Round and round and round we go…

January 31, 2007

A few months ago, the Education and Skills select committee published a report on special educational needs. They said:

“The SEN system is demonstrably no longer fit for purpose”

A lengthy debate in the Commons on Tuesday ran along the same lines.

The problems?

1. Teachers in mainstream schools need far more training to understand SENs

2. The statementing process is carried out by the LEA. It also holds the budget. SENs cost money. There is a conflict of interest that leads to delays and difficulties in getting a diagnosis of SEN, and even when parents manage that, the next hurdle is actually to get the provision specified in the statement. This means that a lot of children aren’t getting the support they need to cope at school.

3. The government has been promoting a policy of inclusion in mainstream schools without tackling problems 1 & 2

Because the SEN system is failing to meet children’s needs, at present

87 per cent of exclusions in primary schools involve children with SEN and 60 per cent at secondary.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides that parents commit an offence if their excluded child is in a public place during school hours during the first 5 days of exclusion.

As the Act slithered through parliament, it was pointed out (many times) that this involves parents taking time off work at short notice, and those in the lowest-paid, least secure jobs would probably lose those jobs, especially if their child were repeatedly excluded. It was agreed that the 5 days should be aggregated.

But now we’re told:

The Act introduced provisions that would require schools to provide full-time education after five days of exclusion. Crucially, this was to be based on aggregate days – so that if a child had already been excluded for five days, the school would be responsible for providing education if they were excluded again.

But, after lobbying from teachers, Knight decided this would be too burdensome for schools and that they should only be responsible where an individual exclusion is longer than five days. Parents will now be responsible for ensuring their child is not in a public place for the first five days of any exclusion – even if the child has previously been excluded.

An NUT spokeswoman said:

“If exclusion is to be recognised by the child as punishment then the child’s activities during the exclusion have to be constrained and it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that happens.”

She added that parents should “do something about their child’s behaviour” to ensure that repeated exclusions did not occur.

Quite what the ‘something’ is that a parent can do about their seriously hyperactive or autistic child’s ‘behaviour’ she didn’t say – though I bet plenty of them would love to know. Nor did she venture an opinion on the humanity of punishing a child when they have been excluded because school isn’t managing to include them.

The problem is, “the SEN system is demonstrably no longer fit for purpose” and, as the spokeswoman’s comments make abundantly clear, one of the problems is that teachers in mainstream schools need far more training to understand SENs…

No wonder Ruth Kelly jumped off the roundabout.


The fingerprint labyrinth

January 31, 2007

More on school fingerprints in the Register today. Have a look at our last mention of the subject. OK? Well, the latest news is:

The Information Commissioner has declared that schools should ask for the consent of children and parents before they take pupil’s fingerprints, despite there being no legal obligation for them to do so.

The data protection supervisor issued the informal advice yesterday, contrasting with previous public comments on the issue of consent, some of them related to its official guidance on school fingerprinting, which it is still drafting.

Kudos to the Register’s Mark Ballard, who is keeping up a cracking pace.

Critical (of) security

January 31, 2007

As we’ve undoubtedly said before, the greatest risks to the security of an IT system come not from hackers, but from those with legitimate access to a system. To illustrate the point, South Warwickshire General Hospitals NHS Trust has hit the news because of a decision to allow clinical staff to access patient records using the smartcard and login details of their shift leader.

Computer Weekly’s Stuart King is spluttering eloquently on the subject:

What disturbs me most is the retort of “the monitoring process revealed no breaches of security.” Monitoring what? It’s a breach of security every single time a smartcard is shared. Those words alone make me go pale because they demonstrate a total lack of regard for process within an environment where privacy is critical.

One of our (many) fears about the children’s Information Sharing Index and its little friend, the eCAF database, is that busy practitioners working away from the office will soon start to ring up colleagues with their login details when they urgently need information from one of the databases.

There’s a very funny side to the South Warwickshire story. Go over to Ideal Government and make sure you click on the ‘spot the connection’ link. It’s worth it.

Translator required

January 30, 2007

Just been reading an interview with the new director of diversity at the Learning and Skills Council. Um, this is how he describes his role:

I am responsible for ensuring that the final document is both relevant in the context of the LSC’s priorities, and meaningful in the context of equality. This means that it both drives change to improve access to learning and learning outcomes for those groups of people who are disadvantaged in society, and also enables the LSC to achieve its targets.

That’s just for starters. Unfortunately my brain keeps glazing over, but it occurs to me that he might have written his answers in another language and put it through babelfish?

Are you listening, DfES?

January 30, 2007

Some more research to add to the growing library of studies that tell an identical story: children and young people are very unhappy about having their confidential information shared.

A study looking at the Information Sharing Index has revealed that children have concerns about workers getting access to sensitive information.

Around one in five children want to bar social workers from having access to the Government’s national child index, according to a study by the Commission for Social Care Inspection’s children’s rights director.

Of particular interest is that the children surveyed here are the most likely to have direct experience of agency involvement in their lives. Several other research reports have similarly shown that the children who object the most to information-sharing are the ones most likely to be affected.

As we’ve been saying repeatedly for more than 3 years now, children and young people will quickly learn to keep quiet about their problems and forgo the services. On our more cynical days, we wonder if the whole information-sharing shebang isn’t just a cost-cutting exercise in disguise.

Oh Happy Day

January 30, 2007

Blogzilla has the lowdown on how the Information Commissioner’s office celebrated Data Protection Day yesterday. Pass the bunting…

When you’ve read that, go and play ‘spot the missing flag’ over at Ideal Government!

Apologies and DNA

January 30, 2007

Apologies for our silence over the last few days. We’ve been doing advanced plate-juggling, which hasn’t left time for anything beyond an occasional bit of sleep.

We’ve just finished our 11th-hour response to the Nuffield Bioethics Foundation consultation on DNA retention. At the time of writing, if you want to reply you’ve got about 3 hours left to do so.

La la la, can’t hear you

January 26, 2007

We’re generally wary of words like ‘shocking’, but in this case (and given the smoking gun in the hand of ‘Doc RedTop’ himself) it’s entirely justified.

The head of the Youth Justice Board, Rod Morgan, has resigned after the Home Office decided to advertise his job rather than simply renew his contract. He isn’t going quietly. In a Newsnight interview to be shown tonight, he says of the 26% increase in children entering the criminal justice system that:

government targets for bringing offences to justice were having “perverse consequences” by swelling prisoner numbers unnecessarily.

Minor offences that used to be dealt with informally or out of court were now being pushed into an overstretched criminal justice system, and work to improve regimes in young offender institutions was being “undermined”

Predictably, the Home Office has a two-fingered response:

“We refute the claim that young people are being demonised and criminalised. Considerable emphasis has been placed on providing activities for young people.”

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Home Office is already pretty cheesed about the YJB report on ASBOs, so their decision to re-advertise Rod Morgan’s job in an attempt to find someone holding the right song-sheet was always on the cards.

It was less than 6 months ago that Rob Allen came to the end of his contract with the YJB, and sounded off about:

elements which are deeply disappointing: the increasing criminalisation of young people involved in minor delinquency, and the stubbornly high use of custodial remands and sentences.

‘And there are some developments of which we really should be ashamed, in particular aspects of the way we lock up children, the demonisation of young people involved in anti-social behaviour and the coarsening of the political and public debate about how to deal with young people in trouble.’

Meanwhile, YJB board member Howard Williamson grits his teeth and hangs on but for how long, who knows? He has already deplored the

increasingly authoritarian and interventionist state

Pardon the apoplexy, but what depths have we plumbed when a government prefers appeasing tabloids by getting macho with children rather than listening to its own youth justice specialists?

EDM on children’s biometrics

January 25, 2007

Following on from our post on the use of children’s fingerprints in school, an Early Day Motion has now been tabled. Please do take a look at it, and (preferably) contact your MP to sign up to it.

Can’t you just be modern?

January 24, 2007

David Walker in today’s Guardian says that we should ‘delete this dread of data sharing’:

The optimists – and they are not all Microsoft or Oracle executives with a product to sell – want interactions between people and their government to be as slick and trouble-free as they can be.

I’m willing to bet that pessimists and realists want exactly the same but, that aside, before citing Microsoft, Walker would have been wise to check out the views of Jerry Fishenden or Kim Cameron.

Fishenden, for example, describes:

“…the specific problems associated with the type of large scale databases that seem to be – puzzlingly – back in vogue, despite their known security shortcomings”

While the first of Cameron’s ‘Seven Laws of Identity’ puts consent at the heart of data-sharing.

And that’s the problem: it’s one thing to decide that you will give government departments permission to share your data in order to avoid having to “…tell the council, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions separately of a death”. It’s quite another to have a government take decisions about your private life out of your hands.

Puzzlingly, Walker asks: “is this reluctance to embrace the opportunities a result of the mistrust fired on all matters of data and IT?”

What? Is it really likely that IT security experts of the stature of Bruce Schneier and Ross Anderson (not to mention the two already cited above) are technophobic Luddites? A glance at their pedigrees ought to be sufficient to give even the most idealistic Big Database evangelist pause for thought. As for objections to sharing children’s data: when eminent child protection specialists and social workers shout “Danger!” it’s a damn good idea to listen.

Walker continues:

“Why the assumption that the state is malign? …There is a lump of opinion formers and lobbyists whose distrust of government and indifference to the benefits of information flow remains a powerful block – and a perverse justification for the many public managers dragging their feet on the information highway.”

We make no assumption that the state is malign at the moment, but the best way to ensure that it never becomes so is to prevent it from gaining the power in the first place – a key reason for having human rights instruments that enshrine such principles as privacy. Meanwhile, there is compelling evidence that we should certainly be concerned about the security of our personal data on the grounds of competence alone. The potential to do harm, even when meaning well, is enormous. Ultimately, if someone runs you over with a JCB, it doesn’t matter whether they are malicious, poorly-qualified or merely careless: the effect is the same.

Nice little earner

January 23, 2007

Almost missed this in last week’s Children Now:

The number of parents fined because their children play truant has more than doubled in a year, while levels of truancy have stayed the same, the latest Government figures reveal.

Nearly 5,000 penalty notices were issued to parents between 22 April 2006 and 1 September 2006…But figures released last week by the Department for Education and Skills show that unauthorised absences remained stubbornly at 0.78 per cent of half days missed last academic year – exactly the same level as the previous year.

Meanwhile, Carlotta has an interesting account of school refusal.

Hoodies start young

January 23, 2007

It’s not April 1st, is it?

A toddler has been banned from a North Yorkshire shop for wearing a hoodie.

Two-year-old Jay Cowper was wrapped up against the cold in a brown jacket with a furry hood when he went shopping with his grandfather in York.

Jay was asked to remove his hood by staff at Monkton Road Stores because of a “no hoodie” policy designed to tackle problems with troublemakers.

His grandfather refused out of principle and the pair were forced to leave the store.

DNA consultation

January 22, 2007

A reminder that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics is running a consultation on the forensic use of DNA, the retention of DNA profiles and secondary uses to which DNA samples may be put.

The consultation closes on 30th January – Tuesday week. They really do want to hear from as many people as possible, so go and give them your views. You don’t have to answer the full list of questions – only the ones on which you want to comment.

Peter Clarke

January 22, 2007

We’ve had sad news today: Peter Clarke, the admirable and feisty Children’s Commissioner for Wales, died yesterday morning. He was the first of the UK’s commissioners, and wasn’t afraid to stick his head above the parapet – as his Clywch report demonstrated. He’ll be a hard act to follow.

Do as I say, not as I do

January 21, 2007

Blimey, that was quick off the mark. I wondered whether the Big Brother debacle would lead to the inevitable conclusion that we need to Do Something to Children and sure enough:

“The current debate over Big Brother has highlighted the need to make sure our schools focus on the core British values of justice and tolerance.”

Quite apart from the implication that the behaviour of Jade Goody et al is somehow children’s fault, it rather ignores the fact that adults demonstrate by their own example the values that underpin society.

Learning ‘justice and tolerance’ doesn’t seem the obvious outcome of being unwelcome in public spaces, subjected to curfews, ASBOs, arrest for tree-climbing, snowball-throwing or over-enthusiastic games of football in the street, police detention without any suggestion that an offence has been committed, and all the other routine injustices and intolerance of ‘modern’ childhood.