Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bright schoolchildren take back seat to 'social misfits', says British head teacher

State schools are being forced to prioritise "social misfits" at the expense of the majority of pupils, according to a former academy head teacher.

The most disruptive children are being plied with "indulgence and sentimentality" instead of firm discipline, it was claimed. Steve Patriarca blamed Gordon Brown's decision to create a new "Orwellian" Government department with duel responsibility for schools and social services. It meant education for the most able often came second best to the needs of problem pupils, he said.

The comments will come as a huge embarrassment to the Government. Mr Patriarca led fee-paying William Hulme's Grammar School in Manchester when it was tempted out of the private sector by Labour in 2007. In a high-profile move, it axed parental fees and academic selection to become one of the Government's flagship city academies - semi-independent state schools sponsored and run by the private sector. A total of five independent schools have now converted.

Mr Patriarca, who retired last summer, said the school agreed to the move because academies offered the chance of "effective denationalisation" of state schools by taking education out of the hands of "overpaid, ill informed, over comfortable" civil servants. But talking openly about the move for the first time, he said the school struggled "to retain educational values" in the face of pressure from the Government. "The Department for Children, Schools and Families lives up to its Orwellian title," he said. "There are direct tensions between its responsibilities for social work, children and families and its commitment - if that is the word - to education. It seems to me to be a cumbersome hybrid which fulfils none of its roles very well.

"It is politicised in a way which seems to find achievement embarrassing. It is preoccupied with the less able and the social misfit - which would be fine if it actually achieved anything in dealing with such children. It doesn't because it panders to them - it prioritises their needs over the needs of the vast majority." The DCSF was created in 2007, replacing the old Department for Education and Skills.

In a speech at Wellington College, Berkshire, Mr Patriarca backed the principle of academies but insisted they were no longer "independent" of civil servants, despite Government claims. Academies are not allowed to put pupils on alternative exams, such as the International GCSE now favoured in private schools, he said. He also criticised the lack of freedom to control admissions, and he attacked the practice of forcing academies to share pupils expelled from other schools. "The more disruptive the child is the more attention it receives and the more benefits," Mr Patriarca said.

He added: "We have a chance to break free of this through the establishment of academies as genuinely independent schools with the DNA of the private sector operating within the state system. The present Government has lost its nerve on the academies programme."

It comes just days after a delegation of academy principals wrote to the Government, saying their attempts to improve education standards were being "increasingly hampered".

A DCSF spokesman said: "We make no apologies for the fact that the DCSF has broadened Government's focus beyond the school gates. Common sense and every teacher in every classroom tell us that what happens outside school hours and parents' involvement in children's education are both vital to their progress. "By strengthening family support during children's formative early years, getting parents more involved in their child's learning and making sure young people have more exciting things to do outside school, we hope to make this country the best place in the world to grow up."


Home tutoring option explored after kids from a good British grade school are sent to a sink High School

The parents of 25 pupils at an outstanding primary school plan to educate them en masse at home with a private tutor after a third of this year's 92 school leavers failed to secure a place at any of their preferred secondaries. Most were rejected by the local secondary school because they live just outside its 1.08-mile catchment area, even though it is their nearest one.

Catherine Roberts, whose son Alexander Lindfield was among them, was at a meeting of 25 families from Madginford Park Junior School, near Maidstone, Kent, at which home tutoring was discussed. Ms Roberts said: "We have been allocated, along with about 22 others, a place at the second-worst-performing school in the Kent league tables. "Unless you were selected for one of the grammar schools or had a sibling link to a non-selective school, virtually no one from Madginford Park Junior School gained a place at any of the schools on their selection list."

She added: "The children in my area have been failed in their desire for, and right to, a decent education at secondary level and after such a promising start at junior school are now being let down by the local authority. You wonder why there is a preference system if you are not able to gain a place at your nearest school which is also your first choice."


A downturn in British moral values?

Watch out: the recession could turn you into a fat fascist wife-beater with anger-control issues. Allegedly.

Remember when the recession was supposed to be a good thing? Not long ago, the great and the good were sending Mac-written missives from their unrepossessed homes about how the economic downturn would help us - the little people - to rediscover `long-forgotten, old-fashioned values', like thriftiness, rationing, community spirit, hunger. Well, now the G&G have gone and changed their minds. It turns out the recession will not bring out the best in people, but the very, very worst, threatening to turn us into fascist wife-beaters with vastly expanding waistlines and a whole host of mental health problems.

First the recession will make us fat. You would think, in a time of economic downturn, that any start-up, business expansion or other form of job creation would be warmly welcomed. In fact, the news that Domino's Pizza has boosted its profits by 25 per cent over the past year, and now plans to open 50 stores and create hundreds of new jobs in the coming year, was treated as an Hieronymus Bosch-style warning of a hellish future of fat-limbed, jobless people eating themselves into an early grave. The recession is `ruining our health', declared one newspaper headline. A food writer said it is `utterly, utterly depressing' that people are `slobbing out on the sofa at home, not with a bowl of hearty, homemade soup, but with a whopping great bucket of fried chicken or a calorie-laden pizza'.

Food critic Jay Rayner dry-heaved upon hearing that KFC plans to open 300 new outlets and create 9,000 new jobs in the next 12 months. The recession has further exposed the `deeply chronic divide', he said, `between those who give a toss about what they eat and those who, frankly, do not, and who see lectures about what they have for dinner as little more than that: a hectoring irrelevance for lives lived at the bottom of the economic heap'. Hmm, I wonder why people might see `food advice' as a `hectoring lecture' from poshos? Expanding on who it is that `doesn't give a toss about what they eat', one medical expert used that deliciously Dickensian phrase `the poor' to describe those people who `cannot cook' and who in a recession `are increasingly likely to eat poorly nutritious fast food'.

The celebrity chef and government adviser, Jamie Oliver, who with his use of the term `white trash' has been far more honest about who these `slobs' are who eat buckets of chickens that are a `killer combination of cheap protein, even cheaper carbs and tongue-coating fats', told the House of Commons Health Select Committee (yes, he was invited) that the recession will make our `obesity epidemic' even worse.

This discussion of recession-induced lardiness, especially amongst The Poor and white trash who according to Oliver suffer from the `new poverty' of not knowing how to cook, perfectly sums up what fuels the obesity panic today: not hard scientific evidence that the uneducated hordes are waddling towards early death with a family-sized bucket of boneless chicken under each arm, but a voyeuristic, vicarious obsession with slipping standards of health and morality amongst the lower orders. Obesity is a metaphor for the old sins of gluttony and sloth, and celebrity chefs are the new priests who want to save The Poor from their own worst (eating) habits. The less well-off are seen as a peculiar, unknowable blob, who might be pushed further down the road to hydrogenated hell by the uncertainty of the recession.

Once you have been made more rotund by the economic downturn, you will be the perfect size and shape for the next expected impact of job losses and money worries: fascism. The G&G are positively (one might even say pornographically) convinced that the recession will make neo-Nazis of us all. Well, not all of us; just those who `don't give a toss about what they eat' or about foreigners. One UK government minister, Jim Murphy, has warned of `credit crunch racism'. Trevor Phillips of the Equality and Human Rights Commission says Britain could become more racist as the recession bites, giving rise to `an angry, embittered permanent underclass looking for targets on whom to vent its rage'.

The Labour left is gripped by fascist fantasies. Some old-style Labourites warn that this global downturn, likes its 1930s cousin, could facilitate `a rise in fascism'. Only they don't mean the emergence of an elite jackboot movement such as that which emerged in one of the most powerful countries in Europe in the 1930s (which would be an ahistorical prediction anyway); they mean that `racist workers' and the `permanent underclass' might start attacking anyone who looks or smells foreign in an attempt jealously to guard their own jobs and dole money. Commenting on the recent wildcat strikes - slogan: `British jobs for British workers' - Tribune magazine whined about how New Labour's promises to protect British jobs sound like a `dog whistle to working-class Labour supporters toying with the idea of voting for the British National Party'.

Here, too, it is not any evidence of a recession-linked upsurge in Johnny Foreigner hatred that fuels the fascist predictions, but rather an elite view of the little people as volatile, unpredictable, given to outbursts of irrationality. At a time when the old politics of left and right is a thing of the past, and the workers v bosses divide looks like a distant memory, the working classes and The Poor are seen as unreadable, and as easily swayed by what one Labour commentator describes as the `leeches of the far right'. It is the aloofness and disconnection of commentators and quango heads that generates fascism fears.

This is clear from Tribune's use of the `dog whistle' metaphor: the working classes are seen as automatons, the human equivalent of attack dogs, who speak in their own shrill, high-pitched lingo that is not readily audible to the more sensible, leeches-immune Labour commentariat who sit above them.

And once you are fat and a fascist, what is the next logical step? Wife-beating, of course. Last week's news was rife with predictions that the `recession will prompt a rise in domestic violence' and that women will be `worst hit' (literally) by the economic downturn. The UK attorney general, Lady Scotland, warned that `domestic violence will rise with increased financial worries'. What has triggered this fear of male-on-female violence in downturn-whacked Britain? The arrival of hundreds of badly beaten wives of newly unemployed men at police stations across the UK? No. It springs from a government report, titled Real Help Now for Women, which casually and unscientifically predicts that during the recession `women may face threats from violent or abusive partners'.

The Metropolitan Police says there had been a `slight increase' in domestic violence over the past year, but there was no evidence yet that it was linked to `stress in terms of lost jobs'. Yet that didn't stop the government from focusing its `real help' for women during the recession, not on creating jobs for them or on ensuring that they can remain active, productive citizens despite the downturn, but on protecting them from their own allegedly violent families. The wife-beating panic is fuelled by elite porno-fears about what takes place Behind Closed Doors, and a view of the family as a dangerous place rather than a sanctuary, a means of pooling resources and pulling through during tough economic times.

What all of these recession predictions have in common is a view of the public as an amorphous mass that will be pushed, prodded, twisted and reshaped - for the worse - by the economic downturn. Any view of us as resourceful, tough individuals, who together with our friends, families and social networks can get through the economic downturn in one piece, has given way to fears that we will become dog-like haters of foreigners and women with chicken-blocked arteries to boot. Even worse, the relentless focus on managing the masses' foul and violent reaction to the recession - by giving more food lectures, censoring those `dog whistles' tempting us to become fascists, encouraging women to be suspicious of their husbands, or offering free therapy to counter the `epidemic of anxiety' - lets off the hook those who are largely responsible for this mess in the first place: the authorities. Unable to manage the economic fallout, far less have an honest debate about what needs to be done to improve productivity and living standards, the powers-that-be focus on micro-managing wayward individuals instead.


'We've left children to rot, now they are animals': Michael Caine speaks out after returning to his roots to make new movie

Sir Michael Caine has spoken of his horror at returning to the 'sink estates' in the area he once called home. The Oscar-winning actor said children in Elephant & Castle, South London, were being 'left to rot' and growing into 'animals'.

Sir Michael is no stranger to the tough streets of the capital, as he grew up in the same area when 'spivs' prowled with razor blades sewn into the brims of their hats. But on returning to film a low-budget thriller about gang culture, he was shocked by what he found. Much of his time shooting Harry Brown was spent around an area called the Heygate Estate, a 1960s social housing scheme that is to be demolished. And none too soon, according to Sir Michael.

The actor, who grew up Maurice Joseph Micklewhite - the son of a Billingsgate fish market porter and a charwoman - said such 'rotten places' should never have been built. Sir Michael, 75, moved to Camberwell from Rotherhithe in the 1940s, when he was 12. He lived in a prefabricated house which had electric lights and an inside bathroom. 'That terrible place for me was a step up,' he said. 'But when I see how children live now, compared with the flats there now it was like a middle-class dwelling.'

'[The film] is about sink estates and the violence on them,' he told the Evening Standard. 'This is a dark portrait but unfortunately it is very true and we're all responsible for it. We left the children to rot. We left these children and they grew into animals.' He added: 'The families have let the children down, the educators have let the children down. 'We've put them in rotten places like the Heygate Estate... which fortunately is being pulled down. It should never have been built.'

Last night, Kim Humphreys, Conservative councillor for Southwark, said Sir Michael seemed to be confusing reality and fiction. 'I understand he is making a gang movie, but if he went around the estate, given the amount of security he would find it one of the safest, cleanest and friendliest estates in South-East London.' He admitted the estate was 'past its sell-by date', and said that was why residents were being rehoused.


1,000 British villagers wait for a dentist after just one NHS practice opens

The parlous state of NHS dentistry under Labour was exposed last night after it was revealed 1,000 people in a village ended up on a waiting list for a dentist. Nearly one in ten of the 11,500-strong population of Tadley were forced to wait after a single NHS practice opened in the Hampshire village. Their alternatives were paying privately, travelling miles to another NHS dentist - or going without treatment. Local councillor Nigel Quelch said: 'When I phoned, they said they had a waiting list of 1,000. It shows what a huge demand there is for Health Service dentistry. 'But we're very grateful to the dentist for opening in Tadley.'

In 1999, Tony Blair promised that within two years everyone would have access to an NHS dentist. Eight years later he admitted failure. A new contract, introduced three years ago to increase numbers of NHS dentists, has also been judged to have made the situation worse - with 1,000 dentists fleeing the NHS. It means the remaining NHS dentists are overwhelmed and can't take new patients - as the Tadley case shows.

LibDem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: 'We cannot continue with a postcode lottery where people like the Tadley residents can't have access to NHS dentistry.' Hampshire primary care trust confirmed the list had hit 1,000 in December but has since been cleared. It said the practice now has 7,000 patients and can't take more - meaning over 4,000 have no dentist in the village.


For better exam results simply have a drink of water

This is pretty weird. Sounds like some sort of placebo effect

The key to exam success could be as simple - and as cheap - as a glass of water. Children who have a drink of water before sitting tests fare up to a third better, researchers have found. The reason why isn't clear, but it could be that information flows more smoothly between brain cells when they are well hydrated. In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers from the University of East London looked at the effects of water on the performance of almost 60 boys and girls aged between seven and nine.

Half were given a 250ml glass of water to drink, and 20 minutes later, both groups were subjected to a battery of tests. One test, designed to assess visual attention and memory, involved spotting the differences between two cartoons. The water-drinkers scored 34 per cent better, the research journal Appetite reports. They also did 23 per cent better on a more difficult version of the test and 11 per cent better on a third task that required them to cross out specified letters from a sequence. In tests designed to assess short term memory there were no differences between the two groups.

Researcher Dr Caroline Edmonds said: 'Children who had a drink of water performed significantly better on a number of tasks. Our findings suggest that consuming water benefits cognitive performance in children.' It is possible that water improves the flow of information between brain cells, added Dr Edmonds. Other possibilities include the water drinkers not being distracted by feeling thirsty.

Previous studies have shown that drinking water boosts the brainpower of adults.


A British rarity: "A homeowner has been cleared of murder after he shot and killed a bodybuilder at point-blank range when he tried to break into his house. Kenneth Batchelor, 51, fired a shotgun at "very close quarters" at 42-year-old Matthew Clements, who had climbed the scaffolding of his home to try to force open an upstairs window. Mr Batchelor had received a barrage of threatening phone calls from Mr Clements, a 20-stone nightclub bouncer, who was demanding maintenance money from the Batchelor family following a former relationship between his girlfriend and Mr Batchelor's brother Gary, which produced three children. The jury at Maidstone Crown Court took just one hour unanimously to acquit Mr Batchelor of the murder of Mr Clements who, the court heard, had an "explosive temper" and had become "fixated" with demanding money from the Batchelor family. Mr Batchelor wept as the jury returned their verdict. During his trial, they heard that Mr Clements started to "demand money with menaces" and had begun to make threatening phone calls in November 2007 after drinking heavily and smoking cannabis. The court also heard that Mr Clements, from Ashford in Kent, was "well known" to police, settled disputes by violence and had once turned up at a garage to threaten the manager with an Uzi submachine gun. Mr Batchelor, a mechanic, legally owned the shotgun which killed Mr Clements with one shot to the chest, and told the court that it had discharged accidentally as he stood terrified at a top floor window which Mr Clements was trying to open...."

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