Monday, April 20, 2009

Britain CAN turn back the clock and make the schools places of excellence. Here's how...

By Peter Hitchens

All the solutions to all our problems are obvious but shocking. They have also been ruled out in advance by the miserable pygmies and parasites who have taken over both sides of Parliament.

The breakdown of order in our State schools is a grave example of this political trap, in which everyone knows there is something wrong and nobody dares do anything effective about it. This is now a severe national crisis. Like the desperate state of our exam system, it is also a State secret, buried under a monstrous heap of official lies and twisted statistics.

A teacher who exposed it by filming undercover was not thanked, or invited to share her evidence with the authorities. She was disciplined more severely than another teacher convicted of smoking crack cocaine. I know of others who fear to speak out because they do not wish to damage their careers.

The teachers’ unions know perfectly well what is happening, though they are really interested only in getting more money for their members and gaining more recruits – since they are nowadays all in the hands of the Sixties Left.

But because they need to let off steam at their annual conferences, we get a yearly outbreak of stories about how schools are hiring bouncers to keep order – or even that teachers are going to work in body-armour. Of course there is some exaggeration for effect here. But nobody seriously doubts that many classrooms are now so chaotic that even the most determined pupil and the most dedicated teacher must fight to get any work done at all.

What is worse, many excellent teachers are more than weary of having to be policemen first, social workers second and teachers third. Some schools now actually have real police officers on the premises.

This is all completely ridiculous and unnecessary. It could be reversed in a matter of months and put right in a few years. Only a few things need to be done. Teachers need to be given back the power to use corporal punishment. We should leave the European Convention on Human Rights and other treaties which prevent the operation of commonsense British laws.

The school-leaving age should be reduced to 15. Secondary schools should be divided between the vocational and the academic, with selection on merit.

The law permitting ‘no-win, no-fee’ lawsuits should be repealed. So should the Children Act 1989 and the other social workers’ charters which have robbed sensible adults of authority for two decades.

Then we should embark on a Restoration Of The Married Family Act, which would end the many-headed attack on stable married families and restore the lost position of fathers in the home, one of the major causes of bad behaviour by boys. Divorce should be difficult. Every social institution, every law, tax-break and benefit, should discriminate clearly and unapologetically in favour of those parents committed to each other by the marriage bond.

None of these things is actually outrageous, though if a frontbench spokesman for any party dared embrace them, he would be met with cries of rage and fake expressions of shock and be quickly driven from his post.

There are plenty of people still living who can testify that when such rules operated, millions of British people lived free and happy lives, learned useful things in orderly schools, did not need to be under police surveillance, pass through metal detectors on their way to classes or be watched by CCTV cameras.

Yes, there were disadvantages and difficulties. Who denies it? Perfection isn’t possible. But they were nothing compared with the horrible mess we have made with our good intentions.

Who would have thought, 50 years ago, that a headmaster would be knifed to death at the gates of his school, thousands of children would be forced to take powerful drugs to make them behave and the only ‘powers’ available to besieged teachers would be either to keep their charges in for a few hours or force them to go away for a few weeks?

And who would have believed that people would say this was freedom and progress and that Conservative politicians would declare they were happy with this country as it is? The supposed freedom is a new slavery, enforced by social workers, lawyers, the BBC and PC police. The alleged progress is an accelerating slide back into the Dark Ages.


Official cake looniness in Britain

Can a cake kill you? According to the Government it can. The Department of Health has just spent £500,000 on advertisements that demonise, of all the things they could demonise, a small, iced cake. These ads, aimed at mothers and placed in women's weekly magazines, show a photograph of a healthy young girl biting into a type of fairy cake. The doomy caption underneath reads: 'Is a premature death so tempting?'

Not quite as tempting, perhaps, as beating health ministers with the paddle attachment on your mixer until they howl for mercy or form soft peaks, whichever happens first.

Unsurprisingly, the ads - part of a £75 million health campaign - have been rubbished by critics ranging from parents and chefs such as Delia Smith to the National Obesity Forum. All concur that a homemade cake at a party as an occasional treat for a child is absolutely fine. Making such cakes look like poison will, ultimately, only prove to be counterproductive and frighten children in the process.

And really, it is not home baking that is the difficulty here, it is the haunting lack of it - and other basic cooking skills - that is at the root of the problem.


Treatment that zaps prostate cancer cells developed by scientists

Powerful particles that seek out and burn up prostate cancer tumours are being developed by British scientists. The treatment would allow doctors to treat the cancer at the same time as spotting it. It could also allow earlier diagnosis, raising the chances of survival and cutting the number of distressing side-effects. The first patients could be given the treatment in three years and it could be in widespread use in ten.

The condition is the most common cancer in British men, with 35,000 cases a year and 10,000 deaths. It is curable if caught early, but conventional treatments – including drugs, surgery and radiotherapy – carry the risk of side-effects including loss of libido and impotence.

In addition, the blood test used to diagnose the disease is unreliable, meaning that fledgling cancers can be missed until they have spread to other parts of the body and are much harder to treat.

The breakthrough by scientists at Leicester University centres on tiny particles capable of seeking out and destroying prostate cancer cells. The particles, each one-fiftieth the width of a human hair, are armed with molecules that stick to the surface of prostate tumour cells. They are also magnetic so they show up on MRI scans allowing the cancer to be detected. After the tumour is spotted, the nanoparticles are zapped with radio waves, releasing a burst of heat that kills the cancer cells.

Although the work is at a very early stage, scientists believe it could lead to the cancer being detected a year before the patient notices symptoms. Researcher Dr Glenn Burley said: 'The nanoparticles are a lot more sensitive and targeted so they can spot smaller changes in the gland which would not show up in a blood test. 'The earlier you can detect tumours the better. With conventional treatment there's also a significant delay between diagnosis and treatment but nanoparticles could save time, depending on the length of waiting lists, because they kill the tumour at the same time.'

Co-researcher Dr Wu Su said the treatment could cut the need for surgery and costs to the NHS. He added: 'Prostate cancer cure rates have been predicted on early diagnosis and treatment. 'The technology we're developing offers the potential of both identification and early treatment of prostate cancer in a selective manner.' The technique could also be used to detect and burn up breast, bowel and liver cancer cells, researchers believe.

John Neate, of the Prostate Cancer Charity, gave a cautious welcome. He said: 'Even if the research does have a positive result, we will have to wait some years before answers from this study might arrive by the hospital bedside, but every journey starts with the first step.' Mr Neate added: 'It is promising that the increasing profile of prostate cancer over recent years has attracted new scientific interest.


Immigration leaker was threatened with life imprisonment by British police

The leaked material included the disclosure that the British government had failed to tell the public that up to 11,000 security guard licences had been granted to illegal immigrants! Laxity on that scale can only have been deliberate -- so had to be kept secret

The Conservative frontbencher Damian Green last night said he had been threatened with life imprisonment when he was arrested during the Home Office leaks inquiry. Green and Christopher Galley, the Home Office civil servant also at the heart of the row, revealed they had been told they could face the sentences if convicted over the leaking of information.

The revelations came as ministers faced demands for legal changes to protect public officials who leak material embarrassing to the government after the case against Green and Galley was thrown out by prosecutors. After a £5m, five-month police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute either man because information leaked to Green on the government's immigration policy was not secret and did not affect national security or put lives at risk.

Green, the shadow immigration spokesman, said police had tried to spell out the seriousness of his situation during his nine hours of detention following his arrest last November. "They said: 'You do realise this offence could lead to life imprisonment?' he told BBC2's Newsnight. "I'm not a lawyer, but I assume because it's a common law offence, therefore because there's no statutory law on the statute books I was alleged to have broken, there is no set sentence for it. "I just thought this was absurd." He told the programme he felt the police did "not quite realise what they were doing".

The Tory frontbencher was kept waiting for about four hours and was interviewed twice by two policemen who engaged in the "classic hard cop and not quite soft cop" routine. Green said he refused to answer questions because he thought the material they had taken from him was "private" and that they were "not doing their job properly". "I told them that when they were taking things out of my briefcase, one of which was a fax message to a journalist which they thought was deeply suspicious which consisted of a parliamentary answer I had received and a newspaper cutting... which they took away as evidence," he said...

The collapse of the inquiry represented a humiliation for the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, and raised concerns that police are using the charge of misconduct in public office to silence whistleblowers.

The government faces further embarrassment today with the publication of a police report into the methods used to raid Green's home and office. The document is expected to criticise aspects of the arrests and searches. Last night, it emerged that a second inquiry, by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, would look at the operational aspects of the police investigation, which involved 15 senior officers.

Smith's aides said she had not pushed for Green's arrest but had simply backed a Cabinet Office decision to call in the police following 20 destabilising leaks from the Home Office in two years.

Green said he had been "the first opposition politician in history to be arrested for doing his job" – revealing failures in the government's immigration policy.

In his most politically sensitive judgment since coming to office, Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said his decision not to prosecute the two men had been based on the fact that the leaked documents "were not in many respects highly confidential". Instead, they "undoubtedly touched on matters of legitimate public interest and Mr Green's purpose in using the documents was apparently to hold the government to account".....

The former shadow home secretary David Davis said he feared police were increasingly trying to use "misconduct in public office" to target officials who leak, undermining a key reform to the Official Secrets Act introduced to allow the disclosure of information.

Green said the episode "whipped away the veil over this government and the way it exercises power". "They make serious mistakes on immigration policy and rather than correcting [them] they try to cover them up and when the cover up is exposed they lash out and, in this case ... they exaggerated the security implications," he added.


NHS maternity units will still be short-staffed despite surge in number of midwives

NHS maternity units will still be seriously short staffed even after a surge in the number of midwives promised by the Government, critics claimed today.

More than 3,000 extra midwives will be in place by 2012 but new research has found they will still be delivering more babies per year than stipulated by safety guidelines - putting mothers and babies at risk.

The number of births each midwife handles has been rising relentlessly for six years, and is now higher than at any time since Labour took office in 1997.

Ministers' failure to anticipate a rising birth rate by employing enough midwives has led to a doubling in the number of payouts for medical blunders, and for the fact that rising numbers of women are being left alone and terrified during labour.

Experts believe up to 1,000 babies a year die needlessly because doctors and midwives are too overstretched or poorly trained to detect warning signs.

Safety guidelines, laid down by the Royal College of Midwives, say that midwives should deliver an average of 27.5 babies a year - one every 13 days or so - to ensure mother and child have the best quality of care.

In January, the Daily Mail revealed that the average midwife was delivering 34 babies a year, or one ever 10 or 11 days - almost 25 per cent more than they should under the safety standard.

Ministers have promised an extra 3,400 midwives by 2012 to plug the shortage. But new research by the RCM says this means that only four of the country's 10 health regions will meet the safety standards.

Of the six that will fail, four will have more than 32 births per midwife. The East of England region will have a massive 35.2 births per midwife in 2012, followed by the East Midlands (33.9), Yorkshire and the Humber (33.8), and London (33.6).

The Yorkshire figure is actually worse than the current ratio, largely the result of projected birth rate rises, which are largely down to the impact of immigration.

Critics also claim much of the money ministers are earmarking for maternity services is not reaching wards and is being spent on other parts of the NHS.

They say the figures prove the Government has no chance of honouring its pledge that all women should have one-to-one care from a named midwife during the entire pregnancy by the end of this year.

Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: 'Although the situation for most regions will be better, it will still not be good enough to deliver the quality of care women need.

'A step change is needed at regional level to recruit more midwives, and we hope that decision makers will treat it as a priority and put money they have been given for maternity services into maternity services.'

Conservative health spokeswoman Anne Milton said: 'Midwives' morale is currently low and too much of their time is wasted by bureaucracy and red tape. We need to ensure that the workforce spends more time delivering healthy babies from healthy mothers than filling in needless forms.'


Council powers to spy on the British public are cut

About time!

Councils are to have their powers to snoop on the public severely curtailed. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, will signal government plans today to reverse the expansion of the surveillance society amid growing alarm at the extent of official spying.

Councils have used legislation intended to tackle terrorism and serious crime to deal with minor offences such as dog fouling and littering. Even families anxious to secure places at successful state schools have come under scrutiny from zealous officials. The powers have been used almost 50,000 times by public authorities such as local councils and the health service since 2002. The figure does not include surveillance by the police.

Under the government proposals thousands of council workers will lose the right to use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Only chief executives and senior officials will be able to sanction use of the Act to eavesdrop on conversations, track vehicles and secretly film people — and only then for more serious offences such as benefits fraud and illegal trading.

Consumer groups will welcome the changes, but some privacy campaigners will say that they do not go far enough. Simon Davies, of Privacy International, said: “Given the farcical and overzealous use of these powers by local authorities it is entirely unacceptable that even chief executives should be given sign-off powers. Authorisation should be placed where it always belonged: with the police.”

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that surveillance powers should be used only to tackle terrorism and serious crime.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “This consultation is a tacit admission by the Government that its surveillance society has got out of hand. For too long, powers we were told would be used to fight terrorism and organised crime have been used to spy on people’s kids, pets and bins. Surveillance powers should only be used to investigate serious crimes and must require a magistrate’s warrant.”

The consultation paper also suggests giving local councillors the right to monitor the way in which officials are using the powers. The Home Office said that this could involve chief executives and senior officials needing the approval of local councillors before they allow surveillance operations to begin.


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