Thursday, April 23, 2009

I've seen how Britain's education system betrays children - it's enough to make you weep

A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies is clear about who is to blame for the failure of bright children from poor families to get into universities. The reason is not, as Government ministers such as Gordon Brown, Ed Balls and John Denham claim, class bias on the part of universities. It is bad schools in deprived areas and the failure of this Government to get to grips with the issue.

The report tracked half a million children's education to give a devastating picture of a generation betrayed by Labour. Far from being a motor for social mobility, as it should be, the state school system is entrenching deprivation: youngsters from disadvantaged homes are five times more likely to fail to get five good A to C grades at GCSE than those from affluent backgrounds. As Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Schools, says, the relationship between poverty and poor results is 'stark' and poses an ' unacceptable' risk to the life chances of disadvantaged children. 'This cannot be right and we need to do more,' she says.

I have spent the past nine months interviewing youngsters all over the country, as well as visiting schools both here and in America. And my research has confirmed the utter failure of our education system to help those from deprived backgrounds. I have seen for myself that bright students are failed at every stage - at primary, secondary and at university levels.

The reason for this lamentable failure is a toxic mix of politically correct ideology on the part of the teaching unions, a feeble reluctance on the part of the Government to confront them, and a target culture for exam results which is designed to benefit politicians rather than pupils. The damage this has caused is incalculable.

The problem starts early on in primary school, where many pupils from poor backgrounds are no longer learning to read. For ideological reasons, teachers and educationists have shunned traditional phonetic teaching methods - which have a long track record of success - because they are considered a reactionary throwback. During my research, I found that the majority of children in this country learn to read however they are taught, because they have sufficient parental back-up. But at least 25 per cent - usually those from the most deprived backgrounds - do not.

And if their primary schools fail them between the ages of five and seven, when they should learn to read, they never catch up - because no one in those children's seven subsequent years of education (most drop out of school at around 14) addresses the problem. One result of this basic failure in teaching is that last year more than a third of 14-year-old boys in this country had a reading age of 11 or below. More than one in five of them had a reading age of nine. And almost 250,000 schoolchildren - a staggering 40 per cent - start GCSE studies without the ability in reading, writing and maths to cope with their courses.

One young man told me: 'For my first two years of secondary school, I was in the top sets for maths and science, but rubbish at everything else because of my lack of literacy. That kills you in every subject. Even in maths you need to read the question.' Instead of being at university, where he obviously belongs and where as a potential science graduate the economy needs him, this bright articulate 22-year-old lives on benefits in Hastings.

But it is not just teachers. The Government, faced with this increasingly illiterate generation of schoolchildren, refuses to confront reality. Instead, it skews the curriculum to make school exam results look more impressive than they really are - and to make its own achievements look better. Last month, Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, hailed the success of schools reaching a Government target one year early: 60 per cent of 15-year-olds gaining five higher level GCSEs.

But without wishing to take anything away from the pupils' efforts, I would suggest that this 'success' is comparatively worthless because neither maths nor English has to be included among these higher level GCSEs.

What price have young people themselves paid for Jim Knight's moment of glory? John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is clear. The league tables have created perverse incentives. Schools are forced to skew the curriculum for 14 and 15-yearolds towards subjects 'in which it is easier to reach Grade C.'

A-levels create similar perversions. This might benefit schools and Jim Knight, but it has severe consequences for teenagers, especially those from a poor background. It's a crying shame that, in order to be sure of meeting Government targets, schools are deliberately pushing even able pupils away from studying difficult subjects such as science and languages. But it is these traditional subjects that top universities want. 'Soft' subjects - anything with the word 'studies' in it, as one headmaster remarked - do not win places at a good university. Geoff Parks, Cambridge's director of admissions, said: 'We know the school's bright students are on track to get As, but those As are in subjects that essentially rule them out.'

This has devastating consequences for disadvantaged teenagers. They are the most reliant on their schools for correct advice on universities and careers. They must trust that their schools have their best interests at heart. Too often this is not the case - as the educational charity Sutton Trust discovered. An online questionnaire of 3,000 students revealed that half believed there was no difference in earnings between graduates of different universities. Schools had also failed to warn them of the importance of their choice of subject. They had no idea that it would dictate not only which university would take them, but also their future salary.

According to the London Institute of Education, a decade after leaving university, nearly a fifth of graduates from leading universities earn more than £90,000 a year compared with just 5 per cent of those from the so-called new universities.

Of course, very few of the most disadvantaged pupils are lucky enough to get a university place. Government research has revealed that many state schools in disadvantaged areas are failing to bring on their brightest children 'for fear of being branded elitist'. One in seven pupils on a Government scheme to help the brightest children - defined as the top 10 per cent of the school population - even failed to get five good GCSEs.

But the state school student who does manage to get to university faces yet another piece of Government hocus pocus. More than one in five of the 230,000 full-time students entering university drop out. These are mainly working-class students. The Government has given universities almost 1 billion pounds to support these students. But universities are not penalised for recruiting students who do not graduate - provided they recruit even more to replace them and so fulfil the Government target of getting 50 per cent of youngsters into further education. Like everything in our smoke-and-mirrors education system, this fails to address the real problem - bad teaching in too many state schools.

While the Government trumpets its achievements in getting so many students into further education, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee last year discovered that university maths students, for example, say they are being forced to quit their courses because they lack basic numeracy skills and so do not understand assignments and lectures. Sir Richard Sykes, then rector of Imperial College London, put it bluntly: 'Yes, there may be thousands of kids out there who come from poorer backgrounds and are geniuses - but how can we take them at 18 if they've not been educated?'

Is it not time the Government stopped playing tricks and started examining why this is?


Snobbish "liberal" Catholics in Britain

Some comments from a more traditional British Catholic priest and blogger

As UK readers, and American readers of UK blogs will know, "The Tablet" is a Catholic liberal weekly. It is fondly referred to by those who dislike its dissenting tone as "The Bitter Pill". In short, it is the Catholic journal conservatives love to hate. Recently the Bitter Pill picked on Fr. Tim Finegan the Hermeneutic of Continuity blogger. In a longer editorial The Tablet have vented their fury on blogging and conservative Catholic bloggers in particular. Here is my fisk of the paragraph in question:

"Blogs - a corruption of web-log"

That the readers have to have 'blog' defined for them is hilarious. Don't be misled. This is not a journalistic attempt at clarity--it is a classic, upper middle class English attempt at a back hand slam. It's an example of English snobbery. See, when you're really upper class you don't even know what such common and vulgar things are. Thus English UCTs (upper class twits) show their snobbery. Example: You mention Oprah Winfrey in conversation and they put on a fake confused look and a John Gielgud accent and say, "What is an Oprah? Is that the same thing as an 'opera'?"

"were invented in America"

The snobbery continues with one of the English literati's stock items: anti-Americanism. Don't you know if it comes from America it comes from the land of nose picking hillbillies who marry their sisters, believe in creationism, tote guns in their pick up trucks and slurp Mountain Dew non stop? "It's from America my dear! How simply ghastly!" 

"where they still thrive"

Goodness me! this funny American thingy called a 'blog' still thrives? You mean it hasn't died out yet? What, those people in America cling to their blogs like they cling to their religion and their guns? How awfully, awfully backward of them!" Isn't it more likely that it is the print media's survival that should surprise us? What? a little weekly magazines with editors and reporters and subscribers? How quaint! You mean the English still do such things? And it still thrives? Not for long. 

"particularly among the political and religious right wing."

And there are no left wing blogs? Doesn't anyone ask why right wing talk radio and right wing blogs are a success? It's market forces. People are not getting what they want from the mainstream media, so they look elsewhere. Happily publishing and broadcasting is now totally open. Let the market decide who survives.

"What feeds the blogosphere's paranoia is a sense of resentment that "they" - those in charge - are engaged in a conspiracy against "us" ordinary folk".

Uh. This is a two way street.  This article sounds a little bit paranoid to me. Doesn't such a tirade suggest that the writer at the Tablet feels threatened? All those invisible underground bloggers are all against 'us' main stream media types. They must be stopped! 

"The main media is regarded as part of that conspiracy, which is why the internet - cheap, unregulated and with unlimited capacity - has drawn the bloggers to itself. In Britain, too, there are Catholic bloggers, again often right-wing, polemical and vituperative".

What!? You mean there are some British people who actually have lowered themselves to write those awful American 'weblog' thingies? How too too horrid? It really is ghastly! Not only British, but even a few English? Dear me, what next? 

"The targets in this case often seem to include The Tablet, in some sort of fantastical conspiracy with the bishops. Generally, blogs are far from an idealised forum for an exchange of intelligent ideas that would be constructive."

I love this. Blogs are immediate, allow for readers to comment and exchange opinions with one another at length. This compared to the typical newspaper's letters column--in which editors pick and choose the letters they publish, edit them down and have to limit in time and space all the comments that are made? Anybody can publish a blog and have instant global publishing. This is called freedom of speech. This is somehow inferior to a magazine whose editor is appointed by a rarified, self appointed board of directors in order to consciously promote a particular agenda? Notice too the assumptions in this pompous statement. The blogs are all, by implication stupid and destructive and it is the main media (like the Tablet) who are obviously 'intelligent' and 'constructive'.

"More often they indulge in straight poison-pen character assassination without reference to any requirements of accuracy or balance."

This is simply an untrue slander. To be sure there are some bloggers out there who are pretty nasty, but the vast number of conservative Catholic bloggers are intelligent, charitable, funny and not a few are genuinely scholarly, devout and humble.


"Affirmative action" must not be admitted in Britain

People must be led to believe that blacks get there on their own merits
"The announcement of the Lions squad to tour South Africa was accompanied by a race row after a remark by former England coach Dick Best about Delon Armitage.

The black England back did not make the selection but was included in a Lions XV chosen by Best as part of the build-up coverage on satellite channel, Sky Sports News. Asked about his choice of Armitage, Best responded: "You've always got to have a coloured boy in the team."

Sky later apologised on air for the remark and said Best had thought he was off camera.

Piara Powar, the director of Kick It Out, an organisation which campaigns against racism in sport, commented: "Racial stereotyping affects us all, and for many of us it seems to affect the pattern of our lives from the day we are born until the day we die.


Britain sure is further down the path of Leftist deception and concealment than is the USA

Teenage girl died in agony 'after NHS hospital said she was just a drama queen'

When the girl's appendix was removed, it must not have been intact and the inexperienced foreign doctor did not notice that. Then everybody else was too complacent to notice anything. With cautious medical practice she would have been given antibiotics and would be alive today. But instead of cautious medical practice she got bureaucratic indifference -- and no-one will be penalized for it. That's the socialized medicine system

A teenage girl died in agony in hospital days after medics dismissed her as a 'drama queen' whose pain was 'all psychological', an inquest has heard. Sian Jones, 15, was admitted to hospital with stomach pains, which doctors suspected were caused by appendicitis. When they removed her appendix the next day, her condition continued to worsen.

Doctors said the pain was from the operation and missed a series of tell-tale signs that she was suffering from perienteritis - a serious infection that inflames the lining of the stomach and intestines.

Sian, from Stirchley, Birmingham, died from multiple organ failure, brought on by the infection, a week after being admitted to the city's Heartlands Hospital in August 2007.

Her sister Sarah, 22, said that four days before Sian's death, staff had told their father 'there was nothing physically wrong with her and that it was all psychological, that she was a drama queen'. The family claimed staff also said the pain was brought on by problems at home, as Sian's father, Andrew, was fighting leukaemia. He has since died from the illness.

The inquest at Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, heard the medic who had most contact with Sian, Dr Nehtab Ahmad, had only started her surgical training at the hospital three days earlier. Dr Ahmad told the hearing the surgical team, including two more senior surgeons, 'thought there was nothing amiss surgically and had been falsely reassured by a CT scan and a review from a paediatric doctor'.

The doctor added: 'With the benefit of hindsight I can see that she was getting worse, but at the time it was not so obvious. In hindsight all the factors were viewed independently and not together. 'The emotional aspect had been raised to me by my seniors and psychological issues were raised in a conversation with her father.'


Asylum seekers are lured to Britain by its 'enormous' benefits, says Calais mayor

Britain's ‘enormous’ state handouts to asylum seekers were furiously criticised yesterday – by the Mayor of Calais. Natacha Bouchart said these payouts were the lure for thousands of foreigners using the French port as a staging point to cross the Channel illegally. She said the UK government’s policy was ‘imposing’ migrants on the town, costing the local economy millions.

Mrs Bouchart, 45, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, said she was so disgusted by what was going on that she refused to have any meetings with British government representatives. She said the British system was predominantly to blame for thousands of Africans, eastern Europeans and Asians trying to clamber aboard lorries and trains in Calais every day.

‘Requesting asylum is easier with them (the British) than in France. The asylum seeker is given accommodation and receives up to £40 a week according to their case, when the annual income of the average Eritrean is around $200 (£135). ‘That seems enormous and it’s attractive to them.’

In Britain, asylum seekers can receive payments as soon as a claim is lodged. In France, an asylum seeker generally is given nothing for six months. That is because the French bureaucratic system means it routinely takes a minimum of six months to have a claim for asylum – and with it the opportunity to receive state support – accepted. Once accepted, the claimant can receive a range of benefits – but almost all prefer to try to reach Britain and secure immediate benefits. Married asylum-seeking couples in the UK receive £66.13 a week, while single people get up to £42.16. They are also entitled to free NHS care, housing and education for any children.

Home Office Minister Phil Woolas has been seeking closer cooperation with France in the hope of preventing the crisis in Calais from escalating. Ministers have been alarmed by figures showing the number of migrants caught trying to reach Britain by stowing away on lorries at Calais has doubled over the last year to more than 2,000 a month. The count of 6,031 in the first three months of this year compares with 2,919 caught by port security services trying to gain access to trucks queueing for ferries between January and March 2008. The pressure on the port of Calais is being matched at the Channel Tunnel terminal outside the town, which has reported a 50 per cent rise in illegal migrants over last year. Most are trying to board lorries waiting for places on freight trains.

Mrs Bouchart said she had received many requests for a meeting with UK officials to attempt to sort out the mess. ‘I’ve never followed them up because I consider them provocative. To receive in the city hall a representative of the British governmentis to support what it imposes on us.’ The mayor pointed out that the Calais Chamber of Trade was having to pay £12million a year to secure the port area – money she suggested the French government should provide.

Calling for a ‘change in attitude’, Mrs Bouchart said the current build-up of UK-bound foreigners was ‘untenable’. ‘Each day the town of Calais finds itself under psychological pressure because of the presence of the migrants. ‘That blocks our economic development. That stops some businesses from establishing themselves and that costs a lot.’

Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: ‘The Mayor of Calais is right that the long-term chaos in our immigration system, from badly-protected borders to the Home Office not sending an officer to many appeal hearings, encourages people to try their luck. ‘The answer for Britain and the people of Calais is a well-run immigration system with a proper Border Police Force.’

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch UK, said: ‘Gallic logic has reached the inescapable conclusion that Britain is a soft touch for asylum seekers. ‘You only have to say the word asylum and you have an 80 per cent chance of staying in Britain, more often than not illegally.’

In response, Mr Woolas said: ‘The illegal migrants in Calais are not queueing to get into Britain – they have been locked out by one of the toughest border crossings in the world. These successful controls have been possible thanks to the close co-operation of the French government. ‘Benefits are only available to those who play by the rules, work hard, pay taxes and learn to speak English. ‘I have made it clear that those trying to cheat our system will not be tolerated, which is why last year UK Border Agency staff worked tirelessly at our French and Belgium controls – stopping more than 28,000 attempts to cross the Channel illegally.’


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