Tuesday, January 16, 2007

British girl banned from wearing cross at school

A total absurdity:

"A British schoolgirl has been barred from wearing a crucifix necklace in class, the Daily Mail reported Saturday. Samantha Devine, a 13-year-old Roman Catholic, was told by teachers in Gillingham, south-east England, that it breached health and safety rules, the paper added.

Her family reportedly says it will fight the decision and has accused the school of discriminating against Christians because Sikh and Muslim pupils can wear religious symbols....

The girl has pledged to keep wearing the cross when school restarts next week after the Christmas holiday. "I am proud of my religion and it is my right to wear a cross around my neck. "I can't understand why the school thinks a tiny crucifix on a thin silver necklace is a health and safety hazard," she told the Mail.


A SAFETY hazard??? Something that hundreds of millions of Catholics have been doing for centuries is suddenly discovered to be unsafe? These hypocrites will grab at any excuse to enforce their anti-Christian hatreds.

British Race watchdog forces ethnic prize to admit white writers

A literary prize for writers from ethnic minorities has been forced to include entrants of all colours after complaints that it discriminated against white writers. Arts Council England and Penguin UK had to rewrite the rules a year after introducing the Decibel Penguin Prize, a short-story competition for British writers of Asian, African or Caribbean origin.
The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) decided that the prize could breach Section 29 of the Race Relations Act. Had the rules not been changed, the watchdog could have begun legal proceedings against the organisers.

The Decibel Penguin Prize was set up to encourage diversity - even though Andrea Levy, who won the Whitbread with Small Island, and Zadie Smith, who shot to fame with her first novel, White Teeth, are among bestselling ethnic-minority writers who relied on talent rather than positive discrimination. Diran Adebayo, an acclaimed British writer of Nigerian parentage, argued recently that the quality of a book mattered more than whether its author happened to be black or Asian.

Julien Crighton, a businessman from Nottingham who lodged a complaint about the prize with the CRE, told The Times that it had seemed that Penguin "were being politically correct for the sake of being politically correct. Even though the intentions might be good, it doesn't accomplish anything - particularly with public money being involved. If my children grew up to be writers they wouldn't be part of it."

Arts Council England has now confirmed that skin colour will not be a factor in future. For the second year of the contest, the focus will be "personal stories of immigrants to the UK". That way, a spokesman said, "the spirit" of the original prize can be retained.

Although the CRE said that the case was closed, the Arts Council spokesman seemed less sure. Acknowledging its acceptance of the CRE's comments and that the rules had been changed, he said: "We understand that this is an area of the law which is open to interpretation and we are in ongoing discussions with the CRE." He added: "We did check the situation beforehand. We believed we were acting lawfully, but they got in touch with us."

In recent years the funding body has undertaken various initiatives intended to ensure that the arts reflect society's diversity. It sees the Decibel prize as part of that work. The ten winners' submissions appear in a Penguin anthology. Penguin and David Lammy, the Culture Minister and the prize's patron, who is black, declined to comment. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: "We fully support initiatives to stimulate as wide a range of creative work as possible, from as wide a community as possible."



By Theodore Dalrymple

The English used to pride themselves on their fairness: what wasn’t fair wasn’t cricket. Maybe other people didn’t take them at their own estimate, but it is now beyond dispute that substantial numbers of Britons are completely without any sense of fairness or justice. For them, the law is merely one of the instruments with which they wage the perpetual war of each against all. The police and the criminal justice system well know this aspect of modern English life and have even managed to turn it to their advantage.

For an example, look at a recent case in which I was due to give evidence as a doctor: Mr A assaulted Mr B, who hitherto was his best friend, or should I say mate. (I have seen many a nose broken by a best mate.) Both were, as usual, under the influence of alcohol and other mind, or at least behaviour -altering, substances. Mr B was bloodily injured and called the police.

By the time they arrived, Mr A had left the scene. The police took a statement from Mr B, and then, about a week later, arrested Mr A. Because of what is known in the trade as “previous”, or sometimes as “form”, the magistrates remanded Mr A into custody.

On the day of the trial Mr B did not turn up to give evidence — unlike me. There was a vague rumour that he wanted to withdraw his complaint. The trial was adjourned for two weeks, but on the second occasion Mr B still did not turn up — again unlike me and unlike a different legal team for both the prosecution and defence. The question arose whether he should be summonsed. In the meantime Mr A escaped from custody. A week later he was rearrested and tried for his escape.

Meanwhile, the original charges will not go ahead because Mr B has made it clear that he will not testify. Whether Mr A has successfully intimidated Mr B, or whether Mr B has thought better of it, and does not wish to be known on his housing estate as a grass, cannot be known.

The result of the expenditure of thousands, probably scores of thousands, on this case — readers might be relieved to know that very little of it ended up in my pocket — is as follows: if Mr A were guilty of the assault he would have got away with it, bar the slap on the wrist he received for escaping from custody; if he were innocent, he would have felt aggrieved at yet another injustice committed against him, which reinforced his casus belli against the whole of society.

Would Mr B be charged with wasting police time, I enquired naively? Oh no, I was told by lawyers on several sides of this case, we don’t do things like that. Anyway, what was I worrying about: as a barrister once said to console me when I complained of having waited three days in court without having given my evidence: “The meter’s still ticking.”

Cases such as the one I have outlined are very common. All my doctor and lawyer friends are familiar with them. Their prevalence is part of the dialectical relationship between the degeneration of the public service, which is now a vast trough from which a large class of educated people feed, and the appalling behaviour of the public that makes the expansion of the public service necessary, or at least justifies it, in the first place. As a 16th-century German bishop put it, “the poor are a gold mine”.

Lack of integrity and straightforwardness have a corrosive effect on the entire population. The police are now institutionally devious, if I may coin a phrase. A recent book by a PC Copperfield, called Wasting Police Time, tells us how the police improve their abominably low clear-up rates by various scams, for example charging both parties to a neighbourly scuffle with a crime, and getting both parties to make statements against the other on the promise that no charges will be brought.

Hey presto, two crimes have been solved for the price of one incident, to which almost certainly the police should not have been called in the first place. As to the burglary across the road, the householder will be lucky to receive any attention from the police other than a crime number.

Surely the imperative for high clear-up rates, and the tendency of a part of the population to use the police for purely temporary and personal ends, could be solved by increasing the number of prosecutions for wasting police time, at least until the habit of wasting police time itself became less widespread.

In the meantime, comrades (to quote the late Josef Stalin in another context), life is getting ever better, ever merrier: at least for the apparatchiks and nomenklatura of that vast organism that is spreading faster than killer bugs in the hospitals under its jurisdiction, the public administration of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.



In the light of the considerations presented below, a cynic might suggest that the continuing hatred of (selective) grammar schools emanating from the British Left is NOT about equality: it's their hope of turning the mass population into dumb docile sheep who can be pushed around by Leftist politicians. Grammar schools are and always were the best avenue of upward mobility for the British working class. Note that the BNP -- Britain's most working-class and least elite party -- pledges to restore all those that have been closed, and open them in every community that wants them.

There are three problems with our schools. We are failing to give an excellent education to cleverer boys and girls. We are failing to give a sound basic education to less able pupils, especially in deprived areas. And we are failing to stimulate the social mobility that good education makes possible.

Your educational chances, and your life chances, depend too much on where you live. The Government's City Academy programme attempts to address the problem of the underprivileged areas. It is expensive and unproven. Sadly, money and buildings do not solve all educational problems. We can expect successes and failures. On the other two problems, the Government's silence is deafening. Yet in the 21st century, Britain cannot afford to educate its people less well than the best in other countries. It is a personal tragedy as well as a national loss when many of our best youngsters are not helped to fulfill their potential. We have to educate everyone well if we are to compete with the rest of the developed world and the emerging economies of the East.

We have some very good individual schools, including some good comprehensives, but the system as a whole simply does not achieve enough. International results put Britain so far down the league tables that it must be time to look at another way of doing things. Between 2000 and 2003, for instance, the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) [And PISA is very undemanding!] showed the UK slipping from fourth to 11th in science and from eighth to 18th in maths.

However, there was one dazzlingly good result: when Pisa divided state schools from the private sector in 31 developed countries, our independent schools came top of the 62 groups. So if Britain is running the best schools in the world, why are we not also running the best state schools?

I think, after 46 years in and around teaching, that I know the answer. An outworn ideology prevents the country from learning from the successful model in its midst. One of the most important lessons is that independent schools are schools of choice. They deal with reasonably willing pupils, with teachers who care about their subjects and their students, and with parents who are supportive. Independent schools are, in the real sense of the word, selective: the parents select the school and the school selects their sons and daughters.

Where selection remains in the state system - in those English counties which have fought to retain grammar schools, and particularly in Northern Ireland - we can see its value. Their results show that selection works better, not just for the very able, but for the student body as a whole. In Northern Ireland, 10 per cent more pupils achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE than in England, and 30 per cent of A-level papers get an A grade compared to 22 per cent in England. That makes the Government's recent legislation intended to abolish selection in Northern Ireland particularly regrettable.

But education is about much more than just exam results - and as well outperforming the rest of the UK in tests, Northern Ireland also provides the model for what a selective system can achieve for social mobility. There, 42 per cent of university entrants come from less privileged backgrounds, compared to only 28 per cent in England. The concentration of our remaining grammar schools in a small number of mostly higher-income areas means that many able children from poor families miss out on the opportunities selective education can provide.

Yet it is the poor who benefit most from access to grammar schools. Recent research from the University of Bristol compared the results of selective and non-selective LEAs. While the average level of attainment was not significantly higher, the minority of children from poor families who made it to grammar schools did 'exceptionally well', bumping up their average GCSE scores by seven or eight points - equivalent to converting their grades from Bs to As. This compared to a four-point uplift for grammar-school pupils as a whole.

There is a way of extending these opportunities to pupils from all backgrounds in every part of the United Kingdom. It is not a case of reverting to the 11-plus, nor of creating a few good schools for the academically able and forgetting about the rest. A pamphlet published this week by the Centre for Policy Studies (www.cps.org.uk), Three Cheers for Selection: How Grammar Schools Help the Poor, proposes a selective system which would free schools to choose their students; which would offer ladders of opportunity to clever boys and girls from deprived areas; and which would create a national network of specialist academic schools. This is the debate we should be having: not a debate about whether or not to select, but on how to do it.

Selection is unmentionable in political circles only because it is a synonym for the 11-plus [A scholastic aptitude test once universally taken at age 11 -- which tended to dictate the child's future educational chances]. I would not want to go back to that. We should be debating more flexible methods of how best to choose pupils for schools and when. Almost everyone - except the lunatic fringe that would like university places decided by lottery - accepts selection at 18. But since good students have fallen by the wayside by then, what about 16, or 14? Why is it all right to select pupils for 'Gifted and Talented' programmes at a much younger age (and even to offer vouchers to the top 10 per cent, as the schools minister Lord Adonis proposes), but not to select them for particular schools? Why can specialist schools select 10 per cent of their intake for being good at languages or general studies, but not because they may be clever?

New polling undertaken by ICM for the Centre for Policy Studies shows that the public is no longer in agreement with the politicians. Despite the years of public argument against selection, the majority favour it. The idea that more academic children maximise their potential through streaming, or by attending selective schools, is backed by 76 per cent of the public - and 73 per cent believe that this applies to less academic children, too. Even if the majority would still opt for a mixed-ability school for their own children, as many as 40 per cent would now choose a selective school if it was on offer. More than 50 per cent were in favour of schools being set free to choose their pupils by a mix of exams, interviews and head teachers' recommendations.

The 40-year experiment with comprehensive education has failed. It was meant to provide, in Harold Wilson's words, 'grammar schools for all', and to lead to increased social mobility. It has done neither. It has not raised standards - and, as the Sutton Trust has recently shown, we now have a less mobile society than in the 1950s and 1960s. In effect, selection by ability has been replaced by selection by neighbourhood. That is neither sensible, nor egalitarian. It is time to rid ourselves of an outworn dogma and explore practical ways of making our schools as good as we can make them.



Huge tax increases have led to what? Stifling bureaucracy, mainly

Hundreds of thousands of pupils will be taught in dilapidated classrooms because the Government is abandoning its targets for a 45 billion pound schools rebuilding programme. The plans, heralded by Gordon Brown in successive budget speeches, have become mired in red tape, forcing the Government to admit that three years after promising to rebuild all 3,500 secondary schools before 2020 not a single project has been completed. It expects to open just 14 of the 100 new schools it had planned to by the end of this year, according to official Department for Education and Skills figures, The Times has learnt.

Pupils, parents and teachers who had been promised new facilities are having to continue using buildings that have been described as not fit for purpose, with a lack of modern facilities and many temporary structures. The programme, Building Schools for the Future, is in such chaos that construction firms have pulled out, the official in charge has been replaced and the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers have been brought in to review the mess.

When it launched the programme in 2004, the Government promised to spend 3 billion a year rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school in the country over the next 15 years, in what it said was the biggest schools investment programme in Britain ever. It said that the first 100 building contracts would be signed in 2006, and the first 100 new schools would open in 2007.

But according to the figures, obtained by the Conservatives, only five building contracts have been signed and the Government now expects to open only fourteen new schools by the end of this year. The first new-generation school is not scheduled to open until this summer, in Bristol. Next year 200 schools were planned to open, but just 56 are now expected to do so. The problems mean that the Government has been unable to spend much of the money set aside by the Treasury for building schools. This financial year it has failed to spend 700 million promised by Mr Brown, and the last financial year it failed to spend 166 million.

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, said: “These admissions are yet more evidence of Gordon Brown’s spin on education. In every Budget and pre-Budget statement he claims to be giving more money to education, but he is still not building the new schools he promised.”

The delays have caused anger and frustration among teachers and parents. Steve Sinnett, the general-secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the mess was “absolutely unforgiveable” and that there was no doubt that it was affecting education. “We have a building stock that is not fit for purpose. Some schools are little better than slums,” he said. Malcolm Trobe, president of the Association of School and College leaders, said: “The youngsters, parents and the community have an expectation of a new school and it’s getting delayed and delayed.”

The Department for Education and Skills has brought in Tim Byles, a former chief executive of Norfolk County Council, to take control of Partnership for Schools, the agency in charge of the programme. Mr Byles is talking to ministers about abandoning the building targets and hopes to announce new ones later this year. He told The Times: “The early forecasts were too optimistic. We need to be realistic about the timings for this programme . . . and I believe that needs to be reset in the light of experience.” The delays were a result of insisting that schools were being properly built, he added. “Do you want to get this multigenerational investment right, or roll it out as quickly as possible? We took the decision to get it right.”

But schools and construction firms blame red tape, which has made the procurement process cumbersome and expensive. They also blame a lack of expertise among local authorities and school headteachers, who have no experience of overseeing such vast building projects. Mr Byles said he was confident that the programme could be brought back on track over the next 15 to 20 years. The Department for Education said in a statement: “Addressing decades of investment will not happen overnight. We were always clear that we would learn from the lessons and get this project right. “Every child being taught in world-class facilities in 50 years time will be grateful that we took the time to get this right.” [But why does it take so long to get it right?]


No comments: