Tuesday, July 21, 2009

British Parents 'will have no say' over sex education in schools

Parents will be given barely any say in the content of sex education classes under Government plans to make the subject compulsory for children as young as five, a report warns today. Schools are currently free to draw up their own policies on sex education and are obliged to consult parents.

But proposals unveiled by Children's Secretary Ed Balls earlier this year to make the subject mandatory in primary and secondary schools will inevitably limit parents' influence, says a report from the Family Education Trust. Parents would have less power to keep explicit materials out of the classroom and object to the Government's 'misplaced' and 'counterproductive' promotion of contraceptives in lessons.

Norman Wells, the trust's director, said: 'Making personal, social and health education statutory would reduce the influence of parents over what is taught. 'Making it part of the curriculum would inevitably make schools less accountable to parents in what is a particularly sensitive and controversial subject area.' He added: 'There is a definite agenda at work to undermine the role of parents and to tear down traditional moral standards. The need for parents to be alert and vigilant has never been greater.'

Under the Government's plans, which are open to public consultation until the end of the week, primary schools would be required to teach sex and relationships education for the first time. Currently they do not have to cover the issue at all beyond the basic requirements of the science curriculum.

Draft plans suggest children aged five would learn to name parts of the body while sevenyearolds will learn about physical changes linked to puberty. Nine-year-olds would begin to learn about the facts of life.

In secondary schools sex education would become a statutory part of the national curriculum for the first time. Parents would retain their right to withdraw pupils from lessons. But hardly any exercise this amid concerns about their children being singled out by classmates or discovering the material anyway in the playground.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'Schools have an important role to play in providing effective sex and relationship education, which is essential if young people are to make responsible and well informed decisions about their lives.'


Giving schoolkids government laptops may send standards backwards

Getting a kid a laptop may lead to them goofing off more with games etc. rather than doing their homework

THE centrepiece of the [Australian] Federal Government's so-called education revolution may be worse than useless, a visiting American researcher says. Before the 2007 election Kevin Rudd vowed to spend $2.3 billion rewarding parents who installed or bought home computers. He later said his decisions would be evidence based.

Jacob Vigdor, of Duke University, North Carolina, has conducted what is probably the world's biggest study on the effect on maths and reading scores of gaining a home computer. He finds "statistically significant" evidence that it sends them backwards. "Children in homes with computers tend to do better than those in homes without - there's no doubt about that," Professor Vigdor told the Herald. "But there could be other reasons. Those homes also have a lot of other things other homes don't have, and often have more educated parents."

He examined the performance of students before and after their home gained a computer. This meant examining students from less well-off homes. The better-off ones already had computers. But Professor Vigdor told a seminar at Australian National University he did not think this was an important limitation.

Professor Vigdor found that acquiring a computer at home made end-of-year results for year 3 to year 8 students in North Carolina "significantly worse" in reading and maths. These results were spread over five years. "The bad effects fade somewhat over time, but even after five years they are still negative. I am not saying go out and burn all the computers.

"If you want to buy junior a computer with your own dollars, that's fine … but it's another thing when we talk about spending public dollars."


Push by Australia's Institute of Public Affairs (conservative thinktank) to offer school vouchers

THE federal government should introduce a system of school vouchers to bring about a genuine education revolution, according to a report to be published today. The paper, prepared by the Institute of Public Affairs, says vouchers -- under which government funds go to pupils rather than the schools they attend -- encourage more choice in education, improve academic outcomes and are popular with parents.

"The federal government's education revolution perpetuates the waste, inefficiency and perverse incentives that come with funding micromanagement," the IPA says. "The current schools stimulus package is a prime example of this, with a range of ill-suited, cost-padded infrastructure works being laid out across the country. "If Australia wants a real education revolution, it should ensure government funding follows the student and not the preferences of education ministers or bureaucrats."

The Australian understands Malcolm Turnbull has ordered the opposition's education spokesman, Chris Pyne, to examine vouchers as part of Coalition policy. Mr Pyne was unavailable for comment yesterday, but the Opposition Leader has backed a voucher system in the past.

Mr Turnbull clashed with then education minister Brendan Nelson in 2002 as chairman of the Liberal Party's think tank, the Menzies Research Centre, when he supported a paper produced by the centre suggesting a similar voucher system. "This is core Liberal stuff," Mr Turnbull said at the time. "A lot of the themes in this report are absolutely core Liberal Party educational philosophy -- issues of greater accountability, more autonomy, divulging more control to schools and communities." The co-author of that paper, John Roskam, is now executive director of the IPA and a Turnbull confidant.

A voucher system provides parents with government funds to spend at the school of their choice. "By separating government financing of education from the operation of schools, vouchers can help break down monopoly control over school services delivery and promote competition between government and non-government schools," the IPA report says.

"As has been increasingly understood by both sides of the political fence, vouchers represent a powerful tool to tackle educational disadvantage. This is because parents of children with special education needs, or from low-income families, are financially empowered to take their children out of failing schools and into high-quality educational institutions."

The report lists options ranging from a universal system to vouchers for students with special needs. "The cost of a universal voucher can be prohibitively expensive," the report's author, IPA research fellow Julie Novak, told The Australian. "If you want to tackle education disadvantage, which is what Education Minister Julia Gillard is keen to do, you may want to bundle up a disability-targeted voucher with an indigenous-targeted voucher. "That would be less expensive than a universal voucher, but has the added benefit that it tackles education disadvantage so students in those groups have the potential to attend high-quality, high-achievement schools."

Ms Novak said bundles of targeted vouchers would "have the most realistic policy potential in Australia." She said this approach would be an effective trial for a broader voucher scheme. Ms Novak acknowledged the proposal would be controversial. "A voucher system threatens the entrenched positions of education unions as government schools in particular have to become more innovative and compete," she said. "It's good for parents, great for students but you can understand why there might be some reluctance among some of the entrenched interests," she claimed.

The report says voucher systems are being pursued in 30 countries around the world, from the US through to developing nations such as Colombia.


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