Wednesday, August 27, 2008

British cancer patients kept in dark about `too expensive' drugs

Doctors are deciding against telling cancer patients about expensive new treatments to avoid causing distress when they find out that the NHS is unwilling to pay for them. A quarter of specialists questioned in a survey admitted to hiding the facts about new drugs for bone marrow cancer that may be difficult to obtain on the NHS. According to the poll, nearly all the doctors who chose not to mention such expensive drugs said that they did so because it might "distress, upset or confuse" their patients.

Three quarters said that cost issues were a consideration, 40 per cent cited "lack of evidence" and 29 per cent argued that there was "no point" discussing treatments that their patients were unlikely to receive.

It is believed that thousands of patients with various types of cancer could gain extra months or years of life from the latest, most effective drugs. In many cases they are being denied the treatments on the NHS because of a lack of approval by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which assesses the cost-effectiveness of new medicines in England and Wales.

The poll, by the charity Myeloma UK, comes after patients with advanced kidney cancer were denied four treatments on the NHS under guidelines issued by NICE. These and other new drugs for cancers of the lung, pancreas, colon and breast, and for multiple myeloma, are available widely throughout Western Europe, and in some cases in Scotland, but campaigners say that patients in England are being "left to die" if they cannot persuade their local trusts to fund treatment.

A total of 103 myeloma specialists in England, Wales and Scotland took part in the survey, with a quarter admitting that they avoided telling patients about licensed drugs that were still awaiting approval by NICE, which local health authorities were reluctant to pay for. Myeloma affects about 3,800 people each year in Britain and, of these, 2,600 are likely to die from it. NICE is reviewing treatments for the disease, including the drug Revlimid, which in clinical trials was found to be able to extend the life of some patients by up to three years.

The drug obtained its UK licence in June last year and is available across Europe, but NICE is not expected to make a final decision on whether it should receive NHS funding in England and Wales until early next year. The drug, which costs $72,000 for one year of treatment, has been rejected as not cost-effective by the Scottish Medicines Consortium, NICE's counterpart north of the Border.

NHS trusts have a legal obligation to provide treatments that are approved by NICE. In the absence of such approval, if a doctor thinks someone would benefit from a new medication, the patient can appeal to a committee at the local trust. Those who are refused must settle for less effective treatments or pay for the drugs.

In a statement, the Department of Health said that it had "issued guidance to the NHS which makes it clear that funding for a treatment should not be withheld simply because NICE guidance does not exist".


Treatment blocked despite years of pain: Case study

Colin Ross, 55, of Horsham, West Sussex, found that he had multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells, in May 2004, and has been told that unless he is given the drug Revlimid he will not survive beyond the autumn. Mr Ross, a former engineer in the oil and gas industry, has suffered years of pain and disability because of the disease, which has been slowly eating away at his vertebrae and other bones, making them brittle.

Despite the exhortations of doctors treating him at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, Britain's leading cancer hospital, Mr Ross's local NHS primary care trust in West Sussex has refused repeatedly to fund the treatment, even though patients in East Sussex and elsewhere have access to the drug on the NHS. "I've broken bones several times, feeling very weak and tired all the time. It's got to the point where my bone structure can't support my own weight, it takes ten minutes just to get out of bed and I can't stand unsupported in front of the mirror to clean my teeth," he told The Times yesterday. "I was told from the start that it was incurable, that treatment could only hold it at bay, but it now seems that Revlimid is my last resort."

Although the drug is readily available to patients across Europe and in the United States, it has not yet been granted approval for use throughout the NHS in England and so is being provided only by some NHS trusts in "exceptional circumstances".


Another "artistic" attempt to offend decent people

Childish attention-seeking behaviour

London Olympic organisers are at the centre of an extraordinary row after an image of Myra Hindley, the Moors Murderer, was included in a montage of images of British achievements designed to promote the upcoming Games.

The clip, a portrait of Hindley made out of children's hand prints by the artist Marcus Harvey, was screened as the Prime Minister and Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, welcomed British medal winners at a party to celebrate the capital taking over from Beijing as the official Olympic host city. It was immediately condemned by the Mayor and Gordon Brown.

While the two men each delivered a short speech to around 500 guests, a video screen behind them showed a series of quintessentially British images. Party-goers at the event at London House, a trendy outdoor temporary nightclub in down town Beijing used during the Games by athletes and officials to unwind, were stunned when the portrait of Hindley appeared on the screen.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said that the montage had been compiled by Visit London, an agency responsible for attracting tourists to the capital which had been commissioned by the Mayor's office to carry out the work, and was meant as a showcase of all things British. He added: "The Mayor knew nothing about this. He is appalled."

Visit London said that the portrait was among a number of images of British art used in the short promotional film, which had been used before and received no complaints. A spokesman added that the inclusion of the controversial work showed that there was no "censorship" in the UK but promised to withdraw it immediately. "This is a general three minute video of London in which an artwork by Marcus Harvey at the Tate very fleetingly appears," said the spokesman. "The video is not for general public use and has been used many times over the last few years to show to the tourism trade. There has never been a complaint made about the video up until this point. However, if any offence has been caused, we will withdraw it from use with immediate effect."

The series of clips ran through the day at London House, and the image is said to have appeared on the screen as Mr Brown was making his speech, to the fury of watching Downing Street aides.

Downing Street said the image was "in extremely poor taste" and should not have been used to promote London. A No 10 source added: "It is a total disgrace that this proud night for Britain has been sullied by this grotesque prank. "Whoever was responsible must be found and fired immediately."

Many officials and athletes' relatives had gathered at London House from late afternoon to watch the closing ceremony on the large screens, but apparently did not notice the image of Hindley in the series of clips, which were allowed to run into the evening as they were joined by those who had participated in the ceremony. As well as gold medal winners including Chris Hoy, the party was attended by previous British Olympic athletes such as Jonathan Edwards, the triple jumper, along with David Beckham, the former England football captain, and the singer Leona Lewis, who had both featured in the Olympic closing ceremony. Guests were treated to a barbecue and free champagne bar, with dancing until late into the night.

Myra Hindley died of cancer in prison in 2002, while Ian Brady, her partner in the deaths of at least four children, remains in jail.

The portrait of Hindley caused uproar when it was first shown to the public at the Sensation exhibition, a showcase of Young British Artists held at the Royal Academy of Art between September and December in 1997. The 11ft by 9ft painting of the Moors Murderer, based on her infamous police mugshot, was particularly chilling because the artist, Marcus Harvey, created it using hundreds of stencil outlines of children's hands.

Winnie Johnson, the mother of one of Hindley's victims, asked for the 1995 portrait to be excluded from the exhibition to protect her feelings. She picketed the first day of the show along with supporters to protest against the work, which was part of a collection owned by Charles Saatchi. Even Hindley sent a letter from jail suggesting her portrait be removed from the exhibition because it had "a sole disregard not only for the emotional pain and trauma that would inevitably be experienced by the families of the Moors victims but also the families of any child victim." But despite the protests the painting remained in place, prompting more drastic action. Windows at Burlington House, the Academy's home, were smashed and two demonstrators hurled ink and eggs at it


British Submission

Foot baths for Muslim students at Michigan universities? Muslim cabbies in the Twin Cities who refuse to carry seeing-eye dogs? The FBI and other government agencies taking sensitivity training from radical Muslim organizations? You think we’ve lost the plot over here? Take a look at British submission to Islamofascist demands and threats, as that once great nation succumbs to creeping dhimmitude.

It has reached the point that in mid-April, the British Foreign Office instructed the Royal Navy not to return pirates to jurisdictions sporting sharia law (such as Somalia) for fear that their human rights will be violated. They have even been discouraged from capturing pirates, because the freebooters might ask to be granted asylum in Britain, a request with which the UK might have to comply under international and European Union human rights law.

This for a Navy that almost singlehandedly defeated piracy in the early 19th century, and a nation that retained the death penalty for this scourge of the high seas until the late 20th century. Welcome to Britain today.

Another recent outrage involves special handling of a traffic violation. Seems that a Muslim driver was stopped by police while speeding between two homes in the north of England. When he appeared in court, he explained his high speed – over twice the speed limit – was necessary to accommodate his two wives. His explanation was accepted, and he was allowed to keep his license.

That comes fast – very fast – on the heels of a decision by the British government to grant full spousal benefits to multiple wives. It won’t affect more than an estimated 1,000 individuals. And it mercifully won’t affect the indigenous Christian, Hindu or Jewish population, as traditional bigamy laws apply. Britons may rest easy, as it will only cover multiple wives married in a jurisdiction that practices Sharia law, such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

These are not isolated instances; there are a myriad more: Swimming periods at pools restricted to Muslims only; the establishment of a BBC Arabic language station staffed by Arab broadcasters and managers with track records of being anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Western; the refusal of female Muslim medical students to wash their arms as that practice might reveal the forbidden flesh between wrist and elbow; an attempt by a national union of university lecturers to call for a boycott of Israeli academics; and, a local Council ban on pig-themed toys, porcelain figures and calendars on workers’ desks because it might offend Muslims.

No comment from the Home Office or No. 10 Downing Street. No comment from the government, because it has been their policy to appease Britain’s large Muslim population in response to menacing behavior up to and including the bomb outrages of July 7, 2005.

It’s no coincidence that Muslims constitute a substantial portion of the Labour Party’s electoral support in London and in much of its heartland in northern England. In the expected close election for Parliament that will be held by mid-2010, an increasing Muslim population may be the difference between victory and defeat for the Labourites.

But Labour’s bien pensant hardly needs convincing. Like most on the left today, they fancy themselves champions of the underdog and the oppressed, and sympathy for Islam, and Arab and Muslim causes fits neatly into their intellectual program. Along with America and Israel-bashing, it goes to the very heart of how liberals view themselves and, more important, how they wish to be viewed by others. It supplies them with the appearance of a self-abnegation that is supposed to relieve their Western, middle-class guilt with a cleansing humility but is nothing but moral exhibitionism; and, as always, involves other people’s money, other people’s freedom, and other people’s comfort – never or very rarely their own.

A classic of political correctness run amok, wonderful as a burlesque if it weren’t slowly undermining Britain’s way of life and its will to oppose extreme Islamism.

Worse is that acceding to this nonsense gives Islamofascists confidence that they are on the winning side of history. That if they just shout a little louder and push a little harder, they may expect more of the same that becomes increasingly normative until it convinces the longer-settled among the UK’s population that they have no power to stop, let alone reverse, the process.

One might have become inured to the gutless behavior of France or Italy, but many in the U.S. are still under the impression that, like other countries in the Anglosphere, the British remain clear-eyed, realistic and most importantly resolute about the threats with which the West is confronted. But they aren’t; and while these cultural changes are in the realm of the comical right now, they are beginning to affect British public policy, domestic as well as foreign.

Why is this important to us? Because the ZaNuLabour Party’s tendency to pacifism and appeasement, and its devotion to political correctness, victim ideology, cultural relativism and liberal guilt is shared by our own Democrats. Look for more of it in Britain, and don’t be surprised when it arrives full force here in America.


Blaming affluence for crime? That's a bit rich

David Lammy's `explanation' for the teenage stabbings in London is a pointed attack on aspiration and prosperity.

The stabbing of Nilanthan Murddi in Croydon last weekend brought the number of teenagers who have met a violent death in London this year to 23. This spate of attacks seems to bring out the pop sociologist in MPs and newspaper columnists. Rather than interpreting such grim incidents as rare, isolated crimes, there's a tendency to imagine an all-encompassing social influence on which to hang a catch-all explanation.

David Lammy, described by some as the nearest British equivalent to Barack Obama, and by everyone else as a New Labour hack, has put forward his own theory - and it's a pretty trite one. Writing in the current issue of British political weekly the New Statesman, Lammy, the parliamentary under-secretary for innovation, universities and skills, believes he has identified the root `causes' of teen-on-teen male violence: the influence of consumerism and affluence, and the lack of identifiable `role models' for young men.

Now, whenever I hear the phrase `lack of role models', I'm tempted to reach for an illegal firearm myself. It's one of those banal, daytime TV platitudes that suggests young people are simply passive automatons waiting for the correct `on-message' individual to point them in the right direction. In education circles, this sort of thinking is everywhere. There's a genuine belief that, say, if black boys were taught by black, male teachers (the much-fabled `role models'), they would make better progress at school. Lammy expands on this simplistic and wrong-headed notion to suggest that if only there were more male teachers in primary schools, then boys would grow up to `identify' with more `acceptable' ideas of masculinity. And apparently, this would lead to less anti-social behaviour on the streets of London. Fantastic!

But teenage boys aren't likely to behave or perform better if their teacher wears trousers or has the same skin colour. Teenagers of all stripes will seek to be oppositional to any teacher in order to undermine them and attempt to exert control in the classroom. This is partly because teenagers crave autonomy and independence and will thus instinctively see how far they can push against `the line'. What a teacher looks like isn't remotely a determining factor on pupil behaviour or academic performance.

Of course, it's essential that adults do play a role in socialising teenagers into adulthood. But that process isn't based on ticking gender or ethnic group boxes, but on the ideas and knowledge of adults and how they articulate them. If there's an identifiable problem today, it is that society lacks a confident set of ideas and a recognisable adult framework through which teenagers can be socialised. Lammy is on to something when he says some teens are prone to outbursts of emotionalism and infantilism today, but he is less forthcoming in identifying his own political party's role in contributing to the current culture of blubbering emotionalism as well as infantilising teenagers.

Incredibly, even though she was UK prime minister before many of today's teenagers were born, Lammy insists that Margaret Thatcher is somehow to blame for anti-social behaviour. What he implies is that Thatcher's supposed blueprint for a 'consumer society' has turned today's generation into selfish, amoral monsters. Traditionally, the left always cited grinding poverty as a contributing influence on anti-social behaviour; now the likes of Lammy are insisting that affluence and materialism are leading youngsters astray.

Lammy quotes an allegedly popular saying amongst today's youth - `get rich or die trying' (itself the title of the debut album of American rapper 50 Cent) as proof that they are morally bankrupt. But since when was it advisable to take youthful bravado at face value? And is simply saying such a thing really the same as being an underworld crime lord? It is conveniently forgotten how most young rap fans see through the absurdity of hip-hop's pantomime excesses. At a further education college in Hackney where I once taught, the `rapper' most of the kids were obsessed with wasn't Tupac Shakur, but Fur Q - Chris Morris' spoof gangsta rapper in satirical TV comedy The Day Today.

Rather disgracefully, it seems Lammy is using the bogus cover of bling-bling rap to demonise consumption and the everyday, normal desire for prosperity. In this way, Lammy is following psychologist Oliver James' cranky idea that material aspiration is a pathological problem in need of therapeutic correction. And to this end, Lammy is proposing tighter regulation on the types of advertisements, films and videos that young people might watch and be influenced by. He also implies that the state should be barging its way even further into the family home and supervising how parents raise their children.

To pathologise healthy consumption is one thing, but Lammy wants to go one step further and criminalise it as well. His crass implication is that affluent societies such as Britain, and our attendant `culture of consumerism', lead inexorably to violent attacks and even murder by our young. Thus, endless consumption somehow creates selfish and feckless individuals who don't appreciate the value of human life. This is tantamount to blackmailing poorer sections in society to keep their heads down and `make do' with hardship, lest material aspiration sends their errant offspring on a random killing spree.

Sociologists such as Stanley Cohen also made the connections between the cultural influence of `the American dream' and how some people in US society achieved that goal through organised crime. But for Cohen and others, that was not a justification for slamming material aspiration, but rather showed how `conventional' routes to success are closed off to certain sections in society.

Lammy's argument also doesn't add up on closer inspection of the murders involving teenagers in London. On the whole, the incidents reported did not feature street robberies that have gone horrifically wrong. More often than not, they involved petty arguments amongst groups of youths that spilled over into fights and fatal stabbings. As dreadful and shocking as these incidents are, street fights and casual violence amongst young people are hardly a new phenomenon. As Mick Hume has argued, the amplification of street crime into a generalised threat means that more teenagers are more likely to carry knives than before - and with sometimes tragic consequences (see Knife crime panic reaches crisis point).

The logic of Lammy's anti-consumption, anti-prosperity argument doesn't add up in another way, too: if rich societies automatically raise feckless and amoral thugs, then how come the number of murdered teenagers is far higher in poorer countries like Brazil or Mexico? Surely the lack of affluence and consumption in those country's shanty towns should mean they are harmonious and trouble-free places, at least in Lammy's worldview? The fact that the teen murder rate in those areas runs into the thousands, rather than double figures, suggests that it is still miserable poverty that has a destructive impact on young people's lives. This doesn't simply translate as poverty forcing people to rob others; but it shows how poverty fuels listless boredom as well as generating a fatalistic and even nihilistic outlook on life in general.

Far from materialism leading to a breakdown in morals, as Lammy disingenuously argues, material prosperity enables people to develop morally as well as intellectually. It provides the very basis through which individuals can begin to live like humans and not act like animals. Instead, Lammy attempts to turn reality on its head and blackmails the poor into accepting their miserable lot in the process. To put this forward as a proposal for combating random and rare violent crime, well, Lammy's a bit rich for even trying.


Against all booze bans

There have always been different social rules for drinking in public: sometimes it's okay, at other times it is definitely not. In some places, sipping beer in the street is considered acceptable and sociable; in other places, it marks you out as a disrespectful low-life.

Over the past few years, though, cracking open a can in the street became not just rude, but illegal. For the first time in Britain, police gained powers to confiscate your bottle of lager or wine, or to ask you to tip it down the drain, and to arrest you if you refused to comply. The state became the arbiter on a question of social etiquette that had previously been decided by individuals and communities themselves.

The new London mayor Boris Johnson's ban on Tube drinking is an infamous case, but the illiberal regulation of public drinking now stretches the world over. Booze bans have cast a shadow over both the Fourth of July celebrations on San Diego beach and the Christmas celebrations on Australia's Bondi beach - these traditionally jolly festive occasions now continue only under the cloud of prohibition.

The land of Hogmanay has fared no better. Drink was banned from many Scottish town centres and beaches this summer, after the Scottish Executive pressured councils to pass booze-banning bylaws covering particular areas. These draconian laws are now pasted on lampposts throughout Scotland: one bans people from carrying around an empty drinks carton, while another prohibits carrying a drinks container `when it could be reasonably assumed they would want to drink it in a "designated public place"' (1).

Areas of towns and cities in the Czech Republic are designated no-drinking; New Zealand has gone so far as to ban driving through `no-drink zones' if you have booze in the boot of your car (police officers say they have the right to stop and search, though if you are caught red-handed you have the option of tipping it down the drain, which is very generous of them) (2).

It was in opposition to this trend that the Manifesto Club - the organisation I head - launched the Campaign Against the Booze Bans. We set up a campaign Facebook group, where more than a thousand people from all over the world have registered their objection to booze bans. In a week's time, on Bank Holiday Monday, we will launch a report on the rise of booze bans at our Provocation Picnic in Hyde Park, London.

The right to drink in public may not be considered a classic civil liberties issue, such as the right to free speech or the right to protest - but it is just as important now. In many ways, the regulation of public drinking is a litmus test for the state of public freedoms. With the erosion of the right to drink, we see how public space is being organised more around the whims of police officers, and less around the desires and morals of free citizens.

In the UK over the past few years, there has been a creeping growth of drinking-control legislation. Where communities once set the rules on when and where one could crack open a can, police officers and councillors now write those rules from scratch.

Booze bans first started in the late 1980s, when some councils - such as Coventry - passed bylaws against public drinking. But these laws were sporadically enforced, and police officers had no powers of arrest. In 1997, the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act gave police powers to confiscate alcohol and containers from under-18s. This law was extended from minors to adults in 2001: the Criminal Justice and Police Act introduced Designated Public Place Orders (DPPOs), which allowed officers to confiscate drink from adults, and gave powers of arrest if the person refused to surrender their can or bottle.

At first, DPPOs grew only gradually, but from 2004 they started to take off rapidly with a rush of applications from councils and police forces for the right to confiscate booze from local residents. There are now 613 Designated Public Place Orders in England and Wales, covering parks, stations and beaches the length and breadth of the country (3). Every new drinking control zone seems to create more, as councils emulate each other's regulations, and zones are extended bit by bit throughout towns and cities.

Meanwhile, government legislation has tightened. The 2003 Licensing Act allowed `sealed' as well as open alcohol containers to be confiscated; it also allowed for an emergency blanket ban on alcohol (police recently showed off this power when they threatened to shut down all pubs and off licenses in Torbay in July 2008, after the idea of a beach party was floated on Facebook) (4).

These new regulations don't reflect a switch in public morals, but a switch in the ideology of the state. The control of public drinking is really the result of officials' concerns about social order, their fear of uninhibited groups of people. They look at unregulated groups relaxing and drinking in public and imagine a threat to law, civilisation, and much else besides.

We start to see the return of a very nineteenth-century idea: that crime is the result of unruly and uninhibited crowds. Police have implicated public boozing in crimes ranging from murder to domestic violence to robbery. Inspector Colin Mowat from Aberdeenshire said that bans on public drinking could help stop `under-age drinking, drink-driving, domestic abuse and street disorder' (5); after the 2007 murder of Cheshire man Gary Newlove by a gang of drunk youths, the leading police officer called for a blanket ban on public drinking (6). The role of the police is exposed for all to see: not just to identify and prosecute for criminal offences, but also to control and manage groups of people.

Booze control laws are produced entirely from above, and as such they are erratically enforced. There are few guidelines for how the police should use their drinking-confiscation powers, so they tend to use them as they please. During the Merseyside Police's Operation Beach Safe, officers decided to confiscate booze at the beach entrance in June 2008. Richard Clarke, acting sergeant of Operation Beach Safe, welcomed visitors with the words `If you're coming to the beach to drink don't bother, go and drink in your gardens or somewhere else', and his officers posed for trophy photos with their confiscated cans of Fosters (7).

Police also take alcohol away from people they think of as troublesome types - younger people, football supporters, or alcoholics - and, unlike with an arrest for a crime, they have no obligation to justify their actions. If you contest an officer's request to tip your Carling down a drain, you are committing an offence and could be arrested and fined up to $1,000. There is no luxury of a defence lawyer.

One post on our Facebook wall discusses the uneven-handed way in which drinking controls are applied in Brighton: `Here. the booze ban, extends to basically the homeless. Community Support Officers [CSOs] do not take drink off you on the beach and ignore you basically if you look well-to-do. One homeless man I met the other day says he had his unopened can of cider in his pocket taken from him by CSOs because they "thought" he was "about to" or had "reason to believe" he would drink it in a public place. He was on his way to drink it at his hostel!' (8)

This shows how the police are playing fast and loose with these powers. At the Manifesto Club, we call for these drinking laws to be challenged and rolled back, and for police powers to be kept on a very tight leash. This is not so much a campaign for public drinking, as a campaign for the public to set the rules for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Basically, for Community Support Officers to butt out of communities.

If you are free on Bank Holiday in London, join us for a drink and picnic in the park. It may not always be the done thing to crack open a can in public, but it should never be illegal.


The private sector could save British schools

I wouldn't want to frighten the horses this early in the day, or cause you to choke on your All-Bran, but I have to admit to always having had a sneaking regard for Lord Adonis, the education minister. This is partly based on my belief that he is not stupid, and is genuinely motivated to improve our schools system. Also, I have had surprisingly good reports of him from several headmasters at our leading public schools.

How my heart sank, therefore, when, in trying to divert attention from the fact that a large proportion of our youth leaves school without anything approaching a qualification in either maths or English, he came up with the traditional, and very unclever, PR line: that any criticism of the GCSE results was an insult to those students who had worked so hard to get "good grades". This mantra was designed some years ago - I first heard it when our would-be prime minister David Miliband was a schools minister - to stop people like me from being rude about these increasingly devalued qualifications. Sadly, we won't be stopped.

If a grade A at A-level these days is the same as a grade C 20 years ago, then heaven knows what a GCSE pass represents in terms of the old O-level. The ability to turn up and write your name without too many mistakes in it seems nearly enough in several subjects: this year's pass rate is an otherwise improbable 98.4 per cent.

I do not insult children who have just piled up GCSE passes, for they are the victims of the system. But it is important that they and their parents realise that having a clutch of A* results does not make the holder the next Einstein. And having a pile of less exalted passes means that, in the days when their parents were taking O levels, they probably wouldn't have passed any.

As I mentioned last week when writing about A-levels, the reasons for this - and for Lord Adonis's embarrassment - are clear. The pass rate is set so low because in many cases the teaching these children get, and the schools in which they attempt to learn, are awful. This is the Government's fault. It has devalued teaching systematically over the years with the result that only the most saintly and vocational of high-quality people now wish to enter it. Many that do find the experience of teaching in one of our comprehensive schools so demoralising that they soon clear off and do something else. Teachers are routinely assaulted and abused by pupils and by their parents.

Not only is there barely any discipline, there are not the means to enforce discipline. The children, meanwhile are left to the attentions of a series of supply teachers, with whom they can never form the relationship needed for successful learning, or to the products of our Marxist-inspired teacher training colleges. God help them, for no one else will.

When the whining starts about the "inequality" between private and state schools, it is not said often enough that it is hardly about money. It is about the quality of teachers in the private sector, many of whom have not been soiled by the state teacher training system, and who are given the means to do their jobs properly. It is also about supportive parents - supportive both of the child and of the teacher. Above all, it is about an attitude towards learning that seems not to exist in much of the public sector, where teachers are forced to be a combination of child minders and social workers.

If Lord Adonis wants to put this right, the route appears simple. He should ask the private schools to use their expertise to set up schools to replace those that are failing. He should pay them to run them and give them carte blanche to manage them.

More here

Don't blame parents for `cotton-wool kids'

Comment from Britain

Today is Playday, a celebration of children's `right to play' - and an ideal time to have a kickabout with the culture of fear that imprisons our kids

An ICM survey commissioned by Play England for Playday - the annual celebration of children's right to play, which takes place today, 6 August - reportedly shows that over-cautious parents are `spoiling' children's playtime. `Children are being denied adventurous play because their parents are nervous about exposing them to risk', warns BBC News (1).

The Playday poll shows that half of children aged 7 to 12 years (51 per cent) are not allowed to climb a tree without adult supervision, and 42 per cent are not allowed to play in their local park without an adult present.

`Constantly wrapping children in cotton wool can leave them ill-equipped to deal with stressful or challenging situations they might encounter later in life', said Adrian Voce, director of Play England, a charity that promotes `free play opportunities'. `Adventurous play both challenges and excites children and helps instil critical life skills,' he said.

According to Play England, this year's Playday theme - `Give us a go!' - highlights children's need to `experience risky and challenging play' in order to ensure they are able to `manage risk in their daily lives' (2). Playday is supported by Persil, the washing powder manufacturer, whose website says the aim is `to shake off the "cotton wool" culture that can limit children's play' (3).

These are commendable aims. There is a real danger that by cocooning, over-protecting and over-supervising children, society might be denying the next generation the opportunity to grow up and become capable, confident adults. This is one of the reasons I decided to write Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear, which will be published early next year in the UK and the US (4). I feel strongly that children are losing out on many childhood experiences that my generation took for granted.

Children need space away from adults' watchful eyes - in order to play, experiment, take risks (within a sensible framework provided by adults), test boundaries, have arguments, fight, and learn how to resolve conflicts. Today, they are increasingly denied these opportunities.

But I also feel that in pinning the blame on individual parents and their `over-cautious' anxieties, as Play England is doing today, those who decry the decline of outdoor play are being unfair - and naive. The cause of the cotton-wool kids phenomenon is a broader cultural obsession with risk, which has had a major impact upon policymakers, public institutions and media debate, as well as upon teachers and parents. And in challenging this culture, it is important to be clear about where the real problem lies, and to resist pat explanations for its cause.

In his book Paranoid Parenting, spiked writer and sociologist Professor Frank Furedi described the culture of fear that has led parents to restrict their children's freedom to roam. He showed that parental fears must be understood in the context of a generalised sense of anxiety and risk-aversion, which is particularly strong when it comes to the lives and futures of children.

The fact is that parents are continually told to be `better safe than sorry', and it is far from easy for parents to go against the grain and give their children more freedom than society currently deems acceptable. In April 2008, the New York Sun columnist Lenore Skenazy wrote an article entitled `Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride The Subway Alone'. She gave her son a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, `just in case he had to make a call', waved him goodbye, and told him she'd see him at home.

She wrote: `I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn't do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, "Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I'll abduct this adorable child instead."' (5)

Skenazy later described how she suddenly became `a lightning rod in the parenting wars': `Mention my story and millions of people not only know about it, they have a very strong opinion about it, and me, and my parenting skills - or utter, shameful lack thereof.' In an interview with spiked in April, she described how she became branded `America's worst mom' simply for allowing her child to do what most people her age had done routinely when they were young.

But there were also many parents who applauded her decision to let her son travel alone. In her spiked interview, Skenazy stressed that many people reacted positively to her column. She has now set up a blog - Free Range Kids - which is filled with stories from parents who give their children the freedom to do things on their own, and with the concerns of parents who would like to give their kids more freedom, but don't (see `I've been labelled the world's worst mom', by Nancy McDermott).

The root of the problem is not parental fears but the fact that parents are continually discouraged from entrusting their children to other adults. In the UK, it is a crime to work with children without first being vetted by the authorities. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which was passed into law in England and Wales in 2006, requires that millions of adults whose work involves coming into contact with children must undergo Criminal Records Bureau checks. The message this gives to parents and children is to be suspicious of any adult who comes into contact with young people.

Also, it is almost impossible in Britain today to take photos of one's children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews in public places if they are surrounded by other children. The rules governing the use of cameras and camera-phones in swimming pools, parks, at children's parties, pantomimes, school sports days and any other place where children might be present are ubiquitous, and strictly enforced. The kind of photos that have traditionally appeared in many a family album are now treated as being akin to potential child pornography.

In this climate of institutionalised fear and suspicion, it is little wonder that parents do not feel confident about letting their children play unsupervised in the streets or in local parks - especially when it is assumed by many that any parent who does let their child run around is a Bad Parent, and possibly the `worst mom in the world'.

Ultimately parents will only give children the independence they need if they have sufficient trust in other adults - trust in them not to harm their children, but to look out for them. When we grew up our parents assumed that if we got into trouble, other adults - often strangers - would help out. Today that trust does not exist - or, at least, it has been seriously damaged by government policy, media debate and a rising culture of suspicion towards adults' motives.

Only by challenging the safety-obsessed culture that depicts every adult as a potential threat can we start to build a better future - and present - for our children and ourselves. Today's Playday should involve a lot of fun and freedom for children, which is great; let us now build on it by standing up to the paralysing climate of fear and make every day a Playday for youngsters.


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