Friday, August 10, 2007

Shocking British grade-school education

Four out of ten pupils could not read, write and add up properly by the time they left primary school this summer, the Government said yesterday. The national curriculum results for this age group improved slightly on last year, but the figures showed that 166,500 pupils did not meet the standard expected in writing, 67,000 failed to make it in reading, 54,000 could not reach it in science and 105,000 could not add up to the same level.

Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, hailed the test results as the best ever, but critics said they showed that there had been little real improvement in recent years and that the literacy and numeracy strategies had run out of steam. Overall, the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching Level 4 at Key Stage 2, or the nationally expected level, improved for all subjects by one percentage point, with the exception of writing, which stalled at 67 per cent.

Of the 600,000 11-year-olds who took the test this summer, 80 per cent made the grade in English, 84 per cent in reading, 77 per cent in maths and 88 per cent in science. The figures also showed, however, that the Government had missed its targets in all areas and that only 60 per cent of the "Blair generation" of primary school pupils had met the expected level in all subjects, including reading, writing, maths and science.

Lord Adonis said that compared with 1997, 100,000 more 11-year-olds were achieving the standard expected of them in English and 90,000 more in maths, but he acknowledged that there was more to do. "From this September we are introducing further measures to accelerate the pace of learning," he said. "There will be a renewed emphasis on phonics in early reading teaching, and in maths children will focus more on mental arithmetic, including learning times tables one year earlier."

As well as teaching synthetic phonics, where children learn the sounds of letters and how to blend them to form words, more money will be spent on classroom assistants, one-to-one tuition, intensive reading and maths catch-up programmes and on better training for teachers, he said.

Achieving Level 4 at age 11 means that children should have the right skills to progress at secondary school. Figures show that, of the pupils who reached Level 4 or above in English or maths at Key Stage 2 in 2001, nearly 70 per cent went on to get five good A*-C grades at GCSE last summer, compared with only 11 per cent of those who did not reach Level 4. Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, called on ministers to carry out a review of testing.

Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said that the results showed that primary schools were doing as much as they could and that the Government needed to intervene earlier. Professor Smithers said that children should learn about the concept of reading and writing from the age of 3. He added that when children were achieving Level 4 in English, maths and science with marks below 50 per cent, and as low as 41 per cent, there should be a debate about whether they were reaching expected standards


British Muslims don't like being quoted

A "distorted" Channel 4 documentary about Muslim extremism that enraged community leaders and resulted in a fruitless police investigation will now be the subject of an Ofcom inquiry. West Midlands Police made a formal complaint over a Channel 4 Dispatches film that participants and race crime prosecutors claim was edited in a misleading manner.

Undercover Mosque, broadcast in January, featured footage shot at a number of mosques, including one at which a preacher praised the Taleban for killing British soldiers. Channel 4 said that the programme revealed how a message of hatred and segregation was being spread by some Islamic preachers.

After investigating 56 hours of footage, West Midlands Police said that it had been advised by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the broadcaster for stirring up racial hatred, but that selective editing had helped to create an impression of Muslim hatred. Bethan David, the CPS reviewing lawyer, said: "The CPS has demonstrated that it will not hesitate to prosecute those responsible for criminal incitement, but in this case we have been dealing with a heavily edited television programme, apparently taking out of context aspects of speeches, which in their totality could never provide a realistic prospect of any convictions."

Abu Usamah, a preacher at the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham, said he was shocked when he saw himself depicted. Mr Usamah was shown saying: "If I were to call homosexuals perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered, that is my freedom of speech, isn't it?" He later said that he was explaining an opinion featured in some books, and not one that he believed. Mr Usamah said that the mosque had a tradition of teaching a moderate version of Islam. "To try and demonise the efforts of these people by taking their comments out of context was shocking," he said. A senior imam filmed calling for the creation of a British Islamic state under Sharia also claimed that his comments were take out of context.

Roger Godsiff, a Birmingham Labour MP, called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to take action against "words that were racist and an incitement to murder". When that investigation was abandoned, the police went on to examine the editing of the programme, resulting in a complaint to broadcasting watchdogs.

Channel 4 said it believed that Ofcom would exonerate the broadcaster. Kevin Sutcliffe, commissioning editor for Dispatches, said: "We believe the comments made in the film speak for themselves. Several speakers were clearly shown making abhorrent and extreme comments. This was a thorough and detailed one-hour documentary, made over nine months, which allowed these comments to be seen in a fuller context."

Channel 4 was "fully aware of the sensitivities surrounding the subject matter, particularly its effect on community relations". Mr Sutcliffe added, however, that there was a "greater public interest in exposing what was being preached in the name of Islam in some main-stream British mosques".

The Metropolitan Police said yesterday that it would investigate Britain under Attack, a Dispatches documentary broadcast on Monday that gave a platform to an Islamic activist who called on Muslims to arm themselves against nonbelievers.


Scottish patients tiring of health staff shortages

STAFF shortages have led to a surge in the number of complaints about NHS services in the Lothians. An average of nearly five formal complaints were made every day in the first three months of the year, new figures show. The most common concerns related to clinical treatment, the attitude and behaviour of staff, and the date of appointments. But there was a big rise - from four to 25 - in complaints about the shortage or availability of staff.

One hospital worker today told how her department rarely has enough staff, which she said lowers morale and affects patient care.

The level of dissatisfaction was higher than last year, when an average of four complaints were received every day - the highest number in Scotland.

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said she was not surprised. "We have a shortage of nurses and doctors, and patients have come to us with complaints about the shortages," she said. "Staff morale is low and this needs to be addressed across the country. It is a frightening time for the NHS."

Last week it was revealed how Scots doctors have been forced to quit the UK because they cannot find permanent posts in the NHS. Recent figures also showed how wards at the ERI [Edinburgh Royal Infirmary] maternity centre were left short-staffed on 30 occasions in the first three months of the year.

NHS Lothian has one of the lowest rates of sickness for health boards in Scotland - although the problem has worsened at the ERI in recent years - and has also managed to recruit dozens of new nurses to fill gaps. It now has one of the lowest number of nursing vacancies in the country, at 137.

One worker at the maternity unit in St John's Hospital, Livingston, said the service there was poorly staffed. She said: "Very rarely do we have the full complement of staff and we commonly work without adequate breaks. "This causes a great deal of stress, with more staff becoming demoralised and disillusioned, having a direct impact upon the standard of patient care"

Between July and September last year, 351 complaints were made, rising to 377 in the last quarter, and up to 440 in the first three months of this year. Among the most recent batch, 84 related to clinical treatment, 54 to the attitude and behaviour of staff, and 50 to the date of an appointment. There were also complaints about communication, hospital delays, and the catering and cleanliness in buildings. Of the 440 complaints, 44 were upheld, 178 were partly upheld and 136 were dismissed, with 37 still outstanding. NHS Lothian has taken action on a range of issues as a result.

Heather Tierney-Moore, director of nursing with NHS Lothian, said: "We are committed to transparency and see every aspect of patient feedback, be it complaint or compliment, as an opportunity either to learn what we are doing well or identify where improvements may be required. "We are concerned when we receive complaints, even if those complaints are subsequently not upheld. The winter months are traditionally a period where our hospitals and facilities are very busy, and we saw just under 260,000 patients in hospitals during January to March this year. We received 440 complaints - 0.104 per cent of patient activity. "In order to fully examine our service, our policy is to use a very wide definition for complaints and this can include situations where people are seeking further clarification on our service.

She added: "Wherever staff shortages or the perception of staff shortages are raised, the issue is investigated and addressed if necessary. We have increased the number of nurses we employ, and have made a tremendous effort in recruitment and in developing family-friendly flexible working arrangements. We also have a very active system for monitoring and maintaining safe staffing levels."


Minister admits NHS is failing on dementia

About 600,000 people afflicted by dementia are being let down by the NHS and local authority social services, a health minister admitted yesterday. Ivan Lewis, minister for care services, said the disease "strikes fear into the hearts of all of us". The number of sufferers is set to double over the next 30 years as more people survive into their 80s and 90s. Mr Lewis promised a new strategy to improve dementia services by next summer to increase awareness of the disease, provide earlier diagnosis and better treatment.

The high court will rule on Friday on a challenge to a decision by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence that those suffering from moderate dementia should not have access to a range of drugs on the NHS. But Mr Lewis said the row over medication was not the main issue. "We know too many families feel the current NHS and social care systems are not meeting their needs. The current system is failing too many dementia sufferers and their carers," he said when announcing the strategy at St Charles hospital in North Kensington, London. It was time to lift the disease "out of the shadows", providing much better information to help people detect the first signs of dementia, and specific training for healthcare staff.

Mr Lewis was supported by Barbara Pointon, whose husband Malcolm, a pianist and composer, suffered from dementia. Some of his final days were documented for the controversial ITV programme, Malcolm and Barbara: Love's Farewell, which will be screened tomorrow. She said the new strategy was "wonderful".

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said he strongly welcomed the announcement. But Help the Aged's head of policy, David Sinclair, said the strategy failed to give enough priority to research into prevention and treatment.


Greenie Elitists again

Yes, it was right that the British Airports Authority was denied the sweeping injunction it sought against eco-activists planning a Camp for Climate Action near Heathrow. Even prigs must have the right to protest. But no, it is not right that the anti-flying protesters are now being hailed as champions of liberty. Their campaigns are dedicated to preventing millions who wish to fly from exercising freedom and choice. Theirs is arguably the most illiberal, elitist protest movement since the French counter-revolution.

Why protest at the height of the holiday season? Because the idea of the masses jetting off for no better reason than to have "unnecessary" fun offends their miserabilist sensibilities. So they will make the sacrifice of camping at Heathrow in order to "educate" the great unaware - that is, to tell us that we are greedy, ignorant morons. It seems they do not need the power of flight in order to look down on us all from Olympian heights.

The protest group named in the BAA's limited injunction is called Plane Stupid - by which they mean that we are stupid for boarding planes, whereas they do the intelligent thing by invading an airport with a Baptist minister and praying on the runway. For these moral crusaders, flying for pleasure is a "climate crime", a sin against nature, and they claim priestlike authority to lecture the majority "on behalf of" Africa's poor or unborn "future generations".

One Plane Stupid spokesman sneers that "our ability to live on the earth is at stake, and for what? So people can have a stag do in Prague." An activist who protested against "binge flying" by blocking the door to a cheap-flight company announced in messianic tones that "while G8 leaders have simply spouted hot air, I've shown how one woman alone can close down climate criminals". For Gaia so loved the planet, that She superglued Her daughter to the doors of

Their contempt for the pleasure-seeking masses echoes earlier attacks on the tourist industry when the railways and Thomas Cook first took people from the cities to countryside and seaside. Jim Butcher's book The Moralisation of Tourism tells us that in 1870 the Rev Francis Kilvert said: "Of all the noxious animals, the most noxious is a tourist." Today it seems some would like flying tourists to be treated as if they were carrying foot-and-mouth.

If we want to live in a free country then they must be free to be self-righteous ecoprigs. But it is depressing to see young idealists reduced to supporting a movement that, in the words of one leading green, campaigns "not for abundance but for austerity . . . not for more freedom but for less". What do they want? Less freedom! When do they want it? Now! Strangely, they didn't use that argument in court.


BBC gave bonuses of 20 million pounds as it cut jobs: "The BBC spent nearly 20 million on staff bonuses last year, despite cutting thousands of jobs and missing performance targets. Almost half of its employees received bonuses, with an average payout of 1,805. One employee received 100,739. The corporation has also been criticised over the salaries of some of its biggest stars – such as the 18 million paid to Jonathan Ross – as it cuts 3,000 posts. A spokeswoman said: “Bonuses are a regular part of the BBC. They are extra recognition for exceptional performance, for staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

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