Saturday, June 21, 2008

Rebellion against empty-headed British "science" curriculum

A leading grammar school has become the first state school to drop GCSEs in favour of a tougher exam based on the old O-level. Pupils at Bexley Grammar School in south-east London are to start studying for the International GCSE in science from this September.

More than 250 independent schools have already started teaching the new qualification because they believe it is more challenging. But state schools had previously held off, fearing the move would lose them funding because the International GCSE is not recognised by the Government's exam authority.

Bexley Grammar, where every pupil got at least five A* to C passes at GCSE level last year, says it will not lose money because its pupils will still be studying normal GCSEs in other subjects and schools are funded per child not per exam. It is dropping science GCSE following changes to the curriculum which mean pupils debate the ethics of science at the expense of traditional experiments. The International GCSE is seen as more rigorous as it relies less on coursework and retains more difficult material.

Rod Mackinnon, the school's headteacher, said: "We have concerns about the challenge of the new curriculum. "It would be the same with the top sets in comprehensive schools; we do not think it stretches our pupils enough. "We were clear it just wasn't going to stimulate our pupils enough." The change will affect Bexley Grammar's standing in league tables, as a new measure is to be introduced next year which will show how many pupils in each school get top marks at science GCSE.

But Mr Mackinnon said he was not worried if the school slipped in league tables if it meant his pupils were learning more about science. He said: "We will register a big fat zero there. However, I am happy to argue why we've done it. It is in the pupils' interests."

The Department of Children, Schools and Families has confirmed that Bexley Grammar will not lose any funding for ditching science GCSE. However it is believed other state schools may be put off from following its lead because of the effect on their standing in league tables. It comes just days after the think tank Civitas warned that pupils who do not attend independent schools will be "left behind" as they have less opportunity to study the tougher International GCSE.


Evil British police again

A one-legged Royal Navy veteran was arrested after he rescued his neighbour from being harassed by two men. Stephen Beerling, 52, dialled 999 and raced to help the women and her baby after hearing screams during the night. But he was arrested when officers spotted a retractable truncheon he had picked up in case he had to protect himself.

Mr Beerling, a Liberal Democrat councillor, was arrested, locked up for 12 hours and charged with possessing an offensive weapon. He told of his ordeal yesterday after learning the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to drop the charge against him. Mr Beerling, of Maidstone, Kent, said: ' I am relieved, but very disappointed it even came to this. I don't blame the police but maybe they should have used their noggin. Perhaps they were a little inexperienced. The blame lies with the CPS - I just cannot understand why they wanted to press charges.'

Mr Beerling said the drama began at 2.30am on March 19 when he was woken by screams from his next door neighbour and her baby, and the sound of men shouting. He called police and strapped on the false leg he has worn since his leg was amputated in March 2004 while he was still serving with the Royal Navy. Aware he was probably outnumbered, he picked up the telescopic truncheon and put it in his back pocket. Mr Beerling then hurried downstairs and went outside where he said his neighbour was being harassed by two men.

He tried to calm the men down while he waited for police. Officers later arrested both suspects and charged them with affray. But then they also arrested him when they saw the truncheon. Mr Beerling was taken to Maidstone police station, kept in a cell overnight and charged. His case was due at crown court this week but on Wednesday the CPS decided to drop the charge.

The former sailor said: 'When they tried to open the truncheon, it was all rusted up. I've had it for years and it's just been in a drawer. 'It could be classed as an offensive weapon if it was taken out in public and used with intent. I hadn't even taken it out of my pocket. 'But I wouldn't think twice about stepping in to help people again. I could not have stood by and let it go. 'The most important thing for right-thinking people is to stand up to criminals who blight our society.'

Kent Police and Senior Crown Prosecutor Janet Garnon-Williams said in a statement: 'A decision has been taken jointly to discontinue the case as there is not a realistic prospect of conviction.' A police spokesman said the two men arrested with Mr Beerling were charged with affray, but the cases were later dropped. One was charged with possession of cannabis and fined 100 pounds by Maidstone magistrates.


More British "safety" idiocy

Sports day cancelled because uneven playing field is a health and safety risk. But it's much better for kids to learn not to trip over things when they are young. It's part of growing up

A school sports day has been cancelled over health and safety fears, because teaching staff are worried that the children could trip up on the uneven playing field. The head teacher of Holmbush First School in Shoreham, West Sussex, has written to parents to tell them that the annual event has been called off to avoid accidents. Rebecca Jackson told them that the surface of the school's playing field could be "too dangerous" for the traditional sack, egg-and-spoon, wheelbarrow and three-legged races. She said there were concerns that cracks and holes in the surface could cause the young pupils to "trip or fall".

But parents have said the decision to ban sports day, which was scheduled for July 14, is "ludicrous". Louise Powell, 32, a physiotherapist, was unimpressed when her daughter Maisie, five, came home from school with the letter. She said: "The school produces a newsletter every month. The latest issue said they've cancelled sports day for health and safety issues because the ground is uneven. "I'm absolutely furious because we were so looking forward to it. We were excited because it would have been Maisie's first sports day, it's really upset me. It's ludicrous. "I did sports day on ground that was uneven. Our playing field was on a slope and I know my husband did his on ground that was probably uneven. "When we were kids, you just got on with it." She added other parents and children were equally disappointed.

Another mum, who didn't want to be named, said: "Part of the fun of school sports days is running about and falling over all over the place - especially the three-legged race. "You are expected to fall over when you take part in a three-legged race, that's almost the point of it."

However, Mrs Jackson has defended the decision. She said the field, which has recently been acquired by the school, was used as farmland and is not yet ready for use by the 267 pupils. She said: "The school has not had a sports day before and we were hoping to organise one this year because we have had some playing field access. "But we have inspected the field and it's not yet ready to be used for sports day because of cracks and holes in the surface, which could be dangerous and cause children to trip or fall."


The poor are born less healthy

And the British government has failed to shift that, funnily enough

Sixty years in hot pursuit of equity have left Britain a country as divided as ever between healthy haves and unhealthy have-nots. Endless intellectual effort has been put into devising a formula that will allocate NHS resources in such a way as to eliminate such differences. They have failed. Since 1997, inequalities of health have in some respects widened. Targets have been missed.

Alan Johnson's response is to throw another 34million pounds at the problem, and shift the deadline from 2008 to 2010. Ministers' latest wheeze is to inject more money to provide extra GP surgeries in areas that have fewer doctors. Let us pass over the fact that these areas are already well-funded under the allocation formula, so should not need any more. Of course it is right that everybody should have equal access to a GP, so far as human ingenuity can provide it, but by the time most patients reach the GP's surgery the damage is done.

Health inequalities begin in the womb, are nurtured by poor diet and bad parenting, and multiplied by habits such as smoking. Once, high cancer rates in the North would have been explained by occupational exposure in the workplace but that is no longer plausible. Smoking, and increasingly obesity, are the greatest risk factors. There is a near-doubling of lung cancer incidence in men between Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire (the lowest) and Merseyside and Cheshire (the highest). In women the gap between highest and lowest is wider still.

Breast cancer is much more egalitarian, with only small variations. There are bigger variations in prostate cancer incidence, but this largely reflects local enthusiasm for screening: the differences in death rates are smaller. The literature of health inequalities generally concludes that they follow disparities of wealth: the wider the wealth gap, the wider the health gap. If this is so, then Labour has been caught in a trap of its own making. Gordon Brown was happy to "eliminate poverty" with handouts, but not by squeezing the rich until the pips squeaked, as Denis Healey once promised. And American evidence suggests that there is no threshold above which the wealth-health link diminishes in force. In a world of haves, have-nots, and have-yachts, it is the yacht-owners who do best of all.

So you can have a go-getting economy where entrepreneurs flourish and hedge-fund billionaires proliferate, or you can have Scandinavian-style levelling down and more equal health outcomes. What nobody has yet devised is a way of combining the two.


Escape blunder in Britain as minister launches immigration crackdown

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, faced embarrassment today after seven illegal immigrants broke out of a detention centre on the day she unveiled a new crackdown on immigration. Miss Smith revealed a "tough" strategy for tackling offenders and launched it by meeting with police officers carrying out dawn raids on alleged bent solicitors and bogus colleges.

But within hours, news had emerged of a security breach at the Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire. Three men who were facing deportation are on the run tonight. Opposition leaders hit out at repeated, "unacceptable" blunders at Campsfield and said the timing of the incident, coinciding with the new policy launch, was "sadly appropriate".

In a raft of new measures, Miss Smith announced that the UK Border Agency would "name and shame" employers who hire illegal immigrants, that those who were convicted and sentenced to a year or more faced "automatic deportation", and launched a crackdown on illegal immigrants obtaining British driving licences.

In the London raids, police arrested at least eight men and women linked with companies they believe helped illegal immigrants to settle in the UK. Officials believe the firm of solicitors at the centre of the inquiry was issuing false education certificates to them, which they would then use to "enrol" at one of four bogus colleges across London and fraudulently apply for student visas.

Only later did the break-out emerge. Four of the escapees were recaptured by police shortly after the alarm was raised at 4 am, including one, a Libyan with a criminal record, who was found eating tomatoes at the Botanical Gardens in Oxford. The other three remain on the run, Thames Valley Police said. The break-out happened just five days after a fire at the 215-man Campsfield detention centre, during which around 20 detainees staged a rooftop protest. There was a riot at the centre last December and 26 detainees escaped from the centre in a mass break-out months before.

Dominic Grieve, Shadow Home Secretary, said: "It is sadly appropriate that a serious and dangerous incident at an immigration detention centre should coincide with the Government's latest attempt at talking tough on immigration. "Announcing yet another reorganisation of the UK Borders Agency and putting names on a website is no substitute for real action. Naming and shaming is no substitute for catching and convicting. "All of this shows why we need an integrated Border Police Force bringing together the police with immigration and customs, to make our borders safer and the immigration system less chaotic."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "This is the fifth major disturbance at Campsfield in little over a year and the second in a week. It raises serious questions about the wisdom of mixing foreign national ex-prisoners with immigration detainees. "The frequency of fires and escapes suggests there are significant problems with either the Home Office system or the management of Campsfield itself."


EU treaty: Leaders praise Gordon Brown's courage: "European Union leaders have heaped praise on Gordon Brown's "courage" in keeping the Lisbon Treaty alive by ignoring Ireland's No vote and UK public opinion to complete Britain's ratification. The Prime Minister found himself in the uncomfortable position of being lauded for defying British opinion as EU leaders met to discuss ways to push ahead with the Lisbon treaty despite the Irish rejection. Over dinner in Brussels, EU leaders set an October deadline for the Irish government to come up with a way to ratify the treaty, which requires the approval of all 27 member-states to take effect. Despite publicly promising to respect the Irish vote, EU states led by France are leading a campaign to pressurize Ireland into agreeing a second referendum." [Ireland should threaten to join NAFTA instead. Their welcome to an economic union with the USA and Canada would be enormous]

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