Monday, December 10, 2007

Drowning in risk aversion

Children are being turned away from swimming pools in Scotland because bureaucrats think they know better than parents how to keep kids safe

James had been taking his children swimming for a while when one day he was stopped at the entrance of the Gorbals Leisure Centre in Glasgow. ‘I’m sorry, could I ask how old your children are?’ the attendant asked. It turned out that, like many council swimming pools across Scotland, the Gorbals Centre had introduced a new policy: each child aged four and under must be accompanied by an adult. This meant that for parents like James, who took turns with his wife to take their four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter swimming, the pool is out of bounds. The new rule was ‘in the interest of the safety of your children’, the attendant informed him.

Lizzie, who helps run a lone parents group in North Lanarkshire, similarly found to her disbelief and anger that when she and seven other parents turned up at their local swimming pool with nine children (that’s a ratio of eight adults to nine children), they too were turned away. A colleague who lives in Edinburgh with her husband and three small children, all aged under four, has found that they cannot go swimming as a family – due to the one-to-one ratio required at her local pool for under fours. So her husband is forced to do a shuttle run – taking one child at a time, while she stays at home waiting to hand over child number two, and so on.

In effect, this means that single parents who have more than one young child, busy parents like James who try and take their children swimming by themselves, or indeed parents of more than two children under the age of eight, can forget about going swimming in many of the pools in Scotland. This both discriminates against single parents and restricts many other parents and children from using council services. It also treats parents with contempt; the policy insinuates that they are irresponsible and are putting their children at risk, and it overrides parents’ say in their own children’s safety.

As James argues: ‘If I think it’s okay to take my kids swimming, that is surely my choice. I would never put my children at risk. I was so annoyed when this happened that I demanded to know if the pool manager loves my children more than I do! Because the suggestion is that I am putting my children in danger and in a sense my kids need to be protected from my negligence! It’s patronising and stupid.’

These safety first policies have been developed by the Institute of Sport and Leisure Management (ISRM) and incorporated into a growing number of council leisure services. The general suggested ratio is one adult to two children under four – but in many of the new all-purpose leisure pools that include areas with flumes, a stricter one-to-one ratio has been adopted. Interestingly, in comparison, private gyms with swimming pools appear to have no such policies and rely on the common sense of their members and staff.

Safety must clearly be a concern for those running these services, but, in fact, the new bureaucratic ratios being followed today have little to do with genuine safety issues. The statistics on the number of deaths in swimming pools is not that clear. However, figures in the parliamentary record Hansard show around two deaths of children under 17 each year for the last 10 years. How many of these fatalities were young children who were swimming with their parents is unclear.

However, surely children who are taken swimming by their parents are the least likely to be at risk of drowning – especially those under four years old. They will be supervised pretty much all the time, from the moment they enter the pool to the time parents are drying them, wiping their nose and helping pull their pants up. These children, many of them toddlers who can barely walk, will probably be the safest people in the pool, with their armbands, rubber rings and constant adult supervision. And yet they are being turned away in their droves from half-empty pools with yawning lifeguards because our safety obsessed society has adopted a rubber stamp that says correct ratio on it.

The fact that parents and children are being turned away from the newly built leisure centres in their communities is a cause for concern in and of itself. But child safety appears to swamp all other considerations and turn those providing these services into insurance clerks rather than providers of public services. Only a few weeks ago, Tom Mullarkey, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) argued that overzealous bureaucrats were undermining legitimate health and safety concerns due to a loss of common sense. His idea that Britain should be made as ‘safe as necessary, not as safe as possible’ should be heeded by Scottish councils. Instead, as Helene Guldberg notes elsewhere on spiked, a risk-averse attitude not only prevents parents from using facilities but deprives children of valuable experiences, too (see A playground tumble can do you good).

Today, in contrast to Mullarkey’s comments, council leisure centres are adopting a ‘safe as possible’ approach. Parents are patronised and treated robotically, as if they represent a threat to their own children; staff become box-ticking ratio bureaucrats rather than people who take genuine responsibility for thinking about how to run a swimming pool in the interest of the public.

The question of child safety in swimming pools and of how many children an adult takes swimming should be something that is negotiated by experienced professionals and parents themselves. Only by preventing the over-bureaucratised approach to child safety can we encourage a more sensible and public-spirited approach and get more children swimming


Christmas is cool, says British equality boss

BRITAIN’S equality chief has attacked “politically correct” critics of traditional Christmas festivities for undermining diversity in society. Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has condemned attempts to “brush Christmas under the carpet” for fear of offending other religions.

Citing cases such as schools scrapping nativity plays, he says that being oversensitive to minority views can lead to pointless embarrassment. “[This can] lead us down ludicrous paths; paths populated with winter festivals instead of Christmas celebrations; anodyne messages of ‘seasons greetings’ and pointless embarrassment over biblical nativity scenes.” Phillips’ critique will be seen as significant because he heads the quango set up by the government to protect the interests of the minorities whom the “PC” lobby claim are being marginalised at Christmas.

In a speech tomorrow he will warn that measures to downplay Christmas to avoid offence are more likely to “put the ‘silly’ into the silly season, much to the delight of tabloid hacks . . . looking for yet another example of political correctness gone mad”. In a reference to Muslim, Hindu and Jewish festivals, he adds: “The logic is baffling: to welcome Eid and Diwali and Hanukkah in celebration of our glorious diversity, whilst brushing Christmas under the carpet as an embarrassing episode in our mono-cultural past.” Phillips will say that it is unclear who is being offended by Christmas. “Let’s stop being daft . . . it’s fine to celebrate Christmas,” he states.

His remarks, due to be made at a conference in London on racial equality, add to the debate about the role of Christmas in multi-ethnic Britain. Last month a report from Labour’s favourite think tank said Britain should continue to celebrate Christmas only if similar recognition was given to major religious festivals from other faiths. “Public organisations should mark other religious festivals too,” the Institute for Public Policy Research said. It also said, however, that “it would be very hard to expunge [Christmas] from our national life”.

Examples of the erosion of the traditional Christmas festival are becoming increasingly easy to find. Last year Tower Hamlets council in east London banned decorations at JobCentres. Cards wish “holiday greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas”. One school even banned Mary being called the Virgin Mary. A commission spokesman said: “[Phillips] is saying it’s all very silly - people are worried about offending other religions when those religions are happy about a Christian Christmas.”


No need to read a book to pass an English exam in England

Teenagers could soon be able to pass an English exam at GCSE level without having to read a single novel, poem or play. Instead of studying the canon of English literature, they would study practical use of the language. This could include the use of English in travel brochures or marketing material. The course, which is being developed by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, would result in a BTEC qualification, equivalent to a GCSE. The proposal, reported in The Times Educational Supplement (TES), comes after the reading skills of Britain’s 15-year-olds were criticised this week after the UK dropped from 7th to 17th in an international ranking. A separate study last week found that England’s 10-year-olds had fallen from 3rd to 19th place.

The trust sees the BTEC as a solution to these disappointing results by adopting a totally fresh approach to English teaching. The new examination would be very different from existing English GCSE courses, which require students to study set texts, from a list provided by the examination board. The idea of the new qualification is to build up the functional English language skills of students who may be daunted by the requirement to read a whole book. The course would focus instead on the kind of writing that students would encounter in their daily lives.

But Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, questioned the plan. “It seems to me that promoting an English qualification that does not involve picking up books, plays or poems is losing sight of what the subject is about. “If there is a case to answer that English teaching is not inspiring kids, I don’t see how creating a new qualification would improve that,” he told the TES.

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is already piloting a similar course in functional maths in 50 schools. That course is designed specifically to engage with young people who feel that they are no good at the subject. It does this by applying maths skills to real-life situations, such as collecting data on sporting performance or designing a Formula One car. David Crossley, the trust’s director of achievement, said: “Every child has talent and aptitude and we need to find their strengths. This will help give students confidence to continue studying.” He added: “The BTEC qualifications would be designed to run alongside GCSEs, not replace them. It would also complement the diplomas, which will be offered from next year and will have a functional skills component.”

A spokesman for the trust added that the new qualification was in the very early stages of development. “The BTEC Maths pilot has proved successful and popular in supporting students taking their maths GCSE and we are interested to see if this can be replicated in other subjects. “English is the obvious next step, but it is very early days and we haven’t even started to look at its possible content. However, if this does go ahead it will follow the principle of motivating students and focusing on their strengths by teaching it in an applied way.” It will discuss the plan with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Edexcel examination board and hopes to give the English BTEC a trial in 2009.

A spokeswoman for Edexcel said that it had not yet got plans for a new qualification. She added: “We believe that any new qualification that engages and rewards students for whom the GCSE English language and literature are not appropriate would be well received.” The BTEC would not count towards a school’s league table position for pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths, although ultimately the trust hopes to persuade the Government to include it.


More of the usual media favouritism towards warmism

Warmists are a fountain of yummy sensationalism so the media must defend them from looking absurd. Post below lifted from Tom Nelson. See the original for links

Excerpt from this article:
Carrying banners with slogans like "cut carbon not forests" and "actions speak louder than words" protesters in London marched in torrential rain and biting cold past parliament and through Trafalgar Square to rally in front of the U.S. embassy.

Update: Check this out--Reuters has now removed "and biting cold" from the above sentence:
Carrying banners with slogans like "cut carbon not forests" and "actions speak louder than words" protesters in London marched in torrential rain past parliament and through Trafalgar Square to rally in front of the U.S. embassy.

Note also the paragraph about disappointing attendance:
British police said 2,000 people took part in the march. Organisers said they estimated the number at 7,000.

Note that organizers had hoped for a vastly greater turnout:
Organisers say they hope up to 40,000 people could attend the rally. "Last year we attracted 35,000 people and we hope this will be bigger," said Phil Thornhill of the Campaign Against Climate Change, which is organising the event.

Cash shortage to keep British navy in port: "Most of the Royal Navy will be tied up in dock next year, frozen by a 15 billion pound "black hole" in the Ministry of Defence budget over the next decade. As the MoD fights proposals for 12 billion of defence cuts over the same period, only ships supporting operations in the Gulf will leave port. The soaring cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increasing reluctance of the Treasury to fund them is adding to the pressure. "The navy is looking at what options they have because the amount of funding is just not there," one source said. "The overheating of the equipment budget is putting pressure on everyone." The only major exercise expected to go ahead is Orion 08, in which the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, the destroyer Edinburgh and the frigate Westminster will head for the Gulf, defence sources said. The navy is now resigned to losing five frigates, four Type22s and one Type23, taking it down to a record low of just 20 destroyers and frigates - insufficient to mount a major taskforce without coalition help."

London car tax fails: "It was intended to get London moving, but after five years of Ken Livingstone's congestion charge, and more than 800 million pounds of tolls and fines, traffic jams are almost as bad as they were to start off with. As a new cadre of charge bureaucrats prospers, overheads are now so high that they burn up the equivalent of almost 4 pounds of a standard 8 pound charge. Money raised to improve public transport has been cut by 10% in the past year. Spending on the administration of the charge rose to more than 160m in the past year, leaving 10m less for buses and schemes to improve traffic flow. Traffic has slowed to below 10mph. Livingstone will further polarise opinion next year with a 25 pound daily charge on cars with high carbon emissions - including 4X4s such as the Toyota Land Cruiser but also the 2.5 litre Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra 2.8L and Renault Espace 2.0."

BBC deception again: "Get a load of this. US job creation slows in November. US employers added 94,000 jobs in November, with the rate of hiring slowing from the previous month, the Labor Department has reported. Sounds like things are going into the tank, right? Then comes the rest of the story. The total came in slightly ahead of forecasts by Wall Street economists for 90,000 jobs, bolstering the dollar. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.7 percent, the department said. So, the employment numbers were better than expected and unemployment held steady. But the BBC run a headline claiming that employment slowed."

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