Thursday, May 28, 2009

British working class children 'alienated' in private schools, says The Sutton Trust

Poor children given free places at top private schools often struggle to fit into the "elite atmosphere", according to research for The Sutton Trust. Bringing back the government-funded Grammar schools, where entrance is limited to those who perform well on an academic aptitude test, would largely solve that problem as many students in such schools are of working-class origin

Many pupils from deprived backgrounds feel "estranged and alienated" from other pupils and teachers if they are given places at leading establishments, it is claimed. In addition, some are unable to take part in cultural visits or foreign exchange trips because their parents cannot afford them.

The Sutton Trust, which commissioned the report, said the findings had serious implications for new rules designed to open independent schools to more children from working class backgrounds. Sir Peter Lampl, the charity's chairman, insisted schools needed to look beyond "the simple question of fees" to make sure pupils succeeded. Private school headmasters backed the conclusions, insisting that "plucking the best and the brightest pupils out of the state sector" was counter-productive.

In the latest study, researchers held in-depth interviews with adults who had been through the Conservatives' assisted places scheme in the 1980s and 90s. The programme - scrapped by Labour in 1997 - gave pupils from poor backgrounds free and subsidised admission to independent schools. Earlier research showed students with assisted places achieved better GCSE and A-level results than pupils remaining in the state sector. They were also much more likely to go onto Oxbridge.

But the latest report - called Embers from the Ashes? - said it was "far from an unqualified success". "Virtually all spoke of the fact that they could not participate in the 'semi-formal' activities in the school curriculum, such as field-trips, cultural visits or foreign exchange trips, because their parents could not afford to finance them," it said. "Also commonly mentioned was a lack of participation in weekend and after-school activities, compounded by very long journeys to and from school."

The report, based on interviews with 25 former pupils, said that "feeling like the poor relation" was the "defining characteristic of their time at school". "It appears that financial hardship combined with cultural discontinuity between the home and the school, contributes to a sense of stigmatisation," the study said.

Under Labour's 2006 Charities Act, fee-paying schools are no longer automatically entitled to charitable status. They must prove they provide "public benefit" to hang on to tax breaks worth an estimated £100m to the sector every year. Official guidance from the Charity Commission suggested the easiest way to pass the new test was "increasing general fee levels in order to offer subsidies to those unable to pay the full cost".

But Sir Peter called for more wholesale Government funding for private day schools - rather than "a few token places" - to break down the barriers between the two sectors. "The chance to democratise entry to 100 or more of our highest-performing academic schools should not be missed and would be a tremendous boost for social mobility," he said.

Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, Berkshire, said: "Plucking the best and the brightest pupils out of state schools may help the odd child but it is completely insufficient as a tool to bridge the gap between the two sectors."


NHS negligence: Thousands of medical records lost

Tens of thousands of medical records have been lost by the NHS (National Health Services) due to a series of data security leaks. The health organization has been asked by the Information Commissioner now to tighten their data security. This year, 140 security breaches took place in NHS between January and April, which exceed the total number of cases put together from the local authorities and the central government.

14 NHS institutes have been observed to have broken the data regulations. According to Mick Gorrill, assistant information commissioner, NHS has offended laws by losing such confidential information. In one instance, the database of 10,000 people was downloaded onto an insecure laptop and the laptop was said to have been stolen from the home of the NHS employee.

In another such case of negligence, a memory stick, which was carrying medical histories of ex-inmates of Preston prison and other 6,360 prison patients, was lost earlier. The password for obtaining the data was written on the device itself.

Gorill said that it is a matter of great concern that the data has been lost. It would cause obvious distress to the patients since the data is a confidential piece of information. Plus, he added, many insurance companies sometimes hire private detectives to find out vital information about the policy holder’s medical history etc. He said that it is well understood what may happen if the data falls into the wrong hands.

According to Gorill, since the loss of data is inexcusable, the body will be fined accordingly for such incidences.

To examine how the medical data is stored in various hospitals in Britain, Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, plans to send a crack team of inspectors. Thomas has written a letter to a senior civil servant in the Department of Health for taking necessary steps for improvements. A spokesperson of the department said that they will soon reply to Thomas’s letter.


British town halls will no longer bow to 'compensation culture' with plans afoot for thousands of new adventure playgrounds

Town hall chiefs performed a U-turn yesterday by calling on parents to shake-off the 'cotton wool culture'. Local Government Association members pledged they would 'not bow to the compensation culture' and vowed to press on and build thousands of adventure playgrounds.

However, local authorities have for years been behind bans on traditional games such as conkers and snowball fights, amid health and safety fears. In 2006 alone, 33 laws and more than 1,000 regulations were introduced designed to reduce possible risks faced by youngsters.

Experts have warned that anxious parents are raising a generation of 'battery-farmed kids' denied the independence, experience and education that comes from exploring the outdoor world. Just one in ten children play regularly in parks, fields and woods according to a survey commissioned by Natural England. Yet 81 per cent say they would like more freedom to play outside.

To address these concerns, the LGA is to sweep away the 'no ball games' culture with zip wires, tree houses and tunnels installed in parks. Council-run holiday schemes are also offering activities such as BMX biking and surfing. More than 3,500 playgrounds will be built or refurbished by 2011 under a £235million Government scheme.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton said: 'Children playing outside is a fundamental part of growing up. 'We do our youngsters no favours by wrapping them up in cotton wool. Town halls are determined not to bow to the compensation culture.'


Senior judge blames slow police response times for Britain's 'vigilante culture'

A senior judge has warned of a rise in vigilante crimes caused by slow police response times. Richard Bray said citizens were increasingly taking matters into their own hands because of lack of confidence in the forces of law and order. He was speaking as he sentenced a father and his sons for attacking a man they thought had vandalised their car.

Mr Bray, a circuit judge at Northampton Crown Court, said: 'Nobody bothers to phone the police any more. They go round and sort it out themselves - and I know why. 'It is because the police do not actually come round so people go out themselves and deal with it.'

A police pledge, to which all 43 forces in the country have signed up, promises that in urban areas police will arrive within 15 minutes and in rural areas in 20 minutes. But Judge Bray's scathing comments make clear he feels they are falling short of those commitments.

The attack which prompted his outburst occurred last year when Henry Smith, 48, and his sons Ian, 23, and Jamie, 19, decided to take revenge for damage to their car. The men, from Kettering, went to a nearby house and punched a man to the ground. Ian Smith and his brother then punched and kicked him on the floor, leaving him with injuries to his face, teeth and mouth. Both admitted grievous bodily harm at a previous hearing.

Ian Smith was given a suspended jail sentence of 50 weeks and ordered to pay £1,000 to the victim. Jamie Smith received a 40-week suspended sentence and ordered to pay £1,500 compensation. Their father had pleaded guilty to affray and was ordered to pay costs. They were ordered to complete 390 hours of unpaid work between them. Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It is refreshing to hear a judge accept the extent to which ordinary people are being forced to fend for themselves thanks to the failure of the criminal justice system. 'This will continue so long as the police are forced to respond to the priorities of politicians rather than ordinary people. They'll spend their time trying to meet arbitrary and distorting targets rather than trying to catch serious criminals.'

A spokesman for the Home Office said it did not keep figures on how quickly officers responded to callout times, despite its pledge. The spokesman added that it was not possible to keep specific figures on vigilante crime.

A Northamptonshire Police spokesman said: 'The judge is entitled to his opinion but it is one we do not share. In the case he refers to, the incident in question was not reported to us so we were not in a position to respond. 'We invest heavily in officers, staff, training and technology to ensure members of the public can be confident of receiving a good service from Northamptonshire Police.'


Claim that 'climate change is the cholera of our era' ridiculed as 'load of garbage' by renowned disease expert

A May 25, 2009 article in the UK Times warning that "climate change is the cholera of our era" has raised the ire of an internationally known disease expert formerly of the UN IPCC.

"The article is a rehash of a similar load of garbage unloaded in 1996, plus (identical wording) other writings of the past, including, I suspect, IPCC," Dr. Paul Reiter told Climate Depot.

Reiter is a malaria expert formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and professor of entomology and tropical disease with the Pasteur Institute in Paris and a member of the World Health Organization Expert Advisory Committee on Vector Biology and Control.

The UK Times article, by Professor Sir Muir Gray is Public Health Director of the Campaign for Greener Healthcare, alleges that man-made global warming is a greater threat to mankind than the scourge of cholera -- an acute diarrheal illness-- which killed an nearly 3000 people in Zimbabwe alone earlier this year. A May 26, 2009 article from VOA reveals cholera cases are expected to reach 100,000 in Zimbabwe alone.

Muir wrote in the UK Times: "In the 19th century, cholera outbreaks that escaped from the slums to kill rich and poor alike caused the great Victorian revolution in public health. Fear of cholera ensured that vast sums were spent on building sewers and ensuring that everyone had clean water. Climate change is the cholera of our era — fear of the havoc that climate change will wreak should stimulate a new public health revolution." "Smoking, Aids, swine flu? They all pale into insignificance compared to climate change's threat to health," Muir added.

But Reiter, was blunt in his rebuttal to Muir's article in the UK Times. "They have cherry picked without remorse. I have huge response to my article in Malaria Journal. Yet these peddlers of garbage quote a 1998 model by two activists whose work is ridiculed by those of us who work in this field," Reiter continued. "What the hell can we do? I am flabbergasted that this can go on, and on, and on," Reiter, who is featured in the U.S. Senate Report of more than 700 dissenting scientists of man-made global warming, concluded.

Reiter was also formerly with the UN IPCC and was so appalled at UN IPCC process that he threatened legal action to get his name removed from the reports.


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