News Views

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including creature discomforts, childminding registration charges, listening, a contentious Bill, school size, data base size, and risk-taking.

Creature Discomforts

If there are Oscars to be awarded to charity advertising, one needs to go to Leonard Cheshire Disability for their partnership with Aardman animations in producing the series of TV and radio adverts designed to change public attitudes to disability.

Over recent years we have come a long way in integrating people with disabilities into the everyday life of the community. As a barometer of the change, had you noticed the greatly increased number of people in wheelchairs taking part in public activities, travelling by train for example?

But there is still a long way to go, as Leonard Cheshire Disability argues, and it has recently changed its name by adding on the Disability to its founder’s name to make the point. Not only that, but the ability is in bold, to show a positive touch (i.e. Leonard Cheshire Disability). They aim to change public opinion by 2015.

The adverts are brilliant – superbly made, very funny, and telling in the points they make. At present we have seen no disabled children or young people in the adverts, and we hope that this will be remedied at some point in the campaign, because disability affects all age groups.

The adverts can be seen and heard on , where you can sign up to the campaign.


The National Childminding Association (NCMA) has warned that Government plans to dramatically increase the fees for childminder registration could significantly undermine the sustainability of childcare places. The Department for Children, Schools and Families’ Future Approach to Fees and Subsidies consultation, launched this week, outlines plans to increase the fee for childminders joining the Ofsted registers by over 400 per cent over the next three years.

It includes proposals to raise the fee for registering on the Ofsted Childcare Register (OCR), compulsory for those childminders looking after children aged 5-7 years, from £15 to £103 as of September 2008 and to introduce staged increases in registration fees for the compulsory birth to 5 Early Years Register (EYR) from £20 in 2007 to £100 in 2010.

The NCMA point out that childminders are not high earners, and some may not be able to afford the increase and maintain a sustainable business. We have a further concern. There is always a fringe of unregistered childminders who do not want to be bothered with training, quality assurance and support groups – the mechanisms which help to ensure high quality services. When they see the increase in charges, others may be tempted to take the risk and go unofficial too.

Tell me your Story

If you are looking for a job, and you only have your brains and interpersonal skills on offer, here is an idea which will cost no capital outlay. We offer it free.

We have been approached so often now – particularly on long train journeys – by people keen to tell us their life stories that it has struck us that there must be a demand for a listening ear. In some cases, only the occasional grunt is needed to keep the person going. Certainly, they are happy to tell their version of their troubles without needing to know your background or credentials as a psychologist, marriage guidance counsellor or social worker. Indeed, it is as if the fact that we may never meet again gives the conversation an element of the anonymous confessional.

The outcome can be a fascinating journey as “There’s nowt so queer as folk”, and there is almost invariably an expression of gratitude for an interesting conversation when one has done little but listen. It does not add up to counselling, but a listening ear is all some people need, perhaps permitting them to order their experiences and so be in control of their lives. There must be money in it – offering to let people tell you their story over the phone perhaps, or in a cafe. And it should provide authors with brilliant case material.

Naming the Parents

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is going through Parliament at present, and causing quite a stir. In view of the technological advances, people can do parenting in all sorts of ways now, and the traditional birth certificates are quite inadequate to describe them. If the system is to be focused on the child, we think that two things should be done :

(a) the parents who have contributed their genes to the child should be identified both because of the very fundamental desire which people often have to know who their parents are and so that they can trace them in case of any health issues;

(b) any other people who are involved in the child’s parenting should be identified and recognised for their concern for the child, whether as partners of a blood parent or as adopters.

Smaller Schools

In a conference the other day, people were asked to look ahead and think what the future would / could / should look like. One of the proposals was for smaller schools.

We think this is an excellent idea. Throughout most of mankind’s history, we lived in small multi-generational nomadic groups, and it is only since Neolithic times that we have been grouped in villages, then towns, then cities. That mankind has adapted so successfully to this change in such a short period is a credit to the species, but it does not mean that we need to artificially separate peer groups and create large organisations of one age band. It is asking for trouble.

With access to the internet etc., there is no need to have large groups in one place for specialist subject teaching. Why shouldn’t schools be multigenerational local learning centres? And small ones at that. It might well cut out a lot of the stress, bullying and other problems that beset education.

Smaller Data Bases

Annette Brookes, the Lib Dem spokesperson for Children, Families and Young People, has queried the Government’s ability to manage large data bases, and has pointed out the risk if data about children goes astray. Contact Point will be open to interrogation by thousands of professionals. In view of the botched jobs made of other large-scale record systems, including over-run developments programmes and excessive costs, we are concerned too.

One can understand the attraction of wanting a tidy compendious system which incorporates everyone, especially to a centralising civil servant or a controlling politician. But knowledge is power, and it will be easy to misuse it, as has been pointed out recently with the two missing benefit disks. The current Government may be high-minded, but what if a dodgy Government takes power? Do we really need a single system? Why not have a series of local systems? As long as they are compatible, information could be transferred when children move, and if a family ‘disappears’ it should not be too difficult to raise a countrywide alert.

Ready for Risks

Valerie Jackson’s column this week argues that children lose out if they do not have the opportunity to take risks. We agree, but how do we deal with the current risk-averse culture?

Can we stand it on its head by declaring the risks we deem to be reasonable? One would not expect a toddler to be able to cope with traffic, but by the age of seven shouldn’t a child normally be able to cross roads safely? Should we not be able to expect well-mannered behaviour in restaurants and other public places by that age too? Shouldn’t we expect people not to need fences along river banks? Shouldn’t people be expected to look where they are going and not be able to sue for tripping on uneven pavements? Shouldn’t people who undertake dangerous sports be expected to equip themselves properly, get the necessary training or information, and get insurance or arrange cover in case of emergency?

If we can agree on what we can reasonably expect of other responsible citizens, then we can teach children to meet those expectations. It would be a bit like learning to drive, where the Highway Code lays down expectations of drivers. In due course, a bit like the driving test, why shouldn’t the sort of test prescribed for new citizens be applied to native British people, to recognise when they have shown themselves to be equipped to be responsible citizens, including an ability to cope with the risks which adults may face?

From the Case Files

….. a breech of confidentiality….

Covering a private?

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