News Views – October 2006

A mixture of news items, future events, sales pitches, comments and whimsies, including a pilot programme for changed hours at school, colic and crying babies, predicting problems, prequels, priests, the Pope and products being pushed.

Conventions and Change

It is reported that a pilot programme has been set up at Bridgemary Community Sports College, which has a bad truancy record, to keep the School open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., and to make teaching available on line round the clock. Cheryl Heron, the Head Teacher, argues that the school is changing to meet the children’s needs rather than forcing them to conform to traditional educational conventions. What is more, the teachers and the admin staff are backing the experiment.

We say, “Good for them”. We have argued before that it is high time that the whole format of education is thoroughly rethought. Why do schools have to be the size they are when so much factual material can be made available on line? Do children really learn best in peer cohorts? Is the structure of subject teaching in short lumps really effective? Why have terms and long summer holidays? Why keep to the traditional school hours?

We suspect that the answer to a lot of these questions is simply tradition, which has led people to adopt working patterns to fit in, holiday arrangements and so on. It is easier to carry on than change. We also suspect that a lot of parents are only too happy for their children to be occupied and off their hands, regardless of what they learn. Our suspicions may be cynical, but the questions do need to be answered.

Crying Babies

Crying BabyWe were sent an advertising press release which reported on a survey of crying babies. Apparently the average baby cries for 51 days solid in the first year of his or her life –   at least five hours a day during the first three months, and almost three hours a day between three and 12 months.  As well as the obvious lack of sleep, the weeping and wailing often results in the breakdown of relationships as parents struggle to cope.  One in five couples admitted their sex life was “non-existent” in the first year of baby’s life. 17 per cent say the constant crying has led to a lack of communication and a sad five per cent have actually split up.

The most common complaints for a newborn crying appear to be hunger, a dirty nappy or tiredness, but 38 per cent of babies suffered terribly with wind, and a further 22 per cent were diagnosed with colic. Parents will resort to desperate measures to calm their upset child, in addition to the usual cuddles and attention: 14 per cent of people have vacuumed the whole house hoping the ‘white noise’ will work its magic, and others take their children for long car rides. The answer, according to the sponsors of the research, is Colief Infant Drops, which contain the naturally-occurring enzyme lactase.  When added to the babies ‘usual milk’ (whether breast fed or formula), Colief breaks down most of the lactose and makes the feed more easily digestible. See


Tony Blair was recently talking about the issue of identifying children’s problems at an early age so that preventative action can be taken before they morph into nasty teenagers, offenders, adults with mental health problems, addicts and so on.

This started me thinking. How far have people been able to predict what other children would do? A former colleague was in the same class as a recent archbishop and he said that the prelate played the role of bishop even when he was at school. I recall predicting that someone in my school class would enter politics, and he became President of a party, before joining the Lords. There are others, however, who have surprised me.

In so far as we can predict, is it because of the personalities of these people? Are they likely to succeed one way or another? Without suggesting predestination, are those deemed likely to have problems doomed, or can we really retrieve their prospects? Certainly, helping professions work on the basis that change is possible, and without such a faith their work would be purposeless as well as less effective.

Anyone aware of longitudinal research on this subject, whether about successes or failures?


And on the same theme, have you noticed the growing number of films which are prequels, such as the Star Wars series and now Jane Eyre?  Couldn’t we take this a bit further?

We would love to see a film about Sherlock Homes at school – presumably an aloof outsider with perhaps one friend, but no-one trying to pick on him because of his boxing ability, terrible on the violin – never wanting to practice, no girl friends, though perhaps having respect for the brightest girl in the class, thoroughly irritating to the teachers, pointing out their habits and where they had spilt ink or dropped dottle, but a whizz at identifying which class mate had stolen another’s bull’s eyes.

Or what about James Bond? Was he a wow with the girls, brilliant at sport, getting through his exams casually without doing too much work, never suffering teenage acne? Or was he an underconfident Billy Bunter type who saw a Charles Atlas advert and decided to make a man of himself, never looking back?

And then Gandalf? Did he attend a sort of Middle Earth Hogwarts, or did another really ancient wizard take him under his wing, or did he just roam the countryside learning about ents and hobbits, picking up his magic en route? And what did his parents think about his choice of job? Perhaps some Tolkien fan can answer all this, through references buried in the Silmarillion. Google doesn’t help.

Did You See? …..

….. the Panorama programme on BBC1 on Sunday 1 October? It laid out with an inescapable logic the facts of the abuse of children, both boys and girls by Roman Catholic priests. There were interviews with former priests who with incredible openness admitted the way they had abused their positions of trust and how the children turned them on.

The focus then shifted to the way that the Church had handled these offenders, dealing with matters internally, providing treatment, moving priests from parish to parish, and protecting them from the usual legal processes by blocking investigations. There seemed to be a mind-blowing assumption that the victims were less important than the priests. The victims were told that the offending was a secret of the confessional and should not be talked about. The fact that moving an abusing priest to a new parish simply made a new bunch of children into potential victims did not seem to matter to the bishops who bore the overall responsibility.

But the biggest charge made by the programme was that the bishops were acting in accordance with the instructions of the Vatican. It was not simply a question of a number of errant bishops mishandling affairs in their respective sees. In concealing abuse and fending off state investigators, they were actually carrying out secret instructions, and the man responsible for overseeing the whole exercise for the last twenty years was Cardinal Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI.

The whole story sounds a preposterous creation of Da Vinci Code proportions. Yet the programme gave every impression of being well researched and soberly presented by Colm O’Gorman, who was himself abused by a priest. If so, the Roman Catholic Church can be said to have presented the most dramatic and large-scale example of organised abuse in history.

The appalling thing is that it is not a criminal prostitution ring, or a mafia family which has done this, but a religious denomination which claims that teaching moral behaviour is one of their key functions and which emphasises truth and love. The hypocrisy is mind-blowing. We have said before that to regain credibility the Roman Catholic Church has to confess its sins, repent and make amends. If it continues to deny the truth when faced with it, the damage will be enormous and perhaps permanent.

“Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were cast into the sea.” Tough talk, but these words are well known to all the Church, from the offending priests to the Pope, and they know that they should be signing up to them.

Et cetera

Besides all the usual junk emails advertising Viagra or offering us a few million dollars if only we tell them about our bank account, we get quite a lot of advertising, some of which tries to stretch our child care remit to fit their product in and get a bit more coverage.

  • So there’s Servis washing machines – vital at Christmas time for doing those extra duvets when all those relatives come to stay; really awful jingle, “Duvet know it’s Christmas?”.
  • Then there were the 2,000 people who were asked what smell reminded them of their childhood. The answer produced another terrible jingle, “You nose it’s Play Doh”.
  • Or there’s Eversfield Organic sausages and burgers, from a farm sited between Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, and their quality means that they are low in salt, gluten free and really good for children.
    Here’s a useful one. Sudafed, the UK’s number one decongestant, has introduced the first decongestant syrup formulated especially for children aged two and up.  So your little ones shouldn’t need to suffer from runny noses this winter.  Visit for further information and advice.
    Christian Aid has developed a game called Disaster Watch, to help children learn have to cope with catastrophes. It should be made clear that they are not dumped in cooling lava, mud flows or floods. It is all done on-line. Children are taught how to take precautions such as building earthquake–proof classrooms or keeping rodents out of grain stores and what to do in an emergency. Sounds fun. Try .
  • Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has teamed up with Kitchen Garden magazine to encourage children to grow their own vegetables and go in for healthy eating. We applaud their aims, but are a bit surprised by the partnership. Most gardeners we know who are growing their own vegetables do whatever they can to get rid of any wildlife trying to have a nibble at their produce. Anyway, the 47 Wildlife Trusts have 600,000 members (including 100,000 children) and 220 reserves between them, and if you want to know more, contact  .
  • Then there’s one which really merits support. World Vision is a Christian charity which is currently helping 100 million people in developing countries. They have brought out a Christmas catalogue of presents you can buy for other people, such as a school stationery kit (£8), a uniform (£10) a desk and chair (£21), training for a teacher (£300), a toilet block (£398), and so on up to £6,000. To read more, see World Vision’s Alternative Gift Catalogue, .
  • Perhaps our favourite was the advert for Marmart. Marmite is something you like or you don’t. There must be a point where they can’t sell any more Marmite because there are no more undecided people. Still the Pr people are paid to have a go. Having tried to get people to eat Marmite–flavoured ice-cream, they next brought in the squeezy plastic jar. This worried us. It said, “Squeeze Me” on one side and we thought it was a secret campaign to change the name, the way that Marathon became Snickers (what an awful choice!).
  • Anyway, the nice thing about the new containers is that you can doodle with the Marmite, as it emerges from the jar in a controllable narrow column. And so they have invited people to draw on their toast, photograph their efforts and send them in. If you have a moment, look at . You will see that even Leonardo da Vinci has had a go.
  • The last from this little selection is a press release from Ed Webber who is researcher for Jenny Willott MP. Ed claims that young people are “baring the brunt” of the debts of the nation. The term “young people” here seems to have been used for young adults, as the most serious problems with mortgage arrears are for 21-24 year-olds. That this is a truly serious problem we do not doubt, but in the Webmag, we usually use “young people” as roughly synonymous with teenage. Surely he doesn’t mean that? And, by the way, which bit of their anatomy is the “brunt” that they are “baring”?

From the Case Files

And yes, the quotations are all genuine.

This evidence was clearly heresy, and therefore not admissable  to the Court.

Canon law in the Juvenile Court?

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