Saturday, October 13, 2007

Britain fails to repeal the influence of IQ

Policies based on incorrect theories are bound to fail. Blaming the low ability of kids from poor families on what the poor families do rather than on the low IQ that they transmit genetically to their children will always lead to policies that fail. The proof of the pudding ....

Forty per cent of children struggle to write their own name or to sound out letters to form simple words such as “dog” or “red” by the age of 5, government figures show. The annual assessments of children’s progress during their first year in school also show that more than a fifth of youngsters have problems stringing a coherent sentence together by the time that they enter their reception year. A quarter fail to reach the expected levels of emotional development for their age.

The findings raise serious questions about the effectiveness of flagship government schemes such as Sure Start to boost the development of the under-5s, although some critics point out that in many countries children are not expected to start to read or write until they are 7. Around 21 billion pounds [What's a waste of a measly 21 billion between friends?] has been invested in a series of initiatives but the latest results for schools in England show little improvement in children’s language and literacy and personal, social and emotional development.

Sure Start was also supposed to help to narrow the attainment gap between children from poor backgrounds and the rest, but only 35 per cent of children from poor areas reached the expected level of attainment across all measures, compared with 51 per cent of children from other areas. The achievement gap has not moved since last year and the overall levels of achievement, at 45 per cent, are well short of the target of 53 per cent by next year.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for children and families, said that the “yawning gulf” between rich and poor was deeply disturbing. Maria Miller, the Conservative families spokeswoman, said that the data, released by the Office for National Statistics, showed that Sure Start was not working. Beverley Hughes, the Children and Families Minister, conceded that more improvement was needed. She was disappointed that the gap between poor and middle-class children had not narrowed. She added: “Both we and local authorities must focus our efforts on improving the life chances of children who are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.”

The foundation profile targets require five-year-olds to score at least six out of nine points in each of seven areas of learning covering language and literacy and personal, social and emotional development. Girls outstripped boys in every one of them – by 17 percentage points in the case of writing. Only 58 per cent of five-year-olds were reaching a “good level of development” in writing. One in three children (35 per cent) did not reach a good level of development in linking sounds and letters, for example through recognising and saying words such as “red” and “dog” or “pen”. Fifteen per cent could not write “mum”, “dad” or their own first name from memory, while a further 25 per cent struggled to do so.

But the assessments, which are known as the Foundation Stage Profile, were criticised by teaching unions last night. Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called them “unreliable and unhelpful” because they are based on subjective teacher observations, not tests.


British charity: Pupils risk prosecution for 'gay' slur

Children who call their classmates "gay" risk being arrested for committing a hate crime even if they do not know what the word means, a leading charity warned last night. Under new proposals issued by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, it will be illegal to use threatening words or behaviour on the grounds of sexual orientation. Those convicted would face up to seven years in jail.

But Kidscape, which helps bullied and vulnerable children, said police officers must use "common sense" when called in to investigate whether pupils had broken the proposed law. The charity warned many youngsters who used "gay" as an insult did not even know what it meant. Claude Knights, the charity's training manager, said to many children the word now meant only "the opposite of cool". She insisted the legislation if it reduced true homophobic bullying, but added: "The word is almost at the point where it has become a general insult, the opposite of cool. Children say things like, 'Your trainers are gay.' "It is almost in youth culture now. You get kids in primary school using it and they don't have any idea what the word means. "If we are going to have consequences [to the new law] we have got to have common sense in how it is applied."

The proposed new law would be the first to cover a specific offence of homophobic incitement. To date the 1986 Public Order Act - which makes it an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in a way likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress - has been used to arrest people for "homophobic" comments. The new Criminal Justice Act could be used where public order laws fail.

On Monday Mr Straw told MPs the new "gay hate" law would be drafted in such a way to ensure that only those who intend to pose a threat are prosecuted, and not those who mean to be merely abusive, mocking or insulting. However, there have already been cases where children have been arrested for using the word "gay" in the playground. In April four policemen were sent to deal with 11-year-old George Rawlinson from Widnes, Cheshire, after he called one of his schoolfriends "gay". Two were sent to his primary school and two to his home. Cheshire police only dropped the matter when the boy explained he meant his friend was "stupid" rather than as a homophobic insult. Schools have also been told to clampdown on use of the word as a playground slur amid fears it legitimises homophobia.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls published guidance earlier this month designed to clamp down on homophobic bullying, while a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers showed a huge rise in use of playground insults like "poof" and "lezzie". Mr Balls said: "I reject any notion that addressing homophobic bullying is political correctness for its own sake. "Even casual use of homophobic language in schools can create an atmosphere that isolates young people and can be the forerunner of more serious forms of bullying."


We gays are not so weedy that we can't take insults

Matthew Parris writes

It's tempting to cheer Jack Straw's promise in the Commons this week that incitement to homophobic hatred is to be made a crime, along with incitement to racial or religious hatred. But I'm not so sure. Seriously threatening language - of any kind - is already a crime; but once the law starts limiting free speech in matters of honest opinion, where does it stop?

The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination; God puts the city of Sodom to the torch; the present Pope calls it a "disorder". Such views, however civilly expressed, are inherently hate-inciting, but should their expression be a crime? Then why should we remain free to sneer, in ways inciting hatred, at a person's being Welsh, or Irish?

"Spastic" or "cripple" are hateful expressions that nobody should use as insults, but if the use of "batty boy" or "queer" is to invite prosecution, what is the argument against making disablist insult a matter for the police too? And how about language that incites hatred of women?

Lines of absolute principle are hard to draw, but some groups may be so weak and fragile as to need the law's protection from hateful speech. I'd like to think we gays are no longer among them.


Corrupt NHS hospital

The NHS has become a honeypot for bureaucrats -- particularly if they are incompetent. Sick people are bottom priority

The Health Secretary has instructed an NHS trust at the centre of a super-bug scandal to withhold a redundancy payment to its departing chief executive amid the possibility of a criminal investigation. Rose Gibb left her job as head of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust last Friday, days before a damning report revealed that mismanagement of an outbreak of Clostridium difficile had contributed to more than 90 deaths at the trust. The investigation by the Healthcare Commission, published yesterday, found “significant failings” in infection control at every level of the organisation and was heavily critical of the management regime by Ms Gibb during the worst outbreaks ever recorded of C. difficile.

Alan Johnson made the request to postpone any severance payout amid rumours that Ms Gibb could expect to receive 500,000 pounds or more after serving in her post for four years. Annual accounts showed that she earned around 150,000 in salary, 5,000 in benefits and 12,500 in pension in 2006-07.

Mr Johnson said yesterday morning that the circumstances leading to the deaths had been a “scandal”, before announcing last night: “I have instructed the trust to withhold any severance payment to the former chief executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, pending legal advice.” The Department of Health said that it was consulting lawyers to confirm whether the Secretary of State had powers to prevent such a payment. “We believe this is an unprecedented case,” a spokeswoman said. “It’s usually up to the trust to decide payments to its staff.”

Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) met Kent Police yesterday to discuss whether to bring criminal charges against the trust or Ms Gibb as an individual. Lawyers said yesterday that the trust or Ms Gibb could be charged under existing criminal or health and safety law, but recent changes to make organisations more accountable for deaths under the new offence of corporate manslaughter will not come into force until April next year. A spokeswoman for the HSE said: “We look for evidence admissible in court whether there has been any breach of law by the corporation. “If you can prove that, then you could also prosecute those in charge, such as the directors or chief executive. There you are looking for evidence that by deliberate action of those in charge, the breach occurred.” Deliberate action would mean that the chief executive or directors knew that people could die or an adverse outcome could occur from a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

A spokesman for Kent Police added: “We are in the process of reviewing the contents of the report given to us by the Healthcare Commission. Until such stage we have digested the contents of the report, we cannot say we are going to fully investigate this. We have got to review it first. The purpose of the review is to see if any criminal acts have taken place.” He said that if any criminality was found, police would gather evidence and liaise with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Appalling hygiene standards at Kent & Sussex Hospital, Pembury Hospital and Maidstone Hospital resulted in C. difficile contributing to 345 deaths, of which it was directly linked to 90. More than 1,100 patients were infected at the hospitals over a two-year period, the Healthcare Commission found.

The trust has refused to disclose how much money Ms Gibb received after leaving, but it is understood that managers in a similar position have been awarded up to 900,000 pounds. A spokesman for the trust said yesterday: “As with any employee, the financial arrangements are confidential.” In a statement last week the trust chairman and Ms Gibb said that they had “agreed that this is the right moment for her to move on”. It said that she was leaving to “pursue new challenges”.

Geoff Martin of the campaign group Health Emergency said that the intervention by Mr Johnson had been “absolutely right and proper”. “A severance payment should never have been considered in the first place,” he said. “I have heard from Maidstone NHS staff this morning that [she] is rumoured to have received a massive payoff from the trust. “If it’s true, we have a right to know how much taxpayers’ money is involved and it would fuel the scandal even more if it turns out that senior managers have walked away from this carnage with their pockets stuffed with NHS cash.”


British libel laws becoming less oppressive : "A journalist who suggested that a former police officer may be corrupt was cleared of libel in the Court of Appeal yesterday. In a victory that strengthens the media's right to report on matters that are in the public interest, the appeal judges said that Graeme McClagan had acted responsibly in his research for the book Bent Coppers. Michael Charman, who was a detective constable in the Metropolitan Police, claimed that it was libellous because it suggested that there were grounds for suspecting him of involvement in corruption. The judges ruled unanimously that Mr McLagan had taken steps to verify the story and that as a result of his honesty, his expertise, his careful research and evaluation of the material, his book was protected by a defence of "public interest". It is thought to be the first time that the defence has been argued successfully for a book".

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