Thursday, August 07, 2008

Anger as 350 British police officers taken off the job for sex-swap awareness classes

Police officers in an area with a high crime rate are being taken off the beat for an awareness course on sex changes. The half-day training class is meant to help them deal with a colleague who is beginning a new life as a woman. The ruling, which applies to 344 police and 166 civilian staff, has been deemed 'political correctness gone mad' by senior officers.

It was announced in a letter from Humberside Police's former Chief Superintendent Kevin Sharp to all staff within the force's A division. This covers Grimsby and the surrounding area in North-East Lincolnshire - a region which last year had 41.5 crimes per 1,000 residents, compared with a national average of 28. In his letter, Mr Sharp informed staff that the sex-change officer, a 42-year-old married PC now called Lauren, had been suffering from gender identity dysphoria. This left him feeling like a woman trapped in a man's body.

Mr Sharp wrote: 'As from today, Lauren starts her new life and over the next few weeks you will receive awareness training during which you will be able to read a personal letter from Lauren. 'I trust you will have the same determination as I have to help Lauren return to work with as little fear and trepidation as is possible. . . but feel much happier than she has ever done before.' He called upon them to treat her as they would a close family member.

The diversity training, which will cost thousands of pounds, is designed to ensure there is no discrimination against Lauren - which could leave the force open to an expensive compensation claim.

Since sending the letter last month, Mr Sharp has retired from the force to become chief executive of Humberside Police Authority. But he said he would nevertheless 'retain ownership of the initial phase of Lauren's transition'. On the eve of his retirement after seven years as divisional commander, Mr Sharp, 48, admitted that his force still had a lot to do. 'But we are in really good shape to take that to the next step, which is about making our most difficult communities and neighbourhoods a safer place to be,' he said.

He was unavailable for comment yesterday, but one unnamed senior officer from the division said the plan was 'a scandal'. 'This is yet another example of the lunatics running the asylum and it has offended me and many of my colleagues,' he said. 'It's time spent away from duty at the public's expense. The police environment has gone mad. We give time to this while the amount of training given to police officers on law has dwindled.'

Humberside Police declined to comment yesterday. The complex implications relating to transsexual employees were demonstrated in 2006 by the case of Linda Grant. She won more than $40,000 in the European Court of Human Rights because her pension was not awarded until she reached 65, even though she had had a sex change. In 2004, Humberside Police was criticised by the Bichard Inquiry into the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman for deleting sex claims against Ian Huntley which might have prevented his getting a job at their school.


A wonderful story about a very good man -- and a big failure of socialized medicine

Only the extraordinary personal efforts of a dedicated doctor saved the life of a baby

A newborn baby was saved from kidney failure after a paediatrician built a dialysis machine for her in his garage. Millie Kelly was given little chance of surviving her first weeks when she suffered kidney failure after a lifesaving operation. At 6lb 2oz (3.3kg), she was too small to use the NHS dialysis machine that would do the work of her failed kidneys. It was not until Malcolm Coulthard, a paediatrician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, built the machine that she began to recover. Millie is now a fit two-year-old and her mother is supporting Dr Coulthard's campaign for hospitals across the country to have dialysis machines for small babies.

Rebecca Kelly, a 21-year-old student, admitted to misgivings the first time she saw the machine that represented her child's last chance of survival. "It looked handmade in the garage," she said. "It did not look like it was a professional NHS thing. He had made it out of metal and there were a few paint splodges on it. "I did not know what to think really, but I knew it was the only hope. It was touch and go and I went along with it."

Despite its rough-and-ready appearance, it was the product of hours of painstaking work by Dr Coulthard. Millie was attached to the machine for seven days before she began to show signs of recovery. She had suffered kidney failure after an emergency operation for gastroschisis, a condition that causes the intestines to protrude from an opening near the umbilical cord.

Ms Kelly, from Middlesbrough, was convinced that her daughter would survive. "When she was ill, I knew she wouldn't give in. I was devastated when they said she wouldn't make it, but she's a fighter and I knew she would pull through," she said. "If it was not for that machine then she would not be here today. Words cannot describe how grateful my family are to Dr Coulthard. Not only is he a great consultant but now also a great friend and inspiration to Millie, my family and I. "Afterwards, the doctors and nurses didn't know if she would make a full recovery, but she's just turned 2 and she's a normal, happy baby now."

Ms Kelly is calling for more funding to build new machines, as the baby dialysis machine in Newcastle is the only one in the country. "It saved my daughter's life and other babies should have the same chance," she said.

Dr Coulthard, who designed the machine with Jean Crosier, the senior children's kidney nurse, also hopes to build on the success. "This machine is only being used on the tiniest, earliest babies where there is nothing else that can be done," he said. "But if we had a machine that we could use much more freely, then we would be able to deal with many more babies and have a much greater chance of saving lives." The machine allows haemodialysis, the process that cleans the blood through an artificial kidney, to be carried out on babies with renal failure. Underweight newborn babies usually cannot undergo the treatment.


British grade-school exams a mess

From coloured graphs manipulated by statisticians to children bewildered by their grades, education is in turmoil

So who is going to carry the buck for this failure? Late results, unmarked papers, baffled teachers, confused children. "We don't want to see excuses about poor performance, what we want to see is clear plans to raise standards." Thus spake Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, in June, of the 638 schools he deemed to be "failing". He gave them 50 days to turn around or face closure or merger. (Their 50 days was up, incidentally, last Wednesday - funny that we haven't heard anything more about it. Or did they all file their reports late as well?)

Who will give Mr Balls his notice to improve? Yesterday, as his department published the results of Key Stage 2 SATs results for 11-year-olds, Mr Balls was nowhere to be heard. These are the results that headteachers have cautioned are seriously flawed: markers received the papers late; the new online system introduced by ETS, the American company to whom the marking had been contracted out, was too complex and slow. Some pupils did not exist, schools had the wrong papers returned to them, or were sent papers that hadn't even been marked; about a third of secondary school pupils did not get their results by the end of term, and legal action is now under way against ETS.

Meanwhile, many experienced markers have abandoned ship having got fed up with the chaos and ETS's unanswered premium-rate telephone lines - a child's education ransomed to profiteering on essential phone calls. It is already getting too late for another company to take over marking for the 2009 tests. This saga is nowhere near ended.

These are real children, with real futures, who have worked hard, and who are utterly confused. It is bad enough to be reduced to a set of numbers in the first place, without all the authorities behind that set of numbers failing even to produce them for you. But instead of coming out fighting for what was left of the results yesterday, Mr Balls has taken to hiding behind his statisticians.

Last week, the Schools Secretary wrote to a House of Commons committee that publication of the results was a matter for his department's "head of statistics", who had advised that they should come out on August 5 despite headteachers' widespread concerns about missing results and marking quality.

An education minister hiding behind his statisticians is like a chancellor cowering behind his economists: it is drivel and deserves to be treated with derision. Yet the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) was at it again yesterday, a spokesman now using the statisticians to deride as not "statistically robust" a well-timed report from the think-tank Civitas.

Civitas found the overwhelming majority of secondary schools that it spoke to had their own doubts on the validity of official SATs results. Nine out of ten of Year 7 teachers who replied to a random survey by Civitas believe the Key Stage 2 SATs tests exaggerate a child's abilities, with around a third of pupils getting higher scores than they deserve. Most secondary schools have to test the children again in their first weeks to determine which level they are really at, as specific coaching at primary school has enabled pupils to skim higher marks in the SATs than they really merit.

And why the coaching? Because the scores feed into the league tables, thence into the furrowed brow of a local parent obsessing over the numbers for her child's potential school. Testing and league tables have their place in our education system, but not at the expense of clarity and honesty; the numbers should elucidate, not confuse.

You choose your statistician and your statistics to suit your case. I was reading an article in the Royal Statistical Society journal a few months ago which argued that school league tables themselves are statistically meaningless as a measure of educational quality. Funny the DCSF doesn't have any departmental statisticians telling it that. And this year's tables will be more unreliable than ever because of the added uncertainty over the accuracy of ETS's SATs results.

No ministers will ever admit to the imperfection of their charts because, in the face of scepticism about the achievements of their Government, these multicoloured graphs have become the only measure by which they can trumpet their success. This explains the obsession with testing: it has become not a tool of policy, but policy itself. By their test results shall you praise or damn them. Imagination and good leadership have shrunk to lines on a graph.

As the date of publication of the SATs results approached, what were education ministers doing? Sending out multicoloured charts to the media to demonstrate their latest anti-obesity drive in primary schools. Hey, your kid may not be able to read, but at least he knows he's fat.

This row over SATs is not just about exam results, it is about a style of government that reduces people to blobs on graphs, to data entered in a system and then manipulated by the statisticians. It is government gone wrong: contracted-out responsibility, lack of accountability, and a ministry that can send out 3,840 pages of instructions to head teachers in a single year, but cannot get exam papers marked on time.

It is a tale of children being failed by a system that turns them into numbers on a chart; which treats their individuality as a problem, problems as targets, and then contracts pupils out to the lowest bidder with a premium-rate phone line to tout.

Great expectations fallen on hard times: it is a tale, ultimately, of the four in ten children, born in the year Labour came to power promising "education, education, education", and leaving primary school today still without real competence in literacy, numeracy and science. Funny that those statisticians cannot come up with a chart illustrating that.


Britain: 'Fakeproof' e-passport is cloned in minutes: "New microchipped passports designed to be foolproof against identity theft can be cloned and manipulated in minutes and accepted as genuine by the computer software recommended for use at international airports. Tests for The Times exposed security flaws in the microchips introduced to protect against terrorism and organised crime. The flaws also undermine claims that 3,000 blank passports stolen last week were worthless because they could not be forged. In the tests, a computer researcher cloned the chips on two British passports and implanted digital images of Osama bin Laden and a suicide bomber. The altered chips were then passed as genuine by passport reader software used by the UN agency that sets standards for e-passports."

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