News Views : April 2007

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including ROSLA, alcohol, ideas for Easter, cyber bullying, nationhood, Bob Jones, medicaments, school exclusion, products for children and mirrors.

ROSLA again?

At the Matrix Conference for youth workers, there was discussion about the rumour reported in the Guardian (5 March 2007) that the Government was intending to spend £2 billion on raising the school leaving age to 18. The outcome was the following letter :

“As a group of youth workers and youth work managers from around the UK we agree with the Education Secretary that ‘uneducated youngsters’ are becoming ideal fodder for pimps and drug dealers to recruit to a ‘life of crime’. But instead of spending £2 billion in raising the school leaving age from 16 to 18, we recommend that he invest that money in the youth service. According to the 1960s Albemarle report, and as evidenced in our practice, the youth service was set up to give the young people he is concerned about the social skills and experience to cope with the difficult transition from school to work. Our present experience of youth work has provided us with the evidence that we are able to make a significant contribution in helping young people find the freedom to flourish in communities where prostitution and drug abuse are on the increase.”

We agree. Youth work has been underfunded, and is the best way of reaching those who are not getting the most out of education. The most important aspect of education is the willingness of students to learn. If they are motivated, they will get a lot out of school, college and university. If they are not, they will not learn, they will be wasting their time, and they will be disruptive. We would prefer to see young people have opportunities to try out jobs at an earlier age, so that they find out what skills they will need, and develop the motivation to study. Coercion will be counter-productive.

Alcohol as a Drug

Chris Durkin asks this month why alcohol is treated differently from drugs. It is an interesting question, and presumably one reason could be that people have drunk alcohol for thousands of years and it has become socially acceptable, whereas drug-taking was a fringe activity until the last few decades.

On the other hand, while heroin was only used by a small section of the population, laudanum was taken very widely by people of all classes in the nineteenth century from Queen Victoria down to women working in the fields, who used it to quieten their own pangs of hunger and to make their children sleep while they had to be left unattended at home.

And of course there is no stigma at all attached to getting hooked on prescribed drugs.

Perhaps it is time to take a holistic view, and see all these substances as potentially harmful. But then again, small quantities of some addictive substances may be beneficial, whereas anything taken to excess can be harmful. There was the man who went orange and died of carotin poisoning from an excess of carrots, and there are hydrolics (no, not hydraulics) who drink 15 to 35 pints of water every day and are addicted to the sensations that thinned blood gives them. Somewhere among all these facts, there must be ways of living an enjoyable and non-toxic lifestyle.

Easter Ideas

Lots of places tell us that they are just the place to take kids during the Easter holidays. Here are a few of them.

If you are within striking distance of Bradford, there are events every day at the National Media Museum (which used to be the National Museum of Photography until the technology changed). They are having sessions on Dr Who, Wallace and Gromit, the Cottingley Fairies, Stingray and lots more. See

If you are near Tameside, how about Portland Basin Museum where there are “lots of lovely free and fun activities at our Easter Fun Day, taking place at Portland Basin Museum on Monday 9 April, 2007? There will be fabulous live music from the Tame Valley Brass Band, free face painting, lots of brilliant art and craft activities for future artists, an Easter Egg Trail and storytelling for little ones too!
They don’t seem to have a website, but you can ring Portland Basin Museum on 0161 343 2878.

Or how about Jorvik, if you’ve never been before? “Built on the very site where archaeologists found the remains of the original Viking city of Jorvik, the Jorvik Viking Centre in York offers visitors a unique opportunity to ride in a time-capsule and take a journey through the streets of AD975 Jorvik, a city as important in its day as London or Tokyo. Everything here is based on fact, from the working craftsmen, the chattering noise of the gossiping neighbours to the smells of the cooking, the cesspit and the preserved 1000 year old Viking timber. Passengers are transported through the Viking City of Jorvik, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells, for the most authentic taste of everyday Viking life.” It is fascinating how much one remembers the smells. We worked (archaeologically) on a twelfth century cess pit, and it still smelt.

Cyber bullying

We have received a report that girls are experiencing rising levels of cyber bullying – by text message or e-mail; and those who report being cyber bullied report having fewer friends and are more likely to feel lonely at school.
This is the finding of research conducted with York School pupils by Nathalie Noret of York St John and Professor Ian Rivers of Queen Margaret’s University, Edinburgh, and presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference at the University of York .

The findings are based on results from a survey of nearly 15,000 secondary school pupils, boys and girls, over a period of five years. The survey contained questions that related to pupils experiences at break times and how many friends they had. Pupils were also asked “Have you ever received any nasty or threatening text messages or emails?”.
The results showed a dramatic increase in cyber bullying over the last five years; from 14.5% in 2002 to 20.6% in 2006. The increasing levels of cyber bullying were consistent every year for girls but the boys results showed both increases and decreases over the same period. Pupils who reported being victims of cyber bullying were also more likely to report that they had few friends and often felt lonely at school.

The report makes sense. Humans have an unfortunate predilection, shared with many other animals, for victimising those who appear weak. One of the points of education is to encourage a more neighbourly approach to our fellow humans, but the raw behaviour is there, just below the surface.

Which is why projects such as the Strathclyde Violence Prevention Unit’s new campaign is so important. They have produced a leaflet with 400,000 copies being circulated through Primary Schools to say that violence is preventable. “We want to reach out to parents and children and show them that violence is not an inevitable part of life, it is preventable – and that starts early. It’s never too soon to learn.”

Nothing to do with Childcare : Nationhood

In the SIRCC column this month Wendy Cox has included a passing whinge that SIRCC is the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care while its counterpart in London is the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care. Which nation? they might ask.

We are sure that the powers that be never gave the option of an English Centre a thought. Hardly anything is labelled English – the English National Opera, for example, but the National Gallery, the British Museum, the British Library and the National Children’s Bureau. Those of us who live outside London can join in the whinge; there are relatively few national things outside London – the National Forest? It is a feature of London that it sees itself as the nation.

But then, why did SIRCC have Scottish in its name? Why was it not just IRCC? There was no NCERCC from which it needed to be distinguished when it was set up.

And why was there no rebellion in 1952 to insist that the Queen should be labelled Elizabeth the Second and First? (Remember James the First and Sixth.) And why was she not named as Elizabeth the First at least on the Scottish shillings which were part of the whole nation’s currency for her first two decades on the throne? Was it all the fault of Garter King at Arms and Lyon King at Arms colluding? Was this what led to the removal of the Stone of Scone? Can anyone in SIRCC answer?

Bob Jones

Here is a little tribute to the late Bob Jones. He never got a medal for his work, and he was just one of many skilled workers who took on jobs in the approved school system and did their bit. Bob was a plumber by trade, and he maintained the water and sewage systems on a site that became a school. It was understandable therefore that he was taken on as the plumbing instructor. He was a straightforward man who stood no nonsense, but the boys knew exactly where they stood with him, and clarity is an important quality in offering consistency and security.

Once, we came across him and a gang of boys late at night in a blizzard, digging up a blocked sewer by lamp light. We made some appreciative comment that they were doing a good job. Bob said, “They’re thick as muck and twice as stinking”. The boys in the hole briefly looked up at him and grinned, and got on with the job. It was real work that had to be done.

Bob was a man of many parts. He could do divining with a rod. As a party trick he would find coins under carpets, but in his work this skill was invaluable in identifying where the drains ran. He said that doing it took a lot of energy out of him, and he believed that in the end it made him ill.

Bob was also the school barber. He did a thorough job, and no doubt earned an extra allowance, but his efforts were not always appreciated by his customers. He himself had a neat little moustache and liked to keep his hair extremely short, in the days before this was fashionable, and when the in-thing was to copy the Beatles. His looks gave him a tough, no-nonsense appearance.

In his later years many of his colleagues saw him as out of date, and he did not take to new-fangled approaches. We went into a house unit where he was on duty and found all the boys sitting in total silence in a semi-circle. Was there an inquiry going on? we asked. “No”, said Bob. “They’re having free time”. The new housemaster had thought that instead of a fully organised programme, the boys should have a choice of activities for half an hour. Bob managed to scupper that.

Research undertaken by Dartington indicated that of the three main professional groups of workers in the approved school service, the children respected the instructors most as they knew their jobs and could teach practical useful skills; teachers came second, as they had academic competence; as for the house masters, well, all they did was sit in the office and talk. The boys Bob worked with really did learn about plumbing, and dinosaur or not, he was respected.


We seem to get a constant stream of advertisements for medicaments to help children. This is a good thing if it means that the pharmaceutical industry has been researching children’s needs and has identified the drugs and levels of medication which are suited to the various stages of children’s development, because for many years very little was available other than smaller doses of adults medicines.

Here are some of the recent adverts with a health theme :

  • There are apparently 9,000 sorts of jelly-fish, so “you are bound to run into one at some point or another during your time in the sea”. Just to make sure you are ready, you are recommended to take Grandma Vines Antiseptic Gel, which is a natural product based on cider vinegar. The jellyfish obviously hadn’t thought of the effects of cider apples when they selected their poison. If you want to get some, simply visit the website at
  • Apparently 2% of children suffer psoriasis, which gives them dry, itchy skin. “Psoriasis should not hold your child back; but fear and embarrassment can. Shy and withdrawn children can actually draw more attention to themselves than those that are outspoken and confident. Support and protect your child as they are entering the school system by building their character through love, support and education. The Exorex range is available from larger Boots stores and many other pharmacies. Further product information can be found at
  • It's Nut FreeWe were invited to the opening of a unique factory the other day by a firm called “It’s Nut Free”, which claims to be “the only company specifically set up to manufacture bakery and confectionery products for nut allergy sufferers in the UK. It is estimated that about one in 50 young people suffer from this life threatening condition, and experts believe that figure is set to double in the next five years. Most schools are likely to have a nut allergic child and more and more parents are having to deal with the challenges this brings – either for their own child or when catering for other people’s children. As well as manufacturing a range of flapjacks, celebration cakes, biscuits, and confectionery, the company will soon launch a range of children’s confectionery under the Peppa Pig™ brand name.” Keep an eye open for them, if you have a nut problem.
  • “The average infant suffers six to eight colds each year for the first two or three years and as babies naturally breathe through the nose rather than the mouth (they are known as obligate breathers), nasal congestion can lead to complications such as ear infections and, in very young babies, respiratory distress. The Baby nose-clear range – comprising a nasal aspirator, a room vapour, and a massage oil – is everything your baby needs to relieve nasal congestion, from birth, to aid clearer breathing, easier feeding and restful sleep. Developed by a mother of premature triplets for mothers everywhere, the range now features new additions to snuff out colds and congestion.” Interested? See .

When we were little, one could have half an aspirin for a headache. There was Iodex to rub on virtually anything sore (including a broken finger on one occasion, applied by the school nurse), which has been available since 1910. And there was Antipeol, which is still made by Westons and is described on the web as a soothing ointment. When we used it, it stung like hell and fizzed and bubbled when applied to open grazes, the result of playing on gravel in short trousers, – though it got the dirt out.

Did you see?…..

….. According to the Mail (13 March 2007) more than 43,720 primary school pupils were sent home last year as a result of illegal, violent or offensive behaviour. The majority of exclusions were for persistent disruptive behaviour and for verbal abuse towards teachers and other children, but others were for incidents involving illegal drugs and alcohol misuse, sexual misconduct, and racial abuse. The figures also showed that pupils are becoming disruptive at a younger age and last year 800 pupils aged under five were excluded as being uncontrollable.

We do not know how far back figures go, but this must surely represent a massive increase in disruptive behaviour. We recall an experienced head teacher from a village Primary School approaching us in the early 1970s in alarm and asking for advice, as he had just had a pupil truant for the first time in his career. Has children’s behaviour changed, or our tolerance of it, or our ability to cope with it? With these figures, we need to know.

What will they think of next?

As usual, with any products, it is a case of “Caveat emptor”. We are not endorsing them and have not tested them, but they are here in case you are interested.

  • “… ideal for children who love to imitate mum or dad’s every move, a child-sized gardening apron, hand trowel, hand fork and three-pronged weeder within a fun, brightly-coloured bag, these green-fingered tool kits are simply irresistible.” If you can’t resist it, look at And as a bonus, they come in blue and pink for little boys and girls!
  • “Fed up with spending £200 and more to organise a child’s birthday party??? Well that is about to change! Messy Play parties are becoming quite the in thing for birthday parties for 2 – 5 year olds an affordable alternative. Kidz Party Box Ltd has created a Messy Play Party Box for only £59.99 including VAT, these boxes contain everything you could ever need to run a successful children’s party. From activities and paint pots to aprons and instructions. These boxes couldn’t be easier or more fun. …So don’t waste any more time, head on over to and find the perfect messy play party for your child’s next birthday.”
  • “Disney Consumer Products celebrates the arrival of Spring with a wonderful range of baby and toddler products inspired by everyone’s favourite bear, Winnie the Pooh. The product range includes a variety of must-haves for new parents, some gorgeous gifts to welcome a new baby into the world, and a selection of fun toys for toddlers too.” They go on to describe Pooh pyjamas, a Pooh cot and a lot of other things we can’t do without. Editorially we think that Disney wrecked Winnie the Pooh, but if you really want them, look at
  • “A Revolutionary Toy To Develop Your Child’s Imagination and Eco Awareness : Happy Mais is an ecological toy made from pieces of natural GM-free corn starch that is totally biodegradable and compostable. Fairwind, the pioneering retailer of Fair trade and eco friendly children’s toys has just added the innovative Happy Mais to its range. Not only are the materials in Happy Mais ecologically sound, every box sold means a donation is made to the Earth Fund Association which protects and conserves tropical rain forest. Happy Mais is excellent for developing your child’s creative skills and also for minimising the amount of chemicals your child is exposed to. The Happy Mais pieces are made from natural, GM free corn starch coloured with non-toxic food dyes. Once moistened the pieces stick together; no glue and no mess!” The idea of compostable toys sounds to us like one for 1 April. Our grandson’s rabbit would love the chance to test his teeth on them, but if you want to save the world by buying toys, look at
  • “Hasbro is embracing the early arrival of Spring, with its range of newborn farm animals that are just like the real thing. Totally irresistible, they behave just like real live baby animals, making realistic animal noises, moving their heads and opening their eyes. An adorable baby Lamb and a cute little Piglet are the newest additions to Hasbro’s FurReal Friends range and the adorable products are already being snapped up by shoppers getting into the spring spirit. Watch the pig wrinkle his noise, as he oink’s and the lamb wiggle her tale as she baa’s Lamb and Piglet join Lop-eared Bunny, a gorgeous soft bunny, simply waiting to be picked up and cuddled. He makes lifelike bunny sounds and moves his head when you stroke him. Farm Friends Piglet and Lamb are available from all good retailers, SRP £14.99. Lop-eared Bunny is priced around £12.99 SRP.” If the animals are still irresistible despite the bad punctuation and gooey text, visit for more information.


A few years back we undertook a study of loos to assess their suitability for people with disabilities. We used a checklist with about 29 questions on it, and of all the ones we visited, only the Birmingham International Convention Centre came out with full marks. Many of the others were appalling. It would take a long time to catalogue their failings, but let us just consider mirrors.

Some didn’t have any at all. Nul points for them. Some had mirrors several feet off the ground to match head height for a standing adult. Useless for a wheelchair user, but one point for having a mirror. Some thought of wheelchair users and placed the mirrors at the appropriate height for them, but failed to realise that not all disabled people are in wheelchairs, and those who are able to stand would have to bend down to see themselves. They deserve three points. The odd one or two had full length mirrors. Give them five out of five.

As for the Department of Health, they had full length mirrors, which consisted of a floor-to-ceiling strip about three inches wide right in the corner of the room where no one – able or disabled – could possibly use them at all. Back to nul points. They obviously did not expect disabled visitors.

When one is out in public, it is important to be presentable if one is to retain one’s dignity, and people with disabilities really do need to be able to check in the mirror that everything is in order before they head out of the loo.

And incidentally, if all loos were disabled-friendly, how much better it would be for everyone else, with space for pushchairs or shopping or suitcases, and no need to virtually stand on the seat to shut the door.

From the Case Files

They kneed the bread mixture before making it into rolls.

Then they treed the grapes?

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