Policy recycling

December 29, 2006

Just noticed what Dizzy Thinks of the plan for 40 new ‘Respect Zones’ – demonstrating that ridicule is far more effective than the spleen I might otherwise have vented.

Never trust a hacker

December 29, 2006

Via Schneier’s blog, a very funny story of what happened when a US Congressman’s communications director tried to hire hackers to re-write his college record: they posted the whole email exchange.

owja spell ‘ethics’, then?

December 28, 2006

Pippa has details of schools in Lancashire that are installing biometric scanners to monitor children’s school meal choices.

Less than 18 months ago, the Institute of Food Research published a report that said:

“The research using smartcard technology has demonstrated the ability of the system to identify individuals who persistently choose highly inappropriate meals.

“What a school does with that important health information presents society with an ethical issue.”

Did we miss something? We don’t recall seeing any debate whatsoever about this ‘ethical issue’.



December 28, 2006

As the school census looms (to be taken termly instead of annually from now on), the government is keen to see more ‘gifted and talented’ pupils identified, and is offering a sweetener to the many schools that have so far resisted labelling their pupils:

The government is arranging “e-credits” for schools to access extra lessons for an estimated 800,000 gifted pupils.

The £65m scheme is part of its drive to ensure all children in England with special talents are given extra help. It requires all schools to list their gifted and talented pupils in the census data it now collects each term.

…The government acknowledges that often the children who are identified are those who have had opportunities to develop their talents. So it is also trying to reach children whose parents either do not bother or cannot afford to provide such extra-curricular activities.

Well, are they talking about ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’? If it’s the latter, they are in fairyland if they imagine that the gap can be closed with the £80 per pupil that’s on offer. It would pay for, say, half a dozen piano lessons with a reputable teacher, or a few sessions with a good dance teacher or sports coach. Hardly enough to uncover, let alone develop, even the most dazzling talent.

In any case, tuition is only one part of the true cost: what about running shoes, oboe reeds or leotards, and all the other hidden extras? What about travel costs and the need to take time off work to get a budding Kelly Holmes or Yehudi Menuhin to competitions or auditions? The truth is that the lack of funding for young people with exceptional talent in the UK is a disgrace, and until we can do rather better than throwing 80 measly quid around once in a while, plenty more flowers are going to be born to blush unseen.

As for churning out ‘extra lessons’ for the ‘gifted’, it would be more to the point if the government revisited Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child –the one about having a duty to develop every child’s abilities to their fullest potential. If each child was at the centre of his/her own education, we wouldn’t need labels such as ‘gifted’, ‘special needs’ or anything else – and we might see some pretty unusual abilities emerging from beyond the narrow confines of the national curriculum and key stage tests.

Probably the best anyone can do by way of educating a child is to avoid killing pleasure and curiosity by hurling the dusty, grey stones of duty and ‘extra lessons’ at them, and follow the advice given by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner 36 years ago in ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’:

“Knowledge is produced in response to questions. And new knowledge results from the asking of new questions; quite often new questions about old questions. Here is the point: once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no-one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.”

Fate worse than death

December 28, 2006

A round of applause for Bookdrunk’s comments on those who regard the threat of cervical cancer as a useful disincentive to their daughters’ ‘promiscuity’. Yes, really.

7 best things

December 22, 2006

Not Saussure has tagged us to declare the 7 best things that we’ve done this year (he did have the decency to apologise) so here goes. Most of them are ARCHy things, two are personal to me (Terri) but I’m still so chuffed about them that I’ve got to mention them.

1. Started and finished the report for the Information Commissioner on children’s databases with FIPR. A major job that has dominated the whole year.

2. Got proper, grown-up funding for 9 months (thanks, JRRT) which means we can get on with work instead of rushing around with the begging bowl when the phone bill arrives

3. Made the shortlist for a human rights award: even though it went to the worthiest winner (Southall Black Sisters) just being on the short list was pretty fantastic.

4. Discovered that, after a 6-month battle, the coalition of organisations we’d pulled together had persuaded government not to introduce mandatory police/social services reporting for under-16s using sexual health services.

5. Organised the filing on this computer at last, thanks to the wonderful ‘adventures in record management’ blog. Where did it go? One day I clicked on the link and it had vanished.

6. Got a beautiful, lanky, naughty new dog – a 15-month-old Basset Griffon Vendeen (though it followed probably the saddest thing I’ve done this year). An essential addition to office sanity because she thumps her tail, wriggles and picks up her stuffed toy rat when anyone looks at her.

7. Watched my older son open the letter offering him a place at Oxford – doubly fabulous because (a) he so badly wanted it and (b) he’s been home educated, so university interviews are the acid test of whether we failed him lamentably. Ooooh, the relief!

Now, who can I torture? Let’s have Dave Hill, Ian at Blogzilla, Pippa, Carlotta at Dare to Know, Ray at B2fxxx, Longrider, and William at Ideal Government

It’s for their own good – honest

December 21, 2006

Anyone remember ROSLA? In 1972, the conservative government raised the school leaving age from 15 to 16, amid accusations that it was a cynical ploy to reduce youth unemployment figures. Last month the possibility of raising it again to 18 was aired.

Today, the Times has published youth unemployment figures which show that:

More young people are out of work now than when Labour won power in 1997 by promising to cut youth unemployment, official figures obtained by The Times reveal.

There are now 37,000 more unemployed people aged 16 to 24 than in May 1997, with the total rising from 665,000 to 702,000, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Apparently the unemployment rate for 16 and 17-year-olds in London has doubled over the last decade to 42.9%

Maybe we should just get it over with in one fell swoop and raise the school-leaving age to – what – 25? 30?

NHS opt-out – not so simple

December 21, 2006

Excellent piece from Ross Anderson in today’s Guardian, explaining more about the NHS ‘opt out’:

After polls showed that most doctors and patients oppose a compulsory national database of medical records, health minister Lord Warner produced a report on Monday and promised an opt-out. But don’t break out the champagne yet. The report was cleverly spun; hidden in an appendix is confirmation that you can opt out of the Summary Care Record, but not the Detailed Care Record.

The first is merely a synopsis for emergency care. It will have your current prescriptions, and will say, for example, whether you are diabetic. But ministers are not offering an easy opt-out from the second – the database replacing your current GP and hospital records. They plan to “upload” your GP data over the next year or two to a regional hosting centre run by a government contractor. The data will initially remain under your GP’s nominal control but, after hospital records have been uploaded too, the chief medical officer will be the custodian of the whole lot.

Divorced? The BBC wants to know

December 20, 2006

We mentioned the astonishing Digital Switchover Bill over in the other place yesterday.

Spyblog has been taking a closer look at the explanatory notes that go with the Bill. Just why, exactly, does the government need to tell the BBC your marital status and your NI number? Spyblog has plenty more to say.

We’ve landed

December 20, 2006

Various problems with Blogger have nudged us into moving house. Our old blog can still be seen at www.archrights.blogspot.com but if you have links or bookmarks, please update them to this new address.

So far, WordPress seems pretty straightforward but bear with us as we sort out any teething problems.