New 'totalitarian' home education rules in England drive families north to Scotland
Home schooling advisers say they are being swamped by inquiries from parents who want to move to Scotland
The housing market may still be gloomy but one group of people could offer estate agents a glimmer of hope, as home education support groups report a huge increase in the number of inquiries from parents thinking of moving to Scotland. "People are serious about leaving England," says Barbara Stark, chair of Action for Home Education. The surge in interest follows the government's planned shake-up of home education in England – described by Stark as "totalitarian".
Schoolhouse, a Scottish home education charity, has received four times the normal numbers of inquiries from English parents considering a move north, with nearly 100 in the two weeks following the publication in June of Graham Badman's review of home education in England. The review's key recommendations would force families who opt out of schooling to register annually with their local authorities, submit learning plans and undergo regular inspections. The report was accepted by the government.
Schoolhouse spokesperson Alison Preuss says: "The Badman report came out in the middle of June and we started getting swamped with calls from English families who were asking about how 'safe' Scotland was by comparison. "We are not only being asked about the home education law, but also about the political climate, transport links, housing, employment and business opportunities by parents who are making plans to move to Scotland." Scottish educational policy recommends that LEAs should be in contact with home-schooling families annually, but this is a recommendation, not an obligation.
The Badman proposals are causing Techla and David Wood to "reluctantly" move north from Hellifield, North Yorkshire, to North Ayrshire with their four children. Techla Wood says if the family remained in England, they could not continue with their "child-led learning" because of the requirement that teaching plans must be submitted to local authorities. "My eldest children, twins Daisy and Chloe, are 13 and have never been to school, but the Badman report turns everything that we have being doing on its head. If we stay in England, Ben and Ariana, who are six and one, won't have the same options to explore their education or have the freedom to learn as the older kids have," she says.
The Woods are looking at houses in the Largs, West Kilbride and Fairlie area. "It's a difficult time to do this with the financial crisis, but if it came to it we would put the house on the market below the market price just to get a quick sale and then go and stay with friends."
Lisa Amphlett and partner Gareth Jenkins from Stafford have been looking at houses in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where property is expensive. The couple run a web design company, making them reasonably mobile, but they need good transport links and have altered their business plans to finance the move, even though their daughter, Millie, is only 20 months old. They fully intend to home educate Millie.
Lisa Amphlett explains: "We are prepared to go as quickly as possible but we have set a deadline when Millie turns five. Being judged on our educational or parental quality is not a road we want to take."
BRITAIN'S ENERGY CRISIS: HOW LONG TILL THE LIGHTS GO OUT?
IN THE frigid opening days of 2009, Britain's electricity demand peaked at 59 gigawatts (GW). Just over 45% of that came from power plants fuelled by gas from the North Sea. A further 35% or so came from coal, less than 15% from nuclear power and the rest from a hotch-potch of other sources. By 2015, assuming that modest economic growth resumes, a reasonable guess is that Britain will need around 64GW to cope with similar conditions. Where will that come from?
North Sea gas has served Britain well, but supply peaked in 1999. Since then the flow has fallen by half; by 2015 it will have dropped by two-thirds. By 2015 four of Britain's ten nuclear stations will have shut and no new ones could be ready for years after that. As for coal, it is fiendishly dirty: Britain will be breaking just about every green promise it has ever made if it is using anything like as much as it does today. Renewable energy sources will help, but even if the wind and waves can be harnessed (and Britain has plenty of both), these on-off forces cannot easily replace more predictable gas, nuclear and coal power. There will be a shortfall-perhaps of as much as 20GW-which, if nothing radical is done, will have to be met from imported gas. A large chunk of it may come from Vladimir Putin's deeply unreliable and corrupt Russia.
Many of Britain's neighbours may find this rather amusing. Britain, the only big west European country that could have joined the oil producers' club OPEC, the country that used to lecture the world about energy liberalisation, is heading towards South African-style power cuts, with homes and factories plunged intermittently into third-world darkness.
In terms of energy policy, this is almost criminal-as bad as any other planning failure in New Labour's 12-year reign (though the opposition Tories are hardly brimming with ideas). British politicians, after all, have had 30 years to prepare for the day when the hydrocarbons beneath the North Sea run out; it is hardly a national secret that the country's nuclear plants are old and its coal-power stations filthy. Recession has only delayed the looming energy crunch (see article). How did Britain end up in this mess?
A request to snoop on public every 60 secs in Britain
Councils, police and other public bodies are seeking access to people’s private telephone and email records almost 1,400 times a day, new figures have disclosed. The authorities made more than 500,000 requests for confidential communications data last year, equivalent to spying on one in every 78 adults, leading to claims that Britain had “sleepwalked into a surveillance society”. An official report also disclosed that hundreds of errors had been made in these “interception” operations, with the wrong phone numbers or emails being monitored.
The figures will fuel concerns over the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act by public bodies. The Act gives authorities – including councils, the police and intelligence agencies – the power to request access to confidential communications data, including lists of telephone numbers dialled and email addresses to which messages have been sent.
Councils have been accused of using the powers, which were originally intended to tackle terrorism and organised crime, for trivial matters such as littering and dog fouling. Only last month, it emerged that councils and other official bodies had used hidden tracking devices to spy on members of the public.
The latest figures were compiled by Sir Paul Kennedy, the interception of communications commissioner, who reviews requests made under the Act. They relate to monitoring communication “traffic” – such as who is contacting whom, when and where and which websites are visited, but not the content of conversations or messages themselves. Sir Paul found that last year a total of 504,073 such requests were made. The vast majority were made by the police and security services but 123 local councils made a total of 1,553 requests for communications data. Some councils sought lists of the telephone numbers that people had dialled.
Amid growing unease about surveillance powers, ministers issued new guidelines last year about their use. Despite the promised crackdown, the 2008 figure is only slightly lower than 2007’s 519,260 requests.
In April, the Home Office said it would go ahead with plans to track every phone call, email, text message and website visit made by the public, in order to combat terrorists and other criminals.
Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “It cannot be a justified response to the problems we face in this country that the state is spying on half a million people a year. “We have sleepwalked into a surveillance state but without adequate safeguards.”
Sir Paul found 595 errors in interception requests last year, including mistakes by MI5 and MI6, the intelligence agencies. However, he defended councils over their use of the Act, concluding: “It is evident that good use is being made of communications data to investigate the types of offences that cause harm to the public.” His report even encourages councils to acquire more communications data, saying that “local authorities could often make more use of this powerful tool to investigate crimes”.
A Home Office spokesman said: “It’s vital that we strike the right balance between individual privacy and collective security and that is why the Home Office is clear these powers should only be used when they are proportionate.
Paranoid, suspicion, obsessive surveillance - and a land of liberty destroyed by stealth
Britain is slowly becoming a police state
Returning to Britain from a summer holiday abroad, you begin to notice things that perhaps escaped your attention before - the huge number of CCTV cameras that infest our public spaces and, much less obviously, the atmosphere of watchfulness and control that has now become a way of life. This is the regime that 12 years of New Labour have imposed on Britain, a place of unwavering suspicion, paranoia - and obsessive surveillance. We have become the sort of society that we would unhesitatingly have railed against a few years ago. But, because the change has been brought about with such stealth, we are the very last to see it.
The latest figures, in a report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy, are truly terrifying. They reveal that a request is made every minute to snoop on someone's phone records or email accounts. Last year alone, there were 504,073 new cases of state-sanctioned surveillance, the equivalent of one adult in 78 being watched - and a rise of 44 per cent over two years. Whatever happened to our centuries- old traditions of freedom?
Voltaire called England 'the land of liberty'. Until New Labour materialised, with its intrusive and 'character improving' agenda, that description rang true. The English preferred freedom and tolerance to ideological and religious fanaticism. The currency of our society was common sense. No longer. Common sense has been replaced by officially sanctioned mistrust, mistrust that allows anyone invested with the tiniest bit of authority - often in the form of a high-visibility jacket - to throw their weight around. Britain is now a place where terror laws have been used by councils to spy on people breaching smoking bans, making a fraudulent application for a [school]. Police routinely stop anyone who photographs a public building, in one instance deleting the pictures taken by a 69-year-old Austrian tourist who admired the architecture of Vauxhall bus station.
And if the authorities are behaving like this today, what will they subject us to in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics? Wardens in Brighton already habitually seize drink from people on the mere suspicion that they plan to consume it in a public place. And in Edinburgh, a swimming pool attendant stopped the 85-year-old mother of TV presenter Nicky Campbell from taking pictures of her grandchildren.
These stories have become part of our national life - and there are thousands of them each year. I know this because my researcher trawls local and national newspapers for examples every morning. What they add up to is a depressing account of a nation infantilised by micro-management and fear. We are losing something essential to our national identity. Foreigners who know what is going on here cannot believe that the British show such little regard for their freedoms. Even Americans, the most jumpy people in the world, are unsettled by Britain's paranoia.
Government policy is largely to blame. Labour has instilled an endemic culture of suspicion in Britain, which is manifest in the 3,500 new criminal offences brought in over its 12 years in office. Labour is also behind a flurry of new databases that either leech personal information from each one of us or require innocent members of the public to go through an endless rigmarole of proving themselves to the state. The scale of this project is vast. 'The state and its agencies are amassing increasing quantities of data about its citizens,' writes Jill Kirby, the director of the Centre for Policy Studies, in a recent pamphlet. She lists them as including the DNA database, centralised medical records and the children's database Contact-Point. This data, she says, has 'proliferated to levels previously unseen in peacetime Britain'.
An institutionalised pessimism has taken over. The clear message of Government is that we are incapable of managing our lives and must be watched and regulated by ministers and civil servants from dawn to dusk. More sinister is the assumption that we are all in some way guilty of harbouring the worst intentions. Up to 11 million people who work with children - music tutors, babysitters, football coaches and even parents who have exchange students to stay - will now have to join a new database at the cost of £64 and undergo criminal checks. Writers such as Philip Pullman and Anthony Horowitz, who regularly visit schools, are among those who have roundly condemned the scheme. You can see why - the other day I heard of a retired canon who was told that he could only baptise his grandson in his local cathedral if the church authorities first saw proof of his criminal records check.
But it is the Government's obsession with surveillance that poses the greatest threat to our liberty. Earlier this year, I calculated from published figures that Britain's expenditure on databases and surveillance systems would amount to a staggering £32 billion. Thanks to the economic crisis, some projects have been scaled back. But plans still include a £1 billion system that will give the Government access to data from all emails, text messages, phone calls and internet usage - a proposal that has even been savaged by companies expected to collect the information.
Additionally, the e-Borders scheme, which will take 53 pieces of personal information from anyone travelling abroad - including phone and credit card numbers, details of an onward journey and history of cancelled journeys - will cost over £1.2 billion.
But the absurd amounts spent on these schemes are not the only concern. The threat they pose to our privacy - and the incompetent way in which the Government handles our personal data - are even more worrying. We know, for example, that more than 30 million separate personal files have been lost by government agencies. Recently, a Freedom of Information request by Computer Weekly magazine revealed that nine local authority staff have been sacked for accessing the personal records of celebrities and acquaintances. This largely unpublicised breach should warn us that a government obsessed with hoarding our information and watching us cannot be trusted to keep our details safely.
A similar security lapse in ContactPoint could be disastrous. But even this doesn't compare to the real possibility of the systems that watch our movements, monitor our behaviour and tap into the communications data linking up into one great apparatus of surveillance. This would allow the authorities more or less to monitor our every movement and transaction in real time. Nothing would remain private.
If this happens, we can kiss goodbye to a functioning free society in the United Kingdom. We are not there yet - but we can see the seeds everywhere, from the spread of CCTV, and the flood of government regulations to the expropriation of our personal information. We have to consider the distinct possibility that the obituary for the 'land of liberty' is being composed at this very moment.
Children should not be given Tamiflu or Relenza for flu
Once again, medical "wisdom" goes into reverse
CHILDREN with seasonal flu should not be given antivirals such as Tamiflu because harmful side effects outweigh relatively meagre benefits, according to a study released today. In some children Tamiflu caused nausea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration and other complications, researchers reported.
The study did not cover the current outbreak of swine flu, but its conclusions suggest that antivirals may not significantly reduce the length of illness or prevent complications in children infected with the new A(H1N1) virus, the researchers said.
Carl Henegan, a doctor at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, and co-author of the study, said the current British practice of giving Tamiflu for mild illness was "an inappropriate strategy". "The downside of the harms outweighs the one-day reduction in symptomatic benefits," he said.
The research showed that antivirals oseltamivir and zanamivir shortened the duration of seasonal flu by up to a day and a half. But the drugs had little or no effect on asthma flare-ups, increased ear infections or the need for antibiotics.
Tamiflu, the brand name for oseltamivir, was also linked to an increased risk of vomiting. Zanamivir is marketed under the name Relenza.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, comes 10 days after Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA) reported that more than half of 248 students given Tamiflu after a classmate fell ill with swine flu suffered side-effects such as nausea, insomnia and nightmares. Most of the students did not have the flu when they were given the drug.