Monday, March 17, 2008

A mocking look at British school insanity

Re: Ed Balls's astonishing revelation, based on unverified research (ooh, my favourite kind) that some state schools are charging parents admission fees

The good ones, obviously, where the children come out the other end largely uninjured. Not the ones where the body-piercing is done with scissors. One school in North London admitted that it was asking for 50 pounds to fund extracurricular activities. It gives you the money back if your kid doesn't get in, though, sadly missing the opportunity to almost define the notion of adding insult to injury.

The schools admissions procedure is mesmerising, even to the childless. Every part of it seems designed to induce the worst aspects of humanity. Some schools are brilliant, some are dreadful, and your child could end up in either. It's like the scene in Flash Gordon where Peter Duncan has to shut his eyes and put his arm in a tree stump to see if he gets bitten by a lethal space-crab.

Not liking their odds in many parts of the country (and let's not forget that Duncan gets the venom), parents play the system - moving house, finding God, assassinating the children next door. O'Brien has to hold a cage of rats over Winston's eyes to make him shriek: “Do it to Julia.” We just have to offer a schools lottery.

I think the new-found religion one is the most chilling, though. If I'd seen my parents acquire a sudden and unexpected fondness for the Pope, I would have thought they'd gone quite mad. And that was before the Vatican issued a new list of seven deadly sins this week, which puts contraception on a par with murder, and prohibits “morally debatable scientific experiments”. I was going to pack up my laboratory and stop trying to build that robot boy, but as an ardent fan of the contraceptive Pill, I guess I'm going to hell already.

But after all the mud slung at pushy parents, now it turns out that the schools themselves may not be without corruption. Some apparently ask for an admission fee, others for compulsory donations. Which, to anyone but an accountant, sounds a lot like a fee. Actually, my accountant thinks it's a fee too. There's something rather brilliant about most of the schools that stand accused of these practices being faith schools. With the faith in Arthur Daley, rather than an omnipotent being, I suppose. Perhaps they could specialise in teaching bribery, and add blackmail, extortion and fraud to the curriculum too. When Ronald Searle invented St Trinian's, he can't have imagined that its moral values would one day seem perfectly reasonable.

The admissions code for schools is a baffling mishmash - you can admit children for aptitude, but not for ability. You can let them in if they have a sibling at the school, but not if it's a cousin. Children in care take precedence and special needs children must be given priority. In other words, the best thing you can do for your children's future is to abandon them, after making sure they have a dyslexic older brother.

But why should schools be the only ones to make money in this whole grotty business? Parents of children who are already at desirable schools should start auctioning off the right to adopt them, thus providing next year's intake with a handy set of older siblings in situ. And why just auction them off once? Each child could sustain at least five new brothers and sisters, surely. And if it's a Roman Catholic school you're trying to get into, that would probably earn you double points.


Australia: Shocking pupil violence report in government schools

As night follows day, weak discipline leads to misbehaviour. The report below is however tame stuff by California standards. Australia has far fewer troublesome minorities

More than 65,000 Queensland state school students have been suspended for disruptive and violent behaviour over the past five years. The startling figure includes 13,838 students in Years 1 to 12 caught with "objects", including weapons, on school grounds. A total of 801 primary and secondary students have been expelled for bad behaviour and "physical misconduct involving objects". Of the state's 10 school regions, a total of 51,734 students were suspended in the five-year period for physical misconduct alone.

The figures come amid a series of violent school-related incidents and police concerns that assaults involving students are becoming more severe. The figures, from September 2002 to June 2007, were released under freedom of information laws to The Sunday Mail. The data is from the department's School Disciplinary Absence database, which was established in June 2002 and records disciplinary action that falls under the categories "physical misconduct" and "physical misconduct involving an object". The database does not contain the words "assault" or "weapon", and Education Queensland would not define "object".

A spokeswoman said physical misconduct, which "can include" poking, pushing and hitting students and staff, represented 30 per cent of all incidents and had remained stable over the past few years. She said the increase in the suspensions for physical misconduct showed schools were taking the issue seriously. There were 14,000 disciplinary absences out of about 480,000 students statewide....

Police, students and teachers told The Sunday Mail that while violence had not escalated, it was a continuing problem. Several police officers said students were using the internet and texting on their mobiles to arrange fights after-hours, or to upload footage of school violence. Two students from a south Brisbane high school said group bashings were becoming more popular.

Stationing police officers at schools had had an impact on reducing violence, officers said. "School-based officers have a better advantage to head off trouble before it starts and be better prepared. Because they are on the ground he can be hearing things," an officer said.

Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford said there was a level of offending behaviour in every school but he did not believe violence had increased significantly in state schools. The Queensland Teachers Union said that while violence was an ongoing issue, really serious incidents were isolated. "Schools are a reflection of society so I think as we see increasing evidence of it in society, we can expect to see the same thing in schools," union president Steve Ryan said. He added the union's concern was that the department supported schools when they took disciplinary action.


Australia: Leftist teachers block military cadet training in government school

An elite girls' school has been accused of sexual discrimination by its own students after banning its army cadet program. Angry MacRobertson Girls' School students who participated in the cadet program say they were aware several teachers were openly hostile to their involvement, with one student alleging the 30 cadets were compared to "Hitler Youth". MacRobertson Girls' High School principal Jane Garvey informed the cadets that the program would cease at the end of the year after a school council decision in November.

The girls allege that the ban is sexual discrimination as it prevents them from continuing in the cadet program with brother school, Melbourne High School. The girls, dressed in military attire, would participate in drills at Melbourne High and attend skills camps.

Year 12 student and cadet under officer Bridget Pianta said some teachers objected to girls taking part in any military activity. "You would think that with a school's ethos that girls can do anything that boys can that they would be encouraging it, especially something that encourages leadership in girls," she said. The highest ranked officer in the cadets, the regimental sergeant major, is a girl from the select-entry, single-sex government school. "It seems to me that it was politically sensitive and by closing the program they hoped it would go away," Ms Pianta said.

Ms Pianta, who helped initiate the program in 2005, said it was widely known that two teachers were overheard calling the cadets "Hitler's Youth". The Sunday Age has independently verified the comment from the student who heard the teachers speaking. After the student made a complaint, it was alleged that the male teacher "had not meant it". "Many of the teachers there are way left of Marxism and I am fine with that if they are honest. But don't try and come across all PC and say you accept others if you don't," the former student said.

In a letter, Ms Garvey told the girls that the program would not continue because it was disruptive and had been subject to administration problems. It was also difficult to find a teacher to supervise the program. A teacher has subsequently been found to run it for the rest of the year.

Melbourne High School principal Jeremy Ludowyke confirmed that his school's council had written to MacRob asking it to allow the year 10 to 12 girls already enrolled to complete their training. He said male and female students benefited enormously from the program, which has been running at Melbourne High for more than 100 years.


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