Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cambridge university no longer happy to accept rubbish High School marks

The general dumbing down and grade inflation of British High school education meant this had to happen if Cambridge's high academic standards were to be maintained

Fears of a new educational elitism emerged yesterday after the University of Cambridge changed its admissions policy in a way that critics said would favour independent schools. The university announced that 3 As at A-level would no longer be enough for entry. From 2010 at least one grade should be at the new A* being introduced that academic year. Others, including Oxford, are expected to follow. The decision was taken even though the Government's advisory body said the new grade should not be used as a benchmark until it had been tested.

Independent schools welcomed the move, but Labour MPs, teaching unions and education experts said that the measure would be used to "fillet out" state school pupils. In 2007, 59 per cent of Cambridge's intake were from the state sector. Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons' Children, Schools and Families Committee, said: "I'm very concerned that some of our greatest universities are becoming no-go zones for children from normal backgrounds."

The Sutton Trust, which campaigns to reduce inequality in education, said that using the A* would benefit only students at the best schools. Its director, Lee Elliot Major, described it as "another sign of the ever-growing arms race that defines the issue of social mobility - just as the playing field begins to level out for the less affluent up pops a new way for the privileged to assert their advantage".

Universities argue that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between the thousands of applicants predicted to achieve 3 A grades. Last year Cambridge rejected 5,500 teenagers who went on to achieve 3 As. The A* would require a mark of 90 per cent. The university said that its admission criterion would probably rise to two A*s and an A "in the fullness of time".

Exam boards have been wary of the A*, saying it would take "time to bed down". The National Council for Educational Excellence has recommended that universities delay using the grade until it has been reviewed. Sussex, Worcester, Dundee and East Anglia universities have said that they will not use the A* grade in 2010 because of concerns that it would result in more independent school pupils being be awarded places, jeopardising their government funding.

Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Head-masters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents independent schools, said: "We are delighted that Cambridge has shown leadership in coming out in support of the A*."


The NHS hospital where 'at least 400' could have died needlessly

Unacceptable standards of patient care could have led to hundreds of deaths at a single hospital in a three-year period. A damning report to be released tomorrow by the Healthcare Commission will outline a catalogue of failings at a hospital trust blinded by a drive to save money and abide by Government waiting-time targets. An advance copy of the report seen by the Daily Mail estimated 'at least' 400 deaths between 2005 and 2008 could not be accounted for by 'other factors or by chance variation'. Sources close to the investigation into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust said the true figure could be as high as 1,300 patients.

The report found that mortality was 'found to be high across a range of conditions including those involving the heart, blood vessels, nervous system, lungs, blood and infectious diseases', and added: 'These findings were indicative of systemic problems across the trust's system of emergency care.' The Mid Staffordshire trust runs Stafford Hospital and Cannock Chase Hospital but it is believed the Healthcare Commission found there was no cause for concern at Cannock Chase.

Health campaigners said they feared the findings at Stafford reflect problems with the NHS nationally where targets have distorted basic care. The commission found that the A&E department was understaffed and poorly equipped; a shortage of nurses meant receptionists were left to assess patients; nurses were not trained to read cardiac monitors; patients received incorrect medication, or none at all, and were left for hours in wet or soiled bedding; there were too few specialist beds for stroke patients; essential equipment such as defibrillators was missing or not working and accepted standards of practice in infection control were not maintained.

Tory MP Bill Cash, whose Stone constituency relies on Stafford Hospital, said he had been inundated with complaints from constituents. 'I wrote to the Healthcare Commission a few months ago asking for a whole range of complaints by my constituents to be looked into. 'The report findings tally with what they have told me, especially about patients being left in dirty bedding. The Government has poured money into the hospitals but this just shows that money on its own will not solve the problems. 'There is far too much bureaucracy and too little front-line service in the NHS.'

The report said a shortage of doctors meant they 'were moved from treating seriously ill patients to deal with those with more minor ailments, in order to avoid breaching the four-hour waiting time target.' It was also critical of the trust's axing of 150 jobs - many of them nurses - over 2006/07 as part of a plan to save 10million to meet national cost-saving targets.

The commission launched an investigation in March last year after figures revealed high mortality rates for patients admitted as emergencies, which the trust had failed to investigate adequately. The trust's standardised mortality rate (SMR) was 127 in 2005/06, way above the national rate of 100, making it the fifth-highest in England. The rate is not the actual number of deaths, but an expression of the link between registered deaths and those expected from the number of diagnoses. Over the following two years, the rate at one point jumped to 145.

A source said the reference to the scandal being the likely cause of 'at least 400 deaths' was removed from the final version of the report summary yesterday morning amid concerns about the way the figure was calculated. 'Regardless of this, the report makes it obvious that the hospital had serious shortcomings. 'The fact that this trust was only the fifth-worst in England, in terms of its SMR, does not bode well for the rest of the country's hospitals.'

The period the hospital trust was under investigation coincides with the reign of the current NHS chief executive, David Nicholson, as chief executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority, which covers Staffordshire. Mr Nicholson left in 2006 and was replaced by Cynthia Bower, who is the new head of the Care Quality Care Commission, which will replace the Healthcare Commission at the end of this month. Last week, it was announced that the Mid Staffordshire Trust's chairman, Toni Brisby, and chief executive, Martin Yeates, had resigned ahead of the commission's report. But sources close to the investigation believe the pair were ' sacrificed' as scapegoats to deflect attention away from Mr Nicholson and Mrs Bower's proximity to the Staffordshire scandal.


Arthur Peacham, 68, had been retired for just two weeks when he was admitted to Stafford Hospital with back pain following a hernia operation. After a week he was about to go home when staff told his wife, Gillian, that he had caught the C.difficile superbug. After that, Mrs Peacham said, a series of 'horrendous' blunders helped lead to her husband's death on March 19, 2006, including failing to give him food and leaving him on 'filthy' wards.

'What happened to him was horrific,' said Mrs Peacham, 69. 'When they told me he had caught C. difficile they admitted they had known 11 other people on the ward were already infected but they had nowhere else to put him. 'They told us it wasn't contagious but my son checked on the internet and saw that it was highly contagious and could result in death. 'My husband went downhill from there. He was having trouble keeping food down and they were supposed to give him a special drink but they didn't feed him most of the time. 'Either they would forget to get a prescription from the doctor or they were too short- staffed to care for him.

Mr Peacham, an agronomist who had two sons and four grandchildren, was eventually moved to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton in early March. His widow said: 'There it was amazing. He was so clean and well looked after. 'Unfortunately by then it was too late. The C.diff had ravaged his body.' She added: 'The care at Stafford Hospital was dreadful, abysmal, inexcusable.'


Sandwich box Stasi: British parents' fury over school which inspects lunches and confiscates junk food

A primary school has been accused of running a 'mealtime Gestapo' after insisting on inspecting children's lunchboxes for unhealthy food. If pupils are found to have sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks or full-fat crisps, teachers confiscate them and hold them in the staffroom. The snacks are returned at the end of the day but only if parents ask.

One parent, Magdi Cullen, said she was shocked when her nine-year-old daughter Maria told her about the policy at Danegrove Primary School in Barnet, North London. Mrs Cullen, 34, of Cockfosters, said: 'When I found out about what they were doing, I thought, "This is a primary school, not Guantanamo Bay". 'I can't believe that teachers go through their lunchboxes because there might be something like a small chocolate bar. 'My daughter has a sandwich and an apple as well, but now she has to hide a small box of Smarties I give her. It's just not right. 'The school is very good apart from this and we can't fault it in any way academically.'

Her husband, wine vendor Jerry Cullen, 51, said: 'The whole situation is ridiculous and the teachers are acting like the mealtime Gestapo by going through their lunchboxes. The crisps have to be approved healthy ones and they can cost a small fortune.'

Parents were sent a letter informing them of the strict meal searches. The letter warned: 'Lots of unsuitable items have been sneaking in lately. Therefore, we will have to look after such items until the end of the day in order to be fair to everybody. 'So chocolate and other unhealthy foods found in packed lunch boxes will be taken to the office for collection by parents at the end of the day.' The school said in a statement-At Danegrove School: We are following the Government's healthy lunches guidelines for school meals and packed lunches. 'We advise that that all pupils consume a well balanced meal at midday in order to promote healthy eating and maximise the children's potential learning in the afternoon sessions.'

Headmistress Deborah Metcalf said: 'We were finding that some children could be bringing in crisps, a Mars bar and can of Coke with their lunches. This stance is trying to work with parents to provide a healthy meal for their children.' Danegrove is not the first school to cause controversy with its healthy eating policies.

In 2007, Standish High School in Wigan banned pupils from leaving the school grounds at lunchtime, stopping them from going to fast food outlets. Some children phoned a local sandwich delivery man who came to the school and passed his wares through the gates. However, teachers complained and the sandwich seller was asked to move on by police.


British police release 'hero' arrested after teenage burglar is 'stabbed to death breaking into house'

A man quizzed over the fatal stabbing of a teenage burglar was freed on bail today as supporters hailed him a hero. He was released as members of the public swamped websites set up in memory of the raider with messages backing the man's actions. The suspected burglar, 17-year-old Tyler Juett, was killed after he was allegedly caught breaking into a house in Old Basford, Nottingham. The youngster died from stab wounds after being rushed to the city's Queen's Medical Centre after the incident on Friday afternoon. Neighbours later claimed he was confronted inside the home of foster carer Jacqueline Johnson, 46, and her three grown-up children.

It emerged yesterday that a 14-year-old boy - believed to have been an accomplice of Juett - was also stabbed but was not seriously injured.

Two men in their early 20s - thought to Ms Johnson's relatives - and four male youths were later arrested in connection with the incident. Police, who are treating Juett's death as murder, released the 21-year-old without charge on Sunday and freed the 22-year-old on bail yesterday. There was no sign of the Johnsons at their home, which remained cordoned off as forensic officers continued to search the scene for clues.

But the family received massive public support on the internet, with one site specially set up to hail a householder's right to defend his home. One visitor claimed Juett deserved his fate, adding: 'This dude is a pretty cool guy. He stabs thug wanna-bes and isn't afraid of anything.' Others left comments including 'I admire your work - good job, sir', 'The world is a better place', 'He got what he deserved' and 'Good riddance'.

Juett's family have demanded proof that he and his friends were raiding the property, claiming suggestions he was a burglar were 'made up'. His mother Michelle, 34, refused to speak to the press but wrote on her Facebook page: 'Why, why, why, why, why? I want my baby back.' One visitor to an anti-Juett website responded: 'It's always the parents who are first to complain when something happens to little Johnny. 'If they took more responsibility for their kids they wouldn't be out burgling people's houses and wouldn't get shot or stabbed or whatever.'

A page dedicated to Juett on memorial site was removed after being overwhelmed by comments in support of the householder. Friends yesterday admitted Juett, a former pupil at the Henry Mellish School in inner-city Bulwell, Nottingham, was known to get into trouble. One, Chris Imrie, said the one-time promising footballer would be missed, adding: 'He had a hard upbringing, but he was always a mate. 'If you were around him it would always be an upbeat atmosphere, because he could always say things that made people laugh.' A posting on another tribute site, which hailed Juett as a 'solja', added: 'He done what we do. But it went wrong, so that's unlucky.'

A post mortem confirmed Juett died from a stab-wound, but detectives have refused to reveal who owned the knife that was used to kill him. Nottinghamshire police said they were still treating the incident as a murder and that a burglary attempt was one line of the inquiry. A spokesman added: 'We would ask anyone who was in the area to cast their minds back and see if they can remember anyone acting suspiciously.' Neighbours living near the scene of the killing said the area had suffered a number of recent burglaries and householders were 'on edge'.


Britons vie with immigrants for low-paid jobs

I can't say that I am terribly sympathetic about the woes reported below. From my Australian point of view, I would hire immigrants rather than "whingeing Poms" too

Because of rising unemployment, British-born workers are having to seek low-paid and low-status jobs that have become the preserve of immigrant workers, a report says today. With unemployment expected to top two million this week, competition for jobs is expected to become fiercer because there is little evidence that East Europeans are returning home because of the economic downturn.

The report will fuel the row over Gordon Brown's promise of "British jobs for British workers", because it found evidence of recruitment agencies in one city operating a immigrants-only policy - effectively freezing local people out of the chance to work in factories. It says that employers prefer East Europeans because they are better motivated, more reliable, punctual and have low levels of absenteeism.

Dermot Finch, director of the research institute Centre for Cities, which published the report, said: "Workers from Eastern Europe have filled skills shortages and helped businesses grow. But the recession is now starting to change the dynamic between the East European migrants and local labour markets."

The report looked at the impact of Eastern European immigrants on Hull and Bristol. Mr Finch said: "In cities like Hull and Bristol unemployment is rising and vacancies are falling but we are not yet seeing a mass exodus of migrant workers. Migrants and the recently unemployed are now competing for fewer jobs, and previously `hard to fill jobs' are now in demand."

In January there were 22 people on jobseeker's allowance for every job vacancy in Hull and five on the allowance for every vacancy in Bristol. An analysis by the Trade Union Congress suggests that on average there are ten job seekers for every vacancy advertised - but in an area of the South East, that rate rises to 60 job seekers for every vacancy. "These shocking figures blow out of the water the Government's claim that there are plenty of jobs available for people who are prepared to look," said Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC.

To cope with demand at Jobcentres, the Government has drafted in civil servants who were working on child maintenance and disability claims.

The Centre for Cities report says that there has been no exodus of migrants in Hull and Bristol since the start of the economic downturn. It suggests that Britain will remain attractive to immigrants because of the differential in wage rates, standard of living and opportunities between Britain and the East European states. "Migrants perceived their flexibility to work in any job meant they were less likely to be unemployed relative to the local workforce," the report says.

Employers in Bristol reported a rise in the number of local people applying for jobs traditionally filled by immigrants. The report also suggests workers in Hull were unable to compete for jobs in the food-processing industry because recruitment agencies "unofficially" dealt with immigrants only. "Many were unofficially Polish only. Unless you were Eastern European, recruitment agencies were unlikely to put you on their books."

Home Office figures show that in the final three months of last year there were 29,000 applications to work in Britain by immigrants from Poland, the Czech Republic and the other six former communist states, a fall of 53,000 over the same period in 2007 and a drop of 63,000 on 2006. Although the numbers registering have fallen there are no figures on how many East Europeans are going home, as the UK does not count the number of people leaving the country.


No comments: