Graduate left brain damaged as ‘scared’ 999 crew refused to enter home for two hours
Health bureaucracy bungles never stop in Britain
A medical researcher was left with severe brain damage after she was forced to wait nearly two hours for paramedics – who were parked just 100 yards away. Caren Paterson, 33, had collapsed in the bedroom of her London flat and was beginning to breathe abnormally when her boyfriend dialled 999.
He told the emergency operator that his girlfriend had fallen unconscious, that her lips had turned blue and that she was in need of urgent medical help to save her life. But because the address had been red-flagged as ‘high risk’ by the ambulance service, a crew just seconds away was ordered to wait for a police escort before attending.
During the catastrophic delay that followed, Miss Paterson’s boyfriend rang 999 a further two times but still no help arrived. By the time paramedics did reach Miss Paterson her brain had been starved of oxygen, causing permanent damage, and she had also suffered cardiac arrest. She survived but is now living in a specialist hospital and is in need of round-the-clock care.
Yesterday, after a lengthy legal battle by her family, the London Ambulance Service admitted 11 separate breaches of duty and agreed to pay for Miss Paterson’s ongoing care.
But last night her mother, Eleanor Paterson, from Warkworth, Northumberland, said: ‘Nothing will return our daughter to the way we knew her. The thought of an ambulance crew sitting waiting while my daughter lay in her flat as her condition went from serious to life-threatening, causing irreparable damage to her brain, is still shocking. ‘Although I appreciate fully that the emergency services have guidelines in place, I now know that there were further procedures that should have been followed and, if they had been, my daughter would have received the treatment she needed.’
The case comes after the health and safety rules were roundly condemned at the inquests into the 2005 July 7 bombings and last year’s Cumbrian gun massacre. Under the controversial guidelines, all paramedics must wait at ‘safe rendezvous points’ for a police escort before entering potentially threatening areas or addresses. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has been urged to conduct an immediate review into the policy.
Last night Miss Paterson’s lawyer, John Davis, said he believed her property’s place on the high-risk register may have related to a former occupant or even a different flat. ‘It is particularly heart-breaking for Miss Paterson’s family to know that an emergency response team was in very close proximity to her but unable to give her the crucial treatment she needed,’ he said.
‘The emergency crews eventually arrived 102 minutes after the first 999 call – but even then there was nobody senior enough on hand to administer the treatment that Miss Paterson needed. It is imperative that people in Miss Paterson’s condition are treated as quickly as possible – even seconds can make a huge difference, let alone over an hour and a half. ‘The emergency services had been made abundantly aware of the seriousness of her condition yet failed on several levels to handle the situation in accordance with their own guidelines.
‘But for these failings and contraventions, Miss Paterson would have received appropriate medical treatment sooner, would have been taken to A&E sooner, and consequently would not have suffered the injuries she did.’
Miss Paterson, who had been working as a researcher at London’s King’s College Hospital, collapsed at her flat in Islington, North London, on the afternoon of October 27, 2007. The reason for her collapse is still unclear.
Because police had previously been called to the Hargrave Road address, it was flagged up as being on the High Risk Address Register and the ambulance crew was told to wait for a police escort. There were no police available at that time so the emergency medical team parked up just 100 yards from her flat and waited for almost two hours. Miss Paterson suffered a cardiac arrest at around 3.15pm, five minutes before police and the ambulance team finally arrived.
An LAS spokesman said: ‘We would like again to offer our sincere apologies to Caren Paterson and to her family. ‘We carried out a detailed investigation into the circumstances of the incident and we have accepted liability for the shortcomings in the care that was provided.’
Top doctors warn of second-rate NHS as Cameron admits Government was wrong to ‘charge ahead’ with reforms
Seriously ill patients have become victims of ‘neglect’ as surgeons focus on meeting waiting list targets, leading emergency doctors have warned.
Presidents of medical associations have demanded ministers revisit the targets so NHS patients receive ‘the highest levels of supportive care’. They argue that surgeons have been pressurised into focusing on meeting waiting list targets for planned operations, but although waiting times have been reduced in recent years, it has come ‘at the cost of relative neglect of the needs of the patients admitted as emergencies’.
The criticisms will raise further concerns about Government plans for NHS reforms, which critics say will harm the health service.
Yesterday, David Cameron announced the Government had been wrong to ‘charge ahead’ with NHS reform. Mr Cameron, speaking at an NHS hospital in Surrey with his deputy Nick Clegg and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, offered a series of concessions over the Coalition’s controversial plans to axe swathes of NHS management and put GPs in charge of commissioning services.
He signalled that hospital doctors would get places on the boards of new GP commissioning groups, while the Lib Dems are demanding local councillors are also included. He also said there would be further amendments to the shake-up if health professionals came forward with suggestions.
In a letter to a national newspaper, the presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons, the College of Emergency Medicine and other associations said that those in most need are having their surgery ‘squeezed in at the end of the day’. The doctors wrote: ‘People presenting to hospital with potentially life-threatening problems are entitled to receive the best possible treatment, right from the start of their hospital stay.’ But many patients are often sent to ‘inappropriate wards’ where their needs cannot be properly met, they said.
Slashing waiting times became a priority for the NHS after Labour came to power in 1997. Tony Blair’s government promised to take 100,000 patients off the waiting lists, and introduced a target that NHS patients should be treated within 18 weeks of being referred by a GP. These rules were scrapped by the Coalition but patients can still demand to be treated within this time under the NHS Constitution.
About 4.2million surgical procedures are carried out on the NHS in England, according to the Royal College of Surgeons. Almost half the workload is thought to be emergency operations.
Emergency surgery is often thought of as treating people involved in traumatic incidents, but much of the workload is helping elderly people suffering from sudden abdominal pain. Operations to relieve blockages are frequently complex and lengthy. Planned operations, such as hip and knee surgery, cataract removal or hernias, can also turn into emergencies if there are complications.
The letter states: ‘In many surgical departments the on-call team is not freed from other commitments and has elective operating lists and clinics, leaving emergency patients to be squeezed in at the end of the day. ‘Surgeons know the service could be much better,’ the doctors say.
The letter is signed by the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, John Black, as well as the presidents of the College of Emergency Medicine, the British Orthopaedic Association, the Intensive Care Society and the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery in Great Britain and Ireland.
We’ve ‘lost’ 74,500 asylum seekers in UK admits border chief
Officials have lost track of nearly 75,000 asylum seekers – and are giving up hope of ever finding them. Hundreds of thousands of case files were discovered in boxes at the Home Office more than five years ago in a major immigration scandal.
Last night the acting head of the UK Border Agency said staff will finish processing the backlog of more than 400,000 in July. But Jonathan Sedgwick was forced to admit fewer than one in ten of those has been identified and successfully deported. More than 161,000 have been given the right to stay in Britain, some of whom may have committed criminal offences. Many will have acquired the right as result of staying here for so long because of delays in dealing with their status.
Some 74,500 cases have been placed in a ‘controlled archive’ after officials could find ‘no trace’ of their existence, Mr Sedgwick said. More than 120,000 have been written off as errors or duplicates, and a total of 36,000 have been removed from the country or left voluntarily.
The handling of the backlog emerged as Mr Sedgwick gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: ‘It seems that 74,500 of these cases are people who have in effect gone missing, you don’t know where they are. Although you have cleared your backlog, you have taken 74,500 of these cases and stuck them in the controlled archive room.
‘Then you have granted indefinite leave to 40 per cent of the 400,000. How is that clearing the backlog and achieving the Government’s target of reducing immigration?’
Astonishingly, Mr Sedgwick said some of the missing asylum seekers ‘might have died’. He said: ‘It was absolutely not the case that we have closed the door and forgotten about them. ‘We have checked every single one of them against databases to see if there is any track of them. The conclusion of that may be that they have left the country – some of them might have died.’
He admitted some given the right to stay may have committed criminal offences, but could not say how many. He denied that allowing them to remain in the UK amounted to an ‘amnesty’ for asylum seekers, saying: ‘I don’t accept that it’s an amnesty.
‘We have removed very substantial numbers – 36,000 people have been removed as a result of this programme – but as a result of the passage of time additional rights accrue.’
An audit of the asylum backlog in 2006 estimated it could be as high as 283,000 cases – a figure dismissed by Labour ministers. However, a further audit revealed the total was between 400,000 and 450,000. Then home secretary John Reid set the target of clearing the backlog within five years.
Cases placed in the archive are checked against 19 watch lists and databases. If no match is found within six months, the case is considered concluded.
Last month a National Audit Office report found officials had ‘no idea’ where 180,000 migrants whose visas have expired since December 2008 were.
Britain’s gilded political elite, hypocrisy and the death of social mobility
So here we go again. Making Britain fairer and improving social mobility, declared Nick Clegg before his bid to stamp out unpaid internships blew up in his face, is the Government’s ‘overriding mission’. Life, he said, should be about ‘what you know, not who you know’. You wonder, though, whether he thinks that principle should apply to politicians, as well as to the rest of us.
Within hours the Deputy Prime Minister was fighting off accusations of hypocrisy, with critics pointing out that he got his first internship after intervention from his father, the head of the United Trust Bank. Even his first job only came after Lord Carrington, a family friend, put in a good word with the European Commissioner Leon Brittan.
There is no doubt that the death of social mobility in modern Britain, one of the most unequal societies in Europe, is a matter of extreme urgency. But with their loose talk of imposing quotas for state school pupils on universities, and their ham-fisted efforts to crack down on internships, our political masters are in danger of turning a desperately serious issue into a farce.
Behind the fuss of the past few days, however, lies a deeper and more troubling reality. For Mr Clegg is far from unusual: inside Westminster’s gilded Oxbridge elite, his CV looks positively normal. Indeed, if Mr Clegg wants to see the principle of ‘who you know’ in operation, he should take a look at the self-satisfied faces around the Cabinet table.
He might ask the Chancellor, George Osborne, how he landed his job at Conservative Central Office after leaving Oxford — the answer being that his pal George Bridges, a political journalist, put in a good word for him.
Then there is the Prime Minister, who once claimed that he got ahead through ‘sharp elbows’, but who actually owes his rise almost entirely to birth, breeding and contacts. Even before going up to Oxford, David Cameron had worked as a researcher for a Tory MP — who just happened to be his godfather. He got his job in PR at Carlton Television through his mother-in-law, Lady Astor, who asked the TV mogul Michael Grade to give him a break. Most famously, he got his job at the Conservative Research Department only after an anonymous phone call from Buckingham Palace. ‘I am ringing to tell you,’ the mysterious caller said, ‘that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man.’
Look across the House of Commons, though, and the story is no better. Absurd though it now seems, there was once a time when the Labour Party called itself the People’s Party, its benches crammed with former miners and manual workers. These days its leader, Ed Miliband, is the son of a Marxist academic, bred in the high-minded intellectual salons of North London and educated, naturally, at Oxford. His first experience of work was as an intern for Tony Benn, who, yet again, just happened to be a family friend.
As for Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, it is the same old story. Her uncle, the Earl of Longford, was a Labour minister under Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson. And Harman herself, the self-proclaimed champion of equality, actually went to St Paul’s Girls’ School, one of the most exclusive establishments in the country.
For those of us who wish that our political classes actually represented the people, this is a sorry tale indeed. But it merely reflects a wider picture. Between 1964 and 1997, not only had every British Prime Minister been educated at a grammar school, but many came from distinctly humble working-class backgrounds. Yet out of 119 Coalition ministers today, 66 per cent went to public schools, compared with only 7 per cent of the general public.
And only last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that one revealing indicator of social mobility — the difference between parents’ and children’s incomes — is worse in Britain than almost anywhere else in Europe.
For anybody who wants to live in a fair and aspirational society, these figures are a source of deep shame. What is really damning, though, is not only that inequality actually got worse during New Labour’s 13 years, but that the Coalition seems intent on repeating the last government’s mistakes.
The hypocrisy of privileged politicians haranguing the rest of us about ‘sharp elbows’ is bad enough. To make matters worse, they seem convinced that merely by announcing some new ‘initiative’ — the political equivalent of waving a magic wand — they can somehow make everything right.
This internships business is a case in point. Although they are abused by those lucky enough to have connections, unpaid internships are a symptom, not a cause, of a deeper social imbalance. Forcing companies to hold competitions and interviews would merely scratch the surface of the problem.
Even more alarming are the Coalition’s threats to our top universities. Now that their tuition-fee reforms have turned into an outright fiasco, with universities queuing up to charge the maximum £9,000, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have started muttering about forcing institutions to admit lower-achieving students from poor backgrounds.
All this is irresistibly reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s boorish behaviour during the Laura Spence affair, when he complained that Oxford academics had discriminated against a bright working-class girl from the North-East. Later, it emerged that she merely lost out to equally brilliant candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.
In fact, both Oxford and Cambridge already expend vast efforts on access schemes to encourage applications from poor children in state schools, as do many other top universities.
The fact is that like internships, universities merely reflect society’s existing inequalities. Turning them into blunt instruments of social engineering, as the Coalition seems determined to do, would merely pervert and destroy some of the few world-class institutions we have left.
In any case, as far as social mobility itself is concerned, all this is basically irrelevant. If the Government really wants a fair and mobile society, it should forget about channelling young people into pointless Media Studies degrees and concentrate on two things: schools and jobs.
As David Davis, one of the few Tory MPs from a council-estate background, pointed out yesterday, our education system abjectly fails to provide opportunities for bright working-class children. And such views are not confined to the political Right.
‘By getting rid of grammar schools politicians have forced upon the state sector a system of enforced downward mobility’
The Left-wing historian Tony Judt, who died last year, went to a grammar school in Wandsworth in the early 1960s. In his posthumous memoir, Judt wrote that the abolition of the grammar schools was one of the worst mistakes the Left ever made. ‘Intent on destroying the selective state schools that afforded my generation a first-rate education at public expense,’ he wrote, ‘politicians have forced upon the state sector a system of enforced downward mobility.’
It was a disgrace, this old socialist added, that the gap between private and state schools was greater than at any time since the Forties. And it was no wonder given that imbalance, he thought, that the Coalition Cabinet is dominated by public schoolboys.
But schools are only half the battle. What really ensured social mobility during the relatively golden years of the Fifties and Sixties was the fact that working-class children went into decent jobs in manufacturing industries, where they could work their way up the ladder. The dignity of work may be a mystery to some of our MPs. But it made a real difference to millions of lives in the post-war decades, offering a chance for ordinary people to get on.
Not all of these people were socially mobile. Many were proud to call themselves working class. Honest, hard-working and productive, they were the backbone of Britain’s economy for decades, until our great industries collapsed in the Seventies and Eighties.
So if the Government is really serious about creating a fair society, it should cut out the social engineering initiatives, stop meddling with higher education, restore genuinely high standards to the state school system, and invest in apprenticeships and infrastructure to rebuild our manufacturing sector.
Give people a good education and make sure there will be decent jobs for them afterwards, and you are halfway to a truly egalitarian society.
Without those things, you can launch all the initiatives you want. But like most of our privileged politicians’ promises, none of them will be worth the paper they are written on.
Ministers promise a ‘red tape revolution’ to get rid of pointless rules and regulations in Britain
Good if it happens
David Cameron and Vince Cable will today invite people to rip up thousands of ‘pointless’ rules and regulations holding back enterprise.
The pair will promise a ‘red tape revolution’ in favour of small business, arguing regulations brought in over the last decade are costing as much as five per cent of national income.
Members of the public, businesses and voluntary organisations are being invited to tear up some of the 21,000 existing rules that are getting in their way.
Ministers have already identified a string of bizarre rules, including ones prohibiting the setting of a price when reselling a bed, restrictions on the sale of liqueur-flavoured chocolates and a four-second time limit on the sounding of ice cream van chimes.
They say many regulations are widely ignored, while others are badly designed and should have been scrapped years ago.
The Prime Minister last night wrote to all Cabinet ministers telling them they have three months to explain why a regulation in their area is still required, or it will be scrapped.
Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Mr Cable will tell the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference today that he realised wars on red tape were ‘as old a theme as regulation itself’.
But he will insist: ‘We want to be the first government in history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation, not increased it.’
‘The problem is that to the experienced practitioner – from the civil servant drafting the language, through the inspector visiting premises, down to the lawyers weighing in during a dispute, the rules can seem to make sense,’ he will add.
‘For people whose job is regulation, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. And if they are the only people we talk to, we won’t see the problem, and it will just get worse.
‘That is why we are launching a website to contact directly the people who understand best what the costs of regulation are. In other words, you. ‘We shall display, sector by sector, the stock of regulations on the basis that if it cannot be justified it should lapse.
‘Surely, within the 21,000 statutory instruments we counted there are regulations that have come to their natural end. Do we really need regulations as specific as the ‘Indication of Price (Beds) Order’? ‘The presumption will be clear: regulations will be presumed guilty unless proven innocent.’
The coalition has implemented a three-year moratorium on any new regulation from any government department affecting firms with ten employees or fewer. Sunset clauses, introducing a built-in time-limit, are to be included in any new regulations.
The initiative came as Nick Clegg’s plans to encourage new fathers to take more time off work came under attack from Mr Cameron’s former adviser on red tape.
Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Young of Graffham said the plans to allow fathers to take up to 10 months of paternity leave if the mother goes back to work would be damaging for small businesses.
He said: ‘You don’t have to make (maternity leave) interchangeable. Why should men take time off?
‘No, they can leave things how they are. What I would think would be extremely difficult is to have extended leave going to the men as well.’
Earlier this year Mr Clegg said existing rules on paternity leave ‘patronise women and marginalise men’. He said parents should be free to divide up parental leave between them as they see fit.
New rules allowing parents to share up to six months of parental leave came into force last weekend. Mr Clegg wants to extend this to allow fathers to take up to 10 months off.
But businesses have warned that the new system will place a huge burden on them. A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that more than half of firms thought the new parental leave rules would be ‘detrimental’ to their business.
RED TAPE MADNESS
* The Indication of Prices (Beds) order 1978 which prevents people from specifying a price when re-selling a bed; Article 2 of the Order states that “a person who indicates that a bed is or may be for sale by him shall not indicate a price at which another person buying it may sell it”.
* Code of Practice on Noise from Ice Cream Van Chimes, 1982 makes it an offence to sound chimes for longer than four seconds at a time, more often than once every three minutes, when the vehicle is stationary, when in sight of another ice-cream van which is trading, within 50 metres of schools (during school hours), hospitals, and places of worship (on Sundays and any other recognised days of worship).
* The Licensing Act 2003 which prevents people under 16 years of age buying liqueur chocolate;
* The Amendment to the 1967 Wireless Telegraphy Act 1967 which obliges retailers to notify TV Licensing of any sales or rentals of television sets;
* The Pedal bicycles (safety) regulations 2010 which compel all bikes sold in the UK to be fitted with a bell; and
* Various orders prohibiting companies from ‘Trading with the Enemy’ dating from when countries like French Indo-China were enemies.
Another false prophecy — from 2007
As staff walk out at a school plagued by violent pupils, teachers who dared to confront thugs in classrooms across Britain reveal how THEY were the ones to be punished
Staff at a struggling secondary school who are today staging a walk-out in protest of an escalating wave of verbal and physical abuse from pupils have won support from a teacher who made a similarly strong stand against classroom indiscipline.
Beleaguered teachers at the Darwen Vale High School in Blackburn, Lancs, overwhelmingly voted to go on strike in protest at what they see as the lack of support from senior management in dealing with pupils’ challenging behaviour. The children had been pushing, shoving and constantly swearing, leaving hard-pressed staff at the end of their tether.
Last month, a disciplinary hearing decreed that Michael Becker, 63, a teacher with an ‘exemplary’ record, should be allowed to return to the profession he loves despite an earlier conviction for assaulting a pupil. Mr Becker, 63, of Stutton, Suffolk, who reacted firmly to an unruly pupil, said: ‘I have enormous sympathy for these teachers who daily run the gauntlet of rowdy and aggressive children. I applaud their action.’
Two years ago, Mr Becker was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay £1,875 costs by Suffolk magistrates who believed the account of a disruptive 13-year-old who was in his class. The boy said the teacher had used unreasonable force to eject him from a lesson. Mr Becker has always contested that he had merely grabbed the boy by his belt and sweatshirt and removed him to a nearby storeroom when he refused — after repeated warnings — to stop telling particularly offensive and inflammatory racist jokes and leave the classroom.
When, last month, the General Teaching Council ruled that he could return to the classroom, Mr Becker said: ‘I’m delighted. I feel I’ve been vindicated. I just cannot describe the relief. I believe common sense has, at last, prevailed.’
And so, it would seem, do his many supporters. Roland Gooding, the former headteacher at the special school where Mr Becker gave ‘exemplary’ service for more than three decades, told the tribunal he ‘would not hesitate’ to employ Mr Becker again — adding public interest would not be served if he was forbidden from teaching.
At a time when schools are experiencing shortages of science and maths teachers, it would indeed seem a folly to ban Mr Becker from teaching, as he is a specialist in both.
His other passion is music: the school band, which he set up and ran, made ten albums — the proceeds of which went to charity — and appeared on television. In recognition of this laudable work, Mr Becker and his wife Ilona, 62, a retired secretary — who are parents to a grown-up son and daughter, and grandparents — attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
However, Mr Becker acknowledges that he did ‘overstep the mark’. He has also expressed genuine apologies and regret. But he would like to see the law clarified so other teachers fully understand what constitutes ‘reasonable’ force in removing disruptive pupils from lessons.
For his experience is not a one-off. It is replicated on a daily basis in classrooms throughout Britain, where teachers are expected to exercise almost saintly forbearance when confronted with pupils’ insolence, foul language and rowdyness.
‘All the power is with the children now,’ says Mr Becker. ‘Indiscipline is rampant and it seems to be a mark of honour to bring down a teacher.’ Mr Becker believes his experience is an extension of the barmy extremes of political correctness that currently hamstring every aspect of school life: the ludicrous health-and-safety zealotry that dictates pupils can’t make collages out of old eggboxes or loo roll holders any more for fear of contracting salmonella or ingesting germs; the nannying that forbids conker fights; and the absurd ‘risk assessment’ exercises that precede every trip outside the school gates.
Moreover, today’s discipline strategies are short-changing the diligent — an inequity not lost on Mr Becker. ‘Pupils stroll round classrooms as if teachers don’t exist,’ he says. ‘The boy I reprimanded was using his mobile and telling racist jokes. He was being unbearably insolent. It infuriated me that he was denying the other pupils their entitlement to learn without disruption, so I removed him.’ He adds: ‘Teachers should be allowed to teach. It’s a scandal that the system has forsaken those who want to learn.
‘My colleagues are constantly struggling with disrespectful and sometimes violent pupils. I know of one teacher, in a middle school, who is told to ‘f*** off’ 20 times a day. While other countries — many in Asia — are ascending the educational league tables, we are sliding down them.’
While parents would once support teachers’ efforts to discipline their children, now they are more likely to collude with their unruly offspring against their teachers.
Rita Burgess (not her current name), 55, teaches at a primary school in a deprived area of Liverpool. Her experience proves just how skewed in favour of children’s ‘rights’ the system has become. A year ago, two of her nine-year-old pupils were brawling in the classroom. She intervened to separate them. One of the children then ccused Mrs Burgess of assault, claiming she had strangled him.
The entire incident had been witnessed by the school’s assistant head, who testified that Mrs Burgess had merely broken up the fight. Had common sense prevailed the incident would have ended there, with a stiff reprimand and sanctions for the pupils.
But it didn’t. Preposterous though it seems, it was Mrs Burgess — a teacher with an unblemished record and 23 years experience — who was put through the wringer.
‘The headteacher said he could not take my word, which was corroborated by the assistant head, about what had happened,’ says Mrs Burgess. ‘He said if he did so, the parents would assume I’d colluded with my colleague to take sides against the children.’
What happened next is the stuff of nightmare. Mrs Burgess was suspended from her post for six weeks while the head carried out his investigation. In the time it took to accrue evidence — which exonerated Mrs Burgess unequivocally — she began to suffer from depression. ‘It was terribly stressful. I thought I was going to lose my job,’ she says. ‘Worst of all was the sense of utter betrayal.
Presumably the headteacher was obeying “procedures”, but we’ve now reached the point where heads are so frightened of litigation they give more credence to the word of children than to the testimony of two responsible adults.
There have been many instances of older pupils who’ve conspired against teachers and told lies just to get rid of them.’
Mrs Burgess’ experience is commonplace. It is replicated in schools all over Britain and it indicates how the ‘human rights’ of unruly pupils are trampling over the far more compelling right of the well-behaved to be educated…..
Mrs Burgess’ comments strike a chord with Basil Howard, a former head of religious education at a Midlands comprehensive. Mr Howard, dismayed by the daily verbal assaults on him by pupils, left the profession suffering from stress to become a social worker. He says: ‘I took my job seriously. I was a good, imaginative teacher. Even so, unruliness in the classroom was routine.
‘Pupils would wander aimlessly around, the more disruptive of them swinging Tarzan-like from the curtains. ‘“Mr Howard is a ****” was engraved indelibly by penknife and ink into desks. And I was expected to suffer this in silence. “You are a useless w***** and RE is pathetic,” was a typical torment.’
Like Mrs Burgess, Mr Howard notes that today even the most unruly pupils are indulged because they have ‘conditions’ that warrant quasi-scientific labels. ‘I believe the rot set in when teachers’ obligation to maintain discipline was undermined by pupils’ rights,’ he says.
‘Kids who are simply too idle to work are now excused because they have “learning difficulties”. My years as a social worker have taught me that children genuinely afflicted are, in fact, a tiny minority.
‘Moreover, teachers have become afraid to damage the fragile sensibilities of their pupils and school reports are so cloaked by euphemism that they are meaningless. What happened to the short, sharp shock of the one-liner? “Must do better” and, “An awful performance” leave no room for doubt or misinterpretation. ‘The pendulum has swung too far in favour of tolerance and acceptance.’
Small wonder, then, that so many pupils, denied boundaries and discipline at home, have no sense of the meaning of such out-moded values as respect, diligence, reliability and courtesy.