News Views

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including National Citizen’s Service, crime and the causes of crime, dealing with young offenders, labelling, computer software for teachers, compulsory cooking, the cycle of deprivation, computer-generated back pain, meningitis, and babies’ skin.

National Citizens’ Service

David Cameron has apparently been proposing that young people should do National Citizens’ Service as a way of dealing with yob culture. Ever since National Service was stopped, people have been proposing this sort of thing, and clearly the idea has merit in broadening young people’s experience and encouraging them to do something for the community.

There is, however, always a “but” when considering such ideas. Many of the sorts of service which young people could do under such a scheme will require enthusiasm and commitment (such as any form of social care). If David Cameron is lining up yobs to do the work, has he thought about the training and supervision which the young people will require to motivate them to set high standards of work? If they have rebelled against school and adopted antisocial norms of behaviour, making service compulsory is certainly not a good place to start.

More fundamentally, if the over-riding aim is to deal with “yob culture”, who is going to pick out the yobs to do this form of service? What will the yobs do if their work requires literacy and numeracy, seeing that it is probably those labelled yobs who will have had unhappy and unsuccessful schooling experiences? David Cameron’s original idea was to make National Citizen’s Service compulsory, which ran the risk of labelling all young people as yobs. Now it is meant to be voluntary, but you can place your bet now that the yobs he wants to get at will not be the first in the queue to volunteer.

It is a hard nut to crack, and there are no easy answers. Encouraging young people who are not properly employed in education, training or work to do something for the community is a good idea, but we would like to see money on offer to make it a positive experience of earning a wage for the work, – certainly rather than David Cameron’s first ill-thought out idea of waving the stick of compulsion to try to make them do something for nothing.

Crime and the Causes of Crime

When the story first broke in mid-January, it sounded a classic case of exploitation – children being brought across Europe from Romania to Britain to steal, with massive profits being made by the bosses of the operation. The Police were smashing the system, raiding seventeen houses, taking away ten children and arresting twenty-five adults.

Having made their enquiries, the Police appear to have found out that the children were with their families. The houses they were living in were overcrowded and the children may well have been involved in stealing – (we reported a similar pattern in Denmark two years ago) – but the underlying problem would not seem to be one of child trafficking.

Under the Ceausescus Romanians had little opportunity to see the outside world and they did not know how far behind their country was falling in material terms. They learnt to fight to survive. Now the door is opened and they can see the wealth of other countries. It is little wonder that some of them want a share without having to work for it. This sort of problem will only be ended when economic standards are high throughout Europe and people do not need to leave their countries to earn a decent income. If this is one of the causes of this type of crime, it will probably take a generation to get it right; in the meantime we need to deal with the crime itself.

Young Offenders

While talking about offending, the Mirror has reported that in a survey of 1,034 people undertaken by ICM only ten per cent thought that young offenders should be detained in prison. Sixty-two per cent agreed that “Prison doesn’t work for young offenders, as it turns them into professional criminals”. Ninety per cent wanted more constructive activities to stop children from getting into trouble.

With these sorts of figures, why does the Government carry on wanting to lock up more people for longer? Why doesn’t it put more money into youth activities, whether because they divert young people from crime or because they are intrinsically good for young people?

The excuse has always been that the electorate puts pressure on politicians. It could be argued that politicians are being fairly weak if they give in to such pressure, but when the pressure is not there, where is the motivation for punitive action coming from? Civil servants? Ministers? The Prime Minister? It is a long while since we had a liberalising Home Secretary such as Roy Jenkins, but it really is time for this pendulum to swing back.


The In Care column story this month speaks of the experience of trips to the seaside for children from children’s homes. We have seen this sort of thing ourselves. It is not many years since we saw a large party of children actually wearing luggage labels round their necks on a visit to the beach. No doubt this reduced the risk of any of them getting lost, but they looked like Paddington. We have no clue what it said on the labels, as we did not pluck up the courage to ask. “Please take care of this child. Aunt Lucy”?

For that matter, back in the early 1970s we knew of a large children’s home that never used the children’s names, but gave them numbers. The children queued up for food by numbers at meal times, they did their activities by numbers, and in the evenings they queued by numbers for their squeeze from the staff-administered communal toothpaste tube. Old soldiers remember their army numbers; we wonder if those children, now presumably in their mid-forties, still remember theirs.

Saving Time for Teachers

We have received a very long email from Leeds City Council telling us how brilliant

Bluewave SWIFT is. It is a single online programme which brings together Self Evaluation, SEF, School Development Plans and Performance Management processes, saving teachers from the endless form-filling and duplication of work involved with school self-evaluation.

Staff across schools can access SWIFT, so they can contribute to self evaluation projects and get involved in the school improvement process. Schools can also attach all their policy documents, reports and other files, and because they are stored online they can be accessed by any member of staff, anywhere.

Mark Edwards, Headteacher at Shire Oak C of E Primary School, explained, “We are new converts to Bluewave SWIFT, but I don’t know how we ever managed before it came along. This is one of those products that really does deliver what it says on the can and is the first programme I have ever bought that really does significantly reduce my work load. All staff can access this product and contribute to the school development plan, provide SEF evidence and control and inform their own performance management. We’re also hoping that Ofsted inspectors will appreciate it when they arrive later this year, as we should be able to give them a password so they can access everything. To say we are impressed is an understatement.”

For more information, including a demonstration, of Bluewave SWIFT, please visit: Our reason for giving such a product space is that we hope that all sorts of services for children will shortly enter a new phase. The introduction of new technology has to date led to an extremely tiresome waste of professionals’ time as computer-based forms and assessments have demanded endless volumes of information, often repeating items in slightly different ways which require hours of additional work.

If Bluewave SWIFT is successful and it actually saves staff time, they may then be able to get back to teaching instead of wasting time on returns. Social workers, nurses, police and a host of other professionals would like that too.

Compulsory Cooking

The Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) has welcomed the principle of introducing cookery lessons for 11 to 14 year olds but expressed concerns about the impact on the curriculum, the funding required and the training needed for staff.

PAT General Secretary Philip Parkin said, “Children should be taught how to cook and about the importance of a balanced and nutritious diet. These are key life skills. However, the Government needs to plan and fund this very carefully to make sure that the scheme is a recipe for success and not a half-baked idea that ends up being binned. [Witty fellow!] Schools will be concerned about how cookery is to be squeezed into an already overcrowded curriculum, and about the purchase of the cookers and other equipment from already dwindling budgets.

“There are practical concerns about what will happen if children fail to bring in the necessary ingredients. It might be more sensible for schools to purchase the ingredients more cheaply in bulk and charge the costs for each child to parents, with the Government meeting the costs of those on low incomes, rather than having an unwieldy system of parents buying small amounts to send in, with some being subsidised.”

Our worries are quite different. We believe that it should be for schools to decide what to teach and for teachers to decide how to manage the situation. We think that any Government which thinks it knows best for all the schools in the country has got too big for its boots. Why shouldn’t there be diversity? How does the Government know that its directives are best? How will people ever experiment if they have to follow central directives all the time?

Teaching is about fostering the use of imagination and creativity, encouraging interest, questioning and enthusiasm. The real danger is that an overdirective centralist approach – even if its advice is right – sets an appalling model and gives all the wrong messages to the profession.

As for providing cookery ingredients, teachers used to find answers to that one even when there was rationing. Give them some credit for being able to deal with problems without being told.

The Cycle of Deprivation

This term was fashionable back in the 1970s when it was noticed that children from families with multiple problems had a more than average chance of having multiple problems themselves as adults. There is a real danger that social problems get passed on from one generation to the next, and the next, and the next.

It is therefore dispiriting that underage pregnancies in England and Wales rose by four per cent to total 7,462 in 2005, and they are now the highest in western Europe. For some of the young mothers being a parent may prove to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, but the statistics offer a different picture.

Having a baby interrupts schooling for a young mother, making it harder for her to get good exam results and undertake higher education. It detracts from her social life, anchoring her too soon to adult responsibilities. It is harder for the mother to get work and earn an income with her family responsibilities, and lack of earners in a household is a major indicator of childhood poverty for the baby.

All in all, if this statistic could be turned round, it would be better for the young mothers, better for the babies, and a lot cheaper for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Living Healthily

Finally, three press releases we have received which may help with children’s health.

Computer-generated back pain

A recent study by the University of Edinburgh of over 4000 Scottish schoolchildren found that 60% of regular computer users reported frequent headaches, over 40% frequent neck pain or shoulder pain, and around 15% frequent back pain.

Dr Philip Worthington has come up with the answer – PostureMinder, which uses a bespoke programme and a webcam to monitor your position and advise you on good posture, acting as your posture conscience. With the increasing use of computers, a good posture has never been more important.

Dr Worthington has tips for regular computer users, to reduce the chances of developing pain:

– Avoid sitting in poor postures that put strain on their back, shoulders and


– Take regular breaks from the computer.

– Try to reduce their stress levels, which can increase muscle tension.

– Try to keep in good physical condition so supportive muscles can do their job


For more information about PostureMinder or to download a free trial, visit or call (0161) 214 2600.


The Meningitis Trust is having its Ninth Toddle Waddle in April. It uses the occasion to raise funds, but our reason for including them here is that, although meningitis can affect anyone, of any age, at any time, over half of the reported cases are in children under 5. Toddle Waddle was created to engage this age group and their parents, grandparents, nursery teachers and child minders, thus spreading awareness of the disease and its signs and symptoms where it is needed.

The under 5s are an ‘at risk’ group for the disease, with it killing more of this age group than any other infectious disease in the UK. It’s not hard to see why it’s also the disease that parents fear the most (Department of Health finding).

To find out more about meningitis – and the Toddle Waddle – visit the Meningitis Trust’s web site at

Babies’ Skin

Here is a subject we had not considered before.

This generation of children is more exposed to chemicals than any other in history; and infant skin is far more vulnerable to irritants than adult skin. Infant skin is thinner than adult skin and the barrier function of their skin is limited compared with adults’. While many babies suffer from dry and sensitive skin in their early years, parents also need to be aware of the chemicals contained within the baby moisturisers they buy on the high street.

Skin sensitisers are either chemicals or proteins in natural ingredients, and can cause skin reactions and irritation. While protein allergies often develop quickly, chemical allergies usually build up over time and cause the greatest concern. The cumulative effect of the chemicals contained within such products can create chemical allergies later in life and result in painful skin irritation.

Parabens and lanolin can cause allergic reactions, and concerns have been expressed regarding a potential link with parabens to cancer. Alcohol, meanwhile, can dry and irritate the skin. Dr Mark Randle said, “These skin sensitisers are listed in an EU Cosmetics Directive as potential irritants and yet all the widely available skincare products still contain these ingredients.”

This information was provided by DermaSalve, whose skincare products are the first ever moisturising cream range containing no skin sensitisers and are specially formulated to care for baby’s dry and sensitive skin. The range was developed by Dr Mark Randle, a practising GP, after he discovered his youngest son’s skin was beginning to react adversely to some baby care products.

DermaSalve skin care products are available to buy online at and from hundreds of Pharmacies nationally. Visit for more information.

098 News Views insert

Jeremy On balance, I think it should go into News Views because of the subject matter. To be inserted at the end, just before From the Case Files. Could a link be put through to the Summerhill site?

Did You See ….. Summerhill?

First shown as a four-episode drama, the full version of Summerhill was shown on BBC Four on 28 September 2008.

For those who have never heard of Summerhill, it is a school founded by A.S. Neill in 1921, run on democratic lines with the children taking as much responsibility as the adults, and allowing the children to learn at their own pace. They opt out of lessons if they choose and they work when they are motivated, and the results are good, especially in view of the disturbed histories of many of the children.

The story-line of the drama was based in fact. An inspection in 1999 concluded that Summerhill’s standards of education were unacceptable and concluded that the school should be closed. The Summerhill community fought back and as a result of court action, it was kept open.

The programme started realistically enough as we were introduced to the characters. Then one or two of them, such as a controlling mother, began to look rather strongly drawn. By the time the eight Ofsted Inspectors came marching up the drive in formation, it was apparent that the story was being played as a comedy.

When it came to the court case, the scenes in the court room were interspersed with the same characters playing Peter Pan, evil versus good, with the Ofsted barrister and the Inspectors as the baddies. A lot of swash and buckle; all good fun. The acting was excellent on the part of the children, and there were also lots of nice little touches, such as the lady Inspector who changed sides and joined the staff at the end.

It had a flavour of Pennies from Heaven or Oliver Twist, and it would make a good musical. There were plenty of points where they could have inserted a song and dance routine from the Inspectors or a wistful equivalent of Who will buy my beautiful morning? from one of the child stars.

While the programme was good fun and the stories of the school and the individual children did touch on real issues, it was not sufficiently gritty to do the real problems justice.

Deciding how to inspect places like Summerhill within national guidelines is difficult for Ofsted Inspectors. When working methods appear so laissez-faire, how do you distinguish between good and bad practice? Bad schools may be damaging children under the guise of applying Neill’s methods, but bad inspections can destroy communities like Summerhill, seriously affecting the lives of the individual children and the careers of individual staff members. Some years ago we reported about another school with similar characteristics where the actions of an Inspector who was dismissed shortly afterwards led to the school’s closure. The impact on the children was disastrous.

We knew from the start of the drama that Summerhill was going to survive, and all the children involved provided good news stories. Real life is rarely so simple. Summerhill has helped thousands of children over the years and many have managed to put damaged lives together and become successful as adults. But the outcome can never be guaranteed; the children have to go through painful adjustments; success may be only partial, and there is always the chance of failure. Although the children in Summerhill faced severe problems, the overall impression did not convey the misery they often suffer and the perseverance required to work through their problems.

We would not want to be churlish about the programme. If Dickens’s stories managed to influence public attitudes to work-houses, schooling education and other social issues, maybe Summerhill will have given people something of an inkling of the therapeutic work carried out by such schools, while enjoying seeing Captain Hook get her come-uppance.

From the Case Files

There was an incident with myself when he overstepped the mark – he made an improper sexual suggestion.

If only he had made a proper sexual suggestion.

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