Monday, August 17, 2009

Great dangers in the rushed-out swine flu vaccine

The entire population of Britain are about to become guinea pigs in a risky experiment

A warning that the new swine flu jab is linked to a deadly nerve disease has been sent by the Government to senior neurologists in a confidential letter. The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.

It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which could be triggered by the vaccine. GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.

The letter, sent to about 600 neurologists on July 29, is the first sign that there is concern at the highest levels that the vaccine itself could cause serious complications. It refers to the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the United States in 1976 when:

* More people died from the vaccination than from swine flu.
* 500 cases of GBS were detected.
* The vaccine may have increased the risk of contracting GBS by eight times.
* The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear.
* The US Government was forced to pay out millions of dollars to those affected.

Concerns have already been raised that the new vaccine has not been sufficiently tested and that the effects, especially on children, are unknown. It is being developed by pharmaceutical companies and will be given to about 13 million people during the first wave of immunisation, expected to start in October. Top priority will be given to everyone aged six months to 65 with an underlying health problem, pregnant women and health professionals.

The British Neurological Surveillance Unit (BNSU), part of the British Association of Neurologists, has been asked to monitor closely any cases of GBS as the vaccine is rolled out. One senior neurologist said last night: ‘I would not have the swine flu jab because of the GBS risk.’

There are concerns that there could be a repeat of what became known as the ‘1976 debacle’ in the US, where a swine flu vaccine killed 25 people – more than the virus itself. A mass vaccination was given the go-ahead by President Gerald Ford because scientists believed that the swine flu strain was similar to the one responsible for the 1918-19 pandemic, which killed half a million Americans and 20million people worldwide.

Within days, symptoms of GBS were reported among those who had been immunised and 25 people died from respiratory failure after severe paralysis. One in 80,000 people came down with the condition. In contrast, just one person died of swine flu. More than 40million Americans had received the vaccine by the time the programme was stopped after ten weeks. The US Government paid out millions of dollars in compensation to those affected.

The swine flu virus in the new vaccine is a slightly different strain from the 1976 virus, but the possibility of an increased incidence of GBS remains a concern. Shadow health spokesman Mike Penning said last night: ‘The last thing we want is secret letters handed around experts within the NHS. We need a vaccine but we also need to know about potential risks. ‘Our job is to make sure that the public knows what’s going on. Why is the Government not being open about this? It’s also very worrying if GPs, who will be administering the vaccine, aren’t being warned.’ ....

Dr Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the vaccines section of the influential Cochrane Collaboration, an independent group that reviews research, said: ‘New vaccines never behave in the way you expect them to. It may be that there is a link to GBS, which is certainly not something I would wish on anybody. ‘But it could end up being anything because one of the additives in one of the vaccines is a substance called squalene, and none of the studies we’ve extracted have any research on it at all.’ He said squalene, a naturally occurring enzyme, could potentially cause so-far-undiscovered side effects.

More here

Death toll from hospital bugs hits new high in British government hospitals

More than 30,000 people have died after contracting the hospital infections MRSA and Clostridium difficile in just five years, official figures will show this week. Most places you go to hospital to get well. In Britain you often go to hospitals to get worse, even to get killed. British government hospitals are very dangerous places for sick people. Isn't that socialist "caring" great? How do 30,000 unnecessary deaths grab you as testimony to the benefits of socialized medicine?

Data from the Office for National Statistics covering 2004 to 2008 is expected to show record numbers of deaths linked to the superbugs in England and Wales. Opposition politicians said the Government had allowed "a horrifying death toll" because of its "slow and sloppy" response to spiralling levels of infection in NHS hospitals.

Official data shows a doubling in the death toll linked to MRSA during the period 2004 to 2007, compared with the previous four years, and a quadrupling in deaths linked to C. diff, when two sets of three-year figures are compared. Between 2004 and 2007 there were more than 20,000 deaths linked to C. diff and more than 6,000 associated with MRSA.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "These figures describe an absolutely horrifying death toll, and many of these people have lost their lives because of infections which could have been avoided if firm action on infection had been taken a long time ago".

Annual deaths linked to MRSA quadrupled between 1997 and 2007, while those associated with C. diff quadrupled between 2004 and 2007, figures show. The spread of infections into most British hospitals, which occurred under the last Conservative government, had been allowed to "escalate, and become out of control" under Labour, Mr Lamb said, with waiting targets and efficiency prioritised over basic safety and cleanliness.

Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said the statistics showed the gulf between "flowery" Government rhetoric about a war on infection, and poor hygiene which had been allowed to continue unchecked. "The NHS has been told to put other targets ahead of safety, and this is the inevitable outcome," she added.

Infection experts have repeatedly warned that assessments based on the number of death certificates which record the presence of MRSA and C. diff are likely to underestimate the scale of the problem, because doctors are reluctant to admit that basic infections have caused fatalities.

Earlier figures published by the ONS have shown that the worst hospital for C. diff deaths in England or Wales was the Royal United Hospital in Bath, which had 268 deaths from the infection between 2002 and 2006. The George Eliot hospital in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, the Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry and the Royal Infirmary in Leicester all had more than 200 deaths caused by the infection over the same period. The worst-ever outbreak of C. diff in this country occurred between 2004 and 2006 at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, where the bug was linked to the deaths of 331 patients.

More than 5,000 people have backed The Sunday Telegraph's Heal Our Hospitals campaign, which is calling for a review of hospital targets to make sure they work to improve quality of care.


Working class backlash against Muslim extremism in Britain

They see themselves as the vanguard in a battle for the soul of Britain against extremist Islamist forces — the “enemy within” bent on imposing Sharia. Casuals United announced their arrival on Saturday when a small army of shirt-sleeved, middle-aged men with beer bellies clashed in a flurry of punches and kicks with young Asians in Birmingham city centre.

The group, which is closely affiliated with the far-right English Defence League, insists that it is a peaceful movement representing ordinary working people angered by the sight of Muslims hurling insults at British soldiers on homecoming parades. But if the chants of “England, England” and the aggressive posturing appear familiar, it is because they are.

The members of Casuals United are largely former football hooligans drawn from the terraces and, according to their critics, are essentially the BNP and National Front repackaged. The groupings have attracted the support of BNP activists including Chris Renton, who created the English Defence League website.

Jeff Marsh, the leader of Casuals United, told The Times that the organisation was a “mixed-race group of English people, from businessmen and women, to football hooligans”.

He said: “I came up with the idea to unite football fans to forget their petty rivalries and come together in a national movement. There are a lot of people in their forties and fifties who used to be hooligans but went on to settle down. A lot of young football fans want to get involved.”

Mr Marsh, who holds a degree in criminal justice, claims to have support among serving soldiers and points to the activities of army wives on the website Armchair Warriors. “Their men can’t be seen to be supporting us directly,” he said.

The new beast on the far Right came to prominence when its members clashed with anti-fascist protesters in Birmingham on Saturday. Police made 30 arrests and are still studying closed-circuit television footage.

According to the anti-fascist group Searchlight, Casuals United was created after the trouble in March when Islamists demonstrated against troops returning from Afghanistan to Luton. Two months later, members of Casuals United marched through the town and last month they picketed an Islamic roadshow in North London.

Mr Marsh, 44, whose book The Trouble with Taffies is an account of football violence in South Wales, confirmed that the Luton parade had been the catalyst. He said that a generation of former football hooligans were stirred to action by the sight of Muslim extremists abusing the men of the Royal Anglian Regiment.

After the group was outnumbered by United Against Fascism in Birmingham on Saturday, Mr Marsh pledged that it would return to the city on August 30. The group is also planning a protest in Manchester in October.

The Casuals make full use of modern communications, using social networking websites, notably Facebook, where there are about 40 branches, many of which declare allegiance to various football clubs. The Arsenal branch sums up the group’s manifesto, saying that it was formed to “protest peacefully against the Government allowing Islamic Hatemongers to live in our country while raising money for terror abroad, cursing our soldiers and trying to force Sharia law on us”.

Gerry Gable, of Searchlight, said: “We predicted real trouble in Birmingham. They are not a non-violent group. They have been involved in trouble in Luton. There are connections between people who run far-right websites and we know the BNP were actively offering to find them people for both Birmingham and for [a demonstration] in Luton on August Bank Holiday”.

Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of the United Against Fascism group, said: “Nobody should be taken in by the pretence that these marches and rallies are not aimed at whipping up race hatred against Muslims and Asians. They are racist demos and we should not allow them to take place.”


Another Warmist refusal to release their raw data

Every time they breach this basic scientific test of veracity, even using lies to do so, they cast grave aspersions on the correctness of their own analyses and conclusions. Some excerpts below from a post by Doug Keenan

Queen’s University Belfast is a public body in the United Kingdom. As such, it is required to make certain information available under the UK Freedom of Information Act. The university holds some information about tree rings (which is important in climate studies and in archaeology). Following discusses my attempt to obtain that information, using the Act.

When a tree is cut, you can often see many concentric rings. Typically, there is one ring for each year during which the tree grew. Some rings will be thick: those indicate years in which the environment was good for the tree. Other rings will be thin: those indicate the opposite.

Scientists study tree rings for two main purposes. One purpose is to learn something about what the climate was like many years ago. For instance, if many trees in a region had thick rings in some particular years, then climatic conditions in those years were presumably good (e.g. warm and with lots of rain); tree rings have been used in this way to learn about the climate centuries ago. The other purpose in studying tree rings is to date artefacts found in archaeological contexts; for an example, see here.

One of the world’s leading centers for tree-ring work is at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), in Northern Ireland. The tree-ring data that QUB has gathered is valuable for studying the global climate during the past 7000 years: for a brief explanation of this, see here.

Most of the tree-ring data held by QUB was gathered decades ago; yet it has never been published. There is a standard place on the internet to publish such data: the International Tree-Ring Data Bank (ITRDB), which currently holds tree-ring data from over 1500 sites around the world. QUB refuses to publish or otherwise release most of its data, though. So I have tried to obtain the data by applying under the UK Freedom of Information Act (FoI Act).

I have submitted three separate requests for the data. Each request described the data in a different way, in an attempt to avoid nit-picking objections. All three requests were for the data in electronic form, e.g. placed on the internet or sent as an e-mail attachment. The first request was submitted in April 2007.

QUB refused the first request in May 2007. I appealed the refusal to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of QUB, who rejected the appeal. The primary reason that the Pro-Vice-Chancellor gave for rejection was that some of the data was in paper form and had not been converted to electronic form. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor additionally claimed that after data was converted to electronic form, “It is then uploaded to the International Tree Ring Data Base”. There might indeed be some small portion of the data that is not in electronic form. My request, though, was for a copy of the data that is in electronic form. So, is all data that is in electronic form available at the ITRDB, as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor claimed?

QUB has in the past published the results of various analyses of its tree-ring data (most notably its claim to have sequences of overlapping tree rings extending back in time many millennia). In doing the analyses, the sequences of tree-ring data are analyzed statistically, and the statistical computations are done by computer. This is well known, and moreover has been stated by QUB’s former head tree-ring researcher, Michael G.L. Baillie, in several his publications. (Indeed, Baillie and his colleague Jon R. Pilcher, also at QUB, wrote a widely-used computer program for tree-ring matching, CROS.) Obviously the data that was used for those computations is in electronic form— and it has not been uploaded to the ITRDB. Thus the claim by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor is untrue.

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor further claimed that to organize the data in “the very precise categories which [I] have specified” [in my request] would entail a vast amount of work. My request, though, was merely for the tree-ring data that had been obtained and used by the university; that hardly seems like precise categorization. Moreover, I later submitted a second request for “the data about tree rings that has been obtained by [QUB] and that is held in electronic form by the university”. That request was also refused. And a third request that was very similar to the second was refused. All three requests were refused in whole, even though the university is required to make partial fulfillment when that is practicable.

After half a year of trying to obtain the information from QUB, I appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO is charged with ensuring that the FoI Act is enforced. My appeal to the ICO was submitted on 24 October 2007. The ICO notified me that an officer had been assigned to begin investigating my case on 14 October 2008. Such a long delay is clearly incompatible with effective working of the Act.

The ICO then contacted QUB, asking for further information. QUB then admitted that almost all the data was stored in electronic form. Thus QUB implicitly admitted that its prior claims were untruthful.

QUB now asserted, however, that the data was on 150 separate disks and that it would take 100 hours to copy those disks. (These were floppy disks—the type that slide into computers and, prior to the internet, were commonly used to carry electronic data.) It takes only a minute or two to copy a floppy disk, however; so the claim of 100 hours to copy 150 floppy disks is an unrealistic exaggeration.

QUB also said that it considered photocopying a printed version of the data, but that this would take over 1800 hours. As noted above, all my requests were for data that is in electronic form; moreover, I have repeated this point in subsequent correspondences with QUB. The statement from QUB about photocopying is thus not relevant.

On 22 December 2008, the ICO sent me a letter rejecting my appeal, on the grounds that the time needed by QUB would exceed an “appropriate limit” (as stipulated in the FoI Act). The ICO had accepted QUB’s explanation for refusing to release the data without question, and without discussing the explanation with me. I telephoned the ICO to raise some objections. To each objection that I raised, the ICO case officer gave the same reply: “I’m satisfied with their [QUB's] explanation”.

I also offered to visit QUB with the case officer, to demonstrate how quickly the data could be copied (e.g. from floppy disks), and to copy the data myself. This seemed particularly appropriate because the officer had told me when she started on the case that she would visit QUB as a standard part of investigation, yet she had not made such a visit. The officer, though, declined my offer, again saying that she was satisfied with QUB’s explanation.

There is a mechanism to appeal an ICO decision, to a tribunal. I told the case officer that I wanted to do so. The officer replied that, in order to file an appeal, I would need a formal Decision Notice from the ICO. I requested a Decision Notice. The officer then informed me that the ICO would send a Notice, but that, because they were busy, it would take about two years to do so.

I discussed the above with a colleague, David Holland. Holland said that my request should not have been processed under the FoI Act. His reasoning was that the information I was requesting was about the environment: environmental information is exempt from the FoI Act and requests for such information should instead be processed under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). He pointed out that the tree-ring data clearly fits the definition of “environmental information” given in the EIR. It also clearly fits the common (dictionary) definition.

I had been aware that the EIR existed, but had assumed that the EIR was essentially the same as the FoI Act. After the discussion with Holland, though, I checked and found that there is one major difference between the EIR and the FoI Act: under the EIR, there is no limit on the amount of time that a public institution requires to process a request. In other words, even if QUB’s original claim that some of the data was only available on paper were true, or even if QUB’s revised claim that copying data from disks would take 100 hours were true, that would still not be a valid reason for refusing to supply the information.

I am not an expert in how to apply the EIR or FoI Act, though. So I telephoned the ICO headquarters to ask for guidance. There I spoke with a Customer Service Advisor, Mike Chamberlain. Chamberlain told me the following: that the information seemed obviously environmental; that there was no limit on processing time that could be used to refuse a request for environmental information; that I could freely visit a site where environmental information was held in order to examine the information; and that it was the duty of the public authority (i.e. QUB) to determine whether the EIR or the FoI Act was applicable. Chamberlain also confirmed everything that he told me with someone more senior at the ICO.

It is regrettable that I had not realized the above earlier. My initial request to QUB, in April 2007, had stated the following: It might be that this request is exempt from the FOIAct, because the data being requested is environmental information. If you believe that to be so, process my request under the Environmental Information Regulations. QUB, however, had not processed my application correctly. I should have caught that.

There is another issue. I had described the information to the ICO case officer by telephone and also by e-mail (on 24 November 2008). Hence the case officer must have known that the information was environmental, and thus exempt under the FoI Act and only requestable under the EIR. Why did the ICO not act on that? On 29 January 2009, I e-mailed the case officer, citing the above-quoted statement from my request to QUB and saying “I would like to know the reasoning that led to my request being processed under the Freedom of Information Act, instead of EIR”. Initially, there was no reply.

The EIR was enacted pursuant to the Aarhus Convention, an international treaty on environmental information that the UK promoted, signed, and ratified. Failure to implement the EIR would constitute a failure by the UK to adhere to the Convention. So, a few weeks after e-mailing my question to the ICO, and with no reply, I contacted the Aarhus Convention Secretariat (ACS), at the United Nations in Geneva. The ACS has a mechanism whereby individuals can file a complaint against a country for breaching the Convention. I had an initial discussion with the ACS about this. That turned out to be unnecessary though. The Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland contacted me, on 10 March 2009: he was now handling my case and, moreover, he had visited QUB and seen some of the data.

On 22 April 2009, I received a telephone call from the Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland. The Assistant Commissioner said that he was preparing a Decision Notice for the case, and he made it clear that the Notice would hold that the data should be released under the EIR. The next I heard anything was on 13 July 2009, when it was announced that the Assistant Commissioner had been suspended. On 13 August 2009, I telephoned the ICO: I was told that a new officer would be assigned to the case within the next few days and that a draft Notice, which had been written by the Assistant Commissioner, was in the signatory process. I am presently awaiting further word....

So as soon as someone started to co-operate, he was fired! There sure are some badly worried people there -- JR

More HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

Background information on why Irish tree-ring data is important: See here

Global Warming ate my data

I have already posted (on 14th) the article by Roger Pielke Jr. on this but I think it is worthwhile to add the summary below from the "Register"

The world's source for global temperature record admits it's lost or destroyed all the original data that would allow a third party to construct a global temperature record. The destruction (or loss) of the data comes at a convenient time for the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in East Anglia - permitting it to snub FoIA requests to see the data.

The CRU has refused to release the raw weather station data and its processing methods for inspection - except to hand-picked academics - for several years. Instead, it releases a processed version, in gridded form. NASA maintains its own (GISSTEMP), but the CRU Global Climate Dataset, is the most cited surface temperature record by the UN IPCC. So any errors in CRU cascade around the world, and become part of "the science".

Professor Phil Jones, the activist-scientist who maintains the data set, has cited various reasons for refusing to release the raw data. Most famously, Jones told an Australian climate scientist in 2004: "Even if WMO agrees, I will still not pass on the data. We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?"

In 2007, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, CRU initially said it didn't have to fulfil the requests because "Information accessible to applicant via other means Some information is publicly available on external websites".

Now it's citing confidentiality agreements with Denmark, Spain, Bahrain and our own Mystic Met Office. Others may exist, CRU says in a statement, but it might have lost them because it moved offices. Or they were made verbally, and nobody at CRU wrote them down. As for the raw station data,
"We are not in a position to supply data for a particular country not covered by the example agreements referred to earlier, as we have never had sufficient resources to keep track of the exact source of each individual monthly value. Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data."

Canadian statistician and blogger Steve McIntyre, who has been asking for the data set for years, says he isn't impressed by the excuses. McIntyre obtained raw data when it was accidentally left on an FTP server last month. Since then, CRU has battened down the hatches, and purged its FTP directories lest any more raw data escapes and falls into the wrong hands.

McIntyre says he doesn't expect any significant surprises after analysing the raw data, but believes that reproducibility is a cornerstone of the scientific principle, and so raw data and methods should be disclosed.


More details of the ducking and weaving at the CRU here

Memory exam as good as IQ test?

This is not exactly new. It has long been known that memory is a factor in IQ but the claim that it predicts academic success better is new. It may depend on the type of academic success and the way it is measured. Verbal ability is the component of IQ most usually found to be the best predictor of academic success, which may be part of the reason why women generally outpace men in the numbers gaining academic qualifications these days.

The article mentioned below must be a very recent acceptance as it is not at the time of writing listed as "In press" at the journal concerned.

A previous recent publication of Prof. Alloway's work says that it was done among children with learning difficulties. That would severely limit the generalizability of her findings

Scientists are calling for a new way of testing intelligence. As the internet cuts the need for the brain to store facts, “working memory” - our ability to retain and juggle information for brief periods - could be as much a measure of modern mental abilities as traditional IQ tests.

For decades psychologists, teachers and employers have relied on IQ testing to assess people’s learning potential. The tests measure problem-solving ability and a person’s capacity for abstract reasoning. Now, however, scientists are suggesting that short-term or working memory is a better and simpler measure of the skills modern youngsters will need in school and in their eventual careers.

Tracy Alloway, director of the centre for memory and learning at Stirling University, is to release the latest research suggesting that tests of children’s working memory helped predict their grades more accurately than IQ tests. “Working memory measures our ability to process and remember short-term information. It’s about how well we juggle different thoughts and tasks,” she said. “There is a great deal of variation between different individuals and it is becoming clear that it is a much better way of predicting academic attainment.”

Such findings are likely to prove controversial, especially as Alloway claims that testing working memory also avoids the cultural bias built into IQ tests. Such bias has been blamed, for example, for the way different racial groups achieve significant variations in their average scores.

In her latest research Alloway gave working memory and IQ tests to 98 children aged 4.3 to 5.7 years in full-time preschool education. Recently, six years on, she revisited the children, now aged 10 and 11, asking them to take a battery of tests to measure working memory and IQ. She said: “Critically, we find that working memory at the start of formal education is a more powerful predictor of subsequent academic success than IQ.” Alloway’s research is due to be published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Some link psychology’s new focus on short-term memory with the rise of the internet and other electronic databases which makes the ability to juggle facts and figures more important than remembering them for long periods.

Alloway believes there are other factors at work too. “Working memory assesses people’s ability to process information and keep track of complex tasks, so it is relevant to many aspects of modern lifestyles,” she said.

Other psychologists believe IQ tests still have a lot to offer. Robert Logie, professor of human cognitive neuroscience at Edinburgh University and an expert in working memory, said measuring IQ gave a far more complete view of a person’s all-round mental abilities. He said: “There are many aspects to intelligence, and working memory is important but it is far from being the whole story.”


Under Leftist rule, British high School students have become twice as smart (on paper)

Pupils with three A grades double under Labour. What does BritGov hope to gain by devaluing the qualifications they issue?

This week’s A-level results are set to bring a new row over grade inflation with a doubling in the proportion of pupils winning three straight A grades since Labour came to power. Research by the Commons library shows that in 1997, 14,065 candidates – 6.1% of the total – scored three As. Last year the total hit 31,100 – 12.1% of those who sat the exam. The proportion winning at least one A is expected to edge up for the 27th successive year when results are announced on Thursday, pushing the percentage winning three As over twice the figure for 1997.

Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, said: “The massive growth in candidates getting three As suggests standards are not being policed as rigorously as in the past.” He plans to overhaul GCSEs and A-levels by making papers more difficult and giving universities a role in setting them. He would also exclude vocational exams from academic league tables and give more points in tables to hard subjects such as physics than to softer ones such as media studies.

Evidence of A-level devaluation also comes in a new analysis by Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University. He has compared results with those from the international baccalaureate (IB), an alternative to A-level studied at 196 British schools. In 1993 the pass rates of both were about the same, but a gap of 20% has since opened up, with A-level passes nearing 100%. “IB passes have fluctuated from 70%-80%, as you would expect if standards were being maintained,” Smithers said. “We are fooling ourselves if we believe these A-level rises mean education is getting better.”

Vernon Coaker, the schools minister, said: “The increased numbers of students with top marks should be a cause of celebration. There has been no dumbing down.”

At least 20,000 candidates are expected to be have no place after clearing, which starts on Thursday. A scheme to help those with better grades than predicted is set to flop because of lack of places. Such candidates can upgrade their university if they find a space. It was intended to help bright candidates from disadvantaged families whose grades are most likely to be underpredicted.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “If such students are frustrated in their search for a place at top universities, the conclusion must be that institutions are not committed to helping them.” [It's not that the government failed to fund places for all qualified students??]


British education agencies are not raising standards, says think-tank

The salary of the chief inspector at Ofsted has risen by 70 per cent since 2002 and overall staffing costs at the school inspectorate have increased by more than a third. A report, which calls for the abolition of two thirds of the government agencies that deal with education, claims that more than a billion pounds has been spent on the taxpayer-funded quangos with little evidence that they have raised standards in schools.

The Centre for Policy Studies urges reform of the main organisations, including Ofsted, the General Teaching Council and the School Food Trust.

David Laws, the schools spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “At a time when public finances are being squeezed, we must ask if these quangos are necessary.”

The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Government’s technology agency, Becta, are among those that should be abolished, researchers at the right-of-centre think tank said. While politicians of all parties had made repeated calls for a reduction in the size and number of quangos, little had been done, the report said.

The research analysed 11 education quangos receiving public funding totalling £1.2 billion in 2007-08. In the last year, the cost to the taxpayer of these organisations has increased by 12 per cent. The report recommended a programme of reform that would remove seven of the bodies and overhaul the others. It said: “There is no evidence that the performance of the quangos has matched the growth in their budgets.”

The Department for Children, Schools and Families’ annual report in 2008 revealed that productivity in UK education had fallen by 0.7 per cent a year between 2000 and 2006.

The authors of the report argue that the new QCDA (formerly the QCA) should be scrapped and replaced by a small Curriculum Advisory Board, with the aim of freeing schools from centralised control in the national curriculum. Plans by ministers to abolish national strategies and “repeated” fiascos in the Sats exams, showed the failure of the QCA, it said. A new advisory board would be responsible for creating a broad, voluntary curriculum for schools, which would be mandatory only for those that were failing.

Ofsted should be revamped and returned to its original function as an inspectorate focusing on failing schools. Its remit to inspect children’s services should be given to another organisation, the report said. Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector at Ofsted, earns £230,000 a year, say researchers, an increase of 70 per cent on the salary in 2002. Staffing numbers at Ofsted have fallen by 48 since 2002 but costs per head for each member of staff have increased by 38 per cent. The programme of reform would cut Government spending by £633 million.


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