Thursday, January 17, 2008

Britain trying to discourage academic education

Probably a good thing on the whole. A British academic education these days is mostly Leftist indoctrination

Teachers are to be banned from encouraging their pupils to study A levels rather than the Government's controversial new vocational diploma qualifications under legislation that is going through Parliament. A clause in the Education and Skills Bill, to be debated in Parliament today, says that schools will be forbidden from "unduly promoting any particular options" to teenagers seeking advice on courses.

The move has been criticised by academics, who say that the Government is desperate for the diplomas to succeed at all costs. Others fear that the new and "impartial" mortgage-style advice will not be in the best interests of pupils as teachers unconvinced of the worth of the diplomas will be unable to pass on their concerns to either them or their parents.

The qualifications are designed to end the divide between vocational and academic learning and will be offered at some schools from September and across England and Wales by 2013. Ministers are promoting diplomas as the "jewel in the crown" of the education system. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, recently said that they would become the "qualification of choice" and refused to confirm that A levels would survive beyond a review in 2013.

However, the diplomas programme has been met with concern and caution by many employers and universities, with some yet to declare that they will accept them. Teachers are equally uncertain how they will work in practice. Academics, union leaders and educational experts said last night that the clause in the Bill puts schools and teachers in an impossible position.

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham, said that it undermined teachers, who were in the best position to give advice to pupils. He said: "It seems this is inhibiting teachers in their professional practice, [and it] could be connected with a drive to push diplomas at all costs. They will be valuable ladders from school to work - but not an attractive option for all pupils."

Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "If there is a major educational reform, then the professional judgment of teachers has to be trusted. You can't put a set of restrictions in there about their judgment."

The first 14 diplomas covered subjects such as hair and beauty, travel and tourism. But the latest wave, announced in October, includes languages, humanities and science - apparently to appeal to middle-class parents and traditional universities. Some subjects, such as engineering, appear destined to succeed, with at least seven universities saying that they will accept it as an entry qualification for relevant degree courses.

Diplomas will come in three levels. The Government has said that top marks in the advanced diploma will be worth more than three A levels. However, a survey suggested that fewer than four in ten university admissions officers saw them as a "good alternative" to A levels. In November, the Nuffield review said the introduction of diplomas had been rushed and that middle-class families would continue to favour traditional courses. A report published yesterday by the Policy Exchange think-tank said they were being launched with an ambitious, complex and expensive design, and an uncertain future.

Julia Neal, the president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "What we don't know is exactly how universities are going to approach diplomas. Technically, they will have the same currency as A levels, but only time will tell." Ann Hodgson, of the University of London Institute of Education, served on the Tomlinson committee, whose report led to the latest reform. "I think teachers will be put in a difficult position," she said. "It's very important that they give full information about the diplomas, and what they are likely to lead to."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the Government wanted pupils to have advice on the range of available options: "It is not about promoting one option over another, since it is up to individual pupils to decide the best route for themselves, in discussion with their parents and teachers."


More Muslim arrogance in Britain

A Muslim store worker refused to serve a customer buying a children's book on Christianity because she said it was "unclean". Shopper Sally Friday felt publicly humiliated at a branch of Marks & Spencer when she tried to pay for First Bible Stories as a gift for her young grandson. When she put the book on the check-out counter, the young assistant refused to touch it, declared it was unclean and summoned another member of staff to serve instead.

Mrs Friday said she was so upset that she has now complained to the store's management. Last night politicians and religious leaders supported her in condemning the high street giant and reigniting the debate over religious beliefs in the workplace. Conservative MP Philip Davies said the refusal to serve Mrs Friday, 69, was "unacceptable" and "damaging" to community relations.

Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, described the assistant's comments as "offensive" and called for Marks & Spencer to carry out a thorough investigation.

Mrs Friday said her trip to the sales in Reading, Berks, with her daughter had been ruined. "I went to the till and heard the girl say it was unclean and then she got someone else to serve me," said Mrs Friday. "At first I wasn't sure what was going on and then I realised she was wearing a headdress and I clicked that the title of the book had Bible in it. I felt very humiliated and immediately left the store."


Risk assessment watchdog set up to halt march of the nanny state

A new bureaucracy to curb other bureaucracies? Spare us! Like Tony Blair, Brown seems to have a reasonable grasp of the problems but he errs in trying to solve them by bureaucratic means rather than by getting the bureaucracies out of the way and letting the market work its magic

Unnecessary warnings that bags of peanuts "may contain nuts" and overly protective rules banning conker fights in schools will be targeted by a new watchdog intended to restore Britain's spirit of adventure. Gordon Brown is so concerned that the cotton-wool culture is denying people the freedom to enjoy themselves that he has asked the watchdog to report to him personally.

The move comes after a festive season in which actors in pantomimes were banned from throwing sweets to children in case someone got hit on the head and Christmas lights were banned in towns and villages for fear that they might pull down lampposts. A Rotary club in the Midlands was even made to put its Father Christmas in a body harness in case he fell off his sleigh.

Last summer hanging baskets were banned in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in case they fell on the head of a passer-by, and home-made cakes were banned from a fete for fear that they might cause food poisoning.

There will be disappointment that Mr Brown's response to such killjoy acts is not to halve the number of health and safety officials or revise the hundreds of regulations introduced under this Labour Government. The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council has been set up in response to recommendations from the Better Regulation Commission that it has replaced.

The body for common sense will be set up alongside a national campaign to emphasise the importance of self- reliance and a sense of adventure. It is intended to engage the public, and remind them that the Government is not responsible for every accident or piece of bad fortune that befalls its citizens. The team of seven will tackle policy areas where there are fears that the Government is in danger of overkill.

Defensive labelling - of which the nut allergy warning on bags of peanuts is an example - is in its sights. Somewhat unnecessarily, the council says that such warnings are "laughable" and breed resentment. Also in line for scrutiny is whether the Government's response to obesity is in proportion to the problem.

The first project to be taken on by the council will look at the frenzy of government initiatives to tackle the MRSA superbug, to see if they are doing any good. Healthcare experts cast doubt this week on whether the most recent plan - a deep-clean of all hospitals announced by Mr Brown last autumn - would do any good.

Rick Haythornthwaite, who heads the council, has made his name and fortune out of the risk involved in investing in private equity. He told The Times that the combination of "well-intentioned people" and a policymaking process that "collapses in the face of a confrontational parliamentary system, the media and short-term career pressures" was responsible for the present culture of risk aversion. "If you ask someone, `Do you want the world to be a safer place?', of course they will say yes. But there is always a trade-off. Self-reliance and a spirit of adventure are important national characteristics that could be lost. I want the public to understand that in the trade-off, some important things can be lost." The key to challenging the killjoys was listen to the general public, he said.


Survey shows eco-warriors are worst polluters

A survey of travel habits has revealed that the most environmentally conscious people are also the biggest polluters. "Green" consumers have some of the biggest carbon footprints because they are still hooked on flying abroad or driving their cars while their adherence to the green cause is mostly limited to small gestures.

Identified as "eco-adopters", they are most likely to be members of an environmental organisation, buy green products such as detergents, recycle and have a keen interest in green issues

But the survey of 25,000 people, by the market research company Target Group Index, found that eco-adopters are seven per cent more likely than the general population to take flights, and four per cent more likely to own a car. The survey found similar trends in France and the United States.

Geoff Wicken, the author of the report, pointed to David Cameron, the Conservative leader, as a classic eco-adopter because despite styling himself as a green warrior he also takes flights in private helicopters and planes.


'I feel like an alien in my home town'

Do 'no-go' zones for non-Muslims exist in Britain, as the Bishop of Rochester claims? Olga Craig reports from some of Yorkshire's Asian-dominated areas

It has been more than 40 years since Tim Carbin walked the length of Oak Lane, the Bradford backstreet of his boyhood. Then, when he lived with his grandmother Florence Pawson, a matriarch within the community, his task after school was to run errands. Down to Foster's, the baker's, for a loaf of bread and a pound of bacon from Donald Gilbank the butcher. "And mind it isn't too fatty," Florence would tell him. Mr Carbin, then 13, knew all the local storekeepers by name, just as he knew the families in the surrounding terraces.

Yesterday, outside number 95A, his grandmother's former home, Mr Carbin gazed in bewilderment as he scanned his old haunt. Not surprisingly, the stores of his youth had gone: such has been the change in our shopping habits over the decades that they have given way to supermarkets and fast-food outlets. But that was not all that had changed irrevocably in Oak Lane. Among the new stores, the clothes shops sell Muslim dress, the butcher stocks halal meat and even the local takeaway advertises halal pizza. "I feel like an alien, like I'm on a street in Karachi," Mr Carbin says, awkwardly. "I don't feel I have anything in common with this area. It's like I've never been here before. I knew it would be different but I knew, too, that I would feel uncomfortably like I don't belong."

He now lives just 10 miles away, in the north of Bradford. He hasn't returned because Oak Lane, like so many similar areas of so many northern cities, is now an almost exclusive Asian Muslim community.

Mr Carbin is far from a racist, however. Well educated and widely travelled in Muslim countries, he has the utmost respect for the Islamic religion. What is worrying him is that Britain's increasing espousal of multiculturalism has led not to an integrated society but, instead, to ghettoisation, with white-only and Asian-only communities existing cheek by jowl but with little or no common ground. And that, he believes, could have an ominous outcome. He is, clearly, one of those about whom Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester (Britain's only Asian-born bishop), wrote in The Sunday Telegraph last week: the increasing number of native white Britons who believe many of their streets have now become "no-go" areas.

The Bishop believes that one of the results of the resurgence of Islamic extremism has been to alienate young Muslims from this country and to view adherence to this ideology as a mark of acceptance. This, he says, means many Christians and those of other faiths find it difficult to live or work here because they feel there is hostility towards them. Britain's "novel philosophy" of multiculturalism, he believes, has caused Muslims to lead separate lives, in separate areas, speaking their native languages. His views have angered many in Muslim communities but, equally, they have struck a chord with many like Mr Carbin. "This isn't, as the Government would like us to believe, a multicultural society," he says. "This is pure racial segregation. And it's like this because the Muslim community simply refuses to integrate. So people like me feel like outcasts in our own country." As Mr Carbin trudges farther along Oak Lane, he passes the tumble-down Anglican church where many of his former neighbours worshipped. Amid the mound of bricks, Sunday school hymn books are strewn.

Across town, in another Asian enclave, one local shopkeeper is preparing to sell up after 30 years running a family firm. "I am retiring," he says. "But yes, it's true, a lot of people feel uncomfortable in Muslim areas. It's fine for me, I've stayed and I know everyone, but many are fearful of venturing into the area. "It's not so much fear of violence, rather that they feel a sense of not being welcome, of having nothing in common with the community here, and a feeling that no one would appreciate the interest should they show it. "I wish the Muslim community had integrated more, but they didn't. I haven't even been able to get them to join Neighbourhood Watch."

In the surrounding streets, the few white residents willing to talk speak of isolation rather than intimidation. One said he had had several members of the Asian community knocking on his door, asking if he wanted to sell his home. "At face value, that seems innocuous," he says. "But others believe it was a message saying I should get out." Another tells of how his father, an electrician, parked his van in the area only to have it rocked and thumped by a group of Asian youths telling him: "This is our area now. You are not welcome here."

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