Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Huge police presence needed for British kids to get to and from school safely

As a grade-school kid in the '50s I walked a mile to school in bare feet every day under NO supervision at all. And I never once had trouble. But there were no Muslims or Africans around then

Thousands of children returned to school yesterday under police guard. Scotland Yard is deploying 1,000 officers to stand at school gates and escort pupils on to buses to deter robbers.

The move follows a 20 per cent rise in street robberies in London to 13,254 this year, with a third of the victims aged ten to 19. Youngsters carrying expensive smartphones and MP3 players are increasingly being targeted, even though robbery rates overall are down since 2006. Blood-stained necklaces have been offered to pawnbrokers as jewellery theft has risen, driven by the high price of gold.

Assistant Met Commissioner Ian McPherson said: `Smartphones and media players are becoming must-have items for many people. Young people, especially secondary school-aged children, are targeted - usually after school by other young people.'

Hundreds of police and community support officers are taking part in the crackdown until half-term starts on October 21, a period when thefts from pupils surge.

Figures show 10 per cent of muggings take place around transport hubs and the Met is stationing officers outside schools, Tube stations and on buses.

Met Commander Maxine de Brunner said the end of the school day between 3pm and 6pm was when many thefts take place. She said: `It is a really busy time for us, especially at the start of the school term.

`Ten years ago the figures were much higher. But we have seen a spike in robbery in recent months which is down to the upward trend in the availability of really expensive phones and iPads.

`It is unprecedented to focus this amount of officers on just the journey to and from school and around transport hubs.' But she added: `I think it makes young people feel safe that we are there.'


Bring back danger: Councils should build old-fashioned playground as British children have been softened up

Old-fashioned playground equipment like climbing frames, sand pits and paddling pools are set to be re-introduced after research found a degree of risk helps children to develop.

For years councils have felt forced to remove older attractions from their sites fearing any potential injuries could result in costly legal battles.

But recent research has shown that children actually benefit from risk when they play as it helps them develop the judgement skills they need in later life.

In an article for the scientific Journal Evolutionary Psychology, Ellen Sandseter a professor at Queen Maud University in Norway said: 'Children must encounter risks and overcome playground fears - monkey bars and tall slides are great. 'They approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner. 'Let them encounter these challenges from an early age and they will master them through play over the years.'

In July, High Court judge Mr Justice Mackay ruled the National Trust could not be held responsible for the death of an 11-year-old boy who was killed when a branch fell from a tree at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk in 2007. He told the court that the Trust's tree inspectors had exercised a reasonable amount of caution saying 'even the most careful risk assessment can be proved wrong by events.'

This landmark ruling is believed to greatly reduce the prospect of legal action in the event of injuries in play areas.

Last year David Cameron commissioned the report Common Sense, Common Safety, to look into the problem of unnecessarily strict health and safety regulations being enforced.

Outlining the problem he wrote: 'A damaging compensation culture has arisen, as if people can absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their own actions, with the spectre of lawyers only too willing to pounce with a claim for damages on the slightest pretext.'

The report, written by Lord Young concluded: 'There is a widely held belief within the play sector that misinterpretations of the [Health and Safety] Act are leading to the creation of uninspiring play spaces that do not enable children to experience risk.

'Such play is vital for a child's development and should not be sacrificed to the cause of overzealous and disproportionate risk assessments. 'I believe that with regard to children's play we should shift from a system of risk assessment to a system of risk-benefit assessment, where potential positive impacts are weighed against potential risk.'

South Somerset Council has recently spent œ50,000 re-fitting two playgrounds in Chard and Yeovil, building sand pits, climbing equipment stepping logs and net swings.

Playlink, a national advisory body on outdoor activity, helped draw up the plans for the new playgrounds.

Chairman Bernard Spiegal told the Sunday Times he believed Britain had been obsessed with risk assessment which was having a negative effect on children. He said: 'We were crippling their confidence by not letting them learn through experience. 'We don't want children losing fingers in badly designed swings or getting their heads trapped under a roundabout. But there's nothing wrong with a bump, bruise and graze.'


Parents know best how to fix schools

As moms and dads across America enter the education reform arena by the thousands through parent unions, capitol demonstrations, and expanded school-choice measures, some defenders of the current system have piped up against "parent power."

Take Jay Mathews of the Washington Post. He recently excused the American Federation of Teachers' efforts to block Parent Trigger legislation in Connecticut to allow a majority of parents at a failing school to make the school district do something about the problem.

"Many parents, particularly loudmouths like me, think we know exactly how to fix our schools. In most cases we don't," he wrote. Instead, he recommends parents let experts and "imaginative educators" figure things out for us.

In a Reuters op-ed, author Peg Tyre similarly worries that newly empowered parents "don't have a clue what they are doing" when selecting education for their children.

She points out, correctly, that expanding school choice means a lot to learn for many parents who previously had no choice but to send their children to (often horrible) schools assigned by ZIP code. Yes, some parents may find the new options confusing.

Initial confusion, however, is no reason to avoid -- or to let government purloin -- an exciting and important responsibility. If it were, none of us would ever have children in the first place.

Parenthood, after all, means absolute greenhorns have an entire human being (or several human beings) to raise to maturity, with no previous practice or qualifications and very little preparation.

Certainly, no expert or researcher would design such a risky system, but it has been pushing civilization along at an extremely rapid pace since, well, human beings have existed.

Experts such as Matthews and Tyre have a variety of reasons for the positions they take, and teachers and administrators have varied motivations for remaining in their present positions.

Parents, by contrast, universally maintain a single motivation: their concern for their children. The same visceral concern that prompts Mommy to rise yet again for a squalling baby at 3 a.m. and pumps Dad's adrenaline when he races to lift his spluttering son out of the pool also incites parents to (rightly) demand teachers' heads when they find out Johnny can't read, write or calculate.

It's a positive motivation that's largely blunted in a nation where 90 percent of kids are stuck in a school assigned by geography and government fiat.

Just as parents have for decades found their way around the system by spending extra money to live in districts with what they perceive to be better schools and asking principals to place their child with the better fifth-grade teacher, so, too, can and will their deep motivation inspire them to seek the best possible education in a system of real choice. They will do this for the same reasons they do everything else for their children.

Tyre may not notice, but she's one reason more freedom for parents will be successful: She has written a book teaching parents how to decide wisely among their expanding school choices.

As more and more parents search for these answers, their very need will create the necessary supply of information and advice. It's the same, simple system we all depend on to put milk on supermarket shelves and provide us gas on unknown roads: the consumer-empowering nature of the market.

The best education system puts children first. No one places children first more naturally and effectively than their parents. Freeing parents to do what they know and accomplish best will only strengthen American education.


1 comment:

Sean said...

As a grade-school kid in the '50s I walked a mile to school in bare feet every day under NO supervision at all.

This sounds like the story my parents told me.. Except they had burlap on their feet and the walk to and from school was uphill both ways..