Tuesday, October 31, 2006

'Modern' education

Does anyone use the word 'modern' any more? It always makes me think of my parents excitedly buying one of the new, state-of-the-art melamine teasets at the end of the 50s. Just spotted Blair on his 'modernising' horse at the Euston Manifesto website:
"Technological change means that we can design lessons for children more personally than ever before."
It's such a stunted vision. Actually, technological development means that we could rip up our education system completely and turn it into one that helps children to ask good questions and to develop top-notch research skills. It means that children could be in charge of their own learning and follow their fascinations. New technology has brought the most astonishing set of resources to a screen near you. Oh, and it can also be used to 'design lessons'.

What's that you're reading?

Pippa King is talking about the difficulty in getting a response about children's fingerprints from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. Something we hadn't noticed before was this excerpt from the MicroLibrarian site:
"...we are able to provide detailed statistics and monitor use of the library by gender, year group, ethnicity and individual progress in numbers of books borrowed"
It seems that the only place a child isn't monitored at school is in the loo. On second thoughts, we'd better shut up quickly.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Soft targets

From the Times:

Police are massaging their crime clear-up rates by concentrating on solving minor offences such as cakes being thrown on buses and hair pulling in the school playground.

In some forces such offences, which involve suspects being questioned and warned but not charged, account for up to a third of all crimes solved.

Police chiefs are considering abolishing the practice because it is diverting officers from pursuing more serious crime.

Just to give some idea of the extent to which young people are being targeted for trivial offences: last year a quarter of all arrests were of 10-17s. Getting on for 50,000 of those arrests didn't lead to any disposal, and half of all disposals were by way of reprimand or final warning.

Considering how much petty 'crime' involves children, and given the apparently provocative effect of police action on their lives, a switch of emphasis would be welcome - before we drag even more children into the criminal justice system.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Contemptuous government

Henry Porter in the Observer today:
"In his frantic terminality, Blair plans the sinister information-sharing index, otherwise known as the universal child register, and last week was musing that we should all have our DNA stored on the national base. Link this to his earlier remarks about identifying problem children who might grow up to be a menace to society by intervening before they were born and you begin to feel the chill of the technology-driven authoritarianism."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Curmudgeonly comment

Only just noticed this one from the Curmudgeon on child imprisonment - couldn't have put it better.

Friday, October 27, 2006

When we say "opt out"...

You really need to read this if you want to understand what the controversy over the NHS Care Records Service is about. The aforementioned Professor of Security Engineering at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, Ross Anderson, has given us permission to reproduce his email explaining why the government's offer of an opt-out is misleading:

"Unfortunately, the 'opt-out' offered by Lord Warner isn't what it seems. He is referring simply to an opt-out from some data sharing. If this is the only option you exercise, then your medical data will still be stored on the national database and your dissent from information sharing can and will be overridden for a whole host of purposes.

"It also may not work, as the access control software still has to be written and tested; some systems folks say privately that it can't be done given the architecture they're committed to and/or the fact that the project is years late and struggling. Your data will be centrally available for some years before the privacy controls arrive, if they ever do.

"There is also no plan for the software (even if it's written, works and is installed) to control access to everything; scanned images, for example, will not be protected. And lots of people will be able to override the access controls - the police and others using judicial powers, any physician who says it's an 'emergency', and officials for secondary uses such as audit, cost control and health service management.

"Data may also be released if it's declared to be 'anonmyised' (even though removing names and addresses from records is rarely enough to stop a patient being identified). Patients may also be bullied to access their records by PC from home (battered wives, teenagers etc) and lose privacy that way.

"So the "opt out" the minister is offering is not really an "opt out"at all. That is why there's a conflict with the genuine "opt in" which the BMA is demanding.

"The issue is further confused by the existence of other "opt out" options. For example, you can ask to be "stop-noted" on PDS (the NHS central address book) if you do not want your real home address and phone number to be available to the NHS's hundreds of thousands of employees. This is prudent for celebrities, battered wives, people in witness protection and so on. However, the systems are being designed so that if you get stop-noted, you will not be able to get electronic repeat prescriptions or use NHS Direct.

"Another example is the NHS Secondary Uses Service (SUS) which contains summaries of all hospital treatment going back several years. You can apply to opt-out from this under section 10 of the Data Protection Act, if the prospect of large numbers of people having access to, e.g. a sensitive record of a pregnancy termination, causes you distress.

"Behind this fog of confusion and complexity, the government is building a system that will centralise the nation's medical records and make them available to administrators, researchers and others. Perhaps fortunately, the project is getting bogged down. For more on the project's problems see http://www.nhs-it.info "

Ross Anderson

Community Care blog

Just noticed that Community Care has a blog - The Child Minder. Nice to see a new voice on children's issues.

Opting out of rational thought

Health Minister, Lord Warner, has just been giving details of the NHS Care Records Service. It will be an opt-out system:

"Patients will be informed in advance about new ways in which their information will be held and shared and they will be told they have the right to dissent - or "opt out" - of having information shared.

"If patients do not "opt out" they will be deemed to have given implied consent to the sharing of their information, under strict controls between those legitimately treating them."

It remains to be seen whether children can opt out of having their medical information shared.

In a familiar display of government hubris, Lord Warner said:
"...I do not support the call by 23 academics to the House of Commons Health Select Committee to commission a review of NPfITs technical architecture. I want the programme's management and suppliers to concentrate on implementation, and not be diverted by attending to another review."
Take a look at the academics and ask yourself: "If I wanted to buy a secure information system, whose advice would I take? (a) the Chair of Security Engineering at Cambridge or (b) the guy flogging it to me?"

Hmm... tricky.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

'Forget the shoes' revisited

Community Care reports:
Eight out of ten parents of disabled children consider social services to be poor, according to a parliamentary inquiry published today. The cross-party study into services for disabled children found evidence of rising eligibility criteria and parents being turned away for short-term breaks by councils. Lack of funding was deemed the biggest barrier to improving services by 61 per cent of the 148 parents and 74 per cent of the 108 professionals who gave evidence to the MPs.
We've blogged on this subject before, and our views haven't altered one jot.

No punishment without law

Ruth Kelly has been outlining plans to give local councils more power, including expounding on the 'local laws for local people' theme on the Today programme:
Ms Kelly earlier told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Rather than the government having to approve every single local bylaw, it should be local people that decide whether they want a particular law tackling anti-social behaviour." People should be "able to go out and impose an instant fine if someone breaks that", she said.
We've been here before, when the draconian Antisocial Behaviour Act was making its way through Parliament, and as we pointed out then, a little knowledge of common law and of case law from the European Court of Human Rights might come in handy.


In one of those landmark cases, Kokkinakis v Greece, the Court found that:
...the Convention ...also embodies, more generally, the principle that only the law can define a crime and prescribe a penalty ...and the principle that the criminal law must not be extensively construed to an accused's detriment, for instance by analogy; it follows from this that an offence must be clearly defined in law. This condition is satisfied where the individual can know from the wording of the relevant provision and, if need be, with the assistance of the courts' interpretation of it, what acts and omissions will make him liable.
How does that work when each area is making up its own laws? Is antisocial behaviour in Lower Puddlescombe the same as antisocial behaviour in Tottenham? I guess, to be on the safe side, we would all have to read a copy of the local bylaws every time we crossed a parish boundary - perhaps they could be included in map books. Or the Foreign Office could expand its travel advice section to offer such useful information as: "in St. Bigotwold, being on the public highway between the hours of 9pm and 7am whilst under 18 is a capital offence."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Astrology

Again child unrelated, but my sense of humour has just been restored by this. Someone's had a Very Bad Day...

We got you into it, get yourselves out

This beggars belief.
Third sector minister Ed Miliband is calling for youth organisations across the country to form a political movement to raise the status of young people...He cited four areas in which young people need a better deal: opportunities for their voices to be heard, a wider local youth offer to broaden their horizons, increased respect from society and fairer portrayal in the media.
We have a Government that has repeatedly called young people 'yobs', dignified centuries-old prejudice with legislation, made hanging out in public little short of a criminal offence, introduced child curfews and imprisoned a
record number of children. And now it's up to young people themselves, and those of us who have done our level best to defend them, to raise their status.

This is probably the closest we've ever come to qualifying for the swearblog round-up.

Frustration

We've been putting in the hours on the growing range of devices that track children's whereabouts. In particular, there is a burgeoning market in mobile phone tracking that allegedly gives parents 'peace of mind'. The idea is that a parent can log on to a website and find the exact location of their child at any given moment. They can even feed in predetermined routes that their child must follow, and the system will alert them to any deviation from it.

As I'm sure we've muttered before now, one only needs a moment's thought to spot the fallacy: the system merely tells a parent where the child's mobile phone is. But it also gives other people that information, too.

A particularly worrying aspect of this system is that the servcie providers are currently unlicensed and unregulated, save by a voluntary code of practice, so we thought that an amendment to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill to provide some level of regulation wouldn't come amiss.

The amendment didn't make it. DfES under-secretary, Parmjit Dhanda, offered the view that:
"The mobile phone network operators and location service providers have acted to put in place a code of practice, covering passive location services, using mobile phone technology. As I pointed out in Committee, it is a new sector and we would need to consult on and assess the risk presented by individuals working in those services before looking to amend the definition of regulated activity."
'New sector?' We were asked for our first media comment on mobile phone tracking around 3 years ago. How old does a sector need to be before the government begins to regulate it? Given the vast range of people and activities drawn into regulation by the Bill, child location trackers seem to be a rather glaring omission.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Killer wasps

It's not on topic for this blog, but you've just got to read this

Monday, October 23, 2006

Talking of demonisation...

Just spotted this in the Times:
A SCOTTISH executive-backed film about antisocial behaviour has been withdrawn after a threat of legal action by the distributor of Buckfast, which claimed that it demonised its product, writes Marc Horne. All references to the tonic wine are to be removed from the DVD, entitled Asbo — Let’s Beat It, which was being shown at schools in Ayrshire.
The film, endorsed by Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, singled out Buckfast as a drink that contributes to antisocial behaviour. It depicts teenagers dealing drugs in playgrounds, threatening homeowners, vandalising cars, brawling and engaging in drunken under-age sex.
Can't have a tonic wine being demonised, can we?

Zero tolerance

Via Magistrate's blog via Britblog round-up, we've just discovered this article on youth offending
Crime rates have fallen drastically in Britain over the past ten years, but the number of children going through the criminal justice system just keeps on growing: it stands at 210,000 annually, up from 185,000 in the mid-1990s. In the past, most of those who come into contact with the system were given cautions. Now, half are prosecuted. With more than 3,000 under-18s in prison and juvenile detention centres bursting at the seams, Britain has one of the most punitive youth criminal justice systems of any democratic country.
Really is worth reading, though this end, we're not sure whether to rage or cry about it. Meanwhile the IPPR says that we're becoming a nation afraid of its younger generation. See the excellent Pam Hibbert of Barnardo's on the subject. (Thanks Dave)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The price of spin

We'd always thought of the Guardian as a newspaper that could be trusted to give thoughtful comment about social issues. No doubt the government thinks so too. Presumably that is why they chose to pay Guardian journalists to write a puff on 'Every Child Matters'.

A couple of weeks ago, the Guardian ran two
supplements 'in association with' the DfES, drooling over the DfES’ ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda. This is, amongst other things, the rationale for building databases and keeping children and their families under scrutiny.

The articles trotted out several of the old chestnuts, including the one about ECM being a response to the death of Victoria Climbie. In fact, as we’ve said
before , it was no such thing. It was a response to the Government strategy unit’s paper ‘Privacy and Data-sharing: the way forward for public services’, published nearly a year before Lord Laming’s report into Victoria’s death. It is not about children at risk of harm.

They also made much of the fact that ‘children themselves’ had chosen the Government’s ‘five outcomes’, the performance indicators at the heart of ECM. The DfES’
research report shows that children were in fact given eight pre-defined choices from which they had to select the final five.

(It’s worth mentioning that subsequent research on information-sharing has demonstrated that children
don’t want their teachers to have access to the planned Information Sharing index, but DfES doesn’t seem to be listening to that.)

The Guardian says that it offers '
Bespoke, branded editorial communications
All …sections have a very successful history of developing bespoke editorial communications for readers and website users. Such communications allow clients to work with our expert journalists to establish their "thought leadership" around a particular issue, and to set the editorial agenda within their area of business/expertise.
OK, so they sell advertising supplements. We're just rather astonished that the Guardian is prepared to take our money to allow the DfES to establish its 'thought leadership' over us.


Rain causes autism

According to a new report, Does Television Cause Autism?

the researchers claim to have found a significant link between rates of rainfall, which is presumed to have kept children indoors, the spread of cable television networks with round-the-clock children’s programming and the level of autism diagnoses.

The researchers say their figures are so closely correlated that they “indicate that just under 40% of autism diagnoses in the three states studied (California, Oregon and Washington) is the result of television watching due to precipitation”.

They also found that 17% of the growth in autism cases in two of the states in the 1970s and 1980s might be due to television watching.

Note the scientifically-rigorous use of the word 'might'. Apparently the study is 'controversial'. Hmm, that's not the immediate description that springs to mind.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

MMGM

Time to start a new 'gone mad' category: micro-management. The latest candidate for MMGM is this latest wheeze from the DfES:

Schools in England are now having to log pupils' absences against a set of more than two dozen codes. These include different letters for family holidays - agreed, not agreed or extended - two types of lateness, and T for "traveller absence"...

The general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, John Dunford, said: "This demonstrates how closely schools - and indeed pupils and parents - are now monitored by the government.

Indeed. The data goes on to the National Pupil Database, forming a detailed (and permanent) record of every child's dental appointments, religious observance and sporting tendencies. We can understand that a local authority might need to keep track of school attendance, but why does central government need to know that a child had a medical appointment?

The full list of codes is on the DfES website.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Where does 'home' begin?

Three boys have been excluded from school for smoking cannabis - not on school premises and during the summer holidays. The police had already decided that there was insufficient evidence to pursue the matter, but it seems the school's head teacher took a different view.

Spiked has some thoughts on the encroachment of the school into private territory.

Texting can be bad for your life

Another thought-provoking article from Bruce Schneier on the risks of electronic conversation:

Everyday conversation used to be ephemeral. Whether face-to-face or by phone, we could be reasonably sure that what we said disappeared as soon as we said it. Of course, organized crime bosses worried about phone taps and room bugs, but that was the exception. Privacy was the default assumption.

This has changed. We now type our casual conversations. We chat in e-mail, with instant messages on our computer and SMS messages on our cellphones, and in comments on social networking Web sites like Friendster, LiveJournal, and MySpace. These conversations - with friends, lovers, colleagues, fellow employees -are not ephemeral; they leave their own electronic trails.

We know this intellectually, but we haven’t truly internalized it. We type on, engrossed in conversation, forgetting that we’re being recorded.

It's particularly frightening to think that the kind of messages people send in their youth could come back to haunt them years later.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Finger food

With our attention on the use of children's fingerprints in school at the moment, we couldn't help noticing this gruesome item in the Register:

The public fears losing their fingers to ruthless biometric ID thieves in the fingerprint-controlled future, apparently. Or at least, so says Frost &Sullivan analyst Sapna Capoor, who argued unconvincingly that "A dead finger is no good to a thief."

If you have a fingerprint scanner protecting your family jewels, your data might be safe, but what about your fingers?

So, it's all getting out of hand? Then on the other... there are recorded instances of people having their fingers chopped off, and the biometric industry takes the issue seriously.

Just imagine having your finger lopped off because someone else wants your school dinner...

Kangaroo youth justice

Some more extraordinary ideas from the Home Office:

Home Office ministers are considering giving the police the power to impose restrictions on young people's behaviour if they admit to a crime, rather than sending them to court.

At present the police can give offenders who have committed certain offences a final warning, or a fine, rather than sending them to court. But the Government is considering introducing a conditional warning, which would allow a young person to avoid court if they agree to change their behaviour.

The Youth Courts Committee of the Magistrates' Association is concerned about the proposals, which it argues could pressure innocent young people to admit guilt to avoid a court appearance, and place too much power in the hands of the police.

The overt rationale is that contact with the criminal justice system has been shown to have a strongly negative effect on youth offending. For example, the Edinburgh University study: 'Youth Transitions and Crime' found that one of the most powerful predictors of whether a young person continued to commit offences beyond the age of 17 (rather than ceasing spontaneously) was whether they had entered the system.

Current thinking seems to be that young people should be kept out of court for as long as possible, and therefore giving the police more and more powers to dispense justice will do the trick. But that doesn't really stack up: a criminal justice system is the same thing even if you rename it 'sausage'.

Simply giving to the police (or anyone else, for that matter) the powers that should be reserved to courts, and discouraging children from exercising their right to a fair and impartial hearing (Art 6 ECHR) doesn't make any difference: they are still being dealt with in a criminal justice system. In fact, as the Magistrates' Association points out, it makes it (a) more likely that children will admit to things they haven't done, or to which they have perfectly reasonable defence, just to get it over with, and (b) less likely that those who really do need some support will get help from the Youth Offending Team.

If the Home Office is really concerned about limiting youth offending, a good start would be to accept the mounting evidence that children and young teenagers tend to do things that are forbidden (nowadays by an increasing range of restrictive and badly-drafted statutes) and that, if left alone, they tend to grow out of it within a few years. Perhaps we could have a realistic age of criminal responsibility back - having the lowest age in Western Europe isn't anything to be proud of, and it's certainly proving to be pretty counter-productive.

The watchers

Good comment piece in today's Times on surveillance:
The watchers, as watchers will, are extending their remit from the streets to the schools, to our individual lives. Database surveillance, where records are collated and cross-referenced to build up a picture of an individual, is still invisible to most. ANPR tracks your car. The Connexions card maps your teenager’s life. The Children Act “index” is designed to tie together all records anyone has anywhere about your children before they reach 16. The Home Office hopes that the ID card database will link the lot and tidy up all those temporary lodgers, mobile phones, cash purchases and hotel stays that are so difficult to keep track of otherwise . . .

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sorted the traffic, now for the neighbours

Now here's a good idea:

A scheme that will create low-cost safe places for children to play in their local streets is set to be launched by Sustrans.

DIY Streets follows on from the sustainable transport charity's Home Zone scheme that opened up streets across the UK for social use by redesigning them to allow people and vehicles to share space safely.

Great. So long as the children don't throw snowballs, draw hopscotch grids, climb trees, wear hoodies, play ball games, make a noise....

More to the point

Given that Victoria Climbie's social worker had only been qualified for 18 months, this idea would have been rather more appropriate than indulging the current mindless passion for databases:

New social workers in England could get a lighter workload and extra support as part of a government review of the children's workforce published this week.

The Options for Excellence review, which was due to be published by the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills on Thursday, is expected to propose the creation of a "newly qualified social worker" status, similar to that given to new teachers.

The new social workers would get less work and more training in their first years in the job under the proposals.

ERM

Just found a rather wonderful new blog: Adventures in Record Management. OK, it doesn't sound promising, but if you saw the state of the filing on this computer you would understand my enthusiasm.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

School fingerprints

More on school fingerprinting over at the Register. Yet another parent has been in touch with us today to say that her child's school has written to announce that pupils' fingerprints 'will be taken' tomorrow - so much for 'consent'!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Routine humiliation

From Children Now:

Height and weight measurement programmes are causing distress to children, school nurses have warned.The Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association said many schools were failing to combat children's concerns about weighing and measuring by "disguising" it as part of lessons.

Ros Godson, professional officer at the association, said: "There are ways of incorporating it into a lesson like measuring hands and feet but it involves more organisation than really happens on the ground.

"In reality people are being lined up to measure their height and weight and children do not like it."

What a surprise.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hands-off education

Ironic that one of the most common FAQs asked of home educators is: "but how do they do science?" When science teaching in schools is becoming increasingly hog-tied by a combination of safety fears and budget cuts. Take this, from today's Observer:

Leading UK scientists say the output of talented science students is in worrying decline. 'If you have not got students excited about science by the time they are doing GCSEs, there is no chance you will engage them later on,' said physiologist Dr Douglas Corfield, of Keele University.

Pupils once experienced laboratory work by handling chemicals and apparatus and indulging their natural curiosity. But health and safety rulings, a strict curriculum that allows no time for extra investigations and lack of funds for laboratories, now prevent them from finding things out for themselves.

Science isn't the only thing that is suffering. A combination of curriculum demands and budget allocation have squeezed all but the most basic experience of music, drama and art out of many schools, while antipathy towards interests that are not of direct value to industry have reduced them to 'hobby' status.

While Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which the UK has actually ratified) talks about each child's 'right to education', what that actually means is defined in the next breath by Article 29:"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". How can this possibly happen when learning is reduced to indirect experience?

Several years ago, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education warned:
“The objective of getting all school-aged children to school and keeping them there until they attain the minimum defined in compulsory education is routinely used in the sector of education, but this objective does not necessarily conform to human rights requirements."
Well, quite. Bums on seats is not learning, and it's hardly surprising if a substantial number of children don't find the education they are receiving particularly relevant or worthwhile. Although much is currently being said about 'personalised learning', there is a real danger that this is merely shorthand for greater use of IT to deliver 'the curriculum' - which won't solve the problem of dwindling access to hands-on, practical and creative activity.

It would be nice to think that the current review of primary education might halt what seems to be a backslide to the Victorian idea of public education: a means of producing a compliant workforce with good basic skills. But if we are to escape the service-delivery approach that reduces learning to a passive experience, we need serious investment in more than literacy and numeracy, a rather more robust approach to risk, and a level of trust in children and their teachers that isn't evident at the moment.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Primary Education Review

An independent review of primary education has just started - the first since Plowden in the 60s. General participation is invited - more details on the Primary Review site.

Money talks louder than children

The Children's Rights Director, responsible for looked-after children, has been having a good go about the frequent changes of placement that fostered children endure - something we've mentioned before. Roger Morgan points out that the reasons for moving children back from placement in a different local authority area often have little to do with a child's best interests:

Children’s Rights Director, Roger Morgan, said that children complaining about being brought back from successful placements for financial or policy reasons was the “biggest source of the commission’s casework”.

He said that children were being told that their out of authority placements were being terminated because the local authority was “short of money or had had a change of policy”.

“Neither of these are valid reasons for pulling a child back from a placement,” Morgan said. “The only valid reason is if the placement is not working out. Frighteningly, nine out of 10 of those cases get changed after they receive our letter. But what about the children who don’t write?”

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

'Data Protection means whatever we want it to mean'

Baroness Ashton, responsible for pushing the information-sharing free-for-all that is the Children Act 2004 through the Lords, and now 'Information Rights Minister' at the DCA, is interviewed in egov monitor. Amongst other things, she says:

The Data Protection Act (DPA) neither provides a power to share data, nor does it actively bar the legitimate sharing of data. The DPA provides a framework for the proper use of personal data. In particular, it requires data to be processed (and processing can include sharing) fairly and lawfully - the first data protection principle - but it does not specify the means by which processing is to be regarded as "lawful". Government agencies must therefore, be certain that they have a lawful basis for the data sharing/processing in question. This lawful basis can, in the UK, be via Common Law or via statute law.

We are considering the extent to which changes may need to be made to statute law to enable fully-effective data sharing throughout the public sector – but the framework of protection provided by the DPA and the HRA will remain in place.

Roughly translated, this means that where the DPA does not currently allow information to be shared, a statutory duty will be created that creates an exception to any obstacle the DPA presents.

Not only does this make a mockery of data protection; it shows blatant disregard for the EU Directive that the Data Protection Act was meant to embody. As international lawyer Douwe Korff says:

Note again the basic thought that all that the DPA and the HRA require is that the government provides a statutory basis for whatever it wants to do. They still don't grasp that the European requirement is that data sharing requires a legal basis AND must be "necessary"/proportionate to a (narrowly-defined) legitimate aim. They basically feel that if something is required - or even just allowed - by law, or in a regulation based on a law, that is sufficient.

Of course it is easy for them to churn out any regulation that allows whatever they like, while what they should do is look very closely at what rules in such laws or regulations would be proportionate and what rules would not be, strictly tested, and what procedural/oversight safeguards are required to ensure compliance.

Screening to 'prevent crime'

The latest from Scotland on the pre-crime agenda:
All five-year-olds should be screened for early signs of offending behaviour to prevent youngsters later becoming criminals under plans put forward by a Scottish Executive-backed expert group. Under the proposals, pre-school services and nursery schools will assess five-year-olds to identify troubled or troublesome families and signs of substance misuse and violence in the home.The aim is to identify vulnerable children early, offer improved support to the family and hopefully turn young people away from crime.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Deaf ears

Via Ideal Government we see that Jerry Fishenden, Microsoft UK's lead technology advisor, has added his voice to those of the other security experts concerned about information-sharing:
Ultimately, for many of us it will probably just be an inconvenience and a nuisance when inappropriate access and use is made of our personal information. It will add to the growing problem of identity-related fraud and involve us and public agencies in expensive rectification processes. But what concerns me more is when this same thinking is applied to topics such as children at risk or our medical records. At worse, in these environments the inevitable consequences that will arise from information passing into the wrong hands will be irreversible.
To borrow Ideal Government's format: wibbi the government started listening to people who know what they're talking about?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Childcare - or not?

Interesting letter from the (excellent) shadow children's minister, Tim Loughton, in the Guardian. He points out that the expansion of children's centres will potentially reduce the available choice of childcare, and highlights the confused/confusing messages coming from Government:
...just last week children's minister Beverley Hughes questioned the suitability of childcare for young children, having pursued a tax, benefits and childcare policy that forces mothers back to work earlier and earlier.
To which we would add that the new PSA targets placed on local authorities include measuring 'stock and take-up of childcare for all families'.

A National Voice

Recommended reading: a profile of a remarkable woman in Guardian society. Maxine Wrigley is the national co-ordinator of 'A National Voice' (see our links) - an organisation run by and for children who have experienced the care system.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Scant comfort

According to the head of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, around 80,000 children are attending fairly appalling schools, some of them so bad that they should be shut down.

He believes there are about 500 secondary schools seriously underperforming on the basis of their GCSE results compared with the Government's official figure of 50 schools.

The Government argues that most parents get their first choice of school.

No doubt the Government's remarks will be very reassuring for those who are amongst the 80,000.

Not so clever?

Over at badscience, some pertinent questions about the Durham trial of Omega-3 fish oils that apparently transform dedicated computer-gamers into wannabe brain surgeons. Ben Goldacre has been trying to get a few simple answers:
All I want to do is find out the science behind their endless headlines. I’ve been communicating through the Durham press office. A week ago I asked simple, basic questions such as: for all these trials, what’s the story? Who were the kids? How old?How many? What were they given? For how long? What was measured? What were the results? A week later, no joy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

National Poetry Day

Will Howells tells us that today is National Poetry Day, so we're entering into the spirit of it with a blog-appropriate Ted Hughes poem about childhood.

Full Moon and Little Frieda

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket -

And you listening.

A spider's web, tense for the dew's touch.

A pail lifted, still and brimming - mirror

To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm wreaths of breath -

A dark river of blood, many boulders,

Balancing unspilled milk.

'Moon!' you cry suddenly, 'Moon! Moon!'

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work

That points at him amazed.

The lower orders

Dave Hill (whose blog should be on every reading list) mentions a jaw-dropping comment piece that probably doesn't deserve too much oxygen: barefoot, pregnant and kitchen more or less covers it. The thing that caught our eye was this:
Teenage pregnancies largely occur because once young girls are sexually active, Nature prompts them to become pregnant, and the nearer they are to Nature (the less developed in terms of reason and self-control), the more likely they are to follow its urges.
In other words, add savages, breeding and rabbits to the tags. Since words fail us, we'll leave it to Fisking Central.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Workshop: The Database State

Over at Blogzilla, details of a workshop on the children's Information Sharing Index and the NHS Care Records Service at UCL on November 1st. Places are very limited, so early booking advised.

Unlawful play

Liberal England quotes Professor Armstrong on the need to get children more active, rather than restricting their food intake.

We're looking at police retention of children's DNA at the moment, and came across a story about 3 children arrested for criminal damage when they were trying to build a treehouse. In the summer, there was another one about children in trouble for making the pavement messy when they played hopscotch. We've mentioned the York 'Nipper' database before - amongst other things it collects details of children's 'inconsiderate' behaviour such as 'playing ball games in the street'. There's plenty more stories, but you get the picture.

Maybe it's not children's behaviour that needs to change.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The wonders of fingerprint technology

Via Postman Patel, an Indymedia article on just how well the Vericool fingerprint registration system is working at Impington Village College. Amongst other things:
Says one student, "if it stops working, the computer system crashes." And indeed, as another student reports, some three weeks before the Easter break the VeriCool system crashed, taking the entire school computer network with it in an information blackout. As a consequence, teachers had to revert to taking manual registers, if they took any at all, IT lessons became meaningless, and students could not borrow books from the library (somewhat ironic, as VeriCool claims that the system leads to increased borrowing). In the whole school there was only one computer that was available to the 1500 students. It took a further week after the Easter break to get the system running again.
Worth reading Postman Patel's blog on the subject of fingerprints, too: eg we hadn't realised that Anteon, the US defence firm responsible for Vericool, is a 'premier partner' of Capita