Monday, May 19, 2008

Socialist haters at work in Britain

The National Health Service has refused to pay for an operation to prevent a pensioner’s agonising migraines because the woman paid privately for earlier treatment. Maureen Alden, 74, from Bristol, spent her life savings on a £13,000 operation two years ago to implant wires into her brain which prevent migraines by stimulating the nerves. The operation was successful and cut her attacks by 80%. The battery which powers the medical device is about to run out, however, and the retired typist cannot obtain funding for a replacement.

Alden’s case will reignite the debate over the ban on NHS patients supplementing their care by paying for treatments that are not funded by the health service. Breast cancer sufferers have been told they will be denied NHS treatment if they pay privately for “top-up” drugs. Patients are taking legal action to fight the ban.

Alden is backed by her GP, Dr Sarah Vaughan, who said: “This seems appalling to me. Funding decisions should be made on medical grounds such as how badly the patient needs the treatment, not whether they have previously paid privately.”

Alden had the device, an occipital nerve stimulator, implanted in March 2006. The battery is expected to run out in the next six months. A permanent battery has since been developed, so if the NHS pays 8,500 pounds for a replacement then Alden should not require any further treatment.

Vaughan warns that if Alden is denied the treatment the NHS will end up spending as much on expensive medication. South Gloucestershire Primary Care Trust said: “If someone elects to privately fund a treatment that is not funded by the PCT and no exceptional grounds have been agreed in advance, the individual will remain responsible for funding any ongoing costs.”

A British Medical Association (BMA) spokeswoman said: "Ethically the BMA does not believe that if someone has treatment privately they should be prevented from accessing any NHS care related to this initial procedure."


A lesson for Britain's obesity hysterics

New evidence from America suggests that intervening in schools and forcing kids to eat, think and learn healthily does not make them slimmer

One of the conceits of anti-obesity campaigners is that they `know' how to prevent children from becoming fat. But if the results of a much-awaited study on one of the central pillars of fighting childhood obesity - school interventions for healthy eating - are anything to go by, then such school-based programmes are expensive failures.

In its new obesity strategy, the UK government has placed considerable emphasis on school-based interventions which are designed to reduce childhood obesity through including lessons about healthy eating, serving only `healthy food', involving parents, and using social marketing strategies designed to apply social pressure to `encourage' children to eat healthily. All of these, according to both the prime minister Gordon Brown and the health minister Alan Johnson, represent the best in evidence-backed approaches to reducing childhood obesity.

Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case. The journal Pediatrics has recently published the results of the Student Nutrition Policy Initiative (1), a US programme which includes almost all of the government's initiatives for tackling obesity - and the results demonstrate that the government's plans to prevent obesity in Britain's children are almost certain to fail.

In the School Nutrition Policy Initiative, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control, 10 inner-city Philadelphia schools were targeted. Over 1,300 students were divided into intervention and control schools. In the intervention schools, staff were instructed in healthy eating and physical activity and how to integrate these themes into their teaching. Students were provided with 50 hours of healthy eating instruction each year. Children, for instance, were taught writing through essay assignments on nutrition. Every food sold or served in the schools had to meet strict healthy eating standards and all vending machines were taken out of the schools. Perhaps most controversially, children who failed to eat properly were denied rewards such as sitting by friends or extra recess.

And what were the results of such massive obesity-prevention efforts? From the spin in the press, one would think that the children in the schools with all of the focus on healthy food, along with the stigma of being overweight, ended up weighing less. After all, this was about reducing and preventing overweight and obesity. For example, the website Science Daily reported the study as showing that `school-based intervention, which reduced the incidence of overweight by 50 per cent, offers a potential means of preventing childhood weight gain and obesity on a large scale' (2).

But this puts a rather one-sided spin on the results. According to the study, the percentage of obese children in the intervention schools actually increased by 1.25 per cent compared with an increase of 1.37 per cent in the schools which didn't get all the obesity-prevention measures. In other words, there was no statistically significant difference between the schools. As the researchers themselves admitted: `After two years, there were no differences between intervention and control schools in the prevalence of obesity.' Even more shocking, they reported that `the intervention had no effect at the upper end of the BMI distribution. on the incidence, prevalence, or remission of obesity'.

And what about all that attention to healthy eating? After all, the point was that kids would not only have less chance of getting fat, but that they would eat better, too. In the intervention schools, at the end of the two-year programme, the number of children who were eating `healthily', that is, eating the required amounts of vegetables and fruits, declined. These kids were eating fewer servings of fruits and vegetables than the kids who had no nutritional instruction and who attended school where `unhealthy' foods were served.

So, whether success was measured by changes in body mass index, eating patterns, or the numbers of kids who were overweight or obese, this massive social-engineering project that is supposed to serve as a model for Britain was a failure.

The anti-obesity activists and the government have continually said that the so-called obesity epidemic is all about children. And they have had confidently told us that they knew best how to deal with overweight and obese children. But the evidence - as opposed to the faith - suggests otherwise. It suggests that when it comes to food, obesity and children, the food nannies and the government really know next to nothing about what works.


Assessing British children can only improve their education

The whingeing [whining] about tests for 11-year-olds last week was predictable and depressing. To sum up what Chris Woodhead says below: The "experts" are offering little more than feelgood crap

Last week MPs on the education select committee jumped on what might well now be an unstoppable bandwagon and demanded an urgent rethink of the national curriculum tests in primary schools. Terrified by the prospect of a poor league table position, too many schools were, its members argued, force-feeding their pupils. Joy, spontaneity and creativity have been driven from the classroom. Something must be done, and now.

The fact that the problem might lie not with the tests, but with teachers who cannot accept the principle of accountability does not seem to have occurred to the committee. Neither did its members explain how problems in failing schools can be solved if we do not know which schools are failing.

At the moment, children are assessed by teachers in English and maths at seven and sit more formal tests in English, maths and science at 11. Two periods of testing in four years of primary education. What’s wrong, moreover, with some preparation for tests if the tests assess worthwhile skill and knowledge?

I have to confess to a dreadful sense of deja vu. Sixteen years ago the then Tory education secretary, Ken Clarke, horrified by the sloppiness he found in many of the primary schools he visited, asked Robin Alexander and Jim Rose to research what became known as the Three Wise Men report. I was the third wise man, parachuted in later to represent the interests of the fledgling national curriculum.

Now Professor Alexander is heading up a review of primary education, funded by a charitable foundation, and Sir Jim Rose has been asked by ministers, eager not to be upstaged, to mount his own investigation – though testing has been excluded from the terms of his report.

In retrospect, the Three Wise Men report was one of my more amusing professional experiences. At the time it was a nightmare. Jim Rose is a nice man, but he is not the Clint Eastwood of primary education. Consensus makes his day. I found that Robin Alexander bridled at any challenge to his opinions. He elevated preciousness into an art form. Working with him was marginally less stressful than being married to Heather Mills.

It was touch and go, but in the end we did it, and Robin even turned up for the press conference. The importance of subject knowledge; the need for teachers to teach the whole class and to stop trying to engage individual pupils; the vital role of assessment: the report emphasised commonsense educational truths that had been drowned by a tsunami of child-centred 1960s twaddle.

For all his prickliness, I never knew what Robin Alexander really thought. Now I think I do. Interim reports from his review show that he may well be part of the malaise Ken Clarke tried to cure. Reading a recent lecture he gave, I found just one reference to “teaching”, and that very much in passing. Instead he waxed lyrical about how children are “natural and active learners”; how learning takes place everywhere; how children learn from each other and not just adults; and how “we need to engage with and listen to children, and not just talk at them”.

There is a truth, of course, in each of these platitudes. What worries me is the sub text, which actually is not that sub. Throughout the lecture he cites evidence that his inquiry has uncovered – of “the loss of childhood”, of the “overcrowded” primary curriculum, of our “high stakes national testing regime” and of “teachers’ anxieties about league tables, inspection and the somewhat punitive character of school accountability”. Professor Alexander may, of course, choose to reject this evidence but the burden of much that has been said thus far suggests this is unlikely.

My prediction would be that this primary review will reject most, if not all, of the educational reforms that have taken place since 1990. I can understand why teachers who never accepted these reforms might applaud. But why are so many politicians and parents buying into a proposition that would kill off any hope that state education might improve?

Isn’t it obvious? The better a teacher teaches, the more a child will learn. The key to higher standards is better teaching. By which I mean: teachers who have real knowledge of and passion for the subjects they teach, the highest possible expectations of each and every child, and, obviously, the classroom teaching skills needed to keep order and inspire and enthuse their pupils. We do not need research and reviews into the nature of primary education. We need a remorseless determination to implement these commonsense truths.

Plus, of course, a system of national testing. Robin Alexander appears to be siding with those in the world of education who hate the fact that the tests shine the bright light of accountability into the murky corners of failing and complacent schools. Thus far the government is defending the tests. For once ministers are doing the right thing.


No comments: