News Views : June 2006

A mixture of news items, future events, sales pitches, comments and whimsies, including play, reading methods, internet safety, poverty, food and drink, living history, bad behaviour and boarding education.


Over the next few years we can expect to see play facilities for children expanding across the country. Gateshead Council now has 134 fixed play sites, developed as part of a £1 million scheme which started in 2005. This is good news for children, but we hope that money is also spent on park keepers and staff for some of the sites, partly to help children to get the best out of play opportunities and partly, regrettably, to stop vandalism.

Captain Thrass Strikes Again

No sooner do we publish an article which mentions Thrass than we are deluged with more information. First Chris Griffiths sent us details of websites about Thrass :

Then an invitation from June Collins comes in to a Thrass Open Day, printed in full in case any reader is interested :

“Oxley Park Primary School, Oxley Park, Milton Keynes (England), have kindly agreed to host a THRASS OPEN DAY for headteachers, deputy headteachers, literacy coordinators and special needs coordinators (that is, anyone in the Senior Management Team of a school) on Thursday, 29 June 2006. The purpose of the day is to look at the issues related to the implementation of THRASS, in light of the Rose Review on Synthetic Phoncis, including the accredited training of parents (as per the video footage on the THRASS DUALDISC 2006 see and If you and/or any colleagues would like to attend the day, please send an email to [email protected], with the subject, THRASS OPEN DAY 29 JUNE 2006. There is no charge for the day and refreshments will be provided. In your email, please state FIRST NAME, LAST NAME, JOB TITLE and the FULL ADDRESS of your school.

“Every effort will be made to accommodate as many people as possible, within reason, but please let me know as soon as possible that you would like to come so that I can add your name or names to the list of delegates.”

Safety Net

As a web magazine about children, we are always aware that this form of new technology is double-edged. It can bring great rewards, but it can also pose dangers. Only this week a teenager has disappeared after making contacts with an older man on the net.

So here’s one of the adverts we have received, which we are passing on for information. We haven’t tested it, so we can’t endorse it, but it looks interesting.

“The Internet Babysitter, published by Software Xpress, is a new piece of software aimed at parents who are concerned at what their children are looking at online. The software monitors and records all keystrokes typed, a complete list of websites visited, emails and most importantly chatrooms and instant messenger conversations.

“ ‘The Internet Babysitter is a simple piece of software designed for parents who are concerned that their children are looking at inappropriate content on the Internet’, says Maryam Teherani, product development manager, SoftwareXpress. ‘Through our research we discovered that children who know the software is installed on the family computer will become more cautious and responsible. We strongly advocate that parents use the software openly, resulting in greater communication between parent and child’.”

The Internet Babysitter is published by SoftwareXpress, priced £19.99, and available now at major retailers and For more information, please go to


The Church of England has published a report called Faithful Cities, in which it attacks poverty and the growing wealth gap between the poor and the rich. The report is backed by other Christian denominations, and by us. In general the state of the economy has been strong for several years now, and a large percentage of the population of the UK has benefited. But at the top end, the fat cats have regularly awarded themselves pay rises well over inflation, and at the bottom end, a large percentage of the country’s children have been brought up in poverty. At the top end, they do not really need the rewards they have given themselves, while at the bottom end, extra cash could make a real difference to people’s lives.

Living History

We received an email from Joe Martin, who is doing a project called Video Generation. The idea is that children film their grandparents, to find out something new, that they didn’t already know. Joe says that children “will find out that old people know lots of ‘cool stuff’ that they don’t, and they will also bring their family closer together. Our older generation have some amazing stories and personal histories, and sadly at the moment their stories are being lost. I want to empower children to change this, and learn something new into the bargain. I am hoping that they will be able to do this over the half term break which is coming up soon.

“The idea came from a project that my cousin did when we were both little. He sent a blank audio cassette to our grandpa asking for him to record some of his stories onto it. It was for a history project he was doing at school. Well, I was able to get a copy of the resulting tape, and it is a real treasure to me, (my grandpa of course is now long gone), and I thought recording their grandparents would be a lovely thing for other children to do too.”

The six best films will get screened at the Science Museum IMAX on 1 July, and the six winners will also get an invitation to go on a backstage tour of the BBC.

Joe Martin is contactable on +44 (0) 20 7942 4322 and [email protected].

Recent History

We often make the assumption that children’s behaviour is getting worse and worse, and that crime figures are going up. It would be interesting to study why we have these impressions. Perhaps it is that the older we get, the grumpier we are. Certainly most crime figures have been dropping for the last few years, contrary to the public’s impressions, and now we are told by Professor Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University that children are behaving better than in 1985. Girls’ behaviour is worse than boys’, but it’s still better than twenty years ago.

Together with Richard Williams, Colin Pritchard has published a book Breaking the cycle of educational alienation, and one of their findings has been that children who enjoy schooling are less likely to get involved in binge drinking, drug-taking and other antisocial behaviour.

This finding is in keeping with the Assets approach used widely in the USA, but not in Britain as far as we are aware. The lesson of the Assets approach is that the more positive assets a person has, the more they will succeed and the less they will be involved in antisocial behaviour. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it has now been proven with a sample of 200,000 children, so that the moral is to actively involve children in positive activities.

Did You See? (1)…..

….. the article in the Sunday Telegraph (21 May, p.3) in which a pilot scheme to place children looked after by local authorities in boarding schools was being outlined? It was suggested that if 500 preparatory and senior schools took four each, 2,000 children and young people could be taken out of the care system. In view of the fact that only 1% of children in residential care make it to university, we commend the idea as a way of giving these children a real opportunity for a good education.

We hope, though, that the schools know what they are doing. Whether the children and young people are from foster or residential care, they are likely to be away from their homes because they have had some fairly traumatic experiences, and many of them may well find considerable difficulty fitting in socially and educationally. If so, we hope that the staff are trained in child care, and that good mentoring systems are available.

Did You See? (2) …..

….. that the Department of Health has suggested that school nurses should weigh children to identify those suffering from obesity? This led Johann Hari of The Independent to argue that children should be streamed for sports as for maths or English.

The average British boy apparently eats the equivalent of 21 teaspoons of sugar a day, while girls consume an amount equal to 17 teaspoons of sugar according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of Young People. The sponsors of this survey were recommending that children should eat South African apples instead of sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks and all the other heavily sugared items.

Another survey – by the Soil Association – has shown that the average spend on ingredients for primary school dinners has gone up from 47p in 2005 to 51p in 2006. In view of the importance of good school dinners, this is appallingly low, and the Soil Association has called for a minimum of 70p. We reckon that if the kids are stuffing themselves full of sugar as the National Diet Survey says, they must be paying out ten times the cost of their school meal ingredients on things that are bad for them. On the other hand, sales of Turkey Twizzlers have dropped by £10 million in the last six months, so maybe Jamie Oliver is winning.

English children fail to match six-year-old Dzhambulat Khatohov, though. He has become a hero in his Russian home town in Kabardino-Balkaria, as he weighs 15 stone. The Guardian even published an article by Nick Paton Walsh about him in their Supplement(G2, 26 May 2006, pp. 6-9).

At the other end of the scale, The Telegraph reported that there are now 80 gyms for children in the UK, and there is worry that children will become obsessed about their bodies and overdo things, wrecking their joints.

It reminds us of the Thurber story about The Bear Who Could Take It Or Let It Alone. If you’ve never read James Thurber’s Fables for Our Time, look them out. We won’t spoil your reading by telling you the story, except to say that it is as dangerous to lean too far forwards as to lean too far back.


While we are on about food, the Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation have launched a research summary about milk, called White Lies. They say :

“The conclusions are clear: dairy products make a significant contribution – perhaps the major contribution – to degenerative diseases which are at epidemic proportions in Britain and which kill most people. These include coronary heart disease, strokes, some cancers, obesity and even osteoporosis. The people who are targeted most aggressively in order to establish the milk-drinking habit – children – are also at risk. They face an increased likelihood of diabetes (type 1, if genetically predisposed, and 2), allergies (including eczema, asthma and allergy induced anaemia) and acne.

“The extremely worrying epidemic of obesity, which threatens to destroy our children’s health while they are still young but even more so as they enter adulthood, is linked to dairy consumption. The fattest children eat the most saturated fat and the UK National Diet and Nutrition survey states that the majority of this fat in their diet comes from dairy.

“A major review of recent scientific studies on calcium and bone health shatters the misleading notion that children need cow’s milk for good bone health. This review examined the effects of dairy products and total dietary calcium on bone health in children and young adults and found that dairy products are not needed for strong bones.”

Is there nothing we can eat or drink in safety? It’s good news that the Government has laid down Nutrition Guidelines for children.

From the Case Files

Materially there is the bear minimum in the home.

Only a very tiny teddy?

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