One in 12 British secondary schools ‘failing’
One in 12 secondary schools could be closed or merged unless they hit GCSE targets next year. As many as 270 secondaries, including 40 of Labour’s flagship academies, fell short of the Government’s strict exam benchmark last summer. Those failing to improve by 2011 could be shut, merged with better performing schools nearby or turned into academies, which are sponsored and run by the private sector.
Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, warned that academies which have been open for at least three years could also have their sponsors replaced if they did not show “clear evidence” of improving results.
The Government also announced that it would send expert advisers into a series of local authorities to raise standards. It includes Kent, which has a selective education system that includes grammar schools and secondary moderns.
Mr Balls has previously criticised academic selection, insisting pupils who did not win grammar school places at 11 were made to feel like “failures”.
On Tuesday, he said: “I’ve always said that non-selective schools in selective areas face extra challenges. It’s harder but it’s not necessarily harder because there’s more deprivation or it can’t be done.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if you have a new cohort of young people who have all arrived in secondary school having been told that they didn’t succeed then you have greater issues around aspiration and belief.”
Under the National Challenge initiative, every school must ensure at least 30 per cent of pupils gain five A* to C grades at GCSE, including the key subjects of English and maths. They are supposed to meet the target by 2011.
Every school below the benchmark was told it would receive extra funding to help boost scores. The number of schools failing to hit the target has dropped from 638 two years ago to around 270.
Around 40 academies are still below the 30 per cent benchmark, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Of these, around 10 have been open for at least three years, before National Challenge began.
The DCSF said today that it had “concerns” about the performance of a “handful” of these, because their results had either stalled or fallen.
Nick Gibb, the Conservative shadow schools minister, said: “There are still far too many schools where fewer than a third of children reach the basic standard of five good GCSEs including English and maths, and it is the poorest areas that are worst affected.
“We urgently need a different approach with more powers for teachers to keep order, more highly qualified people encouraged into teaching, and making schools answerable to parents instead of bureaucrats.”
Fears that NHS switch to cheaper drugs could put millions of British patients at risk of side-effects
Millions of patients could face life-threatening side-effects under a scheme which will swap branded drugs for cheaper versions. More than five million asthma sufferers and up to 500,000 with epilepsy could be hit by the change, while patients with conditions such as Parkinson’s, bipolar disorder and hypertension may also be affected.
Pharmacists will be expected to substitute a brand of drug written on a prescription with a generic, cheaper version. For the first time, outside an emergency situation, they will not have to consult with a doctor to change a patient’s prescription. The plan is expected to save the NHS up to £70million a year, but critics claim it may end up costing more in treating side-effects unless certain medical conditions are exempt from the rules.
Generic products are developed to cash in when branded drugs lose patent protection. Although generics are meant to be identical, the active ingredients can vary within an agreed percentage and inactive ingredients, such as colourings, may also differ.
In epilepsy even tiny changes in bioavailability – the amount of active medication absorbed into the body – can have serious consequences. NHS guidelines on epilepsy drugs currently warn against changing the brand for individual patients because of ‘increased potential for excessive side-effects’.
Doctors claim it is vital the 5.4million asthma sufferers in the UK are protected from having their inhalers automatically switched to cheaper versions. Dr Mike Thomas, chief medical adviser to the Asthma UK charity, said: ‘Patients should only be swapped to another inhaler in a face to face consultation with a doctor or nurse. ‘Generic substitution means asthma control may be lost and asthma that is not well controlled puts the patient at risk of an attack. ‘An opt-out scheme will not be good enough, we need asthma inhalers to be exempt from the regulations.’
And Simon Wigglesworth, deputy chief executive of Epilepsy Action, said a survey of members revealed around 10 per cent had suffered more seizures as a result of changes to their anti-epileptic medication. ‘We know people’s epilepsy gets worse after their medication changes and seizures are life-threatening,’ he said. ‘Epilepsy patients should receive the same version of an anti-epileptic drug whenever they get a repeat prescription, from the same manufacturer and the same country of manufacture. ‘The only safe way to bring in this scheme is to exempt anti-epileptic medication. ‘The financial savings to be made from prescribing generically rather than by brand may not outweigh the cost of extra A&E admissions and hospital stays.’
Other countries with generic substitutions allow doctors to tick a box to indicate that a branded drug must not be changed. Around 86 per cent of NHS prescriptions are already written for generic drugs and Britain has one of the lowest levels of spending on drugs per head of any developed country.
David Fisher, of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said savings from using cheaper drugs must go back to the NHS.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘Currently, there is nothing to prevent the prescribing of a particular generic or brand of drug if the prescriber considers it essential for the patient to receive a specific product. Our proposals for implementation of generic substitution will maintain this position.’
Northern Ireland public hospitals cannot afford treatment that patients need
Patients being treated in the Belfast Health Trust will no longer be referred to the private sector for operations because the Trust cannot afford them. Patients throughout NI are often referred to private clinics for knee, hip, heart and cataract operations, helping to reduce waiting lists. The trust’s Chief Executive William McKee said the move was temporary but it would impact on waiting times.
The Vice Chair, Eileen Evason, said the health service was “in real trouble”. She said: “I don’t think we can manage financially. We cannot sustain the service unless we get help and get it soon.” The Belfast Trust paid for 7,000 private operations last year and commissioned another 4,000 so far this year.
Mr McKee said: “It doesn’t appear, at this stage, we have enough money to meet the activity we were able to do last year.” He told BBC Radio Ulster: “This is hopefully a brief pause while we take stock of how much money is available and how much more we can do internally.” He admitted that the trust was finding things “very difficult” financially and said hard choices would have to be made.
The Trust needs to save £130m over the next three years. Earlier this week it emerged it may cut 152 beds at two hospitals in the city.
Bureaucracy gets ever more oppressive in Britain
They basically want to abolish all human feelings and substitute regulation. Now mothers are banned from looking after each other’s children!
Two working mothers have been banned from looking after each other’s toddlers because they are not registered childminders. The close friends’ private arrangement had let them both return to part-time jobs at the same company. However, a whistleblower reported them to the education watchdog Ofsted and it found their informal deal broke the law.
This was because little-known rules say friends cannot gain a ‘reward’ by looking after a child for more than two hours outside the child’s home without agreeing to a number of checks including one from the Criminal Records Bureau. Although the mothers never paid each other, their job-sharing deal was judged to be a ‘reward’. Campaigners fear thousands of working families could be innocently breaking the rules by relying on close friends for informal childcare.
A Downing Street petition in protest at the treatment of the two mothers has already received 1,600 signatures. Educational campaigner Dr Richard House labelled the case as ‘absolutely scandalous’. He said: ‘There is no conceivable rationale behind it. It’s like making the assumption that all parents are paedophiles and they have to prove that they aren’t. As soon as we create a society like that then family life ceases. Parents have to have the confidence to make their own choices about their own children. This is absolutely extraordinary.’
The women, who have not been identified, had given birth at similar times. When their daughters passed their first birthday, they decided to return to work part-time at the same firm. The colleagues agreed to look after each other’s children as part of the job share. They are said to be ‘very good friends’ and the girls were so close they had grown up ‘like sisters’. However, it is understood that someone believed they were acting illegally as childminders and reported them to Ofsted.
The women have now put their girls into official childcare ‘meaning they can’t work as they wished due to the elevated costs’, friends say.
Ofsted regulations state that where a person cares for at least one child for ‘reward’ in their own house for more than two hours in any one day they must be registered with them as childminders. Reward is interpreted as ‘the supply of services or goods’ or ‘reciprocal arrangements, not just money changing hands. The rules particularly affect close friends because relatives, such as grandparents, do not have to register with Ofsted. Nor do nannies as they provide childcare in a parent’s house.
Some 1,654 people have signed the No10 petition, calling for a change of the meaning of ‘reward’ to ‘money and gifts’ in the Childcare Act to allow reciprocal deals. A circular with the petition says: ‘Caring for a child for reward is classed as childminding and requires the carer to be registered with Ofsted. In this case, Ofsted say that the reward is free childcare when the mothers themselves go to work!’ It adds: ‘In an age when the Government want women to return to work, why is it made so difficult for people?’
An Ofsted spokesman confirmed it had been called in after a complaint. Children’s Minister Vernon Coaker said: ‘The legislation is in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all children. But we need to be sure it does not penalise hard-working families. My department is discussing with Ofsted the interpretation of the word “reward”.’
British councillor cleared of witchcraft allegation
“A Liberal Democrat has been cleared of insulting a Conservative colleague by calling her a witch – after a taxpayer-funded investigation. Pat McCloud, who represents a ward in Forest Heath district in Suffolk, was initially found guilty of accusing Cllr Lisa Chambers, 39, of witchcraft by the council’s standards committee. But the decision was overturned on appeal by the Adjudication Panel for England after an investigative process costing more than £3,000.
The controversy centred on comments that Cllr McCloud, 77, made in an email to council staff following a dispute involving the pair in a council meeting. Cllr McCloud, who felt he had been prematurely interrupted at the meeting, wrote: “How could [Cllr Chambers] possibly know what I was about to say, how could anyone know until I finished, you know they used to burn witches at the stake for having such abilities.”
Chris Hughes, chairman of the Adjudication Panel for England, said that although the comments were inadvisable, they did not constitute personal abuse.
The local Wiccans also think it’s no insult to call someone a witch, funnily enough.