Monday, November 03, 2014

Low income British pupils to leap admission queue as ministers tear up rules forbidding selection on basis of family finance

Poor pupils will be allowed to jump the queue for places at all primary and secondary schools in England, the Government has confirmed.  Ministers have torn up admission rules that forbid selection on the basis of family finances.

This will let state schools give low income youngsters top priority in return for extra cash as part of a flagship policy by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

The shake-up comes despite critics warning of ‘large numbers of children being unable to access their local school. The revised School Admissions Code will come into force in December.

It allows primaries and secondaries to give ‘admission priority’ to children eligible for the Pupil Premium – extra money to encourage them to take in more disadvantaged youngsters. At present, only free schools and academies can do this.

In addition, primaries will be able to give priority for reception places to disadvantaged youngsters who attend their nurseries.

There will be no legal requirement for schools to change their admissions criteria.

Mr Clegg’s Pupil Premium is worth £1,300 per primary school pupil and £935 for secondary school children.

More than half of England’s 163 state grammars have already indicated they plan to rewrite admissions criteria to give priority to poorer pupils.

The Government launched a consultation on the proposed changes in July, leading critics to warn of a potential ‘detrimental impact’ on some families.

The Department for Education said: ‘This change…will provide all schools who wish to use it with a practical means to support the most disadvantaged in society.’

It added: ‘Many respondents were in agreement with the principle of this change, but some expressed concerns that schools would be required to adopt it, or that it would lead to large numbers of other children being unable to access their local school.

‘As stated in the consultation document, there will be no requirement for admission authorities to include such a priority in their admission arrangements. This will be an option open to schools, who may adopt it if they wish.’

In a further change, the government is making it clear to schools that parents of summer-born children can ask for them to start reception classes at five – a year later than usual.  Education officials must consider each request and state reasons for refusal.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, yesterday accused the government of ‘continually meddling’ with school admissions.  He said: ‘Favouring pupils from low income homes means that other pupils will miss out on their local schools.  ‘Quite why schools should be guided to prioritise poor children over, say, high ability children is not at all clear.  ‘If I were a parent with a particular school in mind who couldn’t get a place because of this, then I would be very upset indeed.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, has previously warned that parents of eligible Pupil Premium children may ‘feel under pressure’ to enrol them in a school nursery early instead of a child-minder in order to gain priority for reception places.

He said he was concerned about the ‘potentially detrimental impact this could have on children and families’.

Last year’s annual report from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator said that the ‘practice of some primary schools of giving priority for admission to the reception year to children who have attended particular nursery provision has been found to be unfair to other local children’.


Student censors – the children of an academy in crisis

Academics’ abandonment of knowledge has green-lit campus censorship

The question we are being asked to answer is: what is the university for? My answer to this is simple. The university is for the unfettered pursuit of knowledge, through research and debate, and the transmission of this body of knowledge to students. It is a space in which the battle of ideas produces and renews our collective understanding.

Freedom of speech is essential to this process. As John Stuart Mill wrote: ‘It is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.’ Free speech, then, and forthright debate, is what allows us to produce and renew knowledge before passing it on, ready to be contested by the next generation.

To start with, I’d like to focus on how I think the student’s role within this process is being undermined.

The great tragedy is that the biggest threat to students’ ability to pursue and contest knowledge today comes from students themselves. Or, at least, the unrepresentative students’ unions and campaign groups that are calling all of the shots on campus.

Today, students’ union are trampling students’ free speech and diminishing the purpose of the university in the process. It’s not difficult to find examples of this happening. In the past year alone, University College London Union (UCLU) banned a Nietzsche reading group because they deemed it fascist; the London School of Economics Students’ Union (LSESU) disbanded its own rugby club for distributing sexist flyers; and the University of Derby Students’ Union (UDSU) briefly banned all UKIP members from campus on the basis that Farage and Co posed a threat to student safety.

But perhaps it’s too easy to lay the blame solely at the feet of these hysterical students’ unions, as if Generation Y, by some bizarre twist of genetic fate, was spawned with a default, factory setting of ‘belligerent’ and ‘borderline deranged’. While I’ve nothing against bashing students – I spend a lot of my time doing it – it’s simply not the whole story. Instead, I think we need to cast our gaze back to the university itself. Because, in two distinct ways, universities and academics themselves have laid the foundations for this new culture of student censorship.

The first is seen in university administrators’ newfound obsession with student wellbeing. Students’ unions often invoke the language of safety when justifying their petty bans. But when UDSU officials said that UKIP was a threat to student safety, this didn’t mean they thought Roger Helmer would instantly head-butt a first year if he was ever given the chance. What they meant was that Helmer’s ideas posed a threat to their members’ emotional wellbeing.

This image of students as childlike and frail is writ large in the services universities offer today. It is evident in the recent explosion of counselling and wellbeing services at universities – the constant pleas for ‘stressed out’ students to seek advice and help. And this fawning approach has bled into how courses are taught – with students being given the option to opt-out of particular courses, readings or seminars that deal with tough issues, like rape or domestic violence. Students are being encouraged to think that even their course content is a potential threat to their emotional wellbeing.

The second and more crucial factor here, however, is the academy’s retreat from the pursuit of truth and knowledge. In the arts and the humanities in particular, various ideological trends have undermined the concept of knowledge itself, painting it as a potentially dangerous illusion. You can see that in the enduring influence of postmodernism, which sees all truth as subjective and constructed. While the influence of cultural studies has also worked to paint the very concept of a body of knowledge as a colonial import – a mechanism of Eurocentric control.

In essence, students’ abandonment of free speech has been green-lit by the academy’s abandonment of academic freedom. In many academic circles today, academic freedom is being tossed out in favour of what is being termed ‘academic justice’. The argument goes that academic freedom has become a cover for protecting damaging and oppressive ideas. Therefore, the logic goes, any areas of research or inquiry that compromise a pre-defined idea of social justice should be snuffed out.

This perfect storm of institutional and ideological trends has facilitated the campus culture we have today; an atmosphere in which free speech is feared and knowledge is derided, leaving the university, and students’ place within it, diminished. The student censors of today are the product of an academic sphere that is no longer able to defend its founding principles. And it’s about time academics recognised this.


Ave Maria University Wins Relief from HHS Mandate

This morning, a federal court granted injunctive relief to Ave Maria University following the University's renewed lawsuit against the HHS mandate filed in August.  In a message to the University community, President Jim Towey noted the significance of the victory.

The order from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida is the first "enjoining the government's latest attempt to coerce religious organizations via an ‘augmented rule' that it issued last August," stated the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

President Towey said on his blog:

    I have wonderful news to share with you! Ave Maria University won in Federal Court on its motion for injunctive relief. This is a significant victory because it is the first Federal Court case since the United States Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case and the subsequent issuance of the so-called "augmented" regulations by the Obama administration.

    While this victory is significant the battle is far from over. Judge Moody has stayed action on our case pending a resolution of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case in the EWTN lawsuit.


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