Friday, May 02, 2008

English not first language for 800,000 schoolchildren in Britain

More than 800,000 schoolchildren do not speak English as their first language, official figures have disclosed. Almost 500,000 children in primary schools have English as a second language – an estimated one in seven – with a further 350,000 pupils in secondary schools.

It follows a significant rise in the number of school pupils from immigrant families. Their numbers have almost doubled in a decade to reach record levels in England's schools. In some areas, children without English as their first language account for more than half of all pupils.

Teachers warned yesterday that large concentrations of foreign pupils with a poor grasp of English were placing an increasing burden on their capacity to provide all children with a decent standard of education. They say more money is needed to cater for the dozens of languages spoken in some classrooms, amid fears that overall standards could suffer if they are forced to concentrate on the few struggling with their language.

Many Roman Catholic schools are now printing admissions forms in Polish and hiring foreign teaching assistants to cope with increasing demand for places from eastern European families.

According to figures published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families yesterday, 14.4 per cent of children aged five to 11 speak languages other than English in the home – compared with 13.5 per cent 12 months ago – making a total of 470,080 pupils. In secondary schools, there are 354,300 pupils with English as a second language. That proportion increased from 10.6 to 10.8 per cent. The figures disclosed that in 14 local authorities – almost one in 10 – English-speaking primary school pupils are in the minority.

In the London borough of Tower Hamlets, only 23 per cent of pupils speak English as their first language. In inner London primary schools, children with English as their first language are in the minority. One primary school – Newbury Park in east London – teaches children who speak more than 40 languages, including Tamil, Swahili, Bengali, Cantonese, Spanish, Japanese and Russian.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, admitted that "undoubtedly there can be problems" for schools with a high concentration of pupils speaking other languages as their mother tongue. Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: "This has happened because the Government failed to follow our policy of taking into account the impact of immigration."

The National Association of Head Teachers warned in November that the situation was "out of control" and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers called last month for extra funds to "meet the extra educational demands on schools brought about by the recent influx of children of refugee and EU migrant families".

According to official figures, the number of pupils speaking other languages has increased by a third since the main expansion of the European Union in 2004, from 10.5 per cent to 14.4 per cent this year. Last year, official figures disclosed that since Labour came to power in 1997, nearly four million foreign nationals have come to Britain and 1.6 million have left. It was also disclosed that increasing numbers of pupils were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The proportion of primary pupils described as non-white British rose from 21.9 to 23.3 per cent. In secondary schools, the proportion increased from 18 to 19.5 per cent in 12 months.

Mr Knight said: "The gap in achievement between migrant children and English-speaking pupils has narrowed significantly in recent years."


This is how bad some British schools are

A father threw himself under a train because he wrongly thought that he had failed to enrol his daughter into her chosen secondary school, an inquest was told yesterday. Steve Don, 43, believed that he was an "unfit parent" because he had been unsuccessful in getting his 11-year-old daughter into a secondary school near their Brighton home.

The surveyor, who had no history of depression, had complained to his family that repeated attempts to contact the local education authority had been met with silence. He handed his daughter over to social services hours before jumping into the path of a train at a level crossing in East Sussex.

On the day of his suicide Mr Don told his wife: "They would not listen to me alive, perhaps they will if I was dead." But it emerged that Brighton & Hove City Council had backed down and awarded his daughter, Bethany, a place at a school a few minutes' walk from her home only hours before Mr Don died. His wife, Lorraine Wilson, 44, told him the news over the telephone but he refused to believe it. Two hours later he was dead.

In a statement read to the court, Mrs Wilson, an office manager, said: "He did take his life and this was due to the local education authority not agreeing to meet him." The family had wanted their daughter to go to the Dorothy Stringer School but in 2005 she was placed at Falmer School, five miles away. The couple appealed but this was rejected by an independent panel. They applied again for Varndean School, which is within walking distance of their ground-floor flat. Hours before Mr Don killed himself in September 2005, the council called his wife to say that it had found their daughter a place at the Varndean School.

Concluding that Mr Don committed suicide, Alan Craze, the East Sussex Coroner, said "I have made a decision not to hold an inquiry into matters relating to the decision as to which secondary school this particular child should go to." A council spokesman said: "The reason Mr Don's original preferences were turned down was because he'd sent his form in after our published deadline. Our rules clearly say we have to consider all applications that come in by deadline before late ones."


Law lords rule NHS policy on overseas doctors is unlawful

Thousands of doctors trained outside Europe yesterday won a House of Lords ruling that the Government could not block them from applying for training posts in Britain. By a four to one majority, the law lords ruled that guidance originally issued by Patricia Hewitt when she was Health Secretary, aimed at limiting the employment rights of overseas doctors, was illegal. She had issued instructions saying that doctors from outside Europe should be appointed to training posts only if there were no suitable candidates from Britain or the EU to fill them. By "dashing the legitimate expectations" of doctors who had been encouraged to come to Britain, the law lords said, Ms Hewitt had acted unfairly.

The ruling ends a long legal battle. Her guidance was challenged by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (Bapio), which lost in the lower court but won on appeal. The department brought a further appeal to the Lords, which it has now lost, bringing final victory to Bapio. The ruling will mean 4,000 to 5,000 overseas-trained doctors already in Britain are guaranteed equal chances of winning training posts.

A Department of Health spokesper-son said: "We are disappointed that the Lords have ruled that our guidance as it stood was unlawful. However, this is a complex judgment which needs careful consideration. "We are coming to the end of a consultation on this difficult issue. That consultation is due to end on May 6. We need to study the House of Lords findings carefully, alongside the responses to the consultation, to see what the best course of action will be."

Although the department lost, the ruling does not mean an ever-open door. The Home Office has changed the rules for immigration to prevent people coming to Britain under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP) from applying for medical training posts. Bapio's victory does mean that applications for training posts in the next few years will remain tight, with roughly 700 to 1,000 British-trained doctors likely to be unable to get a training post in 2009, 2010 and beyond.

For this year, the ruling would have had no effect even if the department had won. Competition for training posts in 2008 is likely to be even tougher than in 2007, with about three applicants for every place. In 2007 more than 1,300 applicants from British medical schools failed to get posts. This year the department estimates that between 1,000 and 1,500 will be disappointed. They will still be able to get jobs in the NHS, but training posts are much more desirable because they lead eventually to qualification for consultant posts.

The issue now is what the department will do to solve the problem. Medical school places have been steadily increasing, leaving the prospect of many expensively trained British graduates being denied the opportunities they hoped for. One alternative is to increase the number of training places, but that would be pointless if there were not a corresponding increase in consultant jobs. It would be moving the point of unemployment to later in a doctor's career. Another alternative would be to cut the number of medical school places, reversing the policy of self-sufficiency embraced by the Government. But this would take up to ten years, represent a volte-face and would return Britain to its traditional position of dependence on foreign doctors.

In the Lords ruling, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry said that it must have been clear to the Government that, due to a change which it had itself initiated soon after taking office, from about 2005 there would be an increased supply of home-grown medical graduates. To try to put it right, Ms Hewitt "dashed the legitimate expectations which it had fostered and on which the foreign doctors had acted. The advice was accordingly unlawful. "Obviously, the Government could have achieved its objective if it had amended the immigration rules. For various reasons, it chose not to do so. "But, if it had chosen to try to amend the rules, it would have been required to pay the political price of subjecting the proposed change, and its highly damaging effects on the international medical graduates with HSMP status in this country, to the scrutiny of Parliament."

Lord Bingham of Cornhill said that to speak of the guidance being "issued" was to "suggest a degree of official formality which was notably lacking". It was published on the NHS employers' website, but no official record had been produced during the legal proceedings. Instead, the Lords had been referred to a Home Office e-mail. "It is for others to judge whether this is a satisfactory way of publishing important governmental decisions with a direct effect on people's lives," Lord Bingham said. Lords Carswell and Mance also dismissed the Government's appeal.

In a dissenting judgment, Lord Scott of Foscote said that the Health Secretary was entitled to adjust the policy on employment of junior doctors in postgraduate training positions to give priority to British or EU nationals. Terry John, chairman of the BMA's International Committee, said: "It's right that we have a debate about the numbers of doctors coming to the UK in future, but it's wrong to scapegoat those already here."


Inmate boasts of 'luxury' life in British prison

A man jailed for repeatedly stabbing his wife has said he is enjoying a luxury life in prison and boasted that he was "better off inside". Donal Kelleher, 37, an inmate at HMP Cardiff, said that his en suite accommodation was "outstanding" and disclosed that he was paid œ10 a week - to study for a maths GCSE - which he spends on cigarettes, chocolate and "other luxury goods".

A prison officer who has worked at Cardiff for 15 years said last week that inmates were simply sitting in their cells watching snooker on television or playing computer games. He added that a new health care centre put local hospitals "to shame" and made it easier to see a dentist than on the "outside". The extraordinary claims were made after The Daily Telegraph disclosed last week that a prison officers' leader said jails had become so comfortable that some inmates were ignoring chances to escape. Glyn Travis, the assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said the latest disclosure confirmed his fears and that "we need to address the root of what prisons are all about".

Kelleher, a former Welsh Guard, stabbed his wife Leanne seven times in the chest and back after she told him she was leaving him. He was jailed in 2005. But writing to a local newspaper from prison, he said: "I am better off in here. I could only imagine how cold it was this winter living on the streets." Kelleher added: "May I just say that the food and accomadation (sic) is of outstanding quality here. We have coulour (sic) TVs, on sweet (sic) facilities, everything is provided for us eg toiletries, laundry."

He stated that the education department at Cardiff was of a "very high standard". He said: "I'm currently doing a GCSE grade in maths which I am paid ten pound a week to achieve which I can spend on tobbacco (sic), chocolate and other luxury goods." The inmate signed the letter "Donal Kelleher, Prisoner No. GE7247, HMP Cardiff".

David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth, visited the prison last year. He said: "I saw prisoners sitting in their cells watching television and playing computer games. "It seems to be an unwritten rule if they are left alone to do whatever they want they won't cause any trouble." "They have a right to be treated humanely but we have to remember they are in prison to be punished."

Sian West, the governor of Cardiff prison said last night: "It's ludicrous to say that prison is cushy." She added: "We endeavour to challenge all prisoners to use their time in Cardiff constructively. "Television sets purchased for in-cell prisoner use are paid for by the weekly rental fee of one pound paid by prisoners. "TVs can and will be removed from prisoners whose behaviour is deemed unacceptable."


Global warming may 'stop', scientists predict

Global warming will stop until at least 2015 because of natural variations in the climate, scientists have said. Researchers studying long-term changes in sea temperatures said they now expect a "lull" for up to a decade while natural variations in climate cancel out the increases caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The average temperature of the sea around Europe and North America is expected to cool slightly over the decade while the tropical Pacific remains unchanged. This would mean that the 0.3øC global average temperature rise which has been predicted for the next decade by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may not happen, according to the paper published in the scientific journal Nature.

However, the effect of rising fossil fuel emissions will mean that warming will accelerate again after 2015 when natural trends in the oceans veer back towards warming, according to the computer model. Noel Keenlyside of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, Kiel, Germany, said: "The IPCC would predict a 0.3øC warming over the next decade. Our prediction is that there will be no warming until 2015 but it will pick up after that." He stressed that the results were just the initial findings from a new computer model of how the oceans behave over decades and it would be wholly misleading to infer that global warming, in the sense of the enhanced greenhouse effect from increased carbon emissions, had gone away.

The IPCC currently does not include in its models actual records of such events as the strength of the Gulf Stream and the El Nino cyclical warming event in the Pacific, which are known to have been behind the warmest year ever recorded in 1998. Today's paper in Nature tries to simulate the variability of these events and longer cycles, such as the giant ocean "conveyor belt" known as the meridional overturning circulation (MOC), which brings warm water north into the North East Atlantic.

This has a 70 to 80-year cycle and when the circulation is strong, it creates warmer temperatures in Europe. When it is weak, as it will be over the next decade, temperatures fall. Scientists think that variations of this kind could partly explain the cooling of global average temperatures between the 1940s and 1970s after which temperatures rose again.

Writing in Nature, the scientists said: "Our results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic [manmade] warming." The study shows a more pronounced weakening effect than the Met Office's Hadley Centre, which last year predicted that global warming would slow until 2009 and pick up after that, with half the years after 2009 being warmer than the warmest year on record, 1998.

Commenting on the new study, Richard Wood of the Hadley Centre said the model suggested the weakening of the MOC would have a cooling effect around the North Atlantic. "Such a cooling could temporarily offset the longer-term warming trend from increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. "That emphasises once again the need to consider climate variability and climate change together when making predictions over timescales of decades."

But he said the use of just sea surface temperatures might not accurately reflect the state of the MOC, which was several miles deep and dependent on factors besides temperatures, such as salt content, which were included in the Met Office Hadley Centre model. If the model could accurately forecast other variables besides temperature, such as rainfall, it would be increasingly useful, but climate predictions for a decade ahead would always be to some extent uncertain, he added.

Source. The article in "Nature" appears to be this one.

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