Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tough on rights, tough on the causes of rights

The annual wind-up that is the National Association of Head Teachers conference has just harrumphed to a halt. This year it was the new OFSTED practice of giving pupils copies of inspection reports that came under fire:
The practice of sending letters to pupils describing the findings of the education watchdog Ofsted also came in for condemnation. These were "patronising, condescending and supercilious", the NAHT said.

The letters gave children a "licence for bad behaviour", the conference in Harrogate heard...Liz Paver, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, said she was "horrified" at the letters and prepared to strike in protest against them.

The NAHT has in the past suggested that giving power to parents is like putting an alcoholic in charge of a bar, and that heads should have the right to exclude children for their parents’ ‘misbehaviour’.

Before choosing a school, it might be worth checking the professional affiliations of the head teacher – and if you’re thrown out of the office just for asking, there’s your answer.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Panic and policy: not good bedfellows

We haven't had time to give much attention to the 'selection' part of the Education Bill (we're a bit busy with the house arrest clause) but this caught our eye in the Guardian. In another bid to head off rebellion:
The education secretary, Ruth Kelly, has pledged to end selection by the front door, the back door, or any other door. The draft code released late on Thursday goes further than previously by stating that schools will be expected to ensure their intake matches the social and class mix of their catchment area. It will be scrutinised next week by the committee of MPs studying the education bill line by line...

The code will also bar a school from taking into account a parent's marital, occupational or financial status, the pupil's behaviour or attitude in other schools, their specialist interests, or the behaviour of their siblings. Grammar schools will be barred from giving priority to siblings of pupils. Formal interviews will be banned.
No 'specialist interests'? We thought a point of the much-vaunted specialist academies was to ensure that children with a particular bent for, say, the arts or technology could go somewhere better equipped to nurture their talents. What's the point in having a budding musician at a school that is heavy on science, while Einstein junior gets plenty of tambourine-playing at the school down the road?

As for ensuring the school matches the catchment area in terms of social class, those who can afford to move to a 'better' area will surely breath a sigh of relief? And if grammar schools mustn't give priority to siblings, if the govt is that ambivalent about grammar schools, shouldn't they just abolish them?

While we're not proposing to enter the selection debate, we can't help noticing that this all seems a bit incongruent with previous policy initiatives. As a rule of thumb, policies made in haste tend to unravel at leisure.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Another Little List

Good to see such creative use of the National Pupil Database…

Headteachers today attacked plans to draw up a national register of the brightest 11-year-olds. Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said all secondary schools in England will be given the names of the children who came in the top 5% nationally in their primary school tests.

Headteachers will be told to make sure these children fulfil their potential in their GCSEs and top universities could be encouraged to target them from an early age.

Anyway, what does brightest mean? Good at passing Key Stage Tests?

Database Masterclass

From next Tuesday, ARCH is starting a project to give factual information about the range of databases that hold information on children and young people.

The Database Masterclass will have daily blogs, each covering a different system, and each instalment will build into your very own handy reference guide. (We can't offer plastic ring-binders, though)

If you want to understand what's going on with children's databases, join us at next week.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

'Higher Targets for five-year-olds'

How long before we have national targets for Apgar scores? And the latest target is... '30,000 children must be "reaching a good level of development" every year'.

Acknowledging the controversy caused by previous proposals, the education secretary said she was "acutely aware that parents don't want their toddlers sitting exams or undergoing any form of assessment". Ms Kelly said she did not want such a situation either, adding that it "will not happen".

She said: "Instead teachers and childcare professionals simply observe children -looking, for example, for enthusiasm for learning and good communication skills."

"Will not happen"- ah, so that's OK then. A couple of years ago, early-years teachers were none too happy about being told to make assessments of under-5s, but were reassured that such assessments were 'informal'. Maybe 'informal' has a nu-meaning? From the QCA practitioner guidance:
Foundation stage schools and settings must send to the LEA the thirteen Foundation Stage Profile summary scores for each child who will reach the end of the foundation stage in that school or setting in the summer of 2005, together with child identification data, ie forename, surname, UPN, gender, date of birth and home postcode.

None of your trade union malarkey here

According to the BBC, when120 pupils held a walk-out protest at school over cuts in their lunch break, they were met by a police patrol the following morning. Wait, it gets better:

Since then, Ten pupils have been suspended during three days of protests over a decision to cut the lunch break from one hour to 30 minutes.

The demonstrations at Flegg High, Martham, near Yarmouth, were sparked on Monday by headteacher Cherry Crowley's decision - which was taken without prior consultation with parents or pupils.

Speaking last night, Mrs Crowley remained adamant she was right to have implemented new 30-minute staggered lunch breaks for health and safety reasons.

Nice to see young people being educated on the importance of negotiation skills, the right to protest and the unacceptability of bullying.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Florida closing its boot camps

A welcome bit of news:
Florida lawmakers agreed Wednesday to shut down the state's juvenile boot camps after the death of a 14-year-old boy who had been kicked and punched by guards.

The move, agreed to by House and Senate negotiators, is part of a state budget agreement that still requires both chambers' approval.

Under the deal, Florida's four remaining boot camps would be replaced with a new, less militaristic program. The state would pump an additional $32.6 million into juvenile justice programs, increasing total spending to $699.5 million.

So who is right?

Bit of a discrepancy here!

Youth Justice Board research has found that official statistics overestimate the number of young people in the youth justice system who are in education, training or employment.

Researchers estimated only 35 to 45 percent of young people in contact with the youth justice system are in full-time education, training or employment, while quarterly returns from youth offending teams suggested the figure was 75 percent.

Yet more reasons for repealing s562 - and for pondering the meaning of 'inclusive education'

Permission to eat...

A secondary school in Rochdale is keeping a record of each child's lunch choices - and sending a report to parents. You can't run, you can't hide, and even if you snaffle a burger while claiming to have eaten carrot salad, we'll know.........

Children's Databases: the file front

We’ve had several phone calls in the last few days asking about ‘The Children’s Database’ and, as usual, the callers were taken aback when we said “which one?” It’s not that we’re trying to be funny or clever: there are several databases.

The 'universal' database - the one that people are most aware of - is the Children’s Index. This will hold the name, address and dob of every child in England plus details of: parents; health and education providers; anyone providing other services to the child; name of person claiming child benefit.

Regulations have just been passed to allow pilots of the Index to take place: more details about that - and the ‘Common Assessment Framework’ -

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Youth Clubs: five-year deal to host adverts

Almost missed this story from Children Now:

A leading youth club network has signed a deal that could see hundreds of clubs hosting adverts targeted at children and young people…

Clubs for Young People (CYP) said the scheme was a great opportunity to generate extra income for centres and get educational messages across. But the media company that will obtain the advertising said it wouldn't rule out taking adverts from companies such as McDonald's.

CYP, a network of more than 3,000 clubs for 11- to 25-year-olds, finalised the five-year contract with FBI Media last week.
In the interests of ensuring the club members have access to a wide and balanced range of information, let’s hope they will also be given copies of
‘Seeing through the Spin’ and ‘No Logo’

Personalised Learning

A nice quote from Baroness Morris in the debate we mentioned yesterday:

“I would like to make mention of a primary school I visited in Birmingham just before I stood down as a Member of Parliament. The research that they were linking into was teaching every one of their children as an individual and trying to develop for them a timetable which enabled each child to learn at the time of the day which suited them best in different subject areas and different disciplines. They even went further and had a classroom that had so many different seating arrangements that the teacher was able, with any one child, to place them in a space with a style of teaching and a time that would suit them best.

“That is what personalised learning should be. Personalised learning is a great idea and one of the things that we have to develop even more. What personalised learning should be at its best is not enabling individuals to access the present curriculum and the present style of learning more effectively, but to enable us to use what we know about learning to wrap around each individual child and his or her needs so that they can achieve their potential.”

And that is exactly what Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says education should be doing:

1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential

Something that small schools and home educators have known about for years - and that many teachers would like to happen, if only they could shed the yoke of the national curriculum

Monday, April 24, 2006

Evolution or damage?

An intriguing comment piece in the Guardian, following on from Baroness Greenfield’s speech about the possible effects of IT on brain development.

While not suggesting a revolt by mere democracies against the corporate power of the IT industries, Greenfield suggests this is an idea that should at least be investigated further. She wants more government funding for the scientists and educators trying to understand the impact of the digital-picture world on how children learn to think - surely a more important area for state-backed research than endless lifestyle or obesity surveys.

It's certainly worth thinking about because if she’s right, it raises a lot of questions. Should we be doing something about it, or accept it as an inevitable evolutionary change? Are we depriving children of essential skills, or equipping them to live in the world they’re growing into?

It’s good to have the issue raised – as with so many IT developments, it’s easy for the essential ‘should we?’ debate to be eclipsed by the ‘can we?’

Sunday, April 23, 2006

the lucrative fear-market

More in the ongoing saga of using mobiles to track children here. Just what is the point of it all?

An apologist for the technology says:

it is giving the "comfort" to parents of knowing that if something goes wrong, they have another method of being able to get hold of them.

But...but... surely they already have a mobile phone to get in contact? Anyway, how do you 'know' if something is going wrong just from looking at a blip on a screen? How does the blip help you 'get hold' of someone? Surely if something 'went wrong' so badly that you couldn't contact your child, the police could trace the mobile? etc etc

Talk about a technology looking for a market :o/

The mark of Cain

An excellent article on ASBOs in the Independent today:

A generation of British children is being "demonised" because of misplaced hysteria over teenage crime, according to the Government's youth justice tsar.

Professor Rod Morgan, the Government's chief adviser on youth crime, today issues a warning that children as young as 10 are being labelled with "the mark of Cain on their foreheads" because of the furore over anti-social behaviour.

Calling for a radical rethink in how we deal with unruly teenagers, Professor Morgan says that discretion should be exercised in cases where children are being sent to court for offences that would once have been dealt with by a slap on the wrist.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The "Master List"

After a very busy week, there's finally been time to take a proper look at the final report of the Citizen Information Project (see Good news for adults below).

The report recommends that the government can 'Build on the National Identity Register (NIR) being delivered as part of the Identity Cards Scheme' to construct its "master list" of every citizen.

As for the under-16s:

The Department for Education and Skills is developing an Information Sharing Index which, when completed, will have some of the characteristics of a child population register covering England. This appears worth examining further as a possible strategic option to deliver benefits similar to, and fitting alongside, those from the NIR.

The purposes of the Index are defined by the Children Act 2004 and so the Index could not be used for other purposes, possibly including as a child population register, without changing primary legislation. Any use of the Index as a population register would need to be consistent with the assurances given by Ministers that the purpose of the Index is to support front-line professionals in delivering better services, not as a tool of central government

So in plain English: the Children Act 2004 doesn't automatically allow the Children's Index to be used as part of a "master list" of citizens, but if it can be demonstrated that such a use would help deliver services to children, then that will be OK.

In even plainer English: it's a presentation thing.

Stamp out binbagging

The Guardian has had a good series of articles about looked-after children over the past 3 weeks - the latest has an interview with DfES minister Maria Eagle, described as the ‘"corporate parent" for children taken into the government's care.’

It’s depressing that DfES focus seems to be on educational achievement, rather than on what care-leavers are actually saying they need. Quite honestly, it’s a funny kind of parent who judges how well they’ve done by their child’s GCSE results!

Something you can do to improve things for looked-after children: take a look at the ‘This is not a suitcase’ campaign. They are trying to get rid of a disgusting practice known as ‘binbagging’. Basically, in too many local authorities, when a looked-after child moves placements their belongings are simply dumped into a binbag. You can imagine how humiliating this is, and what sort of message it gives the child. The campaign aims to make local authorities provide children with suitcases.

On the campaign site there’s a list of authorities that have already signed a pledge to provide proper luggage. If your LA isn’t on it, contact the director of children's services and ask why not.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bad children don't deserve education?

Disappointing to see that yet another attempt to give children in prison a right to education has failed. Not many people realise that s562 of the Education Act 1996 specifically excludes children detained by order of a court from the right to education.

Bearing in mind that we have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe (10!) and that around 6,500 children aged 12-17 spend time in prison each year, over a third of whom are of compulsory education age (in itself disgraceful), the implications are serious because any failure to provide adequate education can't be challenged under the Education Act. A lot of young offenders have SENs, but funding and statements don't have to follow them into prison.

You would think that common sense alone would make politicians realise that education might just be the only way out of trouble for a lot of these children, and depriving them of any specific right is bad for all of us.

House arrest, anyone?

In all of the publicity surrounding the proposals for Trust schools in the Education and Inspections Bill, an awful lot of other horrors are going pretty much unremarked.

We've spent the day (and some of the night) working on the 'house arrest' clause 90, which compels any child excluded from school to stay at home during school hours - ie. 'indoors' if you don't have a garden - and creates yet another criminal offence for parents, plus a lot more besides. It potentially breaches so many Articles of the ECHR that it's probably quicker to list the ones it *doesn't*.

Then there's clause 77, which gives disciplinary powers to schools for children's behaviour outside school hours and off the premises. Clause 94 which allows the 'removal' and detention of excluded children... If you've got the stomach for it, the whole thing can be downloaded here

What really sticks in the craw is that two-thirds of permanent exclusions are of children with SENs. A child with special needs is 10-15 times more likely to be excluded - whether permanently or temporarily.

'Inclusion' is a strange pretence: it's a great idea, but in reality too many vulnerable children (and their families) are ending up trashed by what's going on at the moment.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Good news for adults

If you're over 18, here’s some good news – or at least a temporary reprieve (until ID Cards become compulsory):

A £400m scheme put forward by the chancellor, Gordon Brown, to create a new national population database dubbed a building block of the "surveillance society" was finally killed off yesterday...

The aim of the project, which was to go live in 2008, was to create a "master list" of everybody's name, address, date of birth, sex and a personal identifying number which could be shared across the public sector.

On the other hand, if you’re under 18, it makes not a ha’porth of difference. Pilots of the ‘Children’s Index’ are just beginning, and the Index will be ‘rolled out’ (as they say) across England by 2008. It will cover everyone from birth, do all of the things on the above “master list” – with added extras of the name and address of the child’s GP and details of their education provider.

'Oyster card may help fight school truancy'

Good grief, another mind-boggling idea for tracking children, using one of the current moral panics to sell it. I suppose we could try creating an education system that children actually want to use. Just an idea.

‘Teachers have backed new technology which could see parents being sent a text once their children have arrived at school through a smart ticketing system.

‘New technology meant for the transport system is designed to read commuters' tickets so they can use a form of Oyster on the train network as well as the Tube.

‘Once this is in place it could be possible to link it up to Oyster-style machines at schools which, when touched, would send an automatic message to parents' mobile phones, improving both attendance and peace of mind.’

Actually, if you read the whole article, the implications are pretty, um, astonishing for everyone.

Time to play

Good to see the NUT calling for more play: ‘Teachers want play-based learning’, though it’s sad that it has to be justified in terms of 'educational value'. Perhaps if children were regarded as more than future capital, they could be allowed to play just because (a) it’s fun and (b), dare I say it, Art.31 of the UN CRC gives them the right to do so. Strikes me that a lot more adults could do with a knowledge of how to have fun without nursing guilty suspicions that they should be doing something more productive.

Monday, April 17, 2006

'Council's patrolling children help to cut crime'

Nope, it’s not April 1st

Children as young as seven are being trained to patrol Scotland's streets to help fight crime. Uniformed primary school pupils go on the beat with council-employed community wardens to help police hunt down vandals, fly-tippers and troublemakers...It is hoped children who have been out on the patrols will be encouraged to report back to community wardens or directly to the police if they spot any wrongdoing as they go about their everyday lives. The junior wardens are issued with a notebook, pencil and camera for their investigations, and wear a polo shirt with the community warden logo.

Wonder what colour the shirt is?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

It's a start

All sorts of things crop up to do with children and young people that deserve comment, but aren’t necessarily ‘issues’ that we’re working on in ARCH, so this blog is a space to write it all down. (Constructive comment is welcome, hate-speech isn’t – there’s quite enough of that around, and we’ve probably heard it already. It gets rather tedious).

Why is it OK to discriminate against a fifth of the population? And why do newspapers publish sweeping, anti-child generalisations as if they’re fair comment? Take
this for example. Now imagine it’s about the loathsomeness of women, or disabled people, or black people, and substitute a few insulting words that correspond to ‘brats’. Would anyone publish that?

In the village of
Firhall, children are actually banned! Just too, too noisy and they do so mess up the lawns. Well, I guess it’s no worse than all-male clubs, or Cape Town circa 1970. Here's an idea, though: maybe everyone who wants a child-free life should be given a badge, or a cute little tattoo, so we can all respect their wishes by keeping children well away from them. I’m sure that in 20 years or so they’ll understand if it’s just a wee bit tricky to find doctors, plumbers, car mechanics, lawyers, home-helps….Only joking.

We live in a hierarchical world in which we defend ourselves from our
eternal infancy and childhood by insisting on a graded, necessary elevation
through learning and technological sophistication out of the child into the
adult. This is not a true initiation that values both the previous form of
existence and the newly attained one; it is a defence against the humiliating
reality of the child. Thomas Moore – ‘Care of the Soul’