaps the weak link is that, on a Wednesday with many motorists returning from New Year breaks, only a dozen of the 60-odd seats are occupied. Mind you, the rather more upmarket pub and restaurant next door isn't much busier.

When Little Chef proposed to slim down the familiar Fat Charlie logo in 2004, there was such an uproar from loyal customers that Charlie stayed fat. But one feature of that attempted revamp towards a healthier image is that menus now include salads and the sausage meat is free-range.

But ordering salad in a Little Chef is like asking for pork scratchings at the Ritz. What the chain does best, and which has silenced carloads of starving children since 1958, is the all-day breakfast. Top of the range, at 6.99 pounds, is the Olympic, built from bacon, sausage, two eggs, mushrooms, saut, potatoes, tomato, fried bread and beans. This may be suitable for a ravenous giant but it is too thrombotic a threat these days to the sedentary and health-conscious. Yet Little Chef claims to sell 13 million sausages and 12 million rashers of bacon a year. Not all to the same driver, of course. They sold some to John Major; the former prime minister famously once stopped to refuel at a Happy Eater, the former sister chain to Little Chef.

When Sam Alper, a caravan manufacturer, opened his first 11-seater Little Chef in Reading 49 years ago, he was aiming for something a cut above the lorry driver's transport caff, and took as his model the informal roadside diners he had seen in the US. The chain had little serious competition for many years, but latterly its market share is thought to have been nibbled away by Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken. If true, this destroys any argument that the motorist has diverted to a healthy-eating route.

A tired image seems to be Little Chef's problem, and personal experience suggests that not all branches are up to the standard of that on the A127. However, the mountain range of french fries went untouched, although the haddock was deep-mined from within its leaden coating. The waiter was most concerned that the meal had not been up to the usual high standard. "Not at all," this diner insisted. "It's just that I've got to squeeze back behind my steering wheel. But I did eat the peas."


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