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1 December 2006
ASBOS RECORD...

Scotland was hit with a record number of anti-social behaviour orders in the last year.

The total of 283 ASBOs throughout Scotland was up by 38 per cent on last year, according to figures released yesterday.

Most were imposed for causing noise or similar trouble on housing schemes.

Ministers welcomed the news, claiming it proved councils and housing associations were cracking down on neds and neighbours from hell.

But Scotland's ASBO "league table" showed wide variations around the country.

Glasgow City Council did not ask the courts to impose a single ASBO last year, for the third year running.

There were only two ASBOs resulting from action by city housing associations.

In Renfrewshire, another area plagued by anti-social behaviour, there were only five ASBOs handed down.

But other areas made widespread use of their powers.

More than half of all the orders were imposed in just five areas - North Lanarkshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Fife and North Ayrshire.

Edinburgh had the most, with 37. But Dundee and North Lanarkshire had the highest rate of ASBO use per head of population.

The figures showed most ASBOs were imposed on over-25s. They were extended to cover under-16s in 2004 but only four were handed to children last year.

The report also showed a third of offenders were women.

Deputy justice minister Johann Lamont said: "Today's figures are further evidence that disruption, intimidation and abuse are being tackled."

An Executive spokesman said agencies "on the ground" were best placed to decide whether to use ASBOs. But he added they would be studying why some were not doing so.

ASBOs place specific restrictions on behaviour and those who breach them face criminal prosecution. Last year, 153 were breached-31 per cent of those in place.

SNP justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill said: "When a third of ASBOs are breached, it's clear they are not working as a long-term solution.

"If we are ever going to tackle the problem of crime and reoffending then we must address the root causes."

Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: "Whilst we recognise that ASBOs do have a place in tackling adult anti-social behaviour, they have been a total failure in addressing youth disorder involving 14-year-olds and under, which is blighting our communities."

She blamed youth crime on a"lack of parental supervision".


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A SPOONFUL OF TONY.. GIVES ME THE BOAK
26 November 2006.

SO, Tony Blair is to unleash an army of supernannies into housing estates to put struggling parents on the naughty step.

These modern-day Mary Poppins are out to tame anti-social weans with an iron fist.

Now a good idea is a good idea, regardless of where it comes from, and if the Prime Minister wants to pillage his from TV schedules and Disney then fine.

But this is just another headline grabbing sticking plaster over a very deep wound in our society.

Anyway, if he has to nick his ideas from the small-screen, there are plenty other gems available.

How about fatcats who leave their customers high and dry - like the Farepak mob - being put in the jungle.

You could make them eat kangaroo wotsits and force them to wade through a river of hungry piranha, calling it I'm a Greedy Swine... I Deserve Everything Coming to Me!

What about a version of Big Brother with warmongers trapped in a house with limited food supplies, unlimited munitions... and a locked door.

Or how about making Jeremy Kyle or Jerry Springer the presiding officer at the Scottish Parliament?

Jack McConnell and the other party leaders could have it out with lie detector and DNA tests then talk through their problems with the show's psychologist.

With his telly-inspired nanny army, you can't help thinking Tony is desperately trying to pander to viewing figures rather than finding serious solutions for serious problems.

If there is a surge of bad parenting in our housing schemes - which is arguable - it's more likely due to these areas being starved of resources for years.

Many parents have struggled on low wages or benefits.

The blame for much of the rot lies with consecutive governments - but they are blaming mums and dads.

The Downing Street supernannies will be clinical psychologists dealing with the underlying problems faced by families.

But it's locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Any parent who has tried to access the help of therapists will know these services have been thin on the ground or non-existent.

Where was the government when communities were screaming out for youth services and parental support?

Where were they when young psychologists were graduating from university with the skills to help those in need but who couldn't find paid work?

Many ended up working in burger bars or in other countries.

Social work departments have been starved of support and resources for years. They have been trying to keep families together but have been bombarded with criticism and cuts.

Where was the government when folk were sinking into poverty and desperation? At home watching telly apparently.

Bad trend

THE number of houses available in the public sector is predicted to fall by 70 per cent by 2020. So why is it that if a space the size of a postage stamp appears in Scotland, within months a trendy block of flats goes up?

We should fork out now to save much more in the future.

 

http://www.sundaymail.co.uk/opinion/columnists/rosiekane/


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THREE 13-year-olds have been arrested after an armed robbery at a shop, police said last night.

Leafield Stores in Stranraer was the target of a hold-up on Thursday, when thieves allegedly threatened staff with a handgun before making off with money and cigarettes.

A police spokesman said: "Following inquiries into the robbery at Leafield Stores during which a handgun was presented at a staff member and the culprits fled with a quantity of cigarettes and money, three 13-year-old youths will be reported to the procurator-fiscal at Stranraer and have been bailed to appear at Stranraer Sheriff Court on Monday."

1. Flyingshortbread, USA / 3:37am 6 Jan 2007

Wow, what has society become, when young teenagers loose the ability to really have some good old time fun? ie. football, rugby, exploring, being kids/young teens. I must confess that my heart goes out to these young guys. Not for what they did per say but for there innocence that is now lost. They have successfully managed to be any where close to what this age group should be like. What is going on with society? Not just in Scotland, but in the USA as well???

May God help us all some how before it's too late.


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Classroom politics
Classroom

 

The row over ex-Education Secretary Ruth Kelly sending one of her children to a private school has reopened a debate which has dogged Labour supporters for years - whether to put your principles or your child's education first.

"The liberal middle classes patronise comprehensives in words but not with their presence," said the former Conservative education minister George Walden.

Nearly 20 years later, one of his successors, Ruth Kelly, has been criticised for sending one of her four children to a private school.

Labour is not committed to closing the private sector, but the party's fundamental belief in state education makes sections of its support very uncomfortable when senior MPs choose to buy education for their own children.

Mrs Kelly's son has special needs, which has curbed the level of outcry and drawn her support from colleagues, although critics indicate that party policy is to educate such children in mainstream schools where possible.

All your beliefs and ethics that you've held dear throughout your life go out the window when your children are involved
Vince, parent

Three years ago, the criticism of MP Diane Abbott was more vocal because her decision, which she described as "indefensible", was simply private over state. And the level of condemnation showed what a taboo subject it has remained within the party.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the Kelly case and its unique circumstances, the story has highlighted the way middle-class parents, especially Labour supporters, sometimes agonise between backing their own belief in equality of education provision and investing in their own child's future.

As well as being an issue of conscience, there may also be an element of inverted snobbery fostering some resistance to private schools.

Vince, a lifelong Labour voter, said bullying and poor teaching forced him to switch his children from state to private six years ago.

Kelly headlines
Kelly drew some negative headlines

He tried the local schools in south-east London, then other comprehensives in Kent and Sussex, but with the same dissatisfaction.

"I'm from a working class background in south-east London and used to call the Dulwich College kids 'posh poofs' when I was growing up," says Vince, 45, who asked that his surname not be printed.

"But when you realise what the state schools are like, you can't blame Ruth Kelly.

"All your beliefs and ethics that you've held dear throughout your life go out the window when your children are involved. In the end it wasn't a hard decision to make."

'True Labour'

His three children, who are now all in their teens, had private secondary educations in Berkshire and Vince says the success they have enjoyed has displaced any guilt.

"I think you can still be a true Labour supporter and send your children to private school. Look at the MPs. They are the biggest hypocrites."

Labour rosettes
My party's beliefs or my child? Or both?

Of course, many parents believe a state school education is the best and most enriching one, so you can respect both your principles and your children at the same time.

Fiona Millar, a former adviser to Cherie Blair and governor at a school in north London, believes the benefits of a good state education are vastly underestimated. And the actions of Labour ministers like Mrs Kelly send a bad signal.

But the "choice" of private, selective and faith schools which some parents have access to has also damaged the state system.

"Once you take all these kinds of routes out of the equation, you are left with the state system without the motivated children and the articulate parents," she says.

"You need the mix. If there are some kids who believe it's cool to learn, that can have an impact on the children."

Parents who move their children out of state provision are not only damaging it but they are acting mistakenly because well-supported, academically-able children do just as well in state schools, she says.

Sending your child to a school you would abolish is not necessarily hypocritical
Dr Adam Swift
Political philosopher

But it may not be so simple as to condemn parents that switch, says political philosopher Dr Adam Swift. He believes parents who believe in the state sector could use the private sector while wishing they did not have to.

The hypocrites, Dr Swift says, are those who say it is always bad to buy an education but buy their child one anyway.

But the real issue, he believes, is whether parents who go private believe they would vote in favour of a system that permitted them not to do so.

"Sending your child to a school you would abolish is not necessarily hypocritical," he says.

But that does not mean they should not feel bad about their privilege, and they should try and impose change from without.

"Those benefiting from the existing unfairness should do more, not less, than others to bring that improvement about."


Comments on this story:

I have had to choose a private education for my daughter as the schools in Bristol are so poor. I am not prepared to send my daughter to a school that has only 17% of children achieving 5 good GCSE passes. Time spent debating a parent's right to choose should be spent debating what could be done to improve state education.
Fran OBrien, Bristol England

I went to a comprehensive and was proud of it. But when it came to choosing a school for my son, the local community school with its poor results and reputation for bullying simply didn't seem good enough. I battled with my conscience and beliefs for months before entering my son for the grammar school selection test. The day I heard he'd got a place there was one of the best days ever. Parents will always do what they feel is best for their child. Your parenting instincts are stronger than anything else, so you'll always put child above politics.
Kath, bournemouth, UK

My primary school fed into a 'sink' comprehensive, where I was bullied, picked on and abused by the other kids for being "posh", ie coming from a decent area. The teachers did nothing about it, just weren't interested. So do I send my son there? Absolutely not - he goes to a private school - end of story.
Aly, South Wales, UK

My wife and I made the very difficult decision some years ago take our daughters out of a state school that was failing them and send them to a private school. When we told the state school headmaster of our decision, he told us that he sent his children private and would not dream of letting them attend his school! Our decision cost us our political principles and crippled us financially for years, but we believe it was the right one. Of course, our taxes continued to support the state education system that we no longer made any demands on, for ten years! We would rather have had a decent state school, but we were also not prepared to sacrifice our daughter's education and life chances for political dogma. When its your kids, everything else takes second place.
Jon, Teignmouth Devon

The real reason why parents opt for private is not academic, but pure snobbery. Intelligent children normally do well in whatever schools they are in. However, if they do well in a private school, their success is seen as the product of their schooling, whilst if they do well in a state school, their success is seen as a product of innate ability. And since years of academic studies have shown that school choice has a marginal effect on educational achievement, we can only assume that it's snobbery that drives parents to the private sector. My own school was an east London comprehensive, with a poor reputation due to its intake. However, many of those people I went to school went on to successful careers in medicine, law, science, and the arts. The reason for this was that it was a good school, which developed its pupils far better than many of the poor-quality private schools in this country.
Jacob, London

I do not accept that by paying to have my children educated in an independent school, I am "damaging the state sector." Quite the opposite, in fact - after all, the amount of tax that I pay toward the state system is no different from the contribution of a parent whose children attend their local comprehensive, yet I make no demands upon that system. There are over 600,000 children in independent schools in the UK, and if all of those had to be catered for by the state sector, it would grind to a halt within a week. Perhaps some egghead could calculate by how much income tax would have to increase in order to pay for the massive rise in pupil numbers? As a Labour voter at the last six elections, I do not believe that my choice is hypocritical. One might as well argue that no-one who believes in better public transport should be permitted to own a car.
Tim Haveron Jones, Holyport, UK

I too have been failed by the state system. After one term at infants I removed my son to a private prep school because of bullying and an ineffective headmaster at my local school, which incidentally is in a prosperous middle class area. I do not blame Ruth Kelly for making a choice. The government should realise that when parents are forced to make this sort of choice they are paying twice for their children's education Once through their taxes and again through their cheque book.It would seem equitable to demand tax relief on the school fees!
mark seddon, Liverpool

The entire point of concertedly holding principles on issues like these is that they are meant to be universal principles for everybody, not just everybody else. A morality which runs "this is wrong... unless it affects me" is no real morality at all.
Martha Hampson, Bristol


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Pay deal has 'low pupil benefit'
pupils
The report said widespread impact on learning was not achieved
Education reforms aimed at modernising the teaching profession have yet to show any significant improvement in pupils' learning, a report has found.

The HM Inspectors study said the main elements of the 2001 deal on pay and conditions had been implemented, but it questioned the impact on pupils.

The £2bn deal included a 23% pay rise for teachers and more support staff.

Education Minister Hugh Henry said the reforms had brought in an "era of unprecedented stability" to classrooms.

The flagship deal was struck between the Scottish Executive, local councils, and teacher organisations, following the McCrone report in 2000 on teachers' pay and conditions.

The inspectors' report, published on Tuesday, found that reduced class contact time, new career structures, better professional development and new management structures were all being established in schools.

While we found specific examples of good practice, widespread impact on children's learning remains to be fully achieved
Graham Donaldson
Senior chief inspector of education

It also said the range and quality of support staff had improved, and classroom assistants were playing an increasingly positive role.

The senior chief inspector of education, Graham Donaldson, said: "We should not underestimate the scale of the work that has been carried out.

"As yet, however, the agreement has largely affected teachers' pay and conditions, professional development and career structures.

"While we found specific examples of good practice, widespread impact on children's learning remains to be fully achieved."

McCrone review

Education Minister Hugh Henry insisted that pupils were benefiting from a stable and well-rewarded workforce as a result of the deal.

He said: "Schools no longer deal with the threat of strikes, and our pupils do not suffer the disruptions of previous generations.

However, he added that he would review the deal to ensure it was delivering all it could for pupils.

The SNP's education spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop said the executive had "clearly failed to implement McCrone effectively".

She said the report called for urgent local reviews of its operation which "must be followed through".

The report concludes that there is little evidence the Teacher's Agreement has been a success
James Douglas-Hamilton
Scottish Conservatives

"The report also shows that there are concerns over teacher numbers which must be maintained and new teachers will need to be recruited to ensure adequate cover, particularly if we are to have meaningful cuts in class sizes," Ms Hyslop said.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman James Douglas-Hamilton said: "The report concludes that there is little evidence the teacher's agreement has been a success.

"This is mainly because the executive doesn't know if it is working or not. Considering the initiative cost more than £2bn of public money, this isn't good enough."

He added that the Chartered Teachers scheme, a cornerstone of McCrone agreement, had been "ineptly devised and implemented".

Local government body Cosla said the reforms had led to major improvements in industrial relations.

Officials from the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association said the agreement was primarily intended to improve teachers' salaries and conditions, rather than benefit pupils' learning.


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Man holding bottle of spirits
About 100,000 children may be affected by parental alcohol abuse
Children with alcohol-abusing parents need the same level of services directed at families of drug-users, according to a new report.

It said a "cultural acceptance" of heavy drinking may be leading to delays in identifying the impact on children.

The study, by the Aberlour Child Care Trust and the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, said alcohol services needed to be improved.

It also called for more research and a campaign to raise awareness.

The authors of the report, A Matter of Substance? Alcohol or Drugs: Does it make a difference to the child?, said about 100,000 Scottish children were affected by parental alcohol abuse.

'Heads in sand'

Aberlour's chief executive, Addie Stevenson, said: "Tolerant attitudes towards alcohol are having a significant and sometimes devastating effect on children.

"While living with problem parental alcohol use may appear less stigmatising than living with problem parental drug use, for our children and young people, ignoring the impact on them, on parenting and on family life is like sticking our heads in the sand.

"If we are to really help today's and tomorrow's children we must work together and face the challenges raised in this report."

Louise Morgan, young carers' services co-ordinator for the Princess Royal Trust, said that young people looking after someone who is misusing alcohol make up around a third of the carers they support.

We would strongly advise children and young people who are in this situation to realise that they are certainly not alone
Louise Morgan
The Princes Royal Trust Carers

"Parents are often in denial of a problem, and may resent their children seeking help from outside, highlighting 'weaknesses' in their parenting, and so many young carers remain 'hidden' behind their problems at home and do not come forward for support," she added.

"We would strongly advise children and young people who are in this situation to realise that they are certainly not alone, and that they should, if possible, confide in someone they can trust, such as a teacher or school nurse or doctor in order to get help and support."

Campaigners claimed the report underlined the need for grandparents to be given increased legal rights so that they could intervene more easily when there were problems within the family.

"Because grandparents are irrelevant persons in their grandchildren's lives, by law, abuse in the home will continue and get worse," said Jimmy Deuchars of Glasgow-based self-help group Grandparents Apart.

"The government is not helping and will not acknowledge the army of grandparents that are available to possibly spot problems like this, should they have the right.

"They are failing to take heed of the warnings and use the resources that are readily available and won't cost them a fortune."

Tom Wood, the chair of the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, said the next step was to change policy and practice.


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New bid to help children in care
Teenagers
Many children in care leave school without basic qualifications
Inspectors are being called in as part of a crackdown on the way local authorities handle the welfare and education of children in care.

The Scottish Executive is unhappy with the fact that so many vulnerable youngsters are being left with poor qualifications and poor prospects.

One in every 100 children in Scotland is in care.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) said it recognised the need for a multi-agency approach.

Although the exam results of children in care have improved in recent years, half leave school with no Standard Grade of any kind, compared with one in 10 of pupils overall.

Most have no college placements, training or jobs lined up.

These particular children have great emotional needs which have to be addressed
Councillor Eric Jackson

Now inspectors are to be called in to scrutinise how effectively councils, schools and care providers deal with this group.

On Monday, the executive is expected to reveal further measures to put pressure on councils.

Cosla, the body which represents Scotland's councils, said it was fully behind the desire to improve the lives of children in care.

Councillor Eric Jackson, Cosla's spokesman for social work and health improvement, said: "It is important to recognise that the problems children in care have come with them when they go into care in the first place.

"What we really need to do is sort out the problems before these children have to come into care."

He said the struggle that vulnerable young people have with education was only part of the story.

Extra tuition

Councillor Jackson explained: "These particular children have great emotional needs which have to be addressed.

"Many have never been in an environment where they can study, so we have to provide the means by which they can catch up with others around them.

"For some, that might mean giving them laptops or for others it might mean extra tuition."

He said that for a percentage of children in care, the measure of improvement would be doing better in exams, for others it might simply mean turning up for school.


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16 January 2007
PARENTS COULD GIVE KIDS FOOD FOR THOUGHT.

CHILDHOOD obesity has become a big problem in Scotland, but with 72 per cent of kids saying they would eat a healthier diet if their parents did, it is time to start setting an example.

Eating more fruit and vegetables is an excellent way for parents to start encouraging healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. Here we explain why and how.

Why eat five a day?

Here are five great reasons to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

1 They're packed with vitamins and minerals.

2 They can help you to maintain a healthy weight.

3 They're an excellent source of fibre and antioxidants.

4 They help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

5 They taste delicious and there's a huge variety to choose from.

How can I get my kids to eat more fruit and vegetables?

This may seem daunting at first, but there are a range of steps you can take to help.

1 Remember any amount is better than none - all Scots are encouraged to eat five portions of fruit and veg each day, but most do not eat this much. So offer kids a variety of fruit and veg every day and focus on lots of different types, not the amounts.

2 Involve your child in food preparation and planning - this is a good way of getting them interested in food and can be used as a chance to teach basic cooking skills.

3 Make eating good food enjoyable - remember to enjoy meals together with your children whenever possible. If they see you eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, they are more likely to join in.

4 Pay attention to the presentation - make vegetables and fruit look great on the plate. Serve different coloured varieties or chop them up for a change. This doesn't mean you need to make rocket ships or faces, although that can be fun.

5 Include fruit and vegetables wherever possible - rather than searching for new recipes, try to increase the amount of veg added to your favourite family recipes such as pasta sauces, soups or stir fries.

For more information and advice, visit http://www.healthyliving.gov.uk


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MSPs support school meal changes
Children eating school dinners
The MSPs want the new standards to apply to all schools
A new law laying down nutritional standards for school meals has been backed by MSPs.

They also want to see the new law extended to apply to all pre-school nurseries and independent schools.

MSPs on the communities committee said there was a pressing need to tackle the poor health and poor nutrition of Scotland's young people.

They unanimously supported the Scottish Executive's school meals bill, which will lay down minimum standards.

It will apply to all food served in schools, including that offered in canteens, tuck shops and vending machines.

Junk food will be banned and replaced by healthy meals and snacks and free bottled water.

All children in Scotland should benefit from nutritious food, activities and education to promote healthy lifestyles
Karen Whitefield MSP
Communities committee

The committee also wants councils to clamp down on chip vans parked outside the school gates.

The MSPs condemned the food and drink manufacturers for what they said was "an extremely limited range of healthy products".

They said all children should be introduced to good healthy food at a young age.

Committee convener Karen Whitefield said: "The committee wholeheartedly supports the introduction of a duty to promote health in education authority schools and the introduction of nutritional requirements for all food and drink served.

"However, all children in Scotland should benefit from nutritious food, activities and education to promote healthy lifestyles.

"We call on the Scottish Executive to bring forward proposals which will ensure the health promotion duty and the nutritional requirements can also be applied to independent schools and the early years sector."

Free meals

As well as ensuring all food and drinks served in schools meet certain nutritional standards, the bill allows councils to provide free milk and healthy snacks.

The proposed legislation would also require local authorities to reduce the stigma of free school meals by protecting the identity of those receiving them.

A minority of MSPs on the committee complained the bill did not give councils the power to introduce free school lunches.

Three members, Christine Grahame and Tricia Marwick of the SNP and Green MSP Patrick Harvie, wanted a pilot project to assess the benefit of having free school lunches for all pupils.

But the majority of the committee backed the current system where most pupils are charged for their meal.

The report also highlighted the problem of older students leaving school at lunchtime and buying food from nearby shops and fast food vans.


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30 January 2007
GATES TO UNVEIL AID FOR SCOTS TEENAGERS.  

THE world's richest man is pledging to help Scotland's no-hope teenagers get jobs.

Microsoft boss Bill Gates has struck a deal with the Executive to give training to youngsters who leave school with no qualifications and little chance of finding work.

He will unveil the scheme in Edinburgh today with First Minister Jack McConnell.

Microsoft will organise a team of volunteer teachers from their own ranks and companies they work with, known as the Microsoft Scotland Volunteer Corps.

A senior Microsoft worker was seconded to the Executive last year to develop the plan.

Scotland has 20,000 teenagers classed as NEETs - Not in Employment, Education or Training -who stand little chance of getting a job.

It is one of the highest rates in the developed world.

Gates arrives in Scotland today to take part in the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum at the Scottish parliament.

Chancellor Gordon Brown will address the conference tomorrow.

The conference, hosted in the UK for the first time, is to discuss the challenges facing European communities and the contribution that technology can make to education, government and economic development.

McConnell will talk about the effort to get Scotland's teenagers into work when he addresses the forum this morning.

He will say: "I want a national effort to reach out to every young Scot in this NEET category.

"As that national effort continues to attract support and assistance from businesses and entrepreneurs, I am convinced that it will only be a matter of time before our NEET problem is consigned to history."

He will also stress that governments have to work with business and voluntary organisations to improve teaching in future.


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31 January 2007
REACH FOR THE SKY.

GORDON BROWN will today call on Scots to ensure there's "no limit" to our kids' ambitions.

Addressing the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum at the Scottish parliament, he will say Scotland must strive for world-class standards in education, so no youngsters are held back.

His comments follow a deal to help jobless teenagers signed yesterday by Microsoft boss Bill Gates and First Minister Jack McConnell.

Brown will remind leaders from 40 countries that Scotland led the world in education 500 years ago by pioneering the idea of a school in every town and village.

And he'll say Scotland must strive to lead the world again.

He will add: "Scotland is today leading Britain and Europe in three areas.

"First, Scotland is creating more jobs, with unemployment lower than London.

"Second, Scotland is reducing child poverty faster, removing one of the main barriers to young people's life chances.

"Third, Scotland has seen Europe's fastest rise in educational investment since 1997.

"But it's now time to set our sights higher, raise our ambition to the best worldclass standards. Our ambition for education must be ... no limit to potential, no cap on aspiration.

"We've made great progress but we know far too many kids are born into poverty ... and too many are unfairly destined to fail from the moment their life's journey has begun.

"I want every child to have the chances I have had and that my children have."

Gates, the world's richest man, will also deliver a speech to the forum today.

Yesterday, he backed a new scheme to help Scotland's 20,000 "NEETs" - 16-19-year-olds "Not in Education, Employment or Training".

Microsoft and their network of 1300 partner companies will offer work placements, training and mentoring.

The forum was opened yesterday by Prince Andrew.

It will discuss the problems facing Europe and how technology and education can help solve them.


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1 February 2007
HUNDREDS OF SCOTS KIDS LEFT IN DANGER.

HUNDREDS of kids were put at risk by weaknesses in the child protection system, a probe has found.

Inspectors were called into Midlothian after concerns were raised about how the council's social work department was being run.

The inspectors' report ruled services to protect kids were "unsatisfactory" or "weak" in 15 out of 18 key areas.

The report said there were "systematic weaknesses" in the system.

It added: "This had left vulnerable children exposed to risk of abuse, harm or neglect.

"Inspectors were not confident that all children who had been identified as being at risk of harm, abuse or neglect, and in need of protection, were receiving the help and support they needed."

Although social workers intervened quickly when a high-risk situation for a child was identified, these were often too brief and short-term.

The report also flagged up a lack of leadership and flaws in communication between staff and children and their families.

Last night, Scottish Education Minister Hugh Henry said: "This needs tackled as a matter of extreme urgency.

"I expect all agencies across Midlothian to act immediately to ensure that vulnerable children are not falling through the net."

Midlothian MSP Rhona Brankin said: "The proper treatment of the most vulnerable, including at-risk children, is the mark of a civilised society.

"The report sets out starkly the unpalatable fact that some local children are being failed by the system in Midlothian."

Midlothian Council's social work convener Danny Molloy and director Malcolm McEwan have already tendered their resignations.

Council leader Adam Montgomery said: "As a council, we have made good and reassuring progress over the last five months since the inspection to address the weaknesses recorded.

"Responsibility has been accepted."

One of the key findings in the report was that information-sharing between child protection services was inconsistent.

Last year, First Minister Jack McConnell tried to push laws through parliament to force agencies to share information when kids might be at risk.

Holyrood's local government committee knocked back the plans.

Last night, McConnell said: "This shows why it was wrong to refuse to support our proposals to compel public bodies to share information if it would protect children.

"This appalling report has made me even more determined to push this legislation through."

THE FINDINGS

The report's damning findings included:

The needs of many of the most vulnerable children were not always met and some children were left in high risk situations without adequate support.

Steps taken to minimise harm were weak.

Communication between staff and children and their families was weak.

The help children received when immediate concerns were raised about them was weak.

Information sharing between services was inconsistent.

Within the local authority social work department there was a lack of leadership and direction.


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So how can things be improved for autistic children and their families?

With three months to go until the Holyrood election, the Scottish Society for Autism has asked the main political parties to set out their plans in this vital area.

Their responses are due to be published in the organisation's magazine, The Journey.

Here, we examine the Labour, SNP, Conservative and Liberal Democrat positions and ask whether they go far enough.

LABOUR

The party says that, as part of the Scottish Executive, it has made Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) a "priority" area in its programme of action for special educational needs.

It says it helped set up the investigation of educational services for children with autism and provided funding to develop a learning resource about ASD for GPs and primary care practitioners.

The party says: "While much has been achieved in improving services for those affected by autism, we recognise that there is still more that could be done.

"As a next step, we want to support local authorities and schools to ensure they provide adequate support for those in the education system with autism, including increasing awareness amongst teachers and school staff and encouraging wider training in teaching to support children affected by it."

SNP

No government can afford to ignore the fact that every school in the country could potentially have a pupil with ASD, according to the SNP. "We will support mainstreaming in schools for children with special educational needs, allied to the provision of a number of specialist national facilities for those who need them," the party says.

On the subject of bullying, the party says it is "unacceptable" that more than a third of youngsters with ASD have been picked on by fellow pupils.

"That is why the SNP will ensure that our proposal for citizenship classes will educate people about autism and other disabilities," it said.

"This will help to remove the stigmas attached to the conditions, raise awareness about it and encourage children in schools across Scotland to celebrate difference."

CONSERVATIVES

Although the Tories have yet to finalise their manifesto for the Holyrood poll, the party is already clear on some aspects of policy relating to autism.

Annabel Goldie, the party's leader in Scotland, said: "The concern I hear most often is that the Executive's presumption towards mainstreaming is pushing too many autistic children into mainstream schools, often contrary to the preference of their parents. The Scottish Conservative Party will abolish this presumption.

" Parents know best what their child's particular needs are; therefore, they should be the dominant voice in decision over which school to send a child to."

The party says provision in mainstream schools for autistic pupils must be improved, while it has also vowed to provide greater support for the work carried out by autism charities.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Like Labour, the Lib Dems are keen to focus on what they believe have been the Executive's main achievements with regard to autism services.

These include the awarding of £90,000 to NHS Highland to develop ASD services in the north of Scotland and the passing of the Additional Support for Learning Act, which places a duty on local authorities to help all pupils with special needs.

Iain Smith, the party's education spokesman, said: "The Liberal Democrats are determined to make improvements to the education system which will help autistic youngsters move through schools. We believe that personalised learning must become central to the education of every child."

John McDonald, the chief executive of the Scottish Society for Autism, gave a lukewarm reaction to the parties' comments. Although he acknowledges that some progress has been made under devolution, he says much more needs to be done.

Looking at what the parties are setting out in their pre-election comments, however, he doubts whether they have the will to implement the changes which he believes are still urgently required.

He said: "It's clear that whoever is in power in Scotland does have a commitment to work towards addressing the major issues that face families and individuals living with autism.

"What is of some concern, though, is the pace at which they intend to work towards addressing these issues and the level of resources they are prioritising towards that. Governments have to balance competing priorities and, in doing that, I think they don't place quite enough emphasis on the challenges that families with autism face."

New school transformed my 'bad boy' son

Like many autistic youngsters before they are diagnosed, Liam Elder was labelled by his school as "a bad boy".

His mother, Lesley, grew increasingly worried by the treatment he received at his primary school near the family's home in Annan, Dumfriesshire.

"It was appalling," she told The Scotsman. "I made a lot of complaints, but the headteacher just didn't want to know. Liam would come home after school really upset and frightened to go back. It actually got to the stage where I would have to physically carry him into the school in the morning."

The youngster, who is now nine, was finally diagnosed with autism just over a year ago, and his mother took the decision to remove him from the school last October.

He is now a pupil at Calside Primary in Dumfries and, although it is 20 miles from the family home, Mrs Elder said the journey was worth it to see the incredible transformation in her son's wellbeing.

She said: "The school is absolutely fantastic.

"They've not labelled him and are very understanding, even when his behaviour is quite challenging.

"He's now started to read and write, he's a lot calmer, and the best thing is that he's actually happy to go to school in the morning. I trust the school 100 per cent, which is one thing I couldn't say about the school he went to before."

Mrs Elder said one way of improving the quality of education for autistic pupils would be to ensure that every teacher was given training in how to deal with such youngsters.

"All teachers in mainstream schools should be taught how to deal with an autistic child," she said.

"It holds them back if they are in a school that can't cope with them, so that would make a huge difference."

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Comments:

1. sage, edinburgh / 8:14am 2 Feb 2007

A good starting place would be more Scottish Executive support for the excellent training which is on offer through the Scottish Society for Autism .The organisation has the experience and skills to gradually raise the national skill level-in schools and in other agencies- in responding to the needs of persons on the autistic spectrum.The Society should receive substantially enhanced core funding for the provision of training to cover the various cohorts of professional staff together with an expansion of programmes for parents.The Society is a voluntary body which relies a great deal on fundraising in a difficult economic climate.The tragic collapse and the loss of the services , provided by Oneplus over the past weeks is a grim warning that even large vol. orgs. are vulnerable.

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2. Autism Rights, Ayrshire / 8:33am 2 Feb 2007

`Punished, betrayed, sidelined - our 'lost generation' of autistic children` is the most accurate and telling of the headlines the Scotsman has used this week. From the responses from the politicians, we see a mixture of crass ignorance of current educational provision and gross misrepresentation of current law and policy. What you don't see, unless you have been an active observer of events in the now defunct Cross Party Group on ASD is the political antipathy towards the families of people with autism, which resulted in the precipitate and irregular closure of the CPG on ASD in June of last year - after a new
`Informal Parliamentary Network on ASD` had been set up by the autism charities and the former convener and secretary of the CPG - but excluding
service users such as parents, grandparents and people with autism themselves - the very people who know what it is really like `at the coalface` and for whom the Cross Party Group was set up in the first place.Having posted the agenda and minutes of the CPG's AGM on the 30th May, revised the agenda the day after this (the 31st May), the Office Bearers , the former Convener and executives from the autism charities then took the decision on the following day (the 1st June) to wrap up the CPG. It should be noted that the SNP's representative, Margaret Ewing MSP, had recently died so the SNP was unrepresented at the meeting, and Eleanor Scott MSP of the Greens was unable to attend. Both the webpage and weblink for the CPG on ASD were taken down in less than a week. Any decision to close the CPG could and should have been taken at a full meeting of the group. Although a complaint has been made to the relevant authorities, the rules and regulations are too loose to permit of any resolution or remediation.Even a petition, backed by Autism Rights, to ask the Scottish parliament to back the adoption of the European Charter of the Rights of Persons with Autism was kicked into the long grass by MSPs. Although the National Autistic Society had backed the adoption of this Charter by the European Parliament in 1996, they failed to respond to 2 separate requests to add their signatures to the petition, in contrast with the Scottih Society for Autism, who gave it their full backing. The Petitions Committee recommended that the Charter be passed on to the Health Committee for consideration as part of the Adult Support and Protection Bill - thus ignoring the existence of children with autism, and failing to consider the holistic nature of the Charter. To add insult to injury, the Health Committee decided to take oral evidence from an official from the NAS in lieu of consideration of the Charter.

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3. Autism Rights, Ayrshire / 8:44am 2 Feb 2007

The Constitutional Convention settled on 2 principal means for the participation of the people of Scotland in `their` new parliament - the Cross
Party Groups and petitions to the parliament. It is desperately sad that both of these structural inputs to the `new` politics of openness and accountability have been so corrupted in so little time. And why should public involvement in policy and politics be SO important? Let's look at some of the highly regressive and threatening legislation and policy applicable to people with autism and their families that the parliament has seen fit to pass without any real comment or opposition:-
The Mental Health Act makes provision for enforced medication in the community of people (i.e. adults AND children) who have a `mental disorder`. The
Scottish Executive has classed ASD as a `mental disorder`. The equivalent legislation in England has been held up in the Lords, at the urging of mental health organisations, precisely because of these changes. The SIGN guidelines
on ASD are coming out in their final version in February of 2007 (SIGN advise the Scottish Executive on medical matters) - as the draft of these guidelines promotes the use of drugs for the control of adults
and children with autism, as against dietary change (such as the gluten free / casein free diet) or nutritional supplementation, we do not expect the
final version to deviate from these proposals. Moreover, pharmaceutical companies have been making a push to extend the market share of the drugs used to `treat` children with ADHD into the `treatment`of children with ASD. Using drugs to control people with ASD is in direct conflict with the European Charter for the Rights of Persons with Autism.Also:-
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3093087.stm
some schools are now threatening to expel hyperactive children whose parents refuse to medicate them with Ritalin. It should be noted that in the US, parents are being served with child protection notices if they refuse to let their children be medicated with drugs.
The BBC's Gill Higgins is quoted:-
"There have been threats of exclusion or even of having children taken into care"

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4. Autism Rights, Ayrshire / 8:48am 2 Feb 2007

The Protection of Vulnerable Groups Bill - Part 3 of this Bill is at long last receiving some scrutiny from MSPs, as can be seen by the most recent press
coverage on the Bill. However, the concern expressed re. `data sharing` is concerned not with the data sharing on the children themselves, but on the adults who will work with them. This part of the Bill makes provision for `data sharing` on ALL children, but holds particular concerns over the way it will collate and distribute professional OPINION on children with disabilities. In practice, given the current level of ignorance amongst professionals, and an extremely intimidating system for parents to negotiate to try to access service provision, this Bill will result in even more parents accused of creating their child's `problems` and yet more damage
inflicted on children with autism.

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5. Autism Rights, Ayrshire / 8:53am 2 Feb 2007

Quite apart from the virtual absence of any powers that parents have to elicit service provision for their autistic children, legal aid is now virtually
impossible to obtain, and is specifically ruled out of the new Additional Support for Learning Act, which also supports `service integration` - but not service provision. Under the ASL Act, it is virtually impossible to obtain appropriate educational provision for a child with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Some specific examples of how this legislation has reduced children's rights (contrary to political spin):-
no legal aid permitted for parents
all but one member of the SEN Tribunal is an employee or ex-employee of local authorities
Lord Glennie's ruling means that costs of independent specialist education will always be too high
assessments are deemed unnecessary - contrary to all expert opinion on ASD

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6. Autism Rights, Ayrshire / 9:07am 2 Feb 2007

Contrast the HMIe report on educational provision for children with ASD in Scotland with the recent statement from the Children's Commissioner in
England that the education of autistic children was `shocking and appalling`, together with the conclusion by the House of Commons Select Committee on Education that special education for children in England was `not fit for the purpose`. The authors of an NUT sponsored report on inclusion described inclusion "as a form of abuse" for some children, who were placed in "totally
inappropriate" schools where they inevitably failed. It is simply not credible that autism education in Scotland is so much better, given that it
has the lowest per capita spending on special education of the nations of the UK. Indeed, given the knowledge we have from our members of the current treatment of their adult sons and daughters, particularly within the mental
health system, we are deeply concerned at the damage being done to the mental health of autistic children through inappropriate healthcare and educational provision. That is to say nothing about the waste of human and financial resources on educational provision that fails to prepare children with ASD for their future lives. The Public Health Institute for Scotland's National Needs Assessment on Child and Adolescent Mental Health confirms that there is a significant rise in mental health problems amongst children with an ASD. Our own research reveals that parents see the negative effects on their children's mental and physical health of inappropriate educational provision.

What is now required is that parents should form their own representation - after all, our children are NOT charity cases and politicians will have to accept that they have equal rights to an education that is appropriate to their needs. Autism Rights formed from members of the now defunct Cross Party Group on ASD and we are pushing to have the CPG reinstated - in practical terms, this has to happen after the May election. Please support us.

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7. Enquire / 2:49pm 2 Feb 2007

Information and advice for families

Families with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders who have questions and/or concerns about their child’s education could contact Enquire – the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning. The service can provide information and advice about a child’s rights to assessment and support if they have additional support needs. The service can also talk parents through the process of contacting the relevant people at their child’s school or in the education authority. Enquire has contact details of education staff and relevant organisations across Scotland.

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 introduced new rights for parents and children and young people such as the right to request an assessment to identify additional support needs and the right to use options for resolving disagreements such as mediation services. One of the key objectives of education legislation in Scotland is that education is targeted to allow all children and young people to reach their “fullest potential.”

Enquire’s helpline can be contacted on 0845 123 2303.

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How healthy foods could fall foul of new advertising ban... 

TOUGH new government rules on food commercials aimed at children have been branded "absurd" amid claims they will ban the promotion of many beneficial products while other unhealthy options will still be advertised.

The Grocer magazine said that foods with "strong health claims" including olive oil, honey and cheese will be caught under the new rules, while products seen as unhealthy, such as white bread, chicken nuggets and diet cola will slip through the net.

 

Campaigners also say that some foods likely to be banned from children's TV - such as tomato ketchup, which is high in salt and sugar - are used in such small quantities it is unfair to single them out as unhealthy.

The magazine will today call for TV regulator Ofcom to change the formula for deciding which products will be subject to new restrictions on food and drink advertising.

The Grocer has also launched its "Weigh It Up!" campaign, calling on the industry and members of the public to petition the government to force a change in the regulations, due to be unveiled later this month.

Ofcom used a "nutrient profiling model", developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), to draw up a hit-list of products to be banned from the screen during children's peak viewing times.

The FSA assessment technique is designed to penalise products high in fat, salt and sugar, known as HFSS foods.

But Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer, said: "The FSA's methodology sends out too many wrong signals to parents, with many wholesome and nutritious products that form part of a healthy, balanced diet unfairly targeted."

Ofcom's proposed advertising curbs aim to reduce the impact of commercials for unhealthy foods on children in a bid to reverse rocketing obesity levels in the UK. They ban TV adverts for all HFSS products from children's TV channels like CBBC, mainstream TV shows targeted at under-16s like The Simpsons, and some adult programmes of "particular appeal" to that age group, like Hollyoaks.

The regulator will make a final announcement on the new advertising rules later this month.

The FSA said last night it was working closely with Ofcom to help parents protect their children from product advertising which could damage their health. And a spokeswoman claimed the trade magazine and its editor did not appear to understand the way the nutrient profiling model worked.

She added: "They also miss the point that this is about providing advertisers with a tool to help bring about a better balance of foods being targeted at our children."

Criticism of FSA model...

CRITICS of the new law claim many foods with health benefits will be blacked out from TV screens.

The FSA model assesses fat, sugar and salt content in 100g or 100mg servings, rather than a typical serving.

So foods served in small portions, such as bran flakes, butter, low-fat spreads, instant hot oat cereal, raisins and low- fat spreads are all likely to be caught by the new regulations.

But The Grocer said that the restrictions would encourage food manufacturers to develop products full of artificial sweeteners and other additives, which would fall outside the fat, salt and sugar cut-off levels but would also be low on nutrients.

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13 February 2007
UMP-TEEN DEBTS.  

More than half of schoolchildren have been in debt by the time they reach 17, the Personal Finance Education Group charity said. A study identified a "worryingly laid-back" attitude to spending.


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