Category Archives: Politics

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Snap election affects mental health petition

The announcement that we are to have a general election on 8 June has thrown many campaigns into disarray.

The petition Make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools needs 100,000 signatures to ensure it can be considered for debate in Parliament. So far over 75,000 people have signed it.

Originally the organisers had until 6 July to meet the target but the snap General Election means they now only have until next Wednesday 3rd May.

The mental health charity The Shaw Mind Foundation (SMF) and HealthUnlocked, a social network for health, have joined forces to promote HeaducationUK

This sets out to:

• Help prevent the development of mental ill health in children and teenagers
• Decrease the vast numbers of children and young people suffering from mental illness
• Rid our society of the ‘sticking plaster’ approach that the UK government have long adopted when trying to deal with mental illness in children and young people
• Educate our children and future generations for a happier and healthier adulthood
• Take a huge physical and financial strain off the NHS, CAMHS, social services and teachers
• Create huge advantages for the UK economy and industry for decades to come
• Normalise mental health issues as an accepted human condition so that children will feel confident enough to open up to each other and those who care for them Enable a more proactive society in addressing mental health issues, giving children the ability and confidence to speak out during their childhood and indeed into adulthood, as they go into the workplace and have their own families

Click here to sign https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/176555

What could be more important than saving lives?

I have agreed to give money to St John Ambulance once a year. It is a respected charity with a high public profile at sporting events, festivals and big community gatherings. But that is not why I have signed up.

They have a new campaign to help children in primary schools become life savers.

first-aid-for-children2St John Ambulance believes that every young person should have the chance to learn vital lifesaving skills. Their research shows that seven out of 10 pupils wouldn’t know what to do if someone they knew was hurt. Children want to learn these new skills and parents are keen too. In fact, 95% of parents agree that these skills should be taught to secondary school pupils.

teresa pearceTeresa Pearce, Labour Party MP for Erith and Thamesmead, proposed an Emergency First Aid Education Bill so that first aid, including CPR, would be taught in every state-funded secondary school.

Over 14,000 people joined the campaign by writing to their local MP and 40 MPs turned up to support the Bill but the Government opposed making it mandatory for every pupil.

However, St John Ambulance has devised training for both primary and secondary schools. There is a set course https://www.sja.org.uk/sja/pdf/St_John_Ambulance_Student_First_Aid_Primary_courses.pdfthat covers choking, bleeding and CPR but schools can set their own with help from trainers.
• The courses meet National Curriculum requirements for Science, PSHE/Citizenship and PE.
• Trainers have first aid knowledge,
• Experience working with young people
• A valid DBS check
• £4 can give a child a 60-minute first aid lesson in school

The Big First Aid Lesson Live shown in June has been an inspiration to many schools. Now you can watch it on demand at: http://www.sja.org.uk/sja/schools/big-first-aid-lesson.aspx

Tourist in Thailand

Last November I won the CIPR Award for Outstanding Business Education Journalism 2015 for a series of articles about Apps for Good, a scheme that gets primary and secondary pupils to create an app, plan their pitch and show how they would bring it to market. I already had a trip to Hong Kong and Australia in my sights and decided to use the prize money to visit Thailand on the way home.

I soon learned that April is not the best month to visit Bangkok. With temperatures of 38 degrees and high humidity, I spent my time scurrying between the tourist attractions and anywhere with even a hint of air con.

thailand4I found that £500 goes a long way in Bangkok as my prize paid for four nights in a hotel, a half day guided tour of the city, canals and temples plus a full day visit to the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi to see the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, the Allied War Cemetery and Museum and a trip on Death Railway followed by an elephant ride.

Along the way I talked to locals and discovered a little about life behind the tourist sites. Thailand means Land of the Free and celebrates the fact that this country is the only one in south east Asia which has never been colonised by a foreign power.

Some of the anxieties expressed by Thai people are very similar to concerns in the UK right now. They respect their King – now the longest-reigning living monarch in the world- but are not so sure about his heir, so much so that there is talk of changing the law to allow his sister to take the throne.

Immigration is a key concern. Many complain that the Chinese have bought up property as an investment and as prices have risen, young people cannot get on the housing ladder. The average age for marriage is now over 30.

They also worry that legislative changes to the rules on migration for countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will allow free passage of other nationals into Thailand, especially from the Philippines. ‘Filipinos speak better English than Thais,’ explained my guide Michael, ‘and they are also noted for their good voices so they are likely to corner the market in professional singing jobs.’

The minimum wage in Thailand is just £5 per day but the top jobs which many young people aspire to are as plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists. This is a country where looks count. The most popular anti-ageing cream is Snail White. Yes, it really is made from snail slime and is also reputed to be very good for acne, rashes and reducing the appearance of scar tissue. I didn’t buy a pot. Some things just don’t travel well.

Thank you, Barclays!

ATEC is coming! Barclays are sponsoring an Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference (ATEC) to be held at Jury’s Inn in Oxford on May 17th.

It is fast becoming a Go-To event for those who assess and support people with disabilities in universities and the workplace and more importantly for people who need assistive technology for work, for study or to communicate with others.

TDebra Charles smallhere is loads of good stuff for people with dyslexia: Debra Charles is doing one of the keynotes. She is
CEO of her own smartcard technology firm Novacroft, the company behind the Oyster Card, and believes that her success is because of, and not despite, her dyslexia.

Find out about the latest versions of Claro and TextHelp, mind mapping from Matchware and Inspiration, The C-Pen Reader which reads text from print books and Notetalker that lets users capture information from a lecture or a meeting.

global autocorrect smallAs someone who uses Autocorrect on Word and types entirely in abbreviations, I am keen to see Global AutoCorrect which works with all programs from presentation software to emails, the web and social media. It frustrates me when I have to type every letter on Facebook. Maybe now I won’t have to.

There is some whizzy new technology. David Finch from Star College in Gloucestershire will be talking about a project called Ember. The idea is to reduce employer or mentor support and help trainees to work more effectively and more independently.

There is also an assistive robotic arm called JacoTM developed by The ACCESS Research & Development Department at Hereward College with charitable funding from Npower.

I am also keen to hear Abi James of University of Southampton and BDA New Technologies Committee. I often wonder why some people embrace technology while others reject it from the off. I used to think it was all about training and support in the early days, now I am not so sure. Abi is researching this area and will be leading a discussion on the role of professionals to improve the take up of technology.

Book your place now at http://www.ateconference.com/
Tuesday, 17th May 2016 Jury’s Inn 30 Godstow Road, OX2 8PG

The face of hatred

the defendantIn 2014 my article Healing the Hate  was published by Access magazine.

Just this week, a 25 year old man who used social media to harass a man because of his disability has been sentenced to six weeks imprisonment.

Saul Nyland, from Whitworth in Rochdale, pleaded guilty to two counts of harassment of the 31 year old victim who has a severe speech impediment and some physical difficulties caused by an accident in childhood. The defendant and victim work in the construction industry and have worked alongside each other on several sites in the past year.

The victim is a plant operator and had set up a number of Facebook pages offering advice and information about diggers and tractors. The sites had attracted a number of followers.

Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard that between December 2014 and July 2015 the defendant harassed the victim on social media and by phone.

Lionel Cope from Mersey-Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service said: Nyland targeted the victim and harassed him because of his disability. Nyland subjected the victim to a tirade of abuse online including posting a number of photo-shopped images of the victim which were hugely upsetting to both the victim and his partner.

“When the victim blocked Nyland online, he began ringing the victim on a nightly basis, mocking him for his disability and threatening to harm him. He also started to post abusive messages on the Facebook site of the victim’s partner.

Saul Nyland was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment, with a Victim surcharge of £80, and a Restraining Order of two years. An extra two weeks was added to his sentence because of the hate crime uplift. He was sentenced on Monday 25 January.

 

 

 

 

 

Will fat kids cycle to school?

Shock, horror: nearly half of parents in the UK claim their children do less than 40minutes activities per day. Teachers on the other hand would just love children to sit still.

Tablets, mobile phones, computers and videogames have taken over from the television as the culprits. They are blamed from all manner of ills from sleeplessness (children texting after lights out) poor literacy, lack of concentration and, of course, obesity.

1According to Sustrans, a charity whose mission it is to encourage people to travel by foot, bike or public transport, teenage girls  were the least active, with 66% of parents of 16 year old girls saying they are getting 40 minutes of exercise or less in a typical weekday. Of course parents don’t always know what their children are doing and it may well be that young people are closet fitness fanatics.

• 38 per cent of parents surveyed said that they were chiefly concerned about their child putting on excess weight, as a result of being physically inactive.
• A further 30 per cent said their main concern would be their child developing health problems such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes.
• 12 per cent of parents were most concerned about childhood health problems,
• 18 per cent were most concerned about health problems in later life.

There are so many potential solutions to their fears such as healthier diet, fewer takeaways, less alcohol, encouraging children to cook for themselves, introducing children to a wide range of different sporting activities, more active holidays or even spending a bit of time on the Wii.

Yet apparently, when asked how they could increase the amount of exercise that their child took, just under half of parents (44 per cent) thought that walking, cycling, scooting and skating could be incorporated into their routines as part of the journey to school.

Rush hour, pollution, the danger to cyclists and the frantic early morning rush to get everyone out of the house on time make this the least likely option for many families. but if you fancy finding out more have a look at The Big Pedal 2015 go to: www.bigpedal.org.uk

 

Consign volunteers to the scrap heap

I hate that phrase ‘volunteer opportunities.’ Of course it is fine to be a volunteer if you want to – many of us have a passion for a cause and are willing to give up our time, run marathons, bake cakes to raise money for a charity. But we do get a touch narky when the charity phones us up and starts pressing us to make a regular commitment aka a direct debit, especially when we know the cold caller is being paid good money to pile on the guilt.

It is loathsome that so many commercial companies are now routinely using volunteers to do essential work. This boosts their profits and takes a job away from someone else. In fact it is what we used to call exploitation. We also have a modern day Slavery Bill. I am just waiting for the moment when some company – possibly a pound shop or a highly profitable supermarket- says that a person who has no choice other than to work for their company for no wages is not a ‘slave’ but a ‘volunteer’ who gives of their time freely.

This week I watched Mary’s Silver Service on Channel 4 where that shameless self-publicist and entertaining red head launched a pop-up employment agency for out of work pensioners. I love the idea of helping people find jobs and it is such an antidote to the age of volunteering we are now in.

Charity Hft offers paid work to adults with learning disabilities
Ethical car cleaning offers opportunities for adults with learning disabilities

So I was delighted to receive a press release from a charity I have worked with in the past telling me about their latest employment venture.

Future Clean is a social franchise purchased by Hft which specialises in helping adults with learning disabilities. They have opened a car cleaning service in Gloucester giving people with learning disabilities the chance to learn new skills in paid employment. New employees typically stay with Future Clean for about a year, building the skills and confidence to move onto further employment, creating spaces for new learners.

If it is possible to develop businesses which employ people beyond retirement age and those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties AND TO PAY THEM, there is no excuse for those companies that exploit people into working for no money with the excuse that it makes them more employable.

Being ‘work ready’ does not mean surrendering your basic employment rights.

Hate crimes, mate crimes

Brent Martin
Brent Martin murdered and stripped (BBC photograph)

It was one of the saddest articles I have ever written. Sometimes you just cannot believe what savages human beings are. Humiliation, abuse – physical and verbal – violence, mutilation and murder and all because people are perceived to be different.

Access magazine has just published my article which they have called Healing the Hate . The piece looks at some of the crimes and the steps that the police and housing associations are taking to keep people with disabilities safe from harm.

‘Mate crime’ is a relatively new term. It is sometimes known as ‘cuckooing’, because the ‘mate’ in question will often move in to a disabled person’s home with the intention of taking their money, food, clothes, and in some cases, stealing prescribed drugs from them to sell on.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission produced a report on disability-related harassment titled Hidden in Plain Sight, they define hate crime as disability-related harassment as unwanted, exploitative or abusive conduct against disabled people that has the purpose or effect of either::
– violating the dignity, safety, security or autonomy of the person experiencing it, or
– creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment.

We don’t really know how many people are affected. In our ‘inclusive world’ they disappear. Schools don’t know how many disabled pupils are bullied; local authorities and registered social landlords don’t know how many antisocial behaviour victims are disabled; health services don’t know how many assault victims are disabled; police don’t know how many victims of crime are disabled.

Why does it happen? Because we let it. We turn a blind eye. We like to raise money for ‘disabled kids’ but when they grow up, the politicians stoke the fires by referring to them as ‘benefits scroungers’. They are the same people with the same disabilities but are on the other side of the divide.

An article can’t do that much. It won’t change the world. But if people read it, at least they can never again say that they didn’t know it was happening here in Britain today.

The madness that is our current reading policy

tt2We will look back at the reading policy of the early years of this century with amazement and disbelief. Why do we waste children’s time getting them to read words which are not words? The government policy on reading is totally prescriptive, opting for synthetic phonics where letter sounds are learned and blended in order to ‘read’ text. Children are tested on this at KS1 and will be remediated if they have not mastered the art of sounding out nonsense words correctly. So children get penalised for reading -im as him because they are using their knowledge of the English language to make sense of a nonsensical word.

Teaching children to correlate letters and sounds, and to blend sounds into sequences, is decoding. It is not reading. Nowhere in their future life will young people need this skill. Instead we will expect them to read for meaning, read critically and gather inferences from text. So why don’t we teach them these skills from the off?

Durham University researcher Andrew Davis used to be a primary school teacher. His research shows that children who are starting to read when they enter school are actually disadvantaged by synthetic phonics. He argues those well on their way to reading will be bored witless by reading books featuring only words for which they have been taught the phonetic rules in class.

His research can be accessed at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/2048-416X.2013.12000.x/full

The Department for Education is sticking to its policy: ‘Research shows overwhelmingly that systematic phonics is the most effective way of teaching reading to children of all abilities, enabling almost all children to become confident and independent readers. Thanks to the phonics check 177,000 six-year-olds will this year get the extra reading help they need to catch up with their peers.’

Another way of looking at this is that 177,000 seven year olds will discover they are failures at the end of this school year

All this and Jo Brand too

The BETT awards are almost upon us and I can nearly get into my posh frock to join the glitterati at a new venue, the Brewery at the Barbican. This year we are in for a real treat as the awards will be announced by Jo Brand. Even if your company doesn’t win, you are assured of a good night out.jo2I have been looking down the list of finalists seeing who I would like to see win in some of the key categories. This is a purely subjective approach. I am not going to support anything which deals with assessment in any form as I now believe that this is just another way to cosh teachers, parents and children into submission and give them an inferiority complex.

There are many shortlisted products that I know and love. I am running two sessions on Audio Notetaker for dyslexia learners on the Sonocent stand C470 on Thursday at 1.30 and Friday at 2pm and they are on the list for the ICT Tools for Learning and Teaching section. I am of course familiar with all the products in the special needs category and I am delighted to see other old friends such as 2Simple, Twig’s TigTag, TextHelp and the Yes Programme.

But there are many products which I am less familiar with. Here is my top ten to look out for:
1. For early years one good choice would be Rising Stars Switched on ICT, a step by step approach to get young children using ICT in meaningful ways. I like Rising Stars and have written about some of their other products especially their e books.
2. I like the look of TTS Group’s Mini Mobile Phones: ‘Children will delight in developing their language using this set of 6 realistic mobile phones. Colour co-ordinated buttons make for easy use.’ This will at least stop children using their parents’ boring old iPhones. They have also been shortlisted for:
3. The NEW Ultimate Timer, a rechargeable stopwatch with a simple to use, lapsed time function. Anything which saves looking for batteries will be welcome in the classroom.
4. For primary I am going to opt for 3P Learning Reading Eggs a library with over 1,500 eBooks, for specific year groups, as an intervention/catch up tool and to support EAL and SEN requirements
5. Another good choice is Espresso Education – Espresso Coding that teaches students to code and make their own apps to share with their friends and parents. This will help children develop skills for their future working life which so much of the National Curriculum singularly fails to do.
6. For secondary I am going for English and Media Centre’s Arctic Adventure which works on ipads and has authentic video material, images and blogs from the Catlin Arctic Survey.
7. For ICT Tools for Teaching and Learning I like the idea of IGGY ,an online educational and social network for gifted 13-18 year olds from across the world with content for maths, science, history, politics, creative writing and life skills, and a safe environment for students to exchange ideas, debate and learn.
8. It’s a pity FlashSticks won’t be at BETT because the product looks excellent. It combines low tech post-it notes, foreign language vocabulary and smartphones. The notes are colour coded to help with gender recall (blue notes for masculine words, pink notes for feminine words) and a Free App channel means users can wave their smartphone or tablet over any note to call up a quick pronunciation video.
9. Visual Education’s Wordwall lets teachers make easy learning activities for interactive whiteboards. Apparently you pick a template, type in your content and with a few clicks you’re done. Alternatively pinch some ideas from their online community.
10. Finally I am on the look out for good maths resources this year so I am hoping that Jumpido will do the trick. It is billed as: ‘an exciting series of educational games for primary school. It combines natural body exercises with engaging math problems to make learning a truly enjoyable experience.’

If your product is in the running for an award, good luck. If not, then just enjoy the entertainment. I am sure Jo Brand will be very good value.