Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Failure of British schools is a failure to concentrate on the basics

If there is any political party out there flailing around in search of a mission statement to back up its leader's personal charm and cycle clips, here is a free suggestion. Confront the people (grinning, if you insist) and just say this: "We promise to protect your safety and your rights, and provide efficient and fair public services. Until we have achieved these core duties, we will not mess around with any frills, go-faster stripes or luxury fandangles. If this renders us boring, we're sorry. But it is pointless to tackle a pile of shit by spraying gold paint on it, or getting consultants and spin-doctors to dance around it waving dodgy statistics. We will get a shovel and mop, and tackle the basics. Even if it means we don't keep up Mr Blair's record of seven new laws a day for ten years."

This return to my hairy old theme of The Boring Party was sparked off by news that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is drawing up plans to measure whether primary schools are improving children's psychological "wellbeing". They want the poor brats to fill out questionnaires and tick boxes ("I've been feeling good about myself all the time/often/some of the time/rarely/never" etc).

Now, the duty of primary schools to keep an eye on children's happiness is obvious. Some schools' innovations - familiar counsellors, chill-out rooms, and so forth - are useful and kindly extensions of the traditional pastoral role; they are probably needed more than ever today because of the commercial and social stresses on families. More traditional ways of advancing emotional literacy also flourish whenever staff can find a crack in the dry concrete of the curriculum: poetry, stories, music, exercise, outings and school visits got most of us through our schoolday puzzlements and griefs.

But a questionnaire? A self-conscious demand that a child of 6 should look inward rather than outward, and score on a scale of one to five how much it "feels loved"? Nah. For one thing, it is unscientific: small children are volatile and you can't have four quizzes per day. And how insulting is the implication that primary schools must be judged on a wellbeing scale dreamt up by distant academics? The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Mick Brookes, points out that any decent teacher knows how a child is feeling without a tickbox checklist; and there is no hard evidence whatsoever that encumbering little children with formal self-awareness makes them happier. Teenagers, just possibly. Eight-year-olds, no.

And - to return to the manifesto of the Boring But Efficient Party (BBEP) - let me point out that many of these children will not, under present conditions, even have an NHS dentist. Many will be in oversized classes. Some will have parents who speak little English, and whose entitlement to free lessons has just ended. Some of the children filling in the forms will, thanks to poor social services communication, be struggling carers for their parents, as exposed recently by the Princess Royal Trust. Many have no safe outdoor space to play in because the streets and parks are dangerous and there is no community policeman. And if they do suffer from serious mental illness later, their parents will have to struggle for proper psychiatric support.

And if, heaven forfend, they get into trouble, they may well end up like poor little Adam Rickwood, aged 14, who was shunted off to a child prison 150 miles from home, and taken off suicide-watch despite a three-year record of mental disturbance. Adam wrote a last despairingly affectionate letter to his mother and hanged himself with his shoelaces. The youth justice system remains a callous, inefficient mess. Many other systems - which should be at the core of governmental duty - are equally moribund.

Yes, it is hard to get everything right. My complaint is not that governments are imperfect, but that in every area of public endeavour there is an unstoppable centrifugal force, pushing effort out to the margins. We need relaxed, well-run schools with trusted teachers - we are given ditzy questionnaires. We need the best cancer treatments and proper care for the elderly, and instead we get a promise of IVF for all - which, to be brutal, frequently fails - and an assurance that smokers will get a cessation drug gratis on the taxpayer (never mind all the money they'll save on not buying fags; or the simple psychological fact that if it's free they won't value it or let it work).

In other realms the same thing happens, sparks flying outward from an ever-less-efficient engine. We need control of house prices, and instead we get misconceived Hips. We need good social services, unhampered by political correctness, and instead we get patronising leaflets telling fathers how to cuddle the baby. We need all children to have their intelligence recognised and fed in orderly schools, and instead we put pressure on universities to take children from bad schools, merely because it isn't fair that they're so bad and because government needs to disguise the fact in its statistics.

Suppose you hired an assistant and he failed to open the post, tidy the office, lock up at night or answer the phone. You'd remonstrate. Even if he brought in orchids, did a daily tap-dance on the desk, juggled bananas and arrived dressed in a different historical costume every morning. But government and - under its influence - public bodies behave like this the whole time. And we go on hiring them.


Surprise! British professors protect Muslim radicals

A union of British academics voted unanimously to reject a government plan to tackle Islamic extremism in universities, likening the initiative to "witch hunts" that would single out Muslim students. The University and College Union, which represents more than 120,000 British academics, agreed to the motion Wednesday at its inaugural conference in Bournemouth in southern England. The motion calls for members to "resist attempts by government to engage colleges and universities in activities which amount to increased surveillance of Muslim or other minority students and to the use of members of staff for such witch hunts."

The Department for Education set guidelines last year urging university staff to contact police to identify and isolate Muslim students suspected of being radicalized. The report included real-life cases, including students watching online bomb-making videos in college libraries and using prayer rooms for radical meetings.

Critics said the plan unfairly singled out Muslims for surveillance and threatened free speech and academic freedom. "Lecturers want to teach students," said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the union. "If they wanted to police them, they would have joined the force."

Bill Rammell, higher education minister, said there is serious but not widespread Islamist extremist activities within universities. "The guidance is not about targeting one particular community," he said. "It is about promoting safety... It is also about protecting vulnerable students from bullying and harassment and other recruiting tactics of violent extremist groups."

But universities trying to implement the guidelines would have trouble forcing professors and staff to comply after the vote, said Dan Ashley, a spokesman for the union. If the university tries to enforce it on the staff, they won't do it, they won't spy on their students," he said. "You want them to be radical. That's the whole point: universities are where you encourage people to think outside the box."


Australia: Teachers quitting over sex inquiries

Given the way they are treated, men who take on a teaching career are a courageous lot

TEACHERS are quitting their jobs. rather than fighting to clear their name of alleged sex offences, because investigations are taking too long. The Queensland Teachers' Union said some investigations were taking several years and teachers refused to stay in the job with suspicion hanging over their head. "The nature of the job is stressful enough without having that on top of it," said union president Steve Ryan. "There have been a number of teachers who have just resigned because they don't want to go through the trauma."

Education Queensland said that most investigations were concluded in case the teacher sought to be re-employed at a later date. An exclusive report in The Sunday Mail last week revealed 82 state school employees, mostly teachers, were being investigated for alleged sex offences involving students. The allegations ranged from serious sexual assaults to showing sexually explicit material to making sexual comments to children in conversations, phone text messages and on the internet.

Education Queensland said there were 414 outstanding cases involving allegations of official misconduct against staff. As of May 1, there were 12 teachers under suspension, eight with pay and four without. The four without had appeared in court on criminal charges and been committed for trial.

One male teacher who contacted the Sunday Mail said he had fought for two years to clear his name after students accused him of indecent behaviour. The teacher, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said charges were thrown out of court because of lack of evidence. But Education Queensland had stalled on giving his job back and allowing him to return to the classroom. "Teachers are easy targets for a lot of cheap shots. A small percentage of the community think male teachers are motivated by a desire to be close to children," he said. I have dedicated my whole life to this career ... hopefully I will get my iob back one day."

Mr Ryan said many of the 82 cases against the teachers would eventually be dropped, and it was unfair that parents and students might assume a teacher was guilty if he or she left the profession because the investigation had been prolonged.

The above story by DARRELL GILES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 3, 2007


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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