News Views

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including Balls and education, exclusion and education, crime and the media, Philippa Russell and disabled children, global fears and apophthegms.

Balls at Bournemouth

At the Bournemouth Annual Social Services Conference, Ed Balls spoke of the need for collaboration between central and local Government. He re-iterated the twin aims of his Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Every child deserves to be safe and loved and have a healthy and happy childhood, free from harm.

Every child should have the chance to make the most of their talents and fulfil their potential.

These aims are commendable; we hope that Ed Balls succeeds. It certainly speaks encouragingly about the priority attached to education that someone as close to the Prime Minister as Ed Balls should be given responsibility as Secretary of State for the Department.

On the other hand, although the old Ministry of Education has suffered multiple name changes over the years as its responsibilities have evolved, it is the first time that the word education has not been part of the name. Now what happened to “Education, Education, Education”?

Education and Exclusion

It’s a theme we’ve covered before, but there’s yet more evidence. A good education opens the door to a good life. A bad education leaves a child vulnerable to exclusion.

A Children’s Society survey has shown how parents are prepared to lie to get a place in a good school for their children, and that children who are eligible for free school meals are much less likely to be living near a good school than those from richer households. It’s not surprising, but there is a real danger of unfulfilled talent from one generation to the next.

Ofsted has been producing figures which give the same picture, with children in care or eligible for free school meals getting poorer exam grades, and failing schools being sited in poorer areas. Ed Balls’s aims are important at ground level as well as in the Department.

Do You Feel Crime’s on the Rise?

On 18 October the Home Office announced that the crime rate had dropped by 7% over the previous twelve months, affecting almost every sort of offence. However, public confidence in the criminal justice system was nonetheless dropping. We think that the country is safer, that people should feel safer and that the problem lies with the media and their milking of frightening stories.

At our local police liaison meeting recently, the officer read out the statistics – one car stolen in the last quarter, one theft from a car etc. What she didn’t point out was that there wasn’t a single example of the sorts of horror stories which frighten people – murders, rapes, old ladies being mugged and so on. For much of Britain, our picture is typical, and the media should get the message across.

There has been an increase in gun deaths from 53 to 56 in the last twelve months, often involving young people, and that needs to be tackled, but it is limited to certain areas.

Philippa Russell CBE – A Valedictory

On 24 October the NCB held a very pleasant event to mark Philippa’s transfer from her role as disability adviser to her new appointment by Gordon Brown as Chair of the Standing Commission on Carers. As Harry Marsh pointed out, calling the event a valedictory breached the Trades Description Act, as Philippa was likely to be as busy as ever. Her godson had also told her that in Roman times, valedictions took place after someone’s death, and he didn’t want her to die because she knew how to buy boys good birthday presents.

Philippa did a lightning evaluation of the changes that had taken place during the life of her son – many of them the result of her work in putting pressure on the Government and others. When her son was born, disabled children had no right to education. Her consultant had advised her to “Do something” if she did not like what she found. And she did “Do something”. Disabled children now have the right to education and the scope for fuller lives in the community. With the Younghusband Report, parents were consulted. Now disabled children themselves have their say.

There is still much to be done. Families with disabled members still suffer unemployment and poverty. More technology could help disabled people with independent living. Old and disabled people are still seen as burdens, and there should not need to be a constant fight for services, Philippa argued. But looking back shows how far we have come, and this gives heart in pressing forward to achieve more.

A Modern Jonah

Keith White’s piece this month makes for depressing reading. He is quite right, of course, but piling up all the threats which today’s children may face makes life for the next generation look a whole lot worse than it feels day by day.

It reminded us of an old volume of boys’ magazines which we read many years ago. Dating back before the First World War, there were dire stories of the “Yellow Peril”. Apparently there was a real fear that boats would land in Liverpool and disgorge thousands of Chinese soldiers intent on taking over this green and pleasant land. Why they should want to do so is hard to understand, looking back from a century later.

Only the other day I read that someone was petrified as a child in the 1960s because of the threat of nuclear attack in the Cold War. There were occasions when that threat was real enough, though we tended to go about our daily business as if we expected the world to carry on.

Every generation has faced its threats, and people have dealt with them, one way or another. Of course, the human race may be extinguished by the impact of a comet or Yellowstone Park blowing up (neither of which Keith mentioned), but as worrying does not add a cubit to a man’s height, we suggest that the best response to a lot of the issues is to relax. And then to tackle them rationally.


At the Tel Aviv FICE Federal Council meeting, Roland Stubi of Switzerland gave the wise advice that, “You should not sell the hide of the bear before the bear has turned up”. This is presumably the Swiss equivalent of counting your chickens before they are hatched, but it is rather more graphic. Unlike the chickens, the bear might turn on you and eat you when it does turn up.

From Recently Computerised Medical Notes

Lloyd George culled and summarised.

That’ll teach him for knowing my mother.

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