Friday, March 07, 2008

School's bizarre ploy to beat internet perverts - masking pupils with Acid House smileys

A primary school has been accused of being alarmist for covering up the faces of pupils on its website - apparently to protect them from paedophiles. Bizarrely, the images have been altered with the type of smiley faces popular during the Acid House dance craze of the 1980s. The decision was taken at Cann Hall Primary School in Clacton, Essex. Headmistress Clare Reece said yesterday: "The public nature of the internet is an issue we feel strongly about. "Not all parents want their children's picture on there. "You can't say what is going to happen with any of those pictures."

She said that the photographs were printed unaltered in the school newsletter which was sent to parents. But on the primary's website, the children's faces are obscured. The school guarantees the content of the site is "child friendly", adding: "In order to protect our children, we have made the decision not to include any photos of our pupils on this website."

Previously, faces were simply blurred, but newer pictures, including action shots of the athletics tournament, use the smiley faces. However, one child in a line-up of medal winners has been singled out - he alone has been given a sad face.

Children's charity NCH yesterday said that schools were right to be cautious about putting children's pictures on the internet if they were vulnerable or in care. However, spokesman Shaun Kelly added: "The images shocked me, actually. What message is it giving? "It looks very, very odd. If you want to obscure children's faces you can obscure them with pixels. "We need to be cautious about taking images of children out of the media."

Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Kent, said the school was being alarmist. "Every time a school takes silly measures, it says we see the world through the eyes of a paedophile. "They think that any innocent picture of school children will somehow be subverted and manipulated. "These pictures serve a very important purpose of giving children clear images of their experiences, something they can remember later in life. "Depriving ourselves of these experiences is not only irrational but serves no purpose whatsoever."

However, some parents at the school said they supported the decision. One said: "I wouldn't want my child's face on a disgusting site.' But Michaela Day, 35, whose eight-year-old son, Connor, attends the school, said: "If they are covering the children's faces, what is the point of using the photographs? It's a waste of time."

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that it advises schools to get permission from parents or carers in writing before publishing photographs of pupils on a website or in a prospectus. However, this is not a legal requirement. The school took down the controversial pictures from its website at around 3pm yesterday. A message on the website said: "Our newsletter section is undergoing maintenance. Back soon!"


Socialist Britain: Your government will look after you (NOT)

The shocking truth behind daycare at nurseries and creches: All covered up by deep layers of bullsh*it and pervasive official negligence. So parents are lulled into a very mistaken sense of security

Britain's childcare industry is booming. Every working day, more than a million parents drop off their precious little cargos at childminders and private nurseries. All of them do it firm in the belief that those they trust with their babies are highly-qualified, strictly regulated and genuine, caring people. Terrifyingly, they are wrong. During an eight-month investigation for the BBC1 investigative programme Whistleblower, I uncovered a childcare culture where a new carer's criminal records and references are never checked, yet they will immediately be left alone with young, vulnerable children.

I was initially alerted to the scandal by an inspector for Ofsted (the government agency that regulates childminders and nurseries). She said that, as a parent of two children and having inspected 700 nurseries with her colleagues, she had found only five that she would have let her own children attend. She also said that Ofsted inspection reports - the only safeguards that parents have to go on when choosing a nursery - aren't worth the paper they're printed on. "We are literally skimming the surface," she said. "We are told constantly: "If you don't see a problem, don't look for one. Take a quick look and get out." "The priority for all Ofsted inspectors is to meet their targets. If they don't, they are disciplined. Targets take priority over safeguarding children."

I decided to test these claims by going undercover and getting myself a job in a number of nurseries. I thought I would encounter difficulties since I had no children and, apart from a couple of babysitting stints, no experience of looking after babies and toddlers. Yet I needn't have worried. None of the nurseries with which I got jobs bothered to check my fake CV or fictitious references. Even Ofsted, which at least checked my criminal record, registered me as a childminder despite the premises where I was looking after the children not being at all suitable.

My first job was at the Buttons nursery in Ealing, West London. We'd had a tip-off that its supervision of babies and toddlers was unacceptable. After a cursory interview, I was appointed as a nursery assistant. No one checked my references in the five weeks I was there and even though the law states that everyone working with children has to have their background checked by Home Office agency the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), the all-clear didn't come back until I had left.

Buttons is based in a rambling, 19th-century detached house and caters to the area's professional middle classes. It was not cheap, charging 1,100 pounds a month for a child who is dropped off at 8am and collected at 6pm. On my first day, I was terrified - partly afraid that my secret filming equipment would be discovered, but mostly because apart from a quick nappychanging lesson with a friend's baby, I had no clue how to look after children. As it turned out, no one noticed my inexperience. At 21, I was one of the oldest nursery assistants. Many were trainees and had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. There was no on-the-job training. Instead, we were thrown in at the deep end. At times I was on my own with as many as 13 children, even though the law says carers waiting for their CRB clearance should always be closely supervised at all times. And they shouldn't be allowed to change nappies and take children to the toilet.

With so many children to look after, I could barely make sure they were safe, let alone care for them individually. Instead, it was just damage limitation - I found myself grabbing broken glass, sticks and sharp objects from children as young as three. One day, builders were brought in to fit guards to the radiators because one little boy - weeks earlier - had badly burnt his hand on one.

The other staff told me that the owner, Satnam Parhar, had blamed the staff for not supervising the burned boy properly and that he was only getting the guards fitted because an Ofsted inspection was due. The builders left their power tools inches away from where the children were playing and no one seemed to notice. I spent that particular session on tenterhooks.

The nursery assistants at Buttons were poorly supervised and very poorly paid. I was on about 100 pounds a week - less than the legal minimum wage. It's hardly surprising, then, that many of the staff were less than high-quality carers. I saw two nursery assistants hauling a boy across the nursery by his arm. Then I heard a child being called a "sh*t-bag" and saw a little girl's head being shoved into a mattress on the floor as she didn't want to go. When I complained to the owner that I had been left on my own with 13 children, he refused to accept what I was saying and called the idea crazy.

When I contacted him later, saying I had been undercover for a TV programme, he issued a statement. "The care and safety of our children is of utmost importance. "New joiners to our staff undertake a full induction programme and there are procedures in place to ensure the safety of children. "We take any allegations or criticism very seriously and will investigate these complaints and take appropriate action."

My next childcare job took me to a nursery with the worst possible history. In April 2006, a ten-month-old girl called Georgia Hollick had choked to death on a slice of apple at the Just Learning nursery in Cambourne, Cambridgeshire. The inquest found that her death was accidental and made no criticism of the nursery. However, a subsequent investigation by Ofsted found that children's health and safety were being compromised at the nursery. Nevertheless, it was allowed to reopen less than a month after her death. One day, I had to stop babies eating - and potentially choking on - small Christmas decorations that a member of staff had placed in the sandpit. It was unbelievable that just 19 months after a baby choked to death at this nursery, such chances were still being taken with child safety.

Within days of the result of my investigation being put to them, Just Learning closed the Cambourne nursery and issued a statement saying: "The company has found that its rigorous policies and procedures have been seriously breached in this case and this was one factor considered when it decided to close this nursery. "The issues at Cambourne are isolated to this one nursery." But this still left the question of why such a failing nursery had previously survived a very critical Ofsted report following the death of a young child in its care.

The BBC has been given an internal Ofsted document that refers to the Tory MP Michael Fallon, who was managing director of Just Learning at the time of Georgia Hollick's death. A passage says: "If we cancel this particular setting [nursery] then there are implications for Michael Fallon as he would be automatically disqualified [from running it]." Mr Fallon has since responded, saying: "This is news for me and a matter for Ofsted. I have had no discussions with Ofsted about the fatal accident at Cambourne. "I resigned as MD immediately afterwards. "I strongly endorse the decision of the Board to close the nursery. The breach of the company's procedures was completely unacceptable."

After these two nurseries, I decided to investigate the self-styled upper end of the child-minding business, where I soon realised that the problems are not confined to our own shores. Mark Warner operates at the top of the holiday market, charging up to 8,000 for two weeks abroad for a family of four. It makes a point of offering "award-winning" childcare. That award-winning care didn't extend to checking my CV, contacting my references, doing a criminal records check or even asking to see some basic ID. Again, I could have been anyone.

I worked at Mark Warner's swanky Hilton resort in Dahab, Egypt, where the luxurious hotel rooms are built to resemble a traditional whitewashed Arab village. Despite being promised two days' training at the interview, I was thrown straight in with a group of toddlers. Once, there were two of us looking after 13 children - when Mark Warner's own regulations state there should be no more than six per adult. When I asked about my training, the manager just said: "You don't get official training as such. It's very relaxed, very laid-back here." This is unlikely to be the approach parents think they are paying for.

Next, I was asked to supervise the children on the beach. Again, no one had checked if I had any swimming or rescue qualifications. Even more worrying, I had to take children out on a boat without enough safety gear for all of them. When I raised the issue with my manager, he told me to go ahead with the boat trip anyway. Also, for such a prestigious company with an upmarket reputation, Mark Warner has a very cavalier attitude to the employment laws of the countries where it operates, and is not controlled by Ofsted. Like many of its staff in Dahab, I was there on a tourist visa. Mark Warner should have paid for work permits but instead had us break Egyptian law on their behalf. We were told we should just lie and say we were there on holiday, but Egypt is not the kind of country-where you want to end up in prison.

Three weeks after I returned from Egypt, the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from a Mark Warner resort in Praia da Luz in Portugal made headlines around the world. No one blamed the company or its staff for the little girl's disappearance, but given the case, I assumed the company would toughen up its vetting of nannies. To test this out, a BBC colleague applied for a Mark Warner childcare job and was sent to an upmarket French ski resort.

Her false CV went unchecked and, months after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the company still didn't do a CRB check before she started work. Later, I recounted my experiences to Mark Warner's managing director. He refused to be interviewed but issued a statement that said: "It is company policy that all childcare staff employed by Mark Warner must supply two references and submit a form to check their criminal record. "There were clearly two occasions where we failed to do this. That is completely unacceptable and we apologise. "We have now reviewed and strengthened our procedures."

For the final part of my investigation, I discovered that even an inexperienced 21-year old with no qualifications can also fool Ofsted. I borrowed a large house, made no alterations to accommodate young children - despite the fact that no youngster had lived there for 20 years - and applied for a childminder's licence. I admitted to the Ofsted inspector who visited that I had no fireguard, no first aid kit, no stairgates, no safety glass or socket covers. I didn't even have a table for the children to sit at. The building was completely unsuitable. But I did say I had a wish-list containing all those items and planned to install them. That was enough for the inspector and I got the go-ahead. No one ever came back to check up that I had put them in place.

When contacted, Ofsted said in a statement that it would consider making improvements based on the findings that I had uncovered. But it said: "Ours is the most intensive inspection and monitoring system in Europe. Our inspections of nurseries and childminders are rigorous and the vast majority of our inspectors are highly skilled professionals who do a good job. Ofsted is independent. We report without fear or favour." I don't yet have children but having seen what I've seen, I can't imagine I'll ever risk putting my own into childcare.


Some Experts Doubt Obesity Epidemic

Go on, have another doughnut. According to some experts whose views are public health heresy, the jury is still out on how dangerous it is to be fat. "The obesity epidemic has absolutely been exaggerated," said Dr. Vincent Marks, emeritus professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Surrey. Marks is among a minority of skeptics who doubt the severity of the obesity problem. They claim that the data about the dangers of obesity are mixed and there is little proof that being fat causes problems including high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Such views contradict nearly everything doctors have been saying for years.

Being fat has long been blamed for conditions like diabetes, which can lead to heart, kidney and nerve diseases. There is also increasing evidence that certain cancers may be linked to weight gain. "The evidence linking obesity to diabetes and cardiovascular disease is very strong," said Dr. James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado. "Type two diabetes rarely happens in people who aren't obese."

But obesity contrarians say that there's no data proving why being fat - in itself - would be dangerous. "There's no good causal connection," said Eric Oliver, author of Fat Politics and a political science professor at the University of Chicago. Blaming obesity for diabetes and heart attacks, Oliver says, is like blaming lung cancer on bad breath rather than on smoking. Excess weight may actually be a red herring, Oliver says, since other factors like exercise, diet or genetic predispositions towards diseases are harder to measure than weight.

In addition to questioning the dangers of being fat, researchers like Marks also criticize oft-repeated alarmist projections about the rise in obesity - like the British government's warning that nearly half of Britain will be obese by 2050. Those simply aren't based on good evidence, they say. According to national health statistics released last month, from 1993 to 2006, "relatively little change" was noted in weight gain, with men and women gaining an average of about 4 kilograms (9 pounds). In children, no significant gains were recorded.

The main problem, obesity skeptics say, is that too many people are considered fat, with the obese and overweight often lumped together. "Being moderately plump is not a health disadvantage," Marks said. "Some overweight people may not look svelte, but they may be perfectly healthy." As defined by the World Health Organization, anyone with a body mass index above 25 is overweight, and anyone above 30 is obese. Most experts agree the distinctions are imperfect and somewhat arbitrary.

Moreover, Marks and others point to research showing the benefits of a few extra kilos (pounds). In 2005, Katherine Flegal of the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, finding that overweight people typically live longer than normal-weight people. More than a dozen other studies have come to the same conclusion.

Outrage ensued. Prominent health experts called the research flawed and worried that people would gleefully supersize their meals. "I think some experts found it disturbing that we actually said that overweight people have a lower death risk," Flegal said. In other research, Flegal and colleagues found there to be almost no link between death rates and weight. "The relationship between weight and disease and survival is very complex and we don't have a good handle on why some of these things are related and others are not," Flegal said. She suggested that being fat may help you survive some conditions, but not others.

Doctors have long struggled to explain the obesity paradox - the mystery that in certain conditions like heart attacks, fat patients often have better odds of surviving than thin people. Some experts hypothesize that fat peoples' hearts already work harder than those of thin people, thus giving them a natural edge when their bodies are stressed. "We don't want people to think it's ok to be heavier," said Hill. "But not everybody who gains weight is going to get heart disease or diabetes," he said.

Some obesity skeptics question the motives of experts who make dire predictions about obesity. With millions of dollars for obesity researchers, an industry of anti-fat drugs, and a boom in the number of doctors offering surgeries like stomach-stapling, the more fat people there are, the more profits there will be in selling them solutions.

Experts on both sides of the obesity debate have often criticized WHO's overweight and obesity measures, saying they are too low. When WHO defined the body mass index scores constituting normal, overweight and obese, they appeared to be the result of an independent expert committee convened by WHO. Yet the 1997 Geneva consultation was held jointly with the International Obesity Task Force, an advocacy group whose self-described mission is "to inform the world about the urgency of the (obesity) problem."

According to the task force's most recent available annual report, more than 70 percent of their funding came from Abbott Laboratories and F. Hoffman La-Roche, companies which make top-selling anti-fat pills. The task force remains one of Europe's most influential obesity advocacy groups and continues to work closely with WHO.

The blurred lines between pharmaceutical money and obesity groups have also caused concern in Britain. In 2006, one of the country's top obesity doctors quit the organization he founded to combat obesity, the National Obesity Forum, complaining that its goals had been skewed by drug money. "There's not a lot of money in trying to debunk obesity, but a huge amount in making sure it stays a big problem," said Patrick Basham, a professor of health care policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Still, while skeptics insist that obesity warnings must be taken with a grain of salt, nearly all agree that while a little bit of extra padding may not be too deadly, too much almost certainly is. "The vast majority of people who get labeled under the obesity epidemic are well under 300 pounds and probably are not facing big health consequences," Oliver said. "It's the morbidly obese people who should be worried."


Average NHS waiting times have RISEN under Labour - despite billions "invested"

Hospital waiting times are longer than under the Conservatives, despite 90billion pounds being ploughed into the health service this year alone. The average wait for treatment in hospital is now 49 days, up from 41 days in 1997, the year Labour took power with a promise to "save the NHS". Ministers say they have delivered on their promise to reduce very long waits. By the end of the year no one should wait more than 18 weeks compared with the 18-month waits which were common under the Tories.

But doctors said patients with serious illnesses were among those still waiting too long, while those with comparatively minor problems were being fast-tracked to meet the Government's 18-week target. Many of the big falls in waiting have been seen in conditions such as cataracts and dermatitis and eczema. Yet the figures, obtained by the BBC from the NHS Information Centre which collates statistics on health and social care, show that for some cancers average waiting has increased slightly.

Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants' committee, said: "All that has happened is that the Government has put an end to the really long waits and the really short waits. "Doctors have been stopped from using their clinical judgment and pushing people through the system when they need to. "Of course, it is good that the really long waits have gone, but it is wrong to say that all patient care has improved because of shorter waits."

Katherine Murphy, of the Patients' Association, said: "These figures make us really question whether patients are getting a better deal. "What concerns me is that patients with serious conditions may be waiting longer than they used to. That is wrong."

Labour has massively increased NHS funding after Tony Blair pledged to bring health spending up to the European average. The NHS budget this year is 90billion, up from 34billion when Labour came to power in 1997. The Treasury projects the total to rise to 110billion in 2010-11. Some of the extra cash that has been ploughed into the service has gone on employing more doctors and nurses and building new hospitals, all of which should bring waiting times down.

But more than half of the money has gone on hugely increased pay for GPs and hospital consultants, more NHS managers, and higher drugs costs. Little progress on reducing waiting times was made in the first years after Labour took power. Even by 2000, there were still 125,000 people waiting more than nine months. But the extra expenditure has seen long waits almost abolished. Ministers say an unavoidable effect of the push to reduce long waits has been to slightly increase the average wait, but this figure has has been coming down since hitting a high of 52 days in 2004/05.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw said: "Our waiting time targets were specifically designed to eradicate unacceptably long waits. "Under the Tories it was not uncommon to wait 18 months or more for an operation. "Tackling long waits leads to a short-term increase in the average wait as the backlog is cleared." Latest figures show that only 72 per cent of patients are waiting less than the Government target of 18 weeks, and that waiting times are rising in a quarter of trusts.

But Mr Bradshaw says he remains confident the NHS will meet its target. Commenting on the rise in average waiting times, Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "These figures massively undermine Labour's claims to have made a substantial difference to NHS waiting times." Andrew Lansley, Tory health spokesman, said: "This shows how the bigger picture gets neglected in order to meet the Government's top-down targets. "In meeting one target, another patient misses out. It is simply unfair."

However John Appleby, of the health think tank the King's Fund, said the Government was right to target long waits. "The whole point of the targets was to change clinical priorities, because doctors seemed content to put up with long waits for their patients - while patients were not content," he said. "Despite what the BMA say, there is no evidence that vital priorities such as urgent cases have been delayed. "One would expect the average wait to go up but it is now on the way down and we can expect that to continue."

• The NHS is heading for a 1.8billion surplus in England, just months after being forced to cut jobs and close wards. Ministers say the size of the surplus is just 2 per cent of turnover and makes good business sense, but patients' groups said it was equivalent to 1p off income tax.


There's a brilliant British video HERE about Islam. There is still SOME straight talk left in Britain.

British grit still exists: "War hero Captain Bernie Bambury's leg was torn off in an 80mph toboggan crash - and he did not even realise it was missing. Bernie, 32, COMPLETED the famous Cresta Run, then asked: "Is my ankle broken?" He was told: "It's not broken, it's gone." The dashing Army officer survived six months in Iraq unscathed, only to suffer the horrific accident in St Moritz, Switzerland. Swiss microsurgeons sewed the limb back on. But after nine operations they told Bernie it would be two years before he could walk - and he might never regain full mobility. So the tough soldier from the 4th Battalion The Rifles ordered astonished medics: "Cut it off." Yesterday he was fitted with a false leg and hopes to be back leading his men within a year. He told The Sun: "Amputation gave the best prospects for the rest of my life and the swiftest return to duty." Bernie, based at Bulford, Wilts, tackled the fearsome Cresta Run - nearly a mile of solid ice - at an Army tobogganing event in January. His right foot hit a marker post and the leg, severed below the knee, was recovered hundreds of yards up the course after he crossed the finish."

Another black psychopath: "A London fitness instructor has been jailed for life after he went on a first date armed with a carving knife and murdered a businesswoman by stabbing her more than 30 times. Karl Taylor, 27, was told by Old Bailey judge Giles Forrester that he would not be eligible for parole for at least 30 years for Kate Beagley's brutal murder. The 32-year-old, of Walton-on-Thames, was stabbed in the face and neck during her date with Taylor, the court was told. Prosecutors said Taylor, who also worked as a football coach, met his victim in the CC Club at the Trocadero in Piccadilly, central London, on May 20 2007. After dancing they arranged another meeting, with their first date 10 days later in Chiswick, West London. After their first drink, Beagley - described as "well-travelled, with a great sense of adventure" by friends and family - drove Taylor to Richmond Hill where they had another drink. They then walked to a bench overlooking the River Thames, where she was killed. After her father, Alan, had reported her missing, Taylor was traced and interviewed, where he could not offer an explanation for the killing."

No comments: