Foreign doctors who lack words for compassion
A couple waited anxiously to see a consultant at a major hospital. There were signs that their unborn baby may have stopped growing in the womb. The consultant, who had an almost impenetrable Spanish accent, ushered them into his room, looked at the scan and said: ‘Let’s see if the child is alive or dead.’
Not unreasonably, and in her highly emotional state, the woman burst into tears. She wept for a long time and the consultant’s insensitive phrase still upsets her today, several months later.
The rest of the hospital appointment was equally traumatic for the couple (who I know well, having attended their wedding) and they spent the remainder of their time there desperately trying to understand what the doctor was saying.
He could speak English, even if it was massively accented, but he couldn’t speak colloquial English. It was a real issue for the couple. They are no fools. She was a successful sales executive and he is the managing director of a medium–sized business.
As concerns for their unborn child continued, they were then referred to an Asian woman consultant. Once again, although clearly intelligent, she couldn’t capture the right English phrases or expressions to help them through this difficult period.
Finally, hallelujah, they were seen by an English woman consultant who was marvellous and put them at their ease as well as explaining possible causes for the baby’s lack of growth.
The good news is that the baby is now alive and well, but this story does starkly highlight the issue of foreign doctors who don’t speak good enough English.
This is not unique because even the doctors’ ‘union’, the British Medical Association, is worried about the problem. So is Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. But what are they doing about it? A third of our doctors are foreign, with a quarter of them coming from Europe.
Since the medical profession is supposed to be the brightest of the bright, it can’t be beyond them to learn English so that when delicate issues arise, they can summon the appropriate phrases to deal with anxious patients.
Foreign doctors should not be allowed to see patients unless they are proficient in our language.
‘Get an appointment with God': What ‘rude’ surgeon told daughter of dying man when she asked why he had cancer
A surgeon told the daughter of a dying man to ‘get an appointment with God’ when she asked why he had developed cancer. John Edwards’s ‘rude’ bedside manner is being investigated by health bosses after Kylie Cottrell, 38, complained about the consultant’s behaviour.
Her father Terrance Couling, 70, was diagnosed with the disease at Bronglais Hospital, Aberystwyth, in May last year.
Mrs Cottrell claimed that during a phone conversation with Mr Edwards, the consultant was ‘rude and arrogant’ and showed no compassion towards the family, who had been given the ‘devastating’ news that Mr Couling had a few months to live only hours earlier.
Mrs Cottrell said: ‘In May 2011 I travelled to Bronglais after being told over the phone by Mr Edwards that dad had cancer and was unlikely to still be with us at Christmas.
‘Mr Edwards was not available personally, but I was taken into a room to speak to him over the phone. ‘I was asking various questions about dad’s treatment and his cancer and Mr Edwards became very rude and loud. ‘He suggested if I wanted to know why my dad had cancer I should get an appointment with God, rather than ask him. ‘In shock, I told him that I couldn’t believe that he was talking to me in that manner – to which he offered to repeat what he had said.’
She added: ‘Mr Edwards was rude, arrogant, and very cruel verbally, considering the devastating news he had personally told me just a few hours earlier.’
Mr Couling, a retired railwayman who had nine children, died at his home in Penbontrhydybeddau, Aberystwyth, a month later.
Mrs Cottrell, of Malvern, Worcestershire, initially complained to the body which runs hospital services in Mid and West Wales, the Hywel Dda Local Health Board, about Mr Edwards’s behaviour. She also alleged incompetence in the way her father was treated.
The hospital started an investigation and the hospital’s acute service general manager, Linda Hughes, wrote to Mrs Cottrell to apologise.
In her letter she added: ‘The consultant acknowledges that the nature of the conversation was unsatisfactory and recognised that, with hindsight, his choice of words/use of language would have been different.’
Mrs Cottrell, a beautician, was not satisfied with the board’s apology and has now asked the NHS ombudsman to look into her father’s case.
An independent expert has also been called in by the health board to investigate the care given to Mr Couling on Meurig Ward.
A spokesman for the health board said: ‘While it is inappropriate to discuss an ongoing investigation through the media, we can confirm a part-response has been provided to the family and we await the imminent outcome of an expert independent report on the medical care provided to Mr Couling.
‘The health board continues to be in regular contact with Mrs Cottrell and we wish to convey our sincere apologies for the delay in this investigation.
“Daddy’s girl”: Samantha Brick is indeed a lucky woman
I have often said that the most beautiful human relationship that there is is that between a “daddy’s girl” and her father. Sadly, only a minority of women experience it but when a little girl has a father who treats her like a princess every time they meet, it has a huge effect on the confidence and feelings of self-worth for the girl concerned — a confidence and strength that tends to last a lifetime. I have seen many examples of it and when you see a little girl running towards her father and winding herself around him while he has a big smile on his face that is what you are seeing. From what she writes below, Samantha Brick is one of those lucky girls.
Feminists who think that only the mother matters could not be more wrong or more depriving towards their daughters. Similarly for women who divorce and push the father out of their children’s lives
I once met a very nice lady who had her little 3-year-old daughter with her. She said with perfect calm that when the father came home at night, there was no-one else in the room for the little girl. I replied cautiously that being a daddy’s girl can be a great strength for a woman in later life. The mother smiled and said: “Yes. I know. I was one too”
So the upshot would appear to be that it is as much her confidence as her looks that causes Samantha Brick to be seen as attractive. Following the article below I put up another one on the role of self-confidence in sex appeal
Just in case any of you were inhabiting another universe last week, I am currently recovering after becoming the subject of a very modern, global witch-hunt.
It’s certainly not an experience I am ever likely to forget. One minute I had written a piece about how being beautiful had always caused me difficulties with other women. The next I found myself pilloried and insulted online, on the radio and on TV shows around the world.
How dare I call myself beautiful? Who did I think I was? Had I not looked in the mirror recently? Was I the most deluded woman in the world?
The comments, most of them deeply insulting, came in thick and fast. I knew the article would cause controversy but no one was more shocked than me when I learned nearly three million people read it on the Mail website alone. Twitter was also ablaze with comments about my ‘arrogance’.
Since then I have appeared on TV to defend my position, and my darling husband Pascal, a carpenter, launched a spirited defence of me in this newspaper.
But now I’ve had time to reflect, one question, asked by many (mostly female) critics, has occupied my mind: why, unlike so many members of my sex, does my cup runneth over with self-confidence?
The answer is simple: my beloved father, Patrick Brick. Ever since the day I came into this world, my dad, a retired nurse, has showered me with love and affection. His love has been the key to my being able to love myself.
In the middle of last week’s media storm, he was the man I instinctively turned to. Yes, Pascal, my loving husband of four years, was behind me all the way, telling me that to him I was the most beautiful woman in the world. But Dad immediately knew — as he always has — what to say to make me feel better.
I called him from my home in France to ask what he thought. As ever, his support was instant and unwavering. First, he reassured me that those lambasting me were ‘very sad people with very shallow lives’.
Then, unable to understand why I’d become the focus of so much bitterness, he asked: ‘Why aren’t people directing such anger towards the real problems going on in this country? You’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve struck a nerve and you’ve proved that your point is valid. Treat them with the contempt they deserve.’
In that instant I felt better. And it occurred to me that without my adoring dad I would never have felt able to write the piece — let alone deal with the vicious onslaught that followed.
Unashamedly, I am a daddy’s girl, utterly confident in my father’s love. For as long as I can remember, I got birthday cards from him addressed to ‘my No 1 girl’. While he was probably referring to the fact I was his eldest daughter (he has five) I interpreted it as meaning I was No 1 in his life.
And it’s an outlook I have taken with me into my adulthood. It’s the reason why when I look in the mirror, I don’t see a 40-something woman with crow’s feet, squidgy cheeks sliding southwards and the beginnings of a crepey chest. I see a twinkly eyed temptress who grins confidently back at me — one who stands tall, proud and with masses of va-va-voom.
And it would seem I am not alone. Dr Linda Nielsen, author of a recent book on father-daughter relationships, agrees how a girl relates to her dad has the power to transform the way she feels about herself.
A psychologist based in the US, Dr Nielsen has studied for 24 years what she considers a very special bond. She believes that while society views the dynamic between mothers and daughters as the most important in a girl’s life, the connection between her and her father is in many ways more important.
‘It’s fathers who have the greater influence in shaping their daughters’ future,’ she says. ‘Research shows that fathers teach women how to successfully communicate with men, how to speak up for themselves and how to love themselves.
‘If a little girl gets Dad’s approval, even if she isn’t perfect or beautiful, she’ll go through life believing she’s fine as she is.’ That’s certainly my experience.
Yes, Dad taught me to swim and bought me my first dog, but from as far back as I can remember, he’d also sit me on his knee at our home in the Midlands and tell me of the special life I was going to have. He always made me feel loved and cherished. He would tell stories of how he had grown up in poverty in Ireland and how he wanted the complete opposite for me.
I had a lazy eye when I was younger and it was Dad who determinedly ensured I had it fixed so I wouldn’t be picked on. I remember waking up from the operation at the age of eight and seeing him looking down at me telling me I was beautiful.
Throughout my life, every one of my boyfriends has had ‘the talk’ from my dad. He’d warn them I was his special girl, and if they mistreated me in any way they’d be answerable to him.
This week I told him of my theory that he was behind my belief I was beautiful. I asked him why he felt it was important I grew up feeling I was good-looking and mattered in the world. He said: ‘Women can be far nastier to each other than men. Raising five daughters I’ve seen enough over the years, from the way your friends often behaved towards you, to know there’s constant rivalry among women.
‘I realised instilling self-confidence in my daughters would protect them from the inevitable difficulties they’d face as adults.’
Dad’s daughters, from two marriages, now range in age from 18 to 41. When any of us need advice or a confidence boost, it’s still him we turn to. As sisters there have, of course, been occasional bouts of rivalry and jealousy — we each want to be the prettiest, the most intelligent, the funniest. But Dad’s made us all feel confident, and bestowed us with the belief we look good — whatever size or shape we are.
Even though Mum and Dad divorced when I was 16, I have never felt anything but No 1 in Dad’s life. He saw me through all the major milestones, and guided me through the angst-ridden teens. There was little I couldn’t talk to him about.
Yet the crucial father-daughter bond is often down-played. As Dr Nielsen says: ‘We live in a sexist society that tells us the mother is most important. Yet if you look at the research, that’s nonsense. ‘Girls who grow up without their fathers have sex younger, are more likely to fall pregnant as teenagers and are at higher risk of anorexia.’
When I appeared on ITV1’s This Morning last week, my interviewer Eamonn Holmes confided off-air that, just like my dad, he regularly tells his young daughter she’s beautiful because he wants her to enter adulthood with confidence.
Therapist Marisa Peer, author of the book Ultimate Confidence: The Secrets to Feeling Great About Yourself Every Day, also believes this approach is crucial. ‘The first man women encounter is their father,’ she says. ‘If he consistently praises you and compliments you on your looks, this becomes familiar. ‘If your dad loves you, treats you with respect and boosts your self-belief, you can do anything and go anywhere in the professional world.’
This viewpoint is mirrored in the stories of many successful women. Dawn French’s father Denis played a pivotal role in instilling confidence in her as a teenager. She says: ‘He sat me down and told me that I was beautiful, that I was the most precious thing in his life, that he prized me above all else, and that he was proud to be my father.’
Gwyneth Paltrow refers gushingly to her father, the late U.S. director and producer Bruce Paltrow, in just about every interview she gives.
It’s not just famous women, either. After my article, I received emails from hundreds of females who, like me, had suffered jealousy from other women as a result of their looks. Many confessed to having strong relationships with their fathers.
Take Angela, 33, from Cardiff, who runs her own IT company. She said: ‘By boosting my confidence from an early age, my dad gave me fearlessness, and I have succeeded in a man’s world.’ While Helen, 27, from Edinburgh, wrote: ‘He was the first man to tell me I’m beautiful.’
This comment struck a chord, for I’ll never forget my school prom at 16. My father’s eyes watered when I walked into our living room in a long, strapless, black dress. Mum was always lovely to me but when Dad said I was stunning, it meant more.
Dr Nielsen believes for women to succeed, mothers need to back off and allow fathers to develop their own relationship. ‘Mothers do get jealous but it’s crucial for father and daughter to spend time alone, communicating with each other,’ she says. ‘This way, daughters grow up able to talk to men easily and confidently, and avoid picking the wrong life partner.’
I’m so glad I found Pascal, a strong, masculine partner who would walk over hot coals to ensure no harm comes to me — just like Dad.
And, no matter what strangers say about me, I will continue to look in the mirror and see a strong, attractive woman: one who, thanks to my father, won’t ever cower down or walk away — even when it feels like the whole world is against her.
The importance of self-confidence in women
Assuming that Samantha Brick is, in fact, sane and not any more deluded than the average person, she is probably relating her experience of life as a relatively attractive woman as accurately as she can.
So why do so many people find her story so implausible? Is it really that hard to believe that a pleasant looking, but, by her own admission, not exceptionally gorgeous, woman can universally captivate male attention?
Well, no, not if one distinguishes between beauty and sex appeal. If the world’s men truly are crazy for Brick it’s probably not because of how she looks – at least solely. In all likelihood, she is, unbeknownst to herself, possessed of a quality far more compelling: sexual magnetism.
There was something very familiar to me in Brick’s story that made it wholly believable. And as I read various reactions to her article, my sympathy for her grew ever stronger. Finally, that nagging feeling of deja-vu took a concrete shape. As a long-forgotten face slowly disinterred itself from the memory cemetery, I realised that I once knew a woman whose life was as distressingly male-centric as Brick’s. Actually, it was probably far worse.
Anais* was French-Canadian, petite and nicely proportioned. Otherwise, her looks were unremarkable. She didn’t wear makeup, her hair was strictly wash-and-wear, and, day or night, she wore the same outfit: jeans, t-shirt, running shoes. In other words, this was a woman who made zero effort to attract men. And little wonder. Had she attracted any more of them, she wouldn’t have been able to move.
There’s no other way to describe it – the male of the species was in thrall to Anais. It didn’t matter who else was in the room; it could have been jam-packed with supermodels, not a single man would have noticed. Anais totally dominated all male attention the minute she walked in the door. They couldn’t keep their eyes off her. And to be honest, neither could I. Anais was as fascinating as she was unnerving.
So what was the secret to her super-charged sexiness? Nothing obvious. She was friendly, she had a cute accent and could out-dance Beyonce but she was also a little remote. No one would have described her as flirtatious or even particularly warm. What she did have over the rest of the world’s women was total confidence. I’ve never met another woman so comfortable in her own skin.
Her massive sex appeal undoubtedly rested on more than a healthy self-regard but it was an essential ingredient. Anais was completely at ease with herself, her looks, and all consequent sexual attention. This welcoming spirit was richly rewarded with male lust and, sadly for Anais, profound female mistrust.
Anais was always surrounded by men but women gave her a wide berth. They didn’t dislike her, they just didn’t want to be around her. Her mere presence was enough to undo all but the most self-assured of women. No amount of pleasantness on Anais’s part would ever change that.
I only knew Anais briefly, many years ago. I fell into her circle for a short while before a relationship led me elsewhere. I haven’t seen her since so I don’t know how her story unfolded. But I’m certain of one thing, no matter how fabulous her life may have turned out, I wouldn’t trade places with her for a moment.
While men lusted after Anais, they didn’t necessarily love her. More often, it seemed they resented her. Her sexual power put them at too great a disadvantage and those whose lust went unrequited sneered behind her back. Her erstwhile natural allies, women, felt little affinity for her and just hoped that she’d go away – soon. As much as she excited men, Anais put women on edge. I’m certain it wasn’t purposeful, it was just a fact of her life.
An extraordinary life is often a lonely one. For all the advantages her extreme confidence brought her, I expect Anais would have needed every ounce of it to withstand the emotional isolation entailed in her unique brand of charisma.
Samantha Brick may well be deluded. But it’s also possible that women don’t tend to like her all that much simply because men like her much too much.
Children stolen by the state needlessly, causing utter misery in one of Britain’s most disturbing scandals
Yesterday the Daily Mail reported that applications to take children into care in England have soared to an all-time record, for the first time topping 10,000 in just 12 months.
Since 2008 alone, the figure has much more than doubled, to some 225 cases a week — bringing the total number of children in care in the UK as a whole to at least 90,000.
The official reason given for this explosion in the number of children being removed from their families by social workers in only four years is that 2008 was the year when the nation was shocked by the events leading to the death of Baby P — later named as Peter Connelly.
He was just 17 months old when he died in North London at the hands of his mother Tracey and her violent partner, suffering more than 50 injuries.
The story goes that social workers have become much more eager to take children into care because they do not wish to see any repetition of the scandal surrounding their failure to save Baby Peter, even though they and other officials had visited his home 60 times.
But one hugely important ingredient is missing from the way this version of events is being put across by the authorities responsible for ‘child protection’.
Evidence is accumulating on all sides to show that far too many children are now being removed from their parents wholly unnecessarily, often for laughably inadequate, even absurd, reasons.
No one could object if the rise in the number of families being torn apart was simply due to the increased determination of our social workers to intervene in situations likely to lead to another Baby P tragedy.
But the fact is, happy children are today being snatched from loving parents for reasons they cannot begin to fathom, leaving all concerned in a state of utter misery. And this can constitute a tragedy in its own way scarcely less heart-rending than those where a child has been genuinely abused.
Having investigated scores of such cases over the past three years, I do not hesitate to describe this as one of the most disturbing scandals in Britain today.
The manner in which, every week, dozens of families are wantonly ripped apart has become truly horrifying. And the only reason this does not itself make headline news is that our so-called ‘child protection’ system has become so ruthlessly hidden from view by the wall of secrecy built round it by our family courts.
What is most shocking about our child-care system is the extent to which, behind that wall of secrecy, every part of it has gone off the rails,
The social workers have become far too prone to target not genuine problem families like those of Baby P or Victoria Climbie — the eight-year-old girl from the Ivory Coast who in 2000 was tortured and murdered by her guardians in London — but normal, respectable homes where children are being happily brought up by responsible parents.
The reasons given by the care industry for seizing these children these tell their own story.
Since 2008 the proportion of children removed because they are being physically or sexually abused has actually gone down.
Instead, the social workers cite vague reasons based on opinion rather than testable evidence — they use terms such as ‘emotional abuse’ the use of which has soared by 70 per cent. In many cases the social workers don’t even need to produce evidence, only their personal view that a child might be ‘at risk of emotional harm’.
Once the social workers have made their decision, children and parents find themselves caught up in a shadowy system which seems rigged against them.
The social workers hire ‘experts’, such as psychologists, who earn thousands of pounds writing reports which appear to confirm the case planned for the courts. The reports can contain woolly allegations, such as that a mother might suffer from a ‘borderline personality disorder’. (Which of us could not have that charge levelled against them?)
Far too often the parents aren’t allowed to challenge the reports in court — even though the ‘experts’, rather than practising in clinics and seeing patients, may earn all their living from writing such reports, and endorsing what the social workers want them to say.
Judges are then presented with allegations made against the parents based on no more than the wildest hearsay. Such allegations elsewhere in our legal system would instantly be ruled inadmissible. But because of the secrecy of the family courts system, the parents are not permitted to even question these claims and the media is denied the opportunity to present them for scrutiny.
Meanwhile, countless children find themselves living with strangers in foster homes, where all the evidence shows — despite many shining exceptions — they may risk physical abuse or emotional harm far worse than anything their parents were accused of inflicting on them.
The only contact the accused parents and their unhappy children are allowed with each other is in brief, rigorously supervised ‘contact sessions’, staged in grim council ‘contact centres’. Even these are likely to be brusquely terminated if any sign of affection is shown, or if a bewildered child dares to ask its parents for an explanation of why all this is happening.
I would not believe all this and much more could happen in England if I had not heard remarkably similar stories again and again from dozens of parents and children — even though the parents are routinely threatened with prison if they discuss their case with anyone from outside the system.
Just how ruthless and Kafkaesque this system has become behind this impenetrable wall of secrecy is almost impossible to convey to anyone unfamiliar with it.
It makes a complete mockery of a system that has been set up in the name of ‘protecting children’, to ensure their lives are somehow better and happier than they were before.
Nothing in yesterday’s Mail report was more shocking than the statistics showing what happens to children who have emerged from Britain’s care system. Fifty per cent of all this country’s prostitutes are girls who have been in care, and 80 per cent of all Big Issue sellers. Half of all those in young offenders’ institutions have been in care, and 26 per cent of adults in prison have the same background. Meanwhile, half of all girls who leave care become single mothers within two years, not least because they want someone to love.
These devastating statistics go on and on — hard evidence of just how horribly our ‘care system’ is failing those who fall into its clutches. Many of the children, of course, have already had an appalling start in life, being born to drug-addicted, alcoholic, genuinely abusive or otherwise incapable parents.
It is hard to argue that social workers and the courts were wrong to remove these tragic youngsters.
But this makes it all the more incomprehensible that among such children in care today are ever more thousands who should never have been taken from homes where they were properly cared for.
This is the real price we are paying for that impersonal statistic we saw blazoned across the front page of yesterday’s Mail: that the number of children being seized from their parents has now soared for the first time to 10,000 a year,
Having heard too many of their accounts in chillingly repetitive detail, I must say that this scandal is the most shocking story I have reported in all my many decades as a journalist.
It is high time it was pulled from behind that wall of secrecy and reported across the world.
British health and safety rules at their most brainless
Which is saying something
A great-grandmother looked like she had ‘been beaten up’ after falling out of bed at her care home – because of ‘stupid’ new health and safety rules banning bed bars, her family claims.
Elderly Jane Jones, 94, was rushed to hospital after cutting her head, arm, hand and nose when she fell three-and-a-half feet out of her care home bed.
The sides of her bed had not been put up after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warning against using side bars because they restrict ‘free movement’ – allowing Mrs Jones to freely tumble out of bed.
The HSE guidelines state that bed bars should only be used if there is ‘no alternative’ and the safety benefits ‘clearly outweigh the loss of free movement’ and can even be construed as an unlawful deprivation of liberty under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Mrs Jones’ granddaughters Donna Adlington, 41, and Lynette Matthews, 39, have criticised the rule as ‘ridiculous’ and reported the incident to the Care Quality Commission.
Lynette claims the family warned that their grandmother was at risk of falling out of her bed just over a week before the accident.
She said: ‘Our grandmother looks like she has been beaten up – her injuries are horrific. ‘The whole family has been left mortified by what happened.
‘A month ago a new rule was brought in that the residents were no longer allowed to have the bed sides up. The family were not made aware of this. ‘About a week-and-a-half before her fall we spotted her sides were down and we complained. But they dismissed our concerns – then this happens. ‘We think this is stupid and may cause elderly people to be put at risk. Our grandmother had a hell of a fall.’
Great-grandmother-of-15 Mrs Jones has been in care at Millbrook Lodge in Gloucester – a home run by the Orders of the St John Care Trust – since suffering a stroke three years ago.
The widowed former Co-operative worker was found face-down on the floor of her room and bleeding on April 1 when son Terry went to visit her. She was rushed to hospital and is now recovering back at the care home.
Lynette, from Torquay, Devon, said they had now reported the care home to the Care Quality Commission after it still refused to put the sides up on her bed – despite the fall. She said: ‘I am still concerned. Nan now has a low bed, no sides up, and a mattress in case she falls out again. ‘But, as she cannot move herself, if she falls face down, we’re concerned she could suffocate.
‘We want to warn others out there about this. We believe this practice puts others, like my grandmother, at risk.’
The care home confirmed that an investigation had started to find out how Mrs Jones had fallen from her bed.
Janis Tunaley, spokesman for the Orders of the St John Care Trust, said it had adopted the ‘modern’ bed bar procedure on advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The HSE, a non-departmental public body responsible for the regulation of welfare in the workplace, warned bars could be a deprivation of liberty under the Mental Capacity Act.
Mrs Tunaley said: ‘Obviously we are very concerned for our resident, and we are sorry for the distress this has caused her.
‘Fortunately, the injuries received did not require her to remain in hospital and she returned to the home on the same day, where she continues to recover.
‘The unfortunate incident centres on the challenging issue of the use of bed rails in a care environment. ‘Whilst they have been around for years, the modern approach to the use of such devices is that they should be withdrawn unless there is no alternative and the safety benefits clearly outweigh the loss of free movement.
‘Should any matter arise from the investigations into this incident, then this will of course be incorporated into our policy.’
British teaching unions show their true colours
This week’s outrageous claims have revealed just how reactionary and self-serving the unions are.
It was when the union spokesman justified long school holidays on the grounds that teaching is the “most stressful profession in the country” that the presenter Evan Davis’s eyebrows hit the roof. I was sitting in the Today studio, having been invited on to defend the pioneering head teachers who have shortened their summer holiday to combat their pupils’ loss of learning between July and September. Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, started by arguing that there was no academic evidence for the idea, which was rubbish but at least sounded reasonable. But he lost all sympathy when he argued that teachers needed long holidays for “essential relaxation”.
Evan Davis has an economist’s suspicion of humbug. He asked, in exasperation: “Are you ever, at the NUT, really welcoming of any kind of experimentation, change, something ambitious and different, thinking outside the box when it comes to teaching?” I simply added that the unions are wrong to describe the notion of shorter summer holidays as a government conspiracy against teachers. In fact, teachers themselves have come up with this new thinking. Ministers have latterly (and rightly) given them support. It is the NUT that wants to impose its thinking on schools, in this case by a blanket veto on change.
In truth the teaching unions have done us a great service at their recent conferences by revealing just how reactionary and self-serving their agenda is. We don’t need to dwell on the fact that the NUT conference is heavily attended by the Socialist Workers Party, which speaks for a tiny handful of voters on the extreme Left who want to change the government via a workers’ revolution rather than a democratic election. We can pass over the fact that NUT delegates once forced David Blunkett, then Labour education secretary, to take refuge in a room for 30 minutes after he committed the heinous crime (in their eyes) of condemning teachers’ strikes and promising to sack bad teachers and shut failing schools. These things scarcely matter, when compared to their actual demands in regard to education and their own privileges.
Two unions have now called strike action over the Government’s freeze of teachers’ pay and the requirement for teachers to pay higher contributions towards their pensions. Both of these changes are entirely reasonable. On one estimate, a private sector worker needs to build up a pension pot of £300,000 in order to obtain the average teachers’ pension. It used to be said that public sector workers’ higher retirement benefits were a compensation for lower pay, but nowadays public sector pay has more than caught up with the private sector, as Lord Hutton’s review found. A teacher on the average salary will now have to pay a mere £10 a month more towards their pension. Most private sector workers will be amazed that teachers will strike over such a slight change to what are very generous terms and conditions.
They will also be surprised by the NUT’s vehement opposition to the basic idea that schools should measure the performance of their teachers and expect improvement. For the union this is (again) a cause of “stress” which “leaves teachers feeling overwhelmed by the constant pressure”, as one of this year’s conference motions put it. Inspectors sometimes dropped in on classrooms “unannounced”, complained a motion, when clearly this is the best way that inspections can capture the true performance of the teacher. This is not all. As Damian Hinds MP pointed out yesterday, the teaching unions argue against the testing of children, at all ages, just as much as they do against the testing of teachers.
In fact, staff at the best schools – both state and private – understand that teaching is a skill that can be learnt and developed. Schools such as David Young Community Academy in Leeds have even drawn up their own training framework, grounded in a practical understanding of what works in teaching day-to-day and based on a passionate commitment to improvement. This vision of good education seems to be the polar opposite of that of the NUT.
The question for the Government is how to respond to the unions’ demands. So far it has sought compromise. For example, most schools still operate under national terms and conditions (and the regional pay-setting proposed by the Chancellor is not a fantastic improvement) and a national curriculum, which the Department of Education is refreshing this year. These ideas are entirely consistent with the NUT’s worldview – nationalised, top-down, one-size-fits-all. That should give ministers pause for thought. There is still time in this parliament to do something radical. One idea would be to go beyond regional pay, and implement local pay-setting in every school, as if every school were an academy. It would not be supported by the unions – but that should hardly be ministers’ first concern.
The NUT’s formal motion in favour of long summer holidays ended as follows: there is a “misconception that more teaching automatically leads to more learning”. It has come to something when a teaching union questions the value of teaching itself. The unions’ ideas on education are dangerous, damaging and unrepresentative of the good practice in many state schools. When they sit down with the unions in future, ministers can afford to be a little tougher in their negotiations.
‘Gay cure’ London bus adverts banned
“Advertisements which suggested gay people could be cured have been banned from London buses, UK transport chiefs say.
The campaign was due to run for two weeks on the side of vehicles serving five routes in the capital, including top tourist destinations such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.
The posters, by Christian group Core Issues Trust, stated: “Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!” and were believed to mock pro-gay group Stonewall’s recent campaign which featured adverts saying: “Some people are gay. Get over it.”
But following a huge public outcry which labelled the Core Issues’ campaign homophobic, London mayor Boris Johnson, who chairs Transport for London (TfL), on Thusday night ordered the adverts to be pulled.
What have homosexuals done to be such an especially favored and protected class who may not be criticized? What have they every done for anyone besides themselves?