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.