Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UK: Christian school 'downgraded for failing to invite an imam to lead assembly'

A successful Christian school has been warned it is to be downgraded by inspectors and could even face closure after failing to invite a leader from another religion, such as an imam, to lead assemblies, it is claimed.

The small independent school in the Home Counties was told it is in breach of new rules intended to promote “British values” such as individual liberty and tolerance in the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal, involving infiltration by hard-line Muslim groups in Birmingham.

Details of the case are disclosed in a letter to the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, from the Christian Institute, which is providing legal support to the school.

The group warned that the new rules intended to combat extremism are already having “disturbing consequences” for religious schools and forcing Ofsted inspectors to act in a way which undermines their ethos.

It follows complaints from orthodox Jewish schools about recent inspections in which girls from strict traditional backgrounds were allegedly asked whether they were being taught enough about lesbianism, whether they had boyfriends and if they knew where babies came from.

In the latest case inspectors are understood to have warned the head that the school, which was previously rated as “good” that it would be downgraded to "adequate" for failing to meet standards requiring it to “actively promote” harmony between different faiths because it had failed to bring in representatives from other religions.

They warned that unless the school could demonstrate how it was going to meet the new requirements there would be a further full inspection which could ultimately lead to it being closed.

A Government consultation paper published in June, explaining the new rules, makes clear that even taking children on trips to different places of worship would not be enough to be judged compliant.

The Institute, which is already planning a legal challenge to the consultation, arguing that it was rushed through during the school holidays, fears that the new guidelines could be used to clamp down on the teaching of anything deemed politically incorrect on issues such as marriage.

“Worryingly, evidence is already emerging of how the new regulations are requiring Ofsted inspection teams to behave in ways which do not respect the religious ethos of faith schools,” Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute, told Mrs Morgan.

“The new requirements are infringing the rights of children, parents, teachers and schools to hold and practise their religious beliefs.”

Listing recent cases involving criticism of Anglican, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools by Ofsted, he added: “The Christian Institute is currently working with an independent Christian School which has been marked down by Ofsted for not promoting other faiths.

“Astonishingly it was told it should invite representatives of other faith groups to lead assemblies and lessons, such as an Imam.

“The wording of the regulations inevitably results in these kind of outcomes. “While we obviously support attempts to address the problem of radicalisation, the current regulations fail to do this.”

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: “Under Ofsted’s revised guidance for the inspection of schools, inspectors now pay greater attention to ensuring that schools provide a broad and balanced education for their pupils, so that young people are well prepared for the next stage in their education, or for employment and for life in modern Britain.

“Inspectors will consider the effectiveness of the school’s provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and how the school’s leadership and management ensure that the curriculum actively promotes British values.

“This includes, among other factors, pupils’ acceptance and engagement of different faiths and beliefs, and their understanding and appreciation of the range of different cultures within school and further afield.”


Sandy Hook Schools Parents on Education

The Sandy Hook school shooting was the stuff of nightmares. Now, almost two years after that horrific tragedy, state officials are blaming another culprit: homeschooling. After the December massacre that took 26 innocent lives, Connecticut’s leaders are still trying to make sense of the crime – and focus their efforts on preventing a similar one. In the aftermath, Governor Dannel Malloy (D) convened a special Sandy Hook Advisory Commission to study the shooting and offer recommendations for upgrading security and protocols. But so far, the Commission’s only contribution has been more controversy.

In a proposal just released by the 16-member panel, the Commission makes the outrageous suggestion that Connecticut needs to crackdown on homeschooling, especially in homes with emotionally or mentally challenged kids. In a nod to the killer, Adam Lanza, whose mom pulled him out of school briefly as a teenager, the Commission has somehow concluded that homeschooling was partly to blame for his violence. That shocked the homeschooling community, and rightfully so.

Obviously, this is just an excuse to discredit – or, worse – destroy the fundamental right of parents to educate their children. “We believe this is very germane,” said Harold Schuwatz, one of the panel’s members. “The facts leading up to this incident support the notion that there is a risk in not addressing the social and emotional learning needs of homeschooled children.”

To people familiar with the Lanzas, the idea that homeschooling played any role in the shooting is ridiculous. In fact, it was Adam’s own psychologist who recommended teaching him at home where his parents could keep closer tabs on him. Now, the state of Connecticut is suggesting that it’s the government who needs to keep closer tabs – on moms and dads who should be the ultimate authority on their children’s education.

Matthew Hennessey, who is helping to highlight the Commission’s ulterior motives, points out that that this goes much deeper than the Sandy Hook shooting into the foundational questions of who has the final say on how or where a child learns. “Of course, no one wants another Newtown… But Governor Malloy’s handpicked commissioners have indulged a dangerous impulse, common on the Left, to reorder society at the expense of the family. In the process, they have trampled on the rights of homeschoolers to raise their children as they see fit,” he writes.


Exposing the student-loan trap

Low-interest federal loans saddle students with overpriced sheepskins

There is an old adage that asserts “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” meaning that personal connections can often be more important than one’s actual skills and abilities. It’s a cynical maxim, albeit one with some truth to it. In today’s labor market, however, having the right skill set is more important than ever for anyone who wants to succeed.

We are constantly reminded of the importance of education, and of college degrees in particular, for young people. President Obama, earlier this year, came right out and said that “college has never been more important.” What students are not told, though, is that not all college degrees are created equal, and not all educations guarantee equality of opportunity upon entering the real world of work.

In many areas of the country, employers are confronting an increasingly severe skills gap. In my hometown of Cleveland, there were more than 3,000 job openings for engineers posted last year, but in 2013, fewer than 1,300 students there received engineering degrees. Students are not being told that basic training as a welder or a machinist increases their value to employers far more than a master’s degree in theater or cinema studies. As the proud owner of three master’s degrees, two of which have been completely useless in my career, this is a lesson I wish someone had taught me when I was younger. My own $70,000 of student debt reminds me every day that this is a problem that affects all of us.

Today’s millennials are being duped and exploited, not only by the propaganda praising liberal arts degrees as indispensable, but by the promise of easy credit from government-backed student loans. The amount of student debt in the United States is now more than $1 trillion, an economic burden that threatens an entire generation. Rather than address this problem, Congress is pushing for still lower interest rates, encouraging still more debt. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student-loan refinancing bill is a perfect example of politicians cynically preying on the hopes and dreams of average students.

The reason, they argue, is that college costs are too high for students to afford without help. Has anyone bothered to ask why costs are so high to begin with? Prices rise when too many dollars are chasing too few goods. Offering easy credit to students for college doesn’t solve the problem of high prices; it creates it.

If there is any doubt about this, stop by your local university and observe the lavish temples to knowledge that these dollars have built. Students are funding luxury Taj Mahals only to find that they still can’t get a job when they graduate. Universities are not charging so much because they need to, but because they know they can get away with it.

We too often forget that college is a business like any other, and its primary goal is to make money. Students don’t see the full cost of their education when they first apply, and are then kept on the hook as long as possible with the temptations of secondary majors, minors, advanced degrees, and anything else that can prolong their stay and run up their tab. With unlimited low-interest loans from the government, the incentives to spend responsibly just aren’t there for kids who don’t know better.

Part of the problem is that college is a terrible place to find yourself. When I did my study-abroad program in Oxford, it was common for British students to take a year off before attending a university to experience the real world and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. This meant that they were better prepared to focus on a productive and goal-driven education that would serve them well in later life. Using a college campus as a playground for self-discovery is the most expensive indulgence most of us will ever purchase.

A quality education remains an important component of success, but in today’s information age, there are more ways to achieve it than ever before. Trade and vocational schools, technical institutes and online classes — for which there should be a bigger discount than there currently is — are all viable alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar liberal arts schools. Rather than turning our noses up at educational options outside the Ivy League, we should embrace them and recognize their importance.

It’s time to stop lying to students by promising them a free ride on the back of government credit. Instead, we should encourage them to invest responsibly in an education that will actually offer positive returns. After all, it’s not who they know anymore. It’s what we know.


Australia: The value of economic education

I'm a firm believer in the value of economic education. An understanding of incentives, opportunity costs, supply and demand are as essential for making sense of the world as maps, history and periodic tables.

So I was alarmed when I read this week that economics education is not up to scratch. Griffith University's Professor Tony Makin and lecturer Alex Robson, reviewed the economics ­curriculum concluding the course needs to be re-written from scratch.

The author of the curriculum, Associate Professor Alex Millmow, of Federation University, responded that, "We didn't want to scare away primary school teachers. It's not an economics course".

The current course was introduced by former Minister for School Education Peter Garrett for years 5 to 8 or kids of around 10 to 14 years to: "equip the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators and businesspeople to continue to grow the Australian economy as well as take advantage of the global business opportunities the Asian Century will bring."

Which means the author had to create a curriculum that could be taught by non-economists to children under 14 but nonetheless meet expectations that it be a serious preparation for becoming young entrepreneurs leading the country in a mighty trade incursion into Asia. No wonder the bloke who wrote it feels unfairly assessed. The job he was given amounted to spinning straw into gold.

CIS research fellow Dr Jennifer Buckingham has noted what is sometimes called the 'Peter effect' -coined for the plea of Saint Peter to the beggar that he could not give him money that he did not have. A teacher cannot teach what the teacher doesn't know.

The former government's enthusiasm to add yet another 'essential' component to the national curriculum has meant yet another case of the curriculum being reduced to the level at which teachers can teach it, rather than being elevated to the level at which students can profit from it.

Many children will benefit from an economic education. But if kids are going to become entrepreneurs and conquer the Asian Century, it needs to be the sort of economics Professor Makin would like to see taught. Rather than simplifying advanced subjects for small kids, we'd be better off teaching small kids to read and count properly so that in high school they are equipped to study any advanced course effectively.

Splitting their primary years between a growing number of poorly taught add-ons is putting at risk the literacy and numeracy education on which the rest of their lifelong learning depends.


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