News Views – Sept 06

A mixture of news items, future events, sales pitches, comments and whimsies, including ACAL, smacking, teenage pregnancies, reporting on Ofsted, shoes, brains, obesity and tennis.


Children Are Unbeatable has been carrying out another campaign to keep their aim of obliterating smacking in the forefront of MPs’ minds. This time it’s been an Early Day Motion which focused on treating children the same as adults. We are behind them in their struggle. In view of the narrowness of their target, it must be very difficult for them to keep the issue alive in fresh ways that really grab the attention of politicians.

We have an idea for them. How about a Private Member’s Bill that allows children to smack adults? After all, that is what “reasonable chastisement” permits parents to do the other way round. We recall young people who felt that they had come of age when they were big and tough enough to be able to protect their mothers and themselves by beating up their abusive dads. Now if fathers knew they would have no protection in law if they were beaten up by their sons, it might give them pause for thought before they walloped little children, as one day the tables might be turned. Of course, the beating up would need to be proportionate.

The idea could be extended to teachers, or MPs. What if every MP who voted to keep corporal punishment going could be legitimately assaulted by young people who had suffered because the law was inadequate? It’s obviously fantasy, but we allow it the other way round in letting parents smack children, and as we know, some parents do not restrain themselves, and children do die as a result. Why isn’t assaulting children also seen as a ridiculous fantasy?

Teenage Pregnancies

A campaign in Gateshead to hand out morning-after pills at school gates and provide contraceptive injections has reduced teenage pregnancies by a fifth. In Scotland, teenagers are receiving implants to prevent pregnancy. The Scottish Catholic Church is not happy about this, and the Mail is not happy about the Government’s claim that teenage pregnancies are down, claiming that a longer view of the situation is less encouraging.

We have three points to make. First, girls who have babies while they are of school age are too young to be parents, and if the numbers of young teenagers who get pregnant can be reduced, it is in everyone’s interests. The starting point is that girls in this age group are having unprotected intercourse, and it is better if they do not become pregnant as a result. We do not see the preventative measures undertaken by the Family Planning Association as encouraging sexual activity, but simply recognising that it occurs.

The second point is that there needs to be much better sex education, both about the practical facts and about the social implications in terms of relationships and self-respect, and about the long-term impact on one’s life and so on. There are still children and young people who are ignorant of the facts, and a lot who look for immediate satisfactions rather than long-term interests. Education should be about enlarging children’s horizons and helping them to think of their futures. Until education has an impact, though, – and it will take a long time to establish new social mores – the short-term preventative measures are needed.

Thirdly, there are a number of aspects of the nation’s life for which the Government gets the blame if things get worse or claim the praise if they get better. Increases in crime rates are one, and the incidence of teenage pregnancy is another. The Government can do some things, such as fund advisory services or ensure that sex education is in the curriculum, but ultimately the responsibility lies with society as a whole.

It is parents, teachers, siblings, role models and friends who influence the young people, and it is the young people involved who actually do the business. They are the ones who are responsible and it is they who should be expected to behave responsibly. The Government as such has a very limited role. If the Mail reflects the country’s concern, it’s for all of us to have an influence. But while the goings-on on Love Island attract millions of viewers, how can teenagers be expected not to get involved?

Fair Reporting

Ofsted produced a report on day services for young children in which 3% of the services – day nurseries, after-school clubs, childminders and so on – were criticised for having inadequate safety measures. In the case of childminders, this amounted to 340 individuals out of the 17,000 inspected. After school-clubs came off rather worse. The failure rate was seized on by the media, who produced their usual crop of ‘shocked’ articles.

Now, clearly, if the buildings or the working practices in day care provision are dangerous, they need changing, and Ofsted is right to highlight failings, so that action can be taken. But the media frenzy is much less justifiable. Realistically, how bad is the problem?

  • Do they expect everyone to be perfect? If not, what percentage of failure is all right? It was 1% the year before and 3% this last year. That doesn’t sound too bad, assuming that action is taken to address the issues raised. Was the increase significant? Were the criteria the same or were expectations raised? Had last year’s criticisms been ignored?
  • What sort of failures were there? Were they minor or serious? Were they easily remediable? Were the failures associated with newly registered providers who had not yet grasped the requirements? Or did they represent a lapse in standards on the part of established providers? Or perhaps greater efficiency on the part of the Inspectors?

The Ofsted report was called Early Years : Safe and Sound. This sounds a pretty positive title to us, and we think that the high standards of services in this country deserve praise, rather than highlighting for criticism. But then, that wouldn’t make a story. We hope that the Editors of the grumbling papers were personally given a hard time by the people looking after their children. The percentage of national dailies taking a critical line was well over 3%. They should be ashamed of themselves for such a failure rate.


A press release from Hush Puppies reported on a survey carried out across Midlands nurseries in June and July 2006 which showed that 38% of children’s shoes did not fit properly. Children from baby units through to pre-school were checked by qualified fitters from Hush Puppies for width as well as length. The majority of ill fitting shoes were less than a full size too small, but the survey also found that many children were wearing shoes before they should be, children were in shoes up to two sizes too small and some children were wearing shoes one and a half sizes too big.

A toddler’s foot contains 45 pieces of developing bone which eventually fuse together to form the adult foot. “Ill fitting shoes can affect growth by displacing the correct alignment of bones.  It is important that the shoe fully supports the foot, otherwise the toes can be crushed and problems such as bunions and calluses can develop in later life,” commented Julie Bradley Hush Puppies Marketing Manager.

We receive quite a lot of advertisements for shoes via the editorial computer, and most of them are cute, with little faces on the front, or fashionable, made in all the latest colours. We see footwear as a practical issue and back the Hush Puppies concern. We remember the days when you put your feet in an X-ray machine to see where your toe-bones were in the shoes you were trying on. Presumably the x-rays were rotting our toes and the machines were done away with on health and safety grounds. They did give a graphic picture, though, and if a safe equivalent could be devised, it might help children and adults appreciate the importance of a good fit.


The Science Museum is opening a new exhibition on 10 October 2006 looking at the machinery which can investigate the functioning of brains and help them to function better. It sounds a fascinating subject, reflecting an area of human knowledge which has expanded considerably over recent years. It is not too long back that Lombroso was identifying criminals from their skull shapes and that little maps were produced marked on porcelain heads to identify what they thought went on in people’s heads. Now there is real knowledge about the inner workings of the brain – even if there is a lot yet to learn.

Scalp electrodes to enable paralysed people to interface with machinery, MRI scans to identify whether comatose people have consciousness, transcranial magnetic stimulation to help stroke victims regain control of their bodies – it will all be there, and it would have been seen as impossible magic to people only a few decades ago.

On a different tack but the same basic subject, we received an email from Healthy Direct, ( the vitamin and supplement provider, who are “proud to announce the launch of Bright Sparks™, a great tasting natural chewable supplement for kids, containing Omega 3 fish oil and vitamins A, C, D and E. This delicious fruity new product helps parents give kids the essential ‘learning’ nutrients to even the fussiest of eaters!” We haven’t tried or tested it, and are not endorsing it therefore, but developments in this field are presumably the chemistry response to the Science Museum’s physics. Brains need both.

Obesity and Tennis

Turning to the rest of the body, Shadow Minister for Health and Children Tim Loughton has described childhood obesity as a ‘ticking timebomb’ that poses ‘a serious threat to the health of our nation.’

This reminds us of our childhood. We had friends with a son who was over-indulging and was risking becoming seriously over-weight, which was relatively uncommon in those days, despite having Billy Bunter as a role model. We told him the awful story of Forsyte Smyth, who ate so much that he exploded in the school dining hall, and they had to scrape bits of him off the walls and ceiling, and redecorate, before we could eat there again. This greatly impressed the boy, who changed his behaviour
and became a normal shape. The last we heard, he was doing well as head of department in a comprehensive school.

For today’s generation, we have a happier solution. The Lawn Tennis Association’s (LTA) annual Play Tennis campaign, offers free tennis lessons until 1 October to players of all ages and abilities. Aspiring Sharapovas and wannabe Murrays can pick up a racquet and head to thousands of participating local clubs, parks and schools around the country for a introduction to the sport. Simply visit the site, find your local club, book and go. You’ll need to hurry if you want to take advantage of the free lessons but don’t forget that with hundreds of indoor and outdoor courts nationwide, tennis is a game that can be played all year round.

From the Case Files

Her pregnancy went full term without anti-natal care.

Couldn’t stop the baby coming without it?

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