Thursday, March 08, 2007

British nurseries are opening the gender gap by failing to let boys be boys

Nurseries are stifling the ability of small boys to learn by forcing them to stay indoors and sit still for too long in class, according to a report today on preschool education. Instead they must be allowed to play outside and encouraged to develop their imaginations and take the lead in lessons, school inspectors say. Some boys are being left far behind girls as teachers fail to accommodate their different ways of learning.

Although most children aged 3 to 5 make good progress in class, Ofsted found that children were not speaking or listening properly in about a third of England's early years settings. Bright children were frequently not stretched sufficiently. Experts have long maintained that boys would be far better served by having more male teachers who understand the way they work. Instead, the achievement gap begins at preschool age and tends to grow wider throughout full-time education, with 59 per cent of first-class and upper-second degrees going to women.

The report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate comes weeks after a government study found that toddlers who sang songs and played number and letter games at home often became better readers at primary school than those who attended poor-quality nurseries.

At Westfield Farm, in Lincolnshire, Hannah Dring has recognised that boys learn far better when they are outside looking at tractors than when inside painting. The private nursery, high-lighted by Ofsted as a model for others to follow, has a vegetable garden, a two-acre forest and a large garden for the eight preschool children. Ms Dring said: "Boys don't want to sit down, so when they're outside - as they are most days - they're learning but don't realise it. They're counting the wheels and lights on the tractors. If we go on nature walks, they'll collect leaves and learn about shapes and colours, as well as trees."

Some teachers recognise gender differences, but the inspectors said that not all classes for 3 to 5-year-olds were "aware enough of the impact of girls' and boys' different choices of play activity on their progress in other areas of learning". Girls were "much more likely to chatter to themselves and others while playing, whereas boys' play was sometimes silent and frequently done in isolation". Girls are also more likely to listen and share toys, while boys will run around shouting, but rarely develop their games through talking to each other. The inspectors also found that children in poorer areas who did not speak English as a first language failed to improve if left to "pick it up" on their own. When they received support, they improved.

Ofsted's report coincides with increasing government concern about the gender gap at primary and secondary level. Last week official figures showed that boys achieved lower grades than girls, particularly in English.


NHS Doctors' training system 'a shambles'

Thousands of young doctors have been left without jobs because a new NHS training system has gone "disastrously wrong", it was disclosed yesterday. As much as £2 billion has been spent on the training of up to 8,000 doctors who find themselves without a new job under a Government initiative.

Such is the fury at the scheme, called Modernising Medical Careers (MMC), that doctors have renamed it "Massive Medical Cull". It costs £250,000 to train a doctor and the "shambles" is said to be blighting the careers of dedicated young men and women who may now leave the NHS. Many are also saddled with debts of more than £40,000 after funding their training

The Daily Telegraph has been inundated with letters and emails from despairing doctors and their parents who "feel like crying". This comes a day after this newspaper reported that three out of four trusts were restricting patients' treatment because of the NHS financial crisis. Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, is preparing for further NHS closures by sending managers guidance on how to deal with patients' protests.

The latest crisis has come about because there were only 22,000 jobs for 30,000 junior doctors. The glut in applicants was caused by the introduction of a system where those who started training two years ago are competing for the same jobs as those who began three or four years ago. The doctors' anger has been exacerbated by the introduction of an online system for applying for jobs which is criticised for failing to take full account of their experience and qualifications.

Many of the doctors who have written to The Daily Telegraph complained of a "Kafkaesque" application procedure which asks them "vague and waffling" questions about their personal experience but take insufficient account of their qualifications, references and independent appraisals. As a result, some highly qualified junior doctors have not been offered a single interview. And, because of technical problems, others have been offered interviews for which they did not apply. Doctors said it was easy to lie on the forms. It is alleged that some applicants used companies selling information on how to fill in forms.

Most of the doctors left medical school two to four years ago and are at the point in their careers where they have decided which speciality they want to follow. They would expect to train as specialist registrars for about five years and pass more exams before they could apply to become consultants.

Under MMC, doctors have been required to reapply for their jobs, which end in August. Last night, the Conservatives and the British Medical Association condemned the system. Dr Faith Harries, a junior doctor, who has been offered no interview said: "I came out of medical school with £42,000 debt. "I thought I was guaranteed a job in training in the UK — because I thought I would be able to pay it back. Now I am thinking of going abroad." Another junior doctor said: "Many a tear will be shed this week by brilliant young doctors whose hopes and dreams have been crushed in a quite barbaric fashion". A senior consultant said: "I despair for dedicated hard-working trainees who are being treated so shabbily."

Dr Tom Dolphin, the deputy chairman of the BMA junior doctors' committee, said: "The system is going disastrously wrong. Highly qualified doctors with huge amounts of experience haven't been offered any interviews. "Others have been offered interviews in the wrong speciality or at the wrong level. There are reports that the confidential marking system has been leaked and that unqualified people are being asked to short-listing. People's entire livelihoods are at stake." He said the BMA had been calling for the process to be delayed since last summer. "Now we are seeing the consequences of their failure to listen. They must halt the interview process."

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary said: "This is about motivated young people, who we have trained, being sent away with absolutely no confidence they will get the post they want, or indeed, any post at all. "The new system is a shambles and we have asked Patricia Hewitt for an urgent review." He said he had seen a letter to another MP from a consultant who told of a junior doctor who had threatened suicide.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "This is a competitive process so there will be applicants who do not secure an interview in this first round. "Applicants who have not been short-listed will have the opportunity to apply for programmes in the second round where there will be more posts available. "Allegations of plagiarism will be investigated and if applicants are found to have plagiarised or deliberately falsified their application in any way, they may be referred to the GMC."


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