Saturday, November 08, 2008

Britain offers high school qualifications in in how to read a tram timetable

Headmistress says drive to make lessons fun is 'cheating our children'

Thousands of students taking English are being asked to study tram timetables as part of dumbed down A-level exams, an adviser to Prince Charles warns today. Bernice McCabe, who is also a leading headmistress, said the drive to make lessons 'relevant' and 'fun' is leaving a generation of children intellectually impoverished. She warned that standards have degenerated so far that the current A-level English syllabus offered by the country's biggest exam board requires the study of a Manchester Metrolink tram timetable. Examiners propose in future to include a bus pass.

In a keynote speech today to the Prince's Teaching Institute, Mrs McCabe will warn that traditional subjects and bodies of knowledge are being sidelined in favour of 'woolly' teaching theories promoted by Government curriculum advisers. Pupils are being robbed of their cultural heritage, and denied opportunities to study great literature and history, because schools are increasingly expected to teach vague 'skills' and make lessons 'accessible'. In fact, pupils enjoy being challenged and often relish problem-solving, she will say.

Mrs McCabe, who is head of North London Collegiate School, a girls' private school which regularly tops exam league tables, will single out an English language and literature AS-level syllabus drawn up by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance exam board. It is accompanied by an anthology of study materials which includes a Manchester Metrolink tram guide, a British passport and a holiday postcard. Pupils are asked to draw on the anthology to answer questions on 'travel, transport and locomotion' in an A-level unit worth up to a quarter of the marks. One contributor to an online teachers' forum said: 'Only just got a copy on Friday and would welcome some ideas. Don't let the Daily Mail see it, huh?'

Mrs McCabe, who was approached by St James Palace in 2001 to help set up summer schools for teachers, said: 'By far the most serious consequence of this emphasis on functionality in education policy is that it may lead to the cultural and intellectual impoverishment of a generation of school children.' She said subject teachers were being 'thwarted' and 'frustrated' by a 'pervasive philosophy' championed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. 'The aim, they state, is to create "successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens",' she said. 'It is hard to quarrel with any aspect of these aspirations except the most important one: their woolliness. They say nothing at all about what children should be learning.'

Mrs McCabe's concerns are known to be shared by the Prince of Wales, who set up the teaching institute to promote effective subject teaching. An AQA spokesman said: 'The purpose of the unit is to allow candidates to study a range of thematically-linked texts. 'The texts cover the three major literary genres and a range of non-literary texts. The tram guide is just one of the non-literary texts and amongst the literary texts are pieces by Samuel Johnson, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.'


British choking on their "recycled" garbage

Thousands of tonnes of rubbish collected from household recycling bins may have to be stored in warehouses and former military bases to save them from being dumped after a collapse in prices. Collection companies and councils are running out of space to store paper, plastic bottles and steel cans because prices are so low that the materials cannot be shifted. Collections of mixed plastics, mixed paper and steel reached record levels in the summer but the "bottom fell out of the market" and they are now worthless. The plunge in prices was caused by a sudden fall in demand for recycled materials, especially from China, as manufacturers reduced their output in line with the global economc downturn.

Local authorities and collection companies are so concerned about the mountains of paper, plastic bottles and cans that they are having to store that they have called for storage regulations to be eased. Officials from the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are considering changing the regulations on the storage of recycled waste and are expected to issue new guidelines next week. They have been urged to relax the rules limiting the quantity of waste that can be stored and to allow it to be kept in secure warehouses or abandoned military bases and former airfields.

Steve Eminton, of, said: "Warehouses around Britain could start to be filled with waste paper, metal and plastic bottles. There's nowhere for these materials to go at the moment. It's rapidly becoming a very serious problem." He said that mountains of plastic bottles, paper and steel cans were likely to build up by the end of the year and that the problem would be exacerbated by the Christmas festivities, when a surge of packaging materials and drinks containers would fill recycling bins.

The speed at which prices collapsed has taken the recycling industry and local authorities by surprise and has been made worse because recycling rates are at record levels. Jane Kennedy, the Environment Minister, will announce this morning that more than 90 per cent of local authorities are meeting or exceeding their household recycling targets. East Lindsey District Council has the highest recycling rate, with 58.4 per cent of all household rubbish, and 18 other authorities exceeded 50 per cent.

Stuart Foster, of Recoup, which advises on plastic recycling, said that mixed plastics had slumped from about $400 a tonne to the point of worthlessness in only four weeks. He was confident, however, that the low value would be temporary as at least three mixed-plastic facilities will open next year, reducing the nation's dependence on Chinese demand. Mr Foster urged officials to be flexible on the regulations and said that with sensible management the plastic, paper and steel could be stored safely until prices rise. "We think there's light at the end of the tunnel but it's going to take some work," he said.

Staff at Waste Resources Action Programme (Wrap) and the Local Government Association have begun investigating the extent of the problem. A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: "The credit crunch has caused prices to fall in the materials and market and clearly this potentially has implications for councils." Steve Creed, of Wrap, said: "We think the current extremely low prices are likely to be temporary. Recovered materials are still a valuable resource. They have undergone similar price volatility in the past."


Nasty British bureaucrats again

Street market inspectors were ordered to target a convicted "metric martyr" and his sister while ignoring other traders working in pounds and ounces because council officers wanted to "teach them a lesson"

Three former Hackney Council inspectors have told how they were instructed to single out Colin Hunt, 60 - one of the original metric martyrs - and his sister, Janet Devers, 64, for "enforcement action" because the pair had campaigned against the ban on imperial measurements. One ex-inspector, who worked for Hackney for four years, said: "The manager told us that we had to teach Janet and Colin a lesson and focus our enforcement efforts on them rather than any other traders who used imperial measures or sold goods by the bowl. We knew it wasn't fair, but if we objected the managers just said we should do as we were told. They made it clear that we had to pick on Janet and Colin even though they are good traders with a long history in the market."

Mr Hunt was convicted of using imperial measures in 2001 and fought an unsuccessful High Court battle on the issue in 2002. Mrs Devers was last month convicted on eight similar charges by Thames magistrates last month - a case that prompted the Government to announce new guidelines that would effectively ban such prosecutions for "essentially minor offences". However, the use of imperial weights remains technically illegal.

The Sunday Telegraph is now campaigning for a change in the law, to ensure that retailers are allowed to sell food in pounds and ounces. The campaign has been backed by a wide range of public figures, including former Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit, explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and the actor Edward Fox.

Mrs Devers, who faces three further charges at Snaresbrook Crown Court in January, lodged an appeal against her convictions last week.

Another former inspector, Mohammed Serdouk, who monitored the Ridley Road market, in east London, said his bosses had ordered him to impose regulations and bylaws on Mr Hunt "many times, to the point that it made me feel he was particularly singled out to the point of harassment and making an example of him." Mr Serdouk has now written a letter to the family, offering support, in which he wrote: "The application of these measures and the way they were carried out was unwarranted, needlessly unproductive and detrimental to the spirit of collaboration. "I am certain that if those measures were applied across the market, without victims, Mr Hunt would be a supporter and advocate in bettering the situation in Ridley Road market." The letter may be used as a witness statement in any future court hearings.

Another former inspector, who left the council earlier this year, told this newspaper: "Colin Hunt and Janet Devers were definitely the focus of the council's enforcement action in Ridley Road market. It was made clear to me that they were on the radar and we should keep a close eye on them." In his letter of support for Mr Hunt, he added: "My immediate managers singled out Mr Hunt and directed market inspectors to pay particular attention to him by way of taking enforcement action against him. "I feel Mr Hunt has certainly not received fair treatment and this is certainly not in the true spirit of the council's policy in working with traders and the traders association."

Mrs Devers, whose family have run market stalls in east London for more than 70 years, said: "We always suspected that we were being targeted by the council and these revelations show that we were right. The inspectors were told to make our lives difficult. "It's absolutely disgraceful. Thousands of market traders all over the country are doing the same thing as us and yet we were the ones who were prosecuted. "There are far more serious problems at Ridley Road market and elsewhere in Hackney but the council decides to waste taxpayers' money prosecuting people for weighing vegetables in pounds and ounces and selling goods by the bowl - something the Government now says councils shouldn't do."

Mr Hunt said: "I have been the target of these enforcement visits for seven years and in the past 18 months they have gone for my sister Janet as well. No other traders have been targeted in this way."

Neil Herron, director of the Metric Martyrs campaign which is also fighting for a change in the law to make it legal to sell good in pounds and ounces, said: "We thought it was more than coincidence that two of the five metric martyrs who have been prosecuted were from the same market and just happened to be brother and sister. "Now we know it is more than coincidence - and the evidence has come from the very inspectors who were ordered to be on the front line of the campaign against Janet and Colin." Mr Herron called for "a full internal inquiry into exactly what went on at Hackney council trading standards".

A spokesman for Hackney council said: "Trading Standards have taken formal action against 10 traders on Ridley Road Market for similar offences of deliberately omitting prices and quantities on produce. "The punishments have ranged from simple cautions to prosecutions where fines and costs have been awarded." The spokesman declined to comment on Mrs Devers' appeal.




For years David Bellamy was one of the best known faces on TV. A respected botanist and the author of 35 books, he had presented around 400 programmes over the years and was appreciated by audiences for his boundless enthusiasm. Yet for more than 10 years he has been out of the limelight, shunned by bosses at the BBC where he made his name, as well as fellow scientists and environmentalists. His crime? Bellamy says he doesn't believe in man-made global warming. Here he reveals why - and the price he has paid for not toeing the orthodox line on climate change. "When I first stuck my head above the parapet to say I didn't believe what we were being told about global warming I had no idea what the consequences would be.

I am a scientist and I have to follow the directions of science but when I see that the truth is being covered up I have to voice my opinions. According to official data, in every year since 1998 world temperatures have been getting colder, and in 2002 Arctic ice actually increased. Why, then, do we not hear about that? The sad fact is that since I said I didn't believe human beings caused global warming I've not been allowed to make a TV programme. [.] The idiot fringe have accused me of being like a Holocaust denier, which is ludicrous. Climate change is all about cycles, it's a natural thing and has always happened.

When the Romans lived in Britain they were growing very good red grapes and making wine on the borders of Scotland. It was evidently a lot warmer. If you were sitting next to me 10,000 years ago we'd be under ice. So thank God for global warming for ending that ice age; we wouldn't be here otherwise. People such as former American Vice-President Al Gore say that millions of us will die because of global warming - which I think is a pretty stupid thing to say if you've got no proof. And my opinion is that there is absolutely no proof that carbon dioxide is anything to do with any impending catastrophe.

The science has, quite simply, gone awry. In fact, it's not even science any more, it's anti-science. [.] The thing that annoys me most is that there are genuine environmental problems that desperately require attention. I'm still an environmentalist, I'm still a Green and I'm still campaigning to stop the destruction of the biodiversity of the world. But money will be wasted on trying to solve this global warming "problem" that I would much rather was used for looking after the people of the world.

More here

A perfect day to blow up the nanny state

The cost of protecting children from death is too high when it means that millions lose the chance of enjoying themselves

No one knows who the stupidest parent in Australia is. But, whoever he is, the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau (AASB) has saved his child from a fatal car accident. It did this last year by banning a television advertisement that shows a toddler in nappies driving a four-wheel-drive Hyundai. The AASB deemed the image too dangerous to broadcast. Upon seeing it, Australia's dumbest parent may be inclined to toss his two-year-old the car keys and ask her to pop down the shops for some ciggies.

The commercial was made in New Zealand, where it had already run for many months. Surveys revealed it to be the most popular in the country and, as yet, no toddler has been found out and about in charge of the family car. The AASB, however, was unimpressed by this evidence. After all, the stupidest Australian is surely stupider than the stupidest New Zealander, if only because there are five times as many Australians to choose from. In a population of 20million, there just might be a child saved by this ruling.

Nevertheless, the ruling was wrong. The AASB should have let the child die. It is worth it for the fun of watching an amusing advert. Some will find the idea of sacrificing a child for the sake of a little entertainment objectionable. But it is not a little entertainment. When millions of people are entertained a little, that is a lot of entertainment - easily worth the life of a child.

"No amount of entertainment is worth the life of a child!" This is perfect political rhetoric, guaranteed to get the Question Time studio audience clapping their support. But it also explains why that same audience is beset by so much "nanny state gone mad" regulation. What's more, it is wrong. Anyone who thinks that no amount entertainment is worth the life of a child either overvalues children or undervalues entertainment.

Start with children. How much is it worth spending to save one? The precise amount is not as important as taking the question seriously. Children are not priceless. In a world of limited resources, nothing is. Any money spent on saving a child is money not spent on something else, including saving other children. Above a certain price, saving a child does more harm than good; the money would be better spent on something else.

The Government agrees, not just about children but about people generally. For example, when deciding whether or not to spend money on improving the safety of Britain's roads, it uses a "value of a statistical life" of about o1.5million. If a road improvement that would save only one person costs more than this, the Department for Transport prefers to let him die. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) uses similar reasoning to decide which medical treatments should be offered through the NHS. If a treatment costs more than it is worth in "quality adjusted life years", we do not get it. If the price is right, nanny is rightly willing to sacrifice her children. She is overprotective not because she cares too much for our lives, but because she cares too little for our fun.

Take fireworks. In 1997 our representatives banned the mini sky rockets and erratic flight fireworks that I used to spend my pocket money on. And in 2004 they made it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 either to buy fireworks or to possess them in a public place. What is the cost of this regulation in lost fun? If my well spent youth is any indication, the cost is enormous. I adored early November: buying the fireworks, hoarding them in my bedroom armoury and then letting them off on Guy Fawkes Night, often in public places. More fun than Christmas, and far better than the pansyish nonsense that passes for entertainment these days, such as watching "reality" on TV.

I would gladly pay $200 more for this forbidden fun than for the watered-down version that the Government now allows children. If only a million British children (10 per cent of them) would enjoy it equally, our fireworks legislation costs $200 million a year in lost fun. Is it worth more than this in reduced death and injury? In the five years before the 1997 legislation, fireworks killed one person a year and injured 1,500. Most fireworks injuries are minor, but let us be generous and say that the average injury was the kind that you would be willing to spend $20,000 to avoid. If the legislation halved the number of injuries and avoided every death, that is a benefit of only $18 million a year.

Let us not dwell on the numbers. The problem is not one of precision. Our regulators do not even try to calculate the value of the fun they forbid. When they banned adults from taking more than two children to a public swimming pool, did they calculate the cost in enjoyable outings that children will miss? When they outlawed Ecstasy, did they take account of the ecstasy that law-abiding citizens would be denied?

We have only nanny's inconsistency to thank that skiing, rugby, oral sex and all the other risks we take for the sake of pleasure are not illegal. But we cannot rely on inconsistency, especially when the regulatory trend is so clear. We need legislators who recognise that joyless immortality is neither possible nor desirable, and who can hold their nerve even when confronted with dead children.


Black British racing-car driver mocked by Spanish fans

Spanish sports fans are well known for mocking representatives of opposing teams in most sports. And they particularly dislike black sportsmen playing for predominantly white countries. They seem to see that as unfair or not properly representative so they abuse such sportsmen in various ways, shouting "monkey" at them etc.

Lewis Hamilton is a British champion racing car driver who looks a lot like Obama and is also of mixed parentage. So when Lewis Hamilton raced recently in Spain, some mockery was to be expected. Some fans wore blackface makeup and Afro wigs and some racist slurs were "clearly heard".

Bernard Ecclestone, an elderly British racing car boss, is a man from a more robust era when men were expected to take a fair bit of joshing without bursting into tears. He was apparently present during the race and was not offended by what went on. So we read:
"Bernie Ecclestone was accused of condoning the racist abuse of Lewis Hamilton last night as the controversy over the treatment of Britain's new world champion roared back to life... A leading anti-racist pressure group accused Ecclestone of setting a "shocking and disgraceful" example after the Formula One commercial rights holder said that he regarded the conduct of fans who taunted Hamilton in Barcelona this year as "a bit of a joke".

Hamilton, however, said that he did not consider funny the behaviour of Spanish fans - who hurled abuse at him, blacked up their faces and wore wigs plus T-shirts inscribed with the legend "Hamilton's family".


It sounds to me that some attention-seeking "activists" have revived what was seen as a fairly minor problem at the time.

Grandfather dies after SIX NHS doctors fail to spot he had a broken back

Nobody cares about you when you get into the hands of the NHS. Getting you off their hands is the main priority

A grandfather died in agony after six doctors at two hospitals failed to spot that he had broken his spine. Neville Caplan, 70, fell while babysitting for his son and was taken to casualty. But he was sent home with painkillers and antibiotics without the injury being detected. A few days later, in worsening pain, he was admitted to his local hospital, but again doctors failed to realise how badly hurt he was. By the time scans finally revealed a broken vertebra he was too ill for lifesaving surgery, and he died three days later.

Today, his family said they were horrified to learn how his injury had been overlooked for so long, adding that they were 'devastated by such an unnecessary death'. They said they would be seeking compensation for his ordeal.

Mr Caplan, a retired pastry chef, was described as 'fit and healthy'. A keen walker, he cared for his wife, Cynthia. He slipped on the stairs while at his son Jeff's house in Hale, Greater Manchester. At Wythenshawe Hospital, he was X-rayed and diagnosed with mild pneumonia, broken ribs and a sprained ankle then sent home.

Mr Caplan died four years ago. This week, an inquest heard that although he was seen by three doctors, one of them a radiologist, no one asked about his spondylitis, a long-term spinal condition that made him vulnerable to back injuries. When his X-rays were re-examined and found to be 'technically inadequate', they were not redone. Meanwhile, Mr Caplan was back at his home in Prestwich, spending his days sleeping on a chair in increasing pain.

After five days, he was admitted to North Manchester General Hospital complaining of breathing difficulties and pressure on his spinal cord. Again he was seen by a radiologist and two other doctors who all failed to spot the spinal injury. It was not until around two weeks later that the fracture was detected by scans, but by then he was too ill for surgery. Mr Caplan died on December 4, 2004. The cause of death was a third bout of bronchopneumonia, caused by his spine and chest injuries.

Mr Caplan's son told the inquest in Manchester that nurses at the second hospital 'dropped' the pensioner while trying to guide him, exacerbating his spinal fracture.

Coroner Nigel Meadows asked spinal surgeon Saeed Mohammed, an independent expert, whether he agreed that Mr Caplan could have been saved if he had been correctly diagnosed and operated upon sooner. He replied: 'Correct.'

Dr Darren Walter, a consultant at Wythenshawe Hospital, said that chest X-rays on the day of Mr Caplan's accident would have been unlikely to have revealed the spinal injury, even if they had been clear. Dr Howard Klass, a consultant at North Manchester General, said: 'There was nothing clinically for us to suspect that he had a fracture or spinal cord compression.'

Recording a narrative verdict, the coroner said: 'Everyone who treated him tried to do the very best for him. It was unfortunate that the original fracture was not diagnosed, nor the history of spondylitis.'

Afterwards Jeff Caplan, 51, said: 'My mother, sisters and myself are devastated by such an unnecessary death. He should still be here. 'It's now in the hands of our lawyers. Compensation would be the logical next step.'

Wythenshawe Hospital said it apologised to Mr Caplan's family for the fact that his care had fallen below the high standard to which he was entitled. North Manchester General declined to comment because of the legal action.


British security chief quits over failure to check his own staff: "The boss of the Government agency that vets security guards quit his $200,000-a-year job last night after admitting some of his own staff did not have proper clearance. Mike Wilson was forced out after 14 months as chief executive of the Security Industry Authority, which has licensed more than 40,000 guards in four years. The Home Office is reviewing all decisions made by staff who were not vetted for criminal records or immigration status. Seven did not have clearance. At least one has since failed a security check. It will check if guards passed to work in posts such as pubs or Government sites were wrongly cleared. Last year, the authority was found to have cleared more than 7,000 illegal immigrants to work as guards and last month, the National Audit Office accused it of overspending by $34 million.

British injustice: "Drivers who challenge speeding fines should be made to pay their legal bills even if they win their case, ministers said yesterday. The proposal would see successful defendants lose their century-old right to claim back their costs. A change in the law would affect many of the 1.7million drivers a year who take their cases to court. It costs around $3,000 to fight charges of speeding, illegal parking and other motoring offences. Motoring groups and lawyers said the proposal was a breach of fundamental legal principles. Edmund King, president of the AA, said: 'This is against the common law and against the common man. If you prove your innocence you shouldn't have to pay for it.' Ian Kelcey, head of the Law Society's criminal law committee, called the scheme a disgrace. He added: 'This means that an awful lot of people will not be able to get a fair trial. They will not be able to get a proper defence.' "

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