Children of the database

April 30, 2007

Henry Porter on CiF:

If Labour feels so strongly that liberty is part of the British story why hasn’t the government made it part of the national curriculum? One answer may be that if you bring up an entire generation to understand the extent of individual rights under the unwritten British constitution, it is far less easy to remove those rights.

Ha! Some hope. The citizenship curriculum doesn’t mention the existence of the European Convention on Human Rights, far less the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (that we ratified 16 years ago – shhh, I think it’s a secret).

Far from bringing up a generation to understand rights, the opposite is happening: they’re growing up to accept constant monitoring. As Andre Bacard said:

“If I wanted to build the surveillance society, I would start by creating dossiers on kindergarten children so the next generation couldn’t comprehend a world without surveillance.”


Do fish have civil liberties?

April 30, 2007

Time to set up Action on Rights for Fish, perhaps.

Official: 16 is too old for play

April 29, 2007


Two teenage girls were fined £80 for drawing chalk pictures on a pavement in Bangor, Gwynedd. Hazel Mercer and her friend Charli Lyth, both 16, were given fixed penalties when a police officer saw them drawing hearts and rainbows.

They might as well have used spray paints.

What public interest?

April 29, 2007

Last week, Angela Mason was up before the General Teaching Council for filming children’s misbehaviour for a Channel 4 shockumentary, under cover as a supply teacher. According to the BBC:

Over a period of about six months, she went into 18 schools in London and the north of England … and secretly filmed in six of them.

She says she saw chairs being smashed, pupils fighting in class and that she was sworn at by pupils and was falsely accused of touching them. Other bad behaviour by pupils included verbal abuse, general rowdiness and the use of mobile phones or CD players.

Teaching sometimes became impossible, she said.

The day before the film was shown, Leeds City Council applied for an injunction to stop it, but they lost. Coincidentally, the judgment has just turned up on Bailii, and although it’s a relief to see that Mr Justice Munby did at least assert children’s rights to privacy, it’s astonishing that he believed there was an overriding public interest in letting Channel 4 go ahead.

The film did its job in adding fuel to the fashionable moral panic. Everyone agreed that the youth of today are abhorrent and their parents despicable: music to the ears of those who want to see the state step in to micro-manage the upbringing of children. I’m sure I don’t really need to spend time here digging out quotes dating back to St Augustine and beyond, bewailing the parlous state of the nation’s young. In any case, far too many people seem to believe that ‘it’s different now’. This time, we really do have A Crisis – an inexplicable epidemic of badness; bad children and bad parents.

I don’t know where Ms Mason was teaching back in those good old days when children behaved themselves, but I suspect it wasn’t Islington, home to two of the schools that featured in the Channel 4 documentary. In the East London schools of the 70s, immediately post-ROSLA every classroom had its share of the sons of the Kray henchmen, there was a running gag about augmenting furniture supplies by nipping along to Islington Green School and catching chairs and desks as they came through the window, and a couple of my friends gave up teaching altogether when the deputy head was stabbed in the back by a pupil he’d just excluded. (Note to the Vice Anglais devotees: corporal punishment wasn’t abolished until 1987. Go figure.)

What really is extraordinary is that someone who has not taught for 30 years can simply sign on with an agency and walk straight into a classroom as if she had only left it the previous day. Would anyone want to see a locum GP or solicitor who hadn’t practised for even one decade, let alone three?

Why did she only film in one third of the schools? Given that her agenda was to provide evidence for the documentary in order to prove that children really have gone feral in the UK, one would have thought she would film in all of them. Could it be that there wasn’t enough in the other twelve schools to merit the attention of her little camera, cunningly disguised as a button? And did she, or the film-makers, have any moral qualms about the observer-expectancy effect?

Yes, there are serious problems in the education system. Attempts at reform have been resisted and fudged. Too many schools are dependent on supply teachers (even ones who haven’t taught for decades) or even classroom assistants. The SEN system is a nightmare. Children (and teachers) are hemmed in by tests and targets, but protest is ignored. It’s a mess – and that’s without even considering whether a factory-sized school, or any school at all, is the right kind of place for some, or all, children. And now the government is planning to prolong the agony even further.

Quite how any film that shows children behaving dreadfully contributes one iota to the education debate is beyond me. It’s not bad children we should be worrying about; it’s the victimisation of children and teachers alike through the state education system.

Update: Talking of factory-sized schools

A new generation of “super-size” schools is being created by the Government, sparking fears that they will lead to alienated pupils.

Wasted opportunities

April 27, 2007

Nice comment piece on Spiked about the use of IT to reinforce the same old agenda rather than to explore new horizons:

New Labour has for a long time taken a keen interest in technology. Various schemes for using new technologies have addressed a wealth of issues, from social inclusion to promoting e-Government and tackling low voter turnout in local and national elections. But the extent to which many of these ‘schemes’ actually improve people’s lives is debatable – especially if they come at the expense of addressing the underlying causes of inequality, exclusion and poor service.

The focus on IT as a cure for social ills seems to be driven by politicians’ distrust in, and fear of, the public. They want to keep the public in check and monitor our behaviour, creating ever-more complicated and dysfunctional database systems and surveillance schemes, yet they also want to do it from a safe distance – through technology rather than anything like direct engagement.

I remember blogging briefly about the narrowness of IT use in education last year. Here we have one of the most exciting resources imaginable, and what are we doing with it? Using it to prop up the wonky leg on an old table.

HAC submission

April 26, 2007

Finally finished ARCH’s submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry “A Surveillance Society?” Since they’ve waived the rules on non-publication, it’s on the ARCH website.

The trouble with statistics

April 26, 2007

Such is the eerie silence hanging over the world of politics at the moment that the only sound is of barrels being scraped for news. Research into business leadership reveals such fascinating statistics as:

44 per cent of today’s leaders were school prefects
34 per cent of today’s male leaders were Boy Scouts
42 per cent of today’s female leaders were Girl Guides
11 per cent of today’s leaders were in an orchestra

At the bottom of this list of exemplary conformity, though, we find that:

68% didn’t go on to further education
7% left school with no qualifications at all
12% left school before they were 16

Bit of a blow to the ROSLA and 50%-university-attendance agenda, I should have thought?

Oh, whoops

April 26, 2007

IT safe in their hands?

The Department of Health has apologised after a security lapse on the junior doctors recruitment website enabled confidential information on thousands of applicants, including their sexual orientation and previous convictions, to be accessed by the public yesterday…

From at least 9am yesterday, many forms of personal information, including doctors’ addresses, home phone numbers and religion, were available for eight hours on the NHS medical training website

We see that Not Saussure has plenty more on this story.

Update: This story gets worse. From Dr Crippen:

Any applicant can see ANY correspondence sent by another candidate or from MTAS (Medical Training Application Service) to another candidate by just going to his inbox and changing the message number displayed in the url

As Mr Eugenides (from whence the above link came) says:

Remember that these people want to record your personal details on a massive database. Not someone else’s: yours.

Do you trust them to do so? And if so, why?

That’s not quite accurate. They’re going to record details on two massive databases. Don’t forget the junior NIR, formerly known as the Information Sharing Index, now re-branded ‘ContactPoint’.

Word games

April 25, 2007

Incredible. The government intends to remove Lords’ amendments to the Mental Health Bill designed to protect children who end up on entirely unsafe and unhelpful adult hospital wards.

During the bill’s passage through the Lords, peers introduced an amendment saying there should be age-appropriate care for young people who end up on adult mental health wards.

But during a Commons debate on the bill last week Hewitt said: “In my view we need to focus on continuing to improve the services we provide for children and adolescents rather than believe that simply making changes to the law will solve the problem.”

Funny thing is, they didn’t want to listen to that argument (or anything else for that matter) when the Antisocial Behaviour Act was on the table and the words actually made sense.

Children are more than mere pupils

April 25, 2007

Some good comment on inclusion from Ric Law, of the excellent Disability Challengers, in today’s Children Now:

The point is that society will only be inclusive if everyone is offered a choice in their education. We argue, not against a disabled child choosing to be educated in a mainstream school, but against the relentless pursuit of the idea that school is the ideal place for all children to be together.

The natural and most powerful environment for young people to become friends, develop an acceptance and understanding of diversity, and to dissolve prejudice is a leisure setting. Leisure is not just a place where young people can be together – it is the best, the most natural, and most effective context for fostering friendship, awareness of diversity and acceptance.

Peanuts for personal data

April 24, 2007

Over at Blogzilla, a snort of disgust at the sentence given to the PI firm that blagged information from the DWP. Fines + costs amount to just 8% of their annual turnover, which only goes to show how well crime pays.

I’m history

April 24, 2007

Completely off topic for this blog, but bear with me – it’s not every day that you discover you’re a relic in someone’s archives. There I was, mooching around the Overgrown Path when I noticed a link to the BBC Singers. A few clicks later, and I was looking at an early cave-painting (I’m second from the right on the front standing row).

Tempus fugit etc. I need a nice cup of tea after that…

Fingerprint guidance coming soon

April 23, 2007

Still no guidance on the use of children’s fingerprints in schools (it was promised at the end of March) but Pippa has found out that it will now be published in May, after the local elections.

It’s hard to imagine why it’s so politically sensitive that it can’t be published sooner. What on earth is it going to say?

Moral consequences

April 23, 2007

An interesting piece (with lots of Foucault quotes) from Deborah Orr in today’s Independent. She concludes:

But maybe the transparent society really is sinister, for reasons that are spiritual rather than practical. Maybe it is unhealthy for a society to behave itself not because it is underpinned by morality and watched by its caring family or neighbour, but because it knows it’ll get caught and punished if it doesn’t toe the line.

It reminded me of a nice piece of research on the DNA database, ‘Barcoded Children’, done by Mairi Levitt and Floris Tomasini. Mairi very kindly came down to speak at our workshop on DNA retention last December.

The research had, amongst other things, explored children’s perceptions of right and wrong. At first glance, it appeared that this was fairly well-developed, but further probing revealed that ‘wrong’ simply meant ‘something for which your parents or teacher punish you’, without any understanding of why that might happen, or of consequences or moral obligations.

Until the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 came along, a child aged under 14 who had committed an offence was presumed to be doli incapax and it was for the prosecution to show that the child knew right from wrong. The Act swept that away, leaving us with one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility (ie 10) in Europe.

There’s a lot of difference, though, between having a mature, deeply-rooted, moral sense of wrongdoing, or on the other hand obeying ‘rules’ because the consequences are unpleasant. The growth in surveillance risks making moral infants of us all and creating a society where the only crime is getting caught.

Now I’m going to go downstairs, and my dog will quickly jump off the sofa – not because she understands why grubby dogs and sofas don’t mix, but because I’m in the category of people who shout at her to get down. She’s sufficiently intelligent to distinguish everyone’s footsteps, though, and so if my son enters the room, she will merely thump her tail and beam at him.

Still stuck on the roundabout

April 20, 2007

Read this one first.

And then this:

Figures obtained from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) under the Freedom of Information Act show more than 1,000 children are permanently expelled from primary schools every year.

This includes 60 under-fives, with the number of very young child expelled from school tripling in recent years.

DfES figures show 43,720 primary-age children were given fixed-term exclusions in 2004-05, an increase of 2,420 since 2003-04. Boys were far more likely to be suspended, with 42,140 temporarily excluded compared to 4,200 girls.

And here we go again:

A DfES spokesperson said: “Clearly it is better to prevent bad behaviour from happening in the first place”…parents have a “vital role to play” in insuring (sic) children learn acceptable standards of behaviour for school.

87% of primary exclusions are of children with Special Educational Needs. The SEN system is not fit for purpose…

… what is it that is so bl**dy difficult to understand? The government is keen enough to give children the ‘rights and responsibilities’ spiel. Perhaps it would like to demonstrate some responsibility for the appalling failures of the SEN system.