News Views – December 2006

A mixture of news items, future events, sales pitches, comments and whimsies, including the NCB, NCERCC, bullying, sitting, discrimination in transport, and ways to end conferences.


There was a time when people thought you were talking about the National Coal Board, but now the National Children’s Bureau has sole claim to the initials (if you ignore the Nordisk Copyright Bureau, the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica and so on).

The Bureau goes from strength to strength. Despite some losses of revenue, it has regrouped and grown significantly by becoming the host organisation for Play England. Membership is growing. It has not only a new President (Estelle Morris) but also a new Chair (Gillian Pugh).

In her retiring speech as Chair, Anne Sofer described the NCB as inspiring, innovative, imaginative and (if our notes are correct) indigestible. Perhaps she was running out of alliterations. Maybe she was referring to the huge mass of projects in which the Bureau is engaged at any one time. Certainly, Anne’s four years as Vice Chair and six years as Chair have covered a time of amazing productiveness, in which the Bureau has expanded and consolidated its position as the key co-ordinatory body in the field of services for children. She has played a significant role in steering the ship and supporting the staff in their work.

Gillian Pugh, who has replaced Anne Sofer, is already well-known at the Bureau, having worked there for many years, with connections gong back to Mia Kellmer-Pringle’s days. She has played a major role in the field of disability and children, and has recently headed up Thomas Coram. Now she will be able to apply her energies to the NCB once more.

One should not, of course, ignore what Anne Sofer described as the “flair and ferocious energy” of the senior staff at the Bureau. Paul Ennals, the Chief Executive, seems to be chairing every new Committee which is created by the Government or its national quangos, and others such as Barbara Hearn are thoroughly involved in advising the Government. The NCB has had a lot of influence on Government thinking in recent times. It prefers to work collaboratively behind the scenes, but reserves the right to speak out if there is significant disagreement, and does of course maintain links with all the main parties.

As usual, the NCB AGM heard from Young NCB. They have 300 members, but would like more, and they play a number of significant roles, for example in consultations. A recent survey should that the key concerns of their members were personal and sexual health education, transport and mental health services for children. All key issues.


Just in case you’ve not yet heard of this mouthful, it’s the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care. They held their annual day conference in Coventry on 8 November, with a large attendance, some excellent papers and an input by the Minister. They will no doubt be publishing the papers, so all we will report here is that the Minister made the right noises, which is encouraging, and the conference is now the premier residential child care event of the year. If you want to know what is going on, you need to be there.

On second thoughts, we will report on one session. Seven ladies from Norfolk reported on the work done with a boy with special needs who has been fostered. As the foster carer, social worker, teacher etcetera spoke in turn, each one announced that she was the corporate carer for the boy. (Actually, their act had a touch of “I’m Spartacus” about it.) Their key message was that each one contributed collaboratively and each bore responsibility, a far cry from the case conferences where a consensus plan is formed for which no one is later prepared to be accountable. Although they had gone through some very rocky times, their combined efforts had worked very effectively. Good news.


We’ve had another Anti-Bullying Week, and a good thing too. Throughout the country, among all age groups, bullying is bad. Anyone may be subject to bullying – employees, old people and now teachers, who are complaining at bullying behaviour by their pupils. If people are to learn that bullying is not the way to resolve matters, it would be good if an example were set by national governments and multinational companies as well. The cachet of being seen as macho is still strong in some quarters, with disastrous consequences for the world.

Nothing To Do with Child Care

A piece of research was recently reported which had found that people spent 41% of their time sitting down. We thought this was pretty extraordinary – if it is true. People spend a lot of time in bed, standing or walking about, so the percentage seems high.

But our surprise is for evolutionary reasons. Sitting down must be a relatively new phenomenon. We are not furniture historians, but we have the impression that chairs did not come into common use until the sixteenth century, though there would presumably have been benches and stools before that. The Greeks and Romans had thrones, but Romans used to lie on their side on couches for posh dinners. Going back to earlier ages, people may have sat on the damp ground at times, or hunkered down, but sitting as we know it must only have happened when there was a convenient rock or old log to sit on. In short, sitting as we know it must be a behaviour essentially of historical times, and in terms of the high percentage quoted, of very recent times – the last century or so.

If all this is true, is it just luck that mankind has happened on such a comfortable posture in the last few thousand years? Have our bodies adapted during historical times? Before we needed to sit on it, why was our backside so suitably padded? Assuming that there are still cultures where no-one sits on chairs, do they have different patterns of health? Do we pay a price for sitting in terms of disorders arising from poor posture? Is sitting bad for us?

Awful Joke

We’ve carried quite a lot of jokes in the Webmag, especially in the earlier days, but this one from the Liverpool Echo must be one of the feeblest ever.

Q         What medicine does James Bond take when he is ill?
A         Anti-spy-otics.

Do you know one which is worse?

A Transport of Delight?

According to Young NCB a key area of concern is public transport – its availability, accessibility, cost, safety and so on. Obviously young people are the biggest group who have to rely on public transport to get to school or to leisure activities, so it merits attention.

Discussion about the subject led one adult to comment that he had once been standing at a bus stop with a crowd of children, when the bus failed to stop and left them all standing. When he asked if that often happened, the children said that bus drivers quite often refused to stop for them.

We’ve had a rail pass now for about four years, and inspectors have only asked to look at it about three times in the course of hundreds of journeys. Students, though, appear to be asked at almost every inspection.

So, do the bus drivers and ticket inspectors have good grounds for their behaviour? Are the children badly behaved and are the students regularly on the fiddle? Or are the drivers and inspectors being discriminatory? Whichever is the case, there is cause for concern.

How to End Conferences

It may be the start of a trend which we had not come across before. We reported on October about all the drumming at the FICE Congress in Sarajevo.

Early in November the National Child Minding Association held their Annual Conference in the fading splendour of the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. The Conference ended with the AGM, and at its close the Ladies Under-16 Liverpool Football Club came in and gave a display of their dexterity in ball control, kicking, heading and balancing them on the nape of the neck. The team is on a winning streak at present, and they were certainly a hit with the delegates.

Last week it was the turn of NACRO, celebrating their fortieth anniversary with a day conference. To show the impact of their services, a number of young people came on at the end to explain how NACRO had helped them get jobs or housing. They included a man demonstrating skipping and a boxing champion who showed his skills by thumping the big padded gloves that trainers hold up for them to punch. (Sorry – we don’t know the technical name for them.)

What next?

From the Case Files

The minuets were approved.

But not the concerti?

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