Monday, June 15, 2009

British home education rules 'an abuse of civil liberties'

Parents could be banned from educating children at home in a move branded a "very bad day for civil liberties"

For the first time, local councils will have the power to enter family homes and question young children, under new plans. They will also be able to order under-16s to school if there are fears about their safety or quality of education.

Families' groups said they were "absolutely devastated" by the move, claiming it undermined their freedom to educate children beyond state control. Annette Taberner, from the group Education Otherwise, said: "To suggest parents can continue to home educate but then give powers to local authorities to enter our homes and interview our children without an adult being present is just extraordinary. This is nothing short of an attempt to regulate the private lives of people. It is a very bad day for civil liberties in this country."

A review ordered by the Government estimated that as many as 80,000 children could be educated at home. Previous estimates put the figure between 20,000 and 50,000.

Graham Badman, former director of education at Kent County Council, who carried out the study, recommended forcing all parents to register sons and daughters with local authorities every year.

The review - accepted in full by the Government - said officials from local authorities should have the right to access their home with just two weeks' notice and speak to children to ensure they were "safe and well". They can revoke the right to home schooling if they have serious concerns over their welfare, it said.

Parents must also submit a statement outlining what children will be taught over the following 12 months. Councils can impose a "school attendance order" if they believe the education received is not up to scratch, with parents facing legal action if they refuse.

Mr Badman said a further review would be carried out to judge the structure of an acceptable home education. Releasing the report in central London on Thursday, he suggesting children aged eight should be "competent in handling numbers, have "rudimentary" computing skills and be able to read. Lessons for those aged 11 to 16 should be based around "broad systems of knowledge", he said. "By raising the bar in terms of entry to home education, you effectively raise the standard of education on offer," he said.

It is not yet known when the reforms will be introduced. New legislation will be needed to enforce rules on registration and local authority access to homes.

The review was launched amid fears some children educated at home could be at risk of abuse. Mrs Taberner, a mother of two from Sheffield, said the "horrendous" suggestion had been "trotted out by the Government" to justify the crackdown.

Mr Badman's report said there was "no evidence" to suggest home education was linked to forced marriage, servitude or child trafficking. But he claimed the overall number of children "known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of [the] home education population."


Incomprehensible British university professors

UNIVERSITY students have come forward to claim that the poor standard of English spoken by their lecturers means they have run up debts of more than £20,000 without the prospect of a good degree. The economics students at Kingston University, southwest London, say some of the academics’ accents are so heavy and many of their words so incomprehensible that it is not worth attending their lectures.

Two students contacted The Sunday Times last week after reading a report in the paper describing how another undergraduate at Kingston, Joanna al-Zahawi, 22, had resorted to employing a private tutor. One factor was her despair at her lecturers’ poor English. Both students declined to be named. One of them, awaiting his degree results, said he had lost hope of obtaining a good-quality degree because he had been so poorly taught.

“In this economy, what graduate employer is going to want someone with a 2:2 from Kingston?” he said. “I have run up £22,000 of debts and I have no hope of getting a graduate level job.” Another said: “One of the lecturers had real problems saying basic words – like ‘zero’, which he pronounced ‘chino’. That is confusing when someone is talking about economics.”

Students around the country are becoming more vocal in expressing their discontent about poor value for money. Degree courses now cost undergraduates more than £3,000 a year. Protests are under way at universities including Bristol and Manchester as well as Edinburgh – where English students, although not Scottish ones, pay fees.

At Bolton University, students have posted anonymous cards in lecturers’ pigeonholes giving them marks out of 10. At Manchester Metropolitan, undergraduates send a text message to their student union when academics are late for classes and lectures or cancel them. The University and College Union, which represents academics, describes these actions as “hate mail” and “bullying”.

Kingston University said: “The academic job market is international. It would be unusual for a university department to be staffed only by people with English as their first language. In the case of Kingston’s economics department, just under half of lecturers are not native to the UK.”


Stillbirth risk triples for Scottish women who choose home delivery with private midwife over NHS

Homebirth has a long tradition in Scotland and what this shows is that women who expect problems would rather go to a private midwife than the NHS! This is a great reflection on the NHS. If the NHS did not treat women like no-account cattle, their first choice in such cases would surely be a hospital

Women who give birth at home aided by an independent midwife are almost three times as likely to have a stillbirth than those who deliver their child in hospital. Home births have long been debated amid concerns about their safety, because specialist care is not on hand in case of serious complications. However, the number of mothers choosing this option have been rising since 1988 and now about 2.5 per cent have a home birth.

NHS babies were more likely to be premature and admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit than those delivered by an independent midwife

Scientists from the University of Dundee studied records of more than 8,6000 women who gave birth in Scotland between 2002 and 2005. This included 1,462 who used the Independent Midwives Association (IMA) and 7,214 who relied on the NHS. They found the risk of stillbirth or neonatal death within a month of birth was 1.7 per cent in the IMA group compared with 0.6 per cent in the NHS group.

However, independent midwives had more patients who knew there would be problematic births, and were expecting twins or had a history of complications in labour. When 'high risk' cases were excluded from both groups, there was little difference between them. [But is that the point? Surely high risk cases should be in hospitals?]

The authors also pointed out that home births had a number of advantages when comparing the two groups. IMA mothers were significantly more likely to start labour spontaneously and have an unassisted birth than NHS mothers. They also took fewer pain relieving drugs.

Their babies were significantly heavier than mothers who had babies in hospital. NHS babies were also more likely to be premature and admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit. Finally IMA mothers were much more likely to breastfeed successfully than NHS mothers.

Belinda Phipps, Chief Executive of the National Childbirth Trust said: 'Women at high-risk of complications are still entitled to choose a home birth and I think we have to ask why they are made to feel that their only option is to turn away from the health service.'


This should be the last straw for Britain's IVF regulator

They have wasted huge amounts of time and money in a fruitless legal assault on Dr. Taranissi's highly successful private IVF clinic while ignoring real sloppiness at a government IVF clinic

A MOTHER desperate to have a second child has told how she lost her last IVF embryo when the NHS implanted it into the wrong patient. When the other woman found out that the embryo was not hers, she aborted it.

Details of the blunder raise fresh questions about the way IVF clinics are regulated. The Sunday Times has previously revealed that women undergoing fertility treatment have had their eggs fertilised with the wrong sperm.

Deborah, the woman who lost her chance of another baby, is so traumatised by the error that she is reluctant to risk further IVF to have a longed-for sibling for her son, Jamie, 6. Because Deborah is 40 her prospects of having another child with her boyfriend, Paul, 38, are slim and diminishing. Deborah, who does not want to disclose her surname, said: “I will never forget the moment the hospital broke the news to us. Initially, the hospital told me there had been an accident in the lab and that the embryo had been damaged. I thought that someone had, perhaps, dropped the embryo dish. “I remember thinking: ‘That’s our last hope gone – we will never have another child.’ I left the hospital feeling totally shell-shocked. “When we went back to the hospital two days later and we were told the truth about my embryo being given to someone else I was so angry.”

Deborah, a healthcare worker, and Paul, who have been together for 17 years, went on the NHS waiting list for fertility treatment in 1996. After two failed attempts, Jamie was born on the third cycle in 2003. Three of the couple’s remaining embryos were frozen and they tried for another child with the only embryo to survive the freezing process at the IVF Wales fertility clinic, University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff in December 2007.

The causes of the blunder remained secret until the couple instructed lawyers to obtain reports into the incident. Documents acquired by their solicitor, Guy Forster of Irwin Mitchell, showed that, the previous year, there had been “near misses” because of problems in monitoring the ownership of embryos. These were reported to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), but Forster says it let patients down by failing to ensure that the problems at the clinic were sorted out.

Forster said: “We are concerned that the HFEA missed opportunities to take action in relation to IVF Wales before this incident occurred. “A report by HFEA investigators shows that the error occurred primarily due to failures by laboratory staff and theatre staff to carry out basic procedures.”


NHS waiting time targets hamper superbug fight, claim BMA

Waiting time targets in the NHS are hampering efforts to reduce “superbug” infections such as MRSA, doctors’ leaders have claimed. Patients are being placed on dirty beds to help hospitals meet the requirement to start treatment within four hours of admission.

Today the British Medical Association (BMA) called on the Government to allow more flexibility in the target to ensure there is enough time to clean equipment. Despite declining rates of MRSA and Clostridium difficile, healthcare-associated infections remain a “significant” problem for the NHS, with Britain having some of the highest rates in Europe, the BMA said in a report on tackling the issue.

The pressure to admit patients quickly and a shortage of isolation facilities at peak times are “critical challenges to maintaining high quality patient care”, the report states. Moving staff and patients around the hospital, in an effort to meet targets, also contributed to the spread of germs. The BMA said that patients with non-urgent conditions would understand if they had to wait an extra hour to be admitted to hospital while a ward was properly cleaned to minimise the risk of infection.

There needed to be a focus on long-term action and a will to drive down all infections, not just MRSA and C. difficile, it added. Medical processes could be improved, and meticulous hand-washing and proper prescribing of antibiotics should be encouraged, as overuse of the drugs is known to build up the resistance of microbes, the report concludes.

Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s consultants committee, said: “Hygiene, hand-washing and antibiotic policies have extremely important roles to play, but if we want to reduce the spread of infections we must put safety in front of political targets. “With many hospitals already working at full capacity, they will only get more pressurised as winter arrives, but you need time to clean. “If you ask a patient whether they want care now or safe care in an hour, they wouldn’t mind waiting for the safe care. Existing targets need to take the need for good infection control into account.”

The BMA’s report said that staff or hospitals should face sanctions if they failed to implement simple strategies such as washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol gels. A £50 million deep clean of all hospitals in England was ordered by ministers in 2007, concluding in March last year. But Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s head of science and ethics, said that the policy needed to be part of a package of long-term measures to maintain regular, thorough cleaning of hospitals. “Deep cleaning is a good thing provided you go in and do all the other organisational things and keep your cleaning at a high level,” she said. This includes proper cleaning of things such as bedside lockers and rails, the buttons on machines and switches.

Dr Nathanson added that areas of a hospital that posed the greatest risk of harbouring germs were not always included in cleaning contracts. Roughly half of all hospital cleaning has been outsourced to private companies.

Ann Keen, the Health Minister, responded that the latest figures showed that MRSA infections had fallen by 65 per cent and C. difficile infections were down by 35 per cent. “It is difficult to understand the BMA’s suggestion that our broad integrated strategy to reduce healthcare associated infection has been anything other than a success. “However, we accept that one preventable infection is one too many and we continue to battle against infections on every front.”

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “This report provides further evidence that the Government's obsession with targets is putting patient safety at risk. “Ministers need to stop micromanaging the NHS and trust doctors and nurses to decide the best way to care for their patients.”


Fear and hatred on the streets of Luton

Anger that "hate speech" by whites can get you arrested in Britain but hate speech from Muslims is OK. Britain's politicized police have a lot to answer for

When troops returning from Iraq marched through Luton, all hell broke loose. Muslims protested, white residents rioted and the Sikh mayor was viciously attacked. Can this multicultural community ever find peace — or is this eruption of long-simmering tensions a sign of even worse to come?

Later that day, after the soldiers’ parade had dispersed, Kier was walking across St George’s Square in his England shirt — “Eng-er-land! Eng-er-land! Eng-er-land!” the crowd had been chanting at the protesters. Kier was still feeling wound up by what he had just witnessed back by the Arndale. He had a cousin in the army, a family friend who had been killed in action. Bloody Muslim extremists, Kier was thinking to himself. How dare they!

Then he saw the mayor crossing the square, walking high and proud in his robe and chains. He was Asian. So far as Kier was concerned, he was a Muslim too, and it was all his fault. He was the head of the council; the council had given permission for the extremists to make their protest. F*** it, Kier thought. Kier ran up to him and fly-kicked him in the back. Councillor Lakhbir Singh, the mayor of Luton, a Sikh by faith, not in fact a Muslim at all, stumbled and fell forward, putting out his hands to stop himself falling. Kier turned around and, before the police could do anything, he ran through them and was away.

It would be farcical if it were not so sad and unpleasant, that brief moment in the life of modern, multicultural Britain. A Sikh in a turban had been mistaken for a Muslim by a white youth too ignorant to know any better, and apparently too angry to express himself other than with a kick.

The incident had been caught on camera, but it took the police a while to catch up with Kier. He was finally arrested six weeks later, outside Luton Town Football Club, which is slap bang in the middle of Bury Park, the predominantly Muslim area of the town. Kier McElroy, a white youth aged 18, had been attending a reserves match against Peterborough United.

In the weeks preceding Kier’s arrest, for some unexplained reason, the assault on the mayor was kept a secret and the mayor himself kept under wraps. He would not talk to me for this article, and I only found out about the attack through a contact in the town after Kier had been charged.

“It’s political correctness, innit,” Kier told me, after being released from custody. “We feel we’re being treated differently. They won’t nick the Asian lads, will they?” “We”, of course, were the white lads. Luton has been sharply divided along racial lines by recent events. Many of the town’s white youth are restless and incensed, and those other extremists, of the far right — the National Front (NF) and the British National Party (BNP) — are circling like vultures. Not for the first time, many of the town’s 30,000 or more Muslims are fearful of the backlash provoked, as they would see it, by the actions of the few Islamic extremists, or “troublemakers”, as I often heard them called....

Everyone was blaming everyone else. The whites blamed the authorities for letting it happen and the police for not doing anything about it — why didn’t they arrest them? The moderate Muslims blamed the extremists, the extremists blamed the moderate Muslims for not having the courage of their convictions; the authorities blamed the media for its inflammatory coverage of the parade and the intemperate language it tended to use when writing about Muslims...

Sayful had no hesitation in seeking to protest at the soldiers’ homecoming parade. He also says he knew that people would be upset by the protests and tried to have a low-key presence, out of harm’s way.

The police had agreed with the group that they would meet in the town at 12.30. The police would examine their placards and agree a place for them to stand, just away from the march past, where they would barely be noticed.

Things began to go wrong when the group did not arrive in town together, but became separated on the journey from Bury Park, so that while half of them took up the agreed position, by the Don Millers bakery, the delayed group got caught on the outside of the procession route and could not immediately be walked through to join the others. This second group were held in position by the police at the back of the town hall, at the top of Gordon Street, much closer to the march past.

Still, a journalist I spoke to who filmed along the whole route did not at first notice the protesters or capture them on film. It was only when he got down to St George’s Square — where the mayor was saying the soldiers should not be blamed for the war in Iraq — that the cameraman heard trouble and went back around the town hall to find out what was going on. According to the police, the split in the protest group had prevented them from properly examining their placards: “Anglian soldiers butchers of Basra”. “Anglian soldiers criminals, murderers, terrorists”. “Anglian soldiers go to hell”. “British government, terrorist government”. “Muslims rise against British oppression”.

Of course, half the country was against the war in Iraq, white, Asian, black, Muslims, Christians alike. But those placards, as no doubt intended, were provocative statements against the soldiers and their friends and families who had turned out to see the march. White people, young and old, male and female, who were there for the march past were incensed by the protesters’ placards and their shouting. “Anglian soldiers, baby killers!” was one call that particularly upset the soldiers and some of the several thousand people who were there to see them, though most would have been oblivious to the protests at the time. To the protesters, a regiment that had fired a total of 36,000 rounds in Iraq ought to share responsibility for the many civilian casualties — mothers and children among them — in that country. The army and its supporters would argue that the protesters should take their grievances to the government, which had promoted the war, and leave alone the soldiers, who had merely been following orders. But this was not good enough for Sayful Islam. “Would we excuse the Nazi soldiers who carried out atrocities because they were just obeying orders?”

The divisional commander of Luton, Chief Superintendent Andy Frost, would later think long and hard about the decisions taken before and during the day. Should he have banned or arrested the protesters? Well, they had turned out before with their banners and their megaphone — at the Luton Faith Walk and the Holocaust Memorial Day — and there had never been any real threat to public order. “Normally they turn up, start off their protest against the war, most people ignore them, and everyone moves on.” Next time, mind you, he might think differently.


Prince defeats ugly modern architecture

He is a true "tribunus plebis" in such matters. I congratulate him -- JR

The Prince of Wales has forced a Qatari development firm to withdraw its application for a controversial £3 billion housing project at the Chelsea Barracks site in West London. The Prince, a famously outspoken critic of modern architecture, had criticised Lord Rogers of Riverside’s design for Britain’s most expensive housing development as “unsympathetic” and “unsubtle”. He also wrote to the Emir of Qatar to voice his concerns at the plans for the glass and steel complex opposite the Royal Hospital in Chelsea.

Yesterday, less than a week before the application was due to go before the planning committee of Westminster Council, the site’s owner Qatari Diar, a property company, withdrew the application.

Lord Rogers, who designed the Millennium Dome in East London and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, blamed the Prince for the project’s collapse. The architect told The Times: “After two and a half years of extensive consultation with the local community and statutory consultees, and the publication of an exceptionally complimentary report on the Chelsea Barracks application from planning officers at Westminster City Council, it is extremely disappointing that this application has been withdrawn in response to Prince Charles’s views less than a week before the council was due to consider it.”

The leader of Westminster Council, Colin Barrow, said the Prince acted as a lightning rod for objections and encouraged others to come forward. He said: “I think the Prince of Wales gave voice to some misgivings that many people had about the architecture. It enabled people to say things that they were otherwise reluctant to say. Many more people came out against the architecture after that.”

More than 450 complaints were received by the council from residents concerned about the scale of the project, which would have included 548 flats, a hotel, two restaurants and a sports centre on the 12.8-acre site.

Qatari Diar bought the site for nearly £1 billion in January last year, and will now be seeking new designs. One architect who submitted a sketch in the initial competition was traditionalist Quinlan Terry. His design was recommended by the Prince of Wales as a preferable alternative. Prince Charles’s Foundation for the Built Environment will be consulted over new submissions.


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