Canvey Island Welcomes Aachen Students

PUPILS from Geschwister Scholl Guymnasium, Aachen, have just returned to Germany from their week long annual visit to Canvey Island, which included a basic programme of school and social visits.

Kai Lehnigher, a teacher accompanying the students, said that this was his tenth year of visiting, and the children had had as much enjoyment this year as in the past.

Aachen students at the island's Transport Museum

The programme began last Monday with a visit to the Castle Point Transport museum in Point Road where both the mayor (Councillor Cliff Brunt) and representatives from the museum met the children and took them for a tour of the island on the open deck bus.

Tuesday saw them in Castle View School where they were welcomed by the new head teacher (Ms. Gill Thomas) and spent the day split into various class group lessons.

On Wednesday, the party, including Furtherwick teachers and students, went to London for sight seeing. They visited Tower Bridge, which opened to allow a sailing barge through; The Tower itself; the Monument; the Palace of Westminster; St. James Park; Buckingham Palace; Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden.

Thursday saw Furtherwick Park pupils writing-up their London visit and presenting it in English – as well as performing some amusing tasks with newspapers (dressing up as super heros!). This was followed by a BBQ at the school, with visiting teachers from Winter Gardens Primary School, St Katherine’s Church of England School and Castle View School.

St Katherine's Gemma Doo in class with students

On Friday morning, the group visited St. Katherine’s where Ms Gemma Doo and Mrs D. Bryant are establishing German lessons; and Winter Gardens, where they were welcomed by Stephen Harris, the head teacher, and took part in classroom art activity organised by Miss Esther Brand.

The whole group met up for school lunch at Winter Gardens Primary School before departure.

Ms Gill Thomas said how she intended to establish new links with European schools, as well as continuing this long established link with GSG Aachen, when the Furtherwick and Castle View Schools merge in 2011.

The Island School Consortium, consisting of the island’s eight primary schools, is supported by Ms Gemma Doo, of St Katherine’s, and Heather Manning, of Winter Gardens Primary School – whom are currently planning a Bastille Day for 14th July.

Neets ‘Should Not Get Benefits’ Say MPs

(BBC) – YOUNG PEOPLE in England should not receive state benefits unless they are working, training or in education, a committee of MPs says.

MPs are suggesting adopting a system used in Holland to reduce the number of 16 to 25-year-olds not in education, employment or training – “Neets”.

They said the Dutch equivalent of jobseeker’s allowance was dependent on being in work, education or training.

At the end of 2009, nearly 15% of 16 to 24-year-olds were classed as Neets.

And 9.3% of Neets were aged 16 to 18. The government looks set to miss its target to reduce that figure of an average of 7.6% for 2010.

Indeed, little progress has been made in reducing the number of Neets over the years – in 1995, 9.2% of 16-to-18 year olds were in this category and at the end of 2008, 10.3% were classified as Neets.

Publishing a report on Neets, the cross-party Children, Schools and Families Committee said “radical change” was needed if the number of these young people was to be reduced.

The committee of MPs had visited the Netherlands to assess why it had consistently low rates of youth unemployment.

The MPs said a combination of support up to the age of 27 and a “holistic approach” to this age group, where young people had access to careers, health or housing advice in a “one-stop shop” format, was highly effective.

The report said: “It is crucial that young people, particularly those who are most disadvantaged, should not be deterred by the benefits system from accessing opportunities in education and training.

“We urge the government to give consideration to the approach taken in the Netherlands, in which relatively generous levels of benefits and other support are offered to young people in exchange for greater compulsion to take up education, training or work.”

Committee chair Barry Sheerman said: “It seems to me that the worst thing that can happen to any young person is to be on benefits, at home, doing nothing, festering at home with nothing to do.

“The best thing you can do is to try and ensure that they are doing something, whether it’s training, learning a language, a trade.”

Mr Sheerman said reducing the numbers of young people falling through the gap would be a key challenge for the next government.

“It is time to take a more radical approach and to look at the example of the Netherlands, where rates of youth unemployment are consistently low and where young people up to the age of 27 have a more unified support structure.”

The MPs also raised concerns about the term Neets, saying it was a negative term that risked “stigmatising the young people to whom it is applied”.

They said it was a “residual statistical category” that encompassed a wide range of young people with very different needs.

No Problem Pupils In My Back Yard

(Guardian) – THE CONTINUUM SCHOOL, Canvey Island, is an anonymous-looking place, tucked away down a side street on a gently decaying bit of the Essex coast. Inside, pupils and staff are winding up their day with a little awards ceremony – a bag of sweets for youngsters who managed their best behaviour during the day.

Callum Stimson, 14, has just had a bag of Haribos and is fizzing with energy. “I got six points in one lesson!” he exclaims. “The teachers are nicer here than at my old school and the classes are smaller. So I don’t cause any trouble.”

A casual visitor might be surprised to learn that when this small special school opened its doors last September it sparked a furore. There were complaints to Ofsted, a poster campaign, a public meeting, even questions in parliament – all with the clear aim of having the unit closed down. Why? Because its pupils have emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) and, therefore, according to local residents and their MP, they shouldn’t be there. These teenagers, the protesters say, are not fit to be educated in a residential area.

Nationally, the number of young people classified as having behavioural problems is rising fast – there were 150,000 last year; a 25% increase in four years. So this local row raises questions that resonate well beyond the bridges that carry the traffic away from Canvey Island. Is it becoming increasingly common for people to refuse to live alongside these difficult pupils? Are we perhaps even experiencing a wave of nimbyism that extends not just to the sometimes unlovable “EBD” child but to other children and young people in general?

Around the country, similar disputes have been arising, though mostly on a less epic scale. In Somerset, a planning committee objected to the siting of a nursery in a residential area. In Gloucestershire, residents were up in arms when a secondary school applied to put in a new football pitch close to neighbouring homes. Down the road from Continuum, in Benfleet, Essex county council was forced to withdraw plans for a Sure Start centre at a local primary school because of complaints it would be too close to nearby homes.

The problem of where to put difficult teenagers is one that Bob Hall, the managing director of the Continuum group, which runs 12 independent special schools and 70 children’s homes, grapples with daily.

“It is a growing issue,” he says over a cup of tea in one of the Canvey school’s tiny classrooms, where the 16 pupils work in groups of four with two staff. “You can’t open a provision like this and not expect people to object – you never hear from the people who understand, but you always hear from the ones who are against you.”

Hall says he was under no illusions when Essex county council asked him to provide a total of 80 places in three new special schools – he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. He initially submitted an application to put the school on an industrial estate in Basildon, but in June last year – three months before the school was due to open – the local planning committee rejected the scheme. There’d be problems with access, it said – but Hall claims the underlying message was clear: teenagers with problems weren’t welcome.

So Continuum’s workmen moved in to this former doctors’ surgery on Canvey Island, which had one major advantage – it didn’t require permission for change of use because it was in the same category as a school for planning purposes.

Hall says he knew that when local residents got wind of the conversion, they were bound to be upset. But what happened next must have surpassed all his expectations – not least, he admits, because the school’s pupils didn’t begin by endearing themselves to their neighbours. There were complaints that in the first few days, some of them got on the roof and began throwing tiles; the local pharmacy reported youths barging their way behind its counter.

“Mistakes were made,” Hall says. “There was rowdy behaviour. There was bad language. They would go into the shops and they would swear. But when you have young people like these you have a settling-in period whilst peer groups are established and they get to know one another. We haven’t had a complaint now for weeks and weeks.”

The rumpus might have died down as quickly as it arose had it not been for the involvement of the local Castle Point MP, Bob Spink, a former Conservative who is now independent. He made the issue a personal crusade, leafleting the area, calling a public meeting to protest at the school’s presence and questioning ministers in the House of Commons, demanding its closure. Residential areas were not the right places to educate the wayward, he said.

At a public meeting in October, there were angry exchanges. Local education officials and even a community policewoman spoke up for the school, but Spink remained unconvinced.

“The officers who came to the meeting were totally offensive,” he says. “They said I shouldn’t call these out-of-control youths ‘yobs’. They said I should seek to understand these children have had a difficult time. I said, ‘No, they’re yobs. We should confront bad behaviour and stop it, not tolerate it’.”

Unimpressed by the response he got at the meeting, Spink continued his campaign, complaining to Ofsted that the school posed a safety hazard. An inspector duly arrived, unannounced, on a day when the pupils were due to go out. When they were told they couldn’t because the inspector was there, they misbehaved and a critical report was posted on Ofsted’s website. The school fired off a lengthy complaint; Ofsted withdrew the report and is investigating the incident.

Spink followed through in parliament, questioning education ministers at every opportunity and, finally, in January this year, Gordon Brown. “Teenage tearaways” were terrorising elderly residents, he said. Essex county council should be ashamed of its behaviour.

The prime minister responded, blandly, that no one should be expected to suffer from antisocial behaviour. But Spink’s point had hit home.

Essex county council issued a statement saying it viewed the Canvey site as temporary, and that it was looking for alternatives. Spink remains determined to continue his campaign until the school is moved.

“We get difficult children and we must try to put them back on the right tracks, society has a duty, I totally accept that,” he says. “But the area already had problems with antisocial behaviour. Fancy sending a group of bad lads to somewhere like that.”

The saga of the beleaguered Canvey Island Continuum school does not come as a shock to the wider community of special needs experts. Claire Dorer, chief executive of the National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools, says local residents often react with alarm to the opening of new facilities. But, she says, in most cases their fears are allayed once they get used to their new neighbours.

“We do come across these issues in terms of anxiety from local communities about what having a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties might mean for them. If you ask people if they would like 50 difficult 15-year-old boys at the end of their garden, they will say no,” she says.

“But our experience is when young people are given the chance to have their needs met, they don’t display the same level of behaviour. And, generally, local communities end up being fairly welcoming.”

Perhaps a case in point is the Grafham Grange Special Educational Trust at Bramley, Surrey, which met resistance from planners when it applied to put in a new football pitch – there were concerns that the floodlighting would cause a nuisance and would be inappropriate because the building was Grade 2 listed.

The trust’s chief executive, Susan Tresman, decided to meet the issue head-on, and immediately set about wooing the decision-makers.

“We had a very forthright meeting on the site, she says. “I introduced them to some of our students. And it was brilliant. That was the beginning of what’s become an extremely productive relationship.”

Tresman says the key is to welcome in the local community, and to involve it. Now local football teams come every week to use her school’s pitches.

“You do need to be resilient and creative, and to be prepared to challenge in a positive way,” she says. “We don’t want people to pass by at the end of the drive and say: ‘We don’t know who’s in there’.”

Back at the Continuum school, Hall remains unrepentant about his more bullish approach.

“These pupils just weren’t getting an education,” he says. “Our mistake, if it was a mistake, was bringing them quickly into a new facility. I don’t apologise for that because the only other option was for them to be on the street – it was the right thing to do.”

Pupils Aged Five On ‘Hate Register’

(Daily Mail) – HEADS WILL BE FORCED to list children as young as five on school ‘hate registers’ over everyday playground insults.

Even minor incidents must be recorded as examples of serious bullying and details kept on a database until the pupil leaves secondary school.

Teachers are to be told that even if a primary school child uses homophobic or racist words without knowing their meaning, simply teaching them such words are hurtful and inappropriate is not enough.

Instead the incident has to be recorded and his or her behaviour monitored for future signs of ‘hate’ bullying.

The accusations will also be recorded in databases held by councils and made available to Whitehall and ministers to help them devise future anti-bullying campaigns.

The scale of the effort to stop children using homophobic or racist language was revealed after the parents of a ten-year-old primary school pupil in Somerset, Peter Drury, were told that his name would be put on a register and his behaviour monitored while he remained at school.

The boy was reported after he called a friend ‘gay boy’. His parents fear the record of homophobic bullying will count against him throughout his school career and even into adulthood.

In another incident last year a six-year-old girl, Sharona Gower, was reported for ‘racist bullying’ at her school near Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

Sharona was chased by two 11-year-old girls, one of whom taunted her that she had chocolate on her face.

The six-year-old responded to one of the girls, who was black: ‘Well, you’ve got chocolate on yours.’

Many schools nationwide have already followed advice that they should record incidents of alleged racist, homophobic or anti-disability bullying.

One report last year by the Manifesto Club civil liberties think-tank said that 40,000 children each year are having racist charges added to their school records.

But ministers aim to make reporting of supposed ‘hate taunting’ a legal requirement for every school, primary as well as secondary, and every local authority across the country from the beginning of the new school year in September.

Incidents considered serious will have to be reported to local authorities. Children’s Secretary Ed Balls is set to introduce rules that, officials said, ‘will mean that schools will have to record and report serious or recurring incidents of bullying to their local authority.

‘This will include incidents of bullying and racism between pupils and abuse or bullying of school staff.

The Government is clear that schools must take seriously any complaints made of abuse or bullying by pupils.’

Schools will be expected to monitor the behaviour of individual children. Local authority records will show incidents and their nature, but not names of pupils.

Head teachers were first advised to keep records of racist incidents eight years ago.

Then, in 2007, heads were told to include disability-related and homophobic bullying in their tallies.

Rules for heads say that using language such as ‘gay’  –  which has had near-universal usage among British schoolchildren in recent years to denote something as inferior  –  counts as homophobic bullying, even if pupils do not have any homophobic intention in mind when using the word.

Primary school pupils must be taught ‘the nature and consequences of homophobic bullying’, according to the rules.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: ‘The majority of schools already record incidents of bullying.

‘However, we want to make sure that all schools have measures in place to prevent and tackle bullying and show they are taking it seriously.’

But concerns have been raised that the system turns everyday banter among children into incidents of racism or homophobia when none was meant.

Margaret Morrissey, founder of campaign group Parents Outloud, said: ‘This is totally appalling. The use of such language is part of the learning process. Children need to learn where the boundaries lie. And I very much doubt they understand what they are saying.

‘This does not mean that the behaviour shouldn’t be challenged. It must be explained that it is wrong. But to keep a register that will haunt them for years to come is going far too far and is against all rights.’

Michele Elliott of the charity Kidscape said: ‘Children are being criminalised and singled out here from a very early age when they don’t know what they’re doing.’

Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: ‘Abuse in the playground has always happened and always will.

‘Children have to learn to take this as part of growing up and you can’t punish children for doing something they don’t understand while they are very young.’

The Town Where Pupils Speak 150 Languages

(Daily Mail) – SCHOOLS IN JUST ONE TOWN are having to cope with pupils who speak 150 different languages, a survey has found.

They range from the Ghanaian dialect of Akan, through the African language of Chichewa and the ancient Aztec tongue of Nahuatl to the Indian language of Telugu.

This is as well as the more common foreign languages of Urdu, Punjabi and Polish.

The survey in Reading, Berkshire, shows how schools are being put under mounting pressure by the rising levels of pupils who do not speak English as their first language.

In a bid to ease the burden, Reading Borough Council, is offering discounted English lessons for both children and adults.

The aim is to get children, whose command of English is often much better, to help their families learn it.

Lesley Reilly, head of adult learning at the authority, said: ‘Our aim is to involve stakeholders in community groups across the town to encourage people to join the English classes.

‘Our target is to reach more men, unemployed people, learners recently arrived in Reading and parents of primary pupils.’

The classes are being run as part of English for Speakers of Other Languages, a government initiative to encourage people to integrate in the community.

The Government described the number of languages and dialects spoken by pupils in Reading as ‘extraordinary’ and conceded that it would place schools under extra pressure.

The figures suggest that language barriers are making it increasingly difficult for teachers to communicate with their pupils.

It was revealed in 2005 that pupils at Woodside High School in Tottenham, north London, spoke as many as 58 languages, with many arriving at the comprehensive unable to speak any English.

Pupils at a primary school in the West Midlands were found to speak 33 different languages in 2003.

Conservative MP Philip Davies said: ‘It’s very worrying and Labour’s lax immigration policies are a huge factor in this.

‘It is also a result of political correctness. We haven’t really made people integrate properly into British society.’

Thousands To Lose University Jobs

(Guardian) – UNIVERSITIES across the country are preparing to axe thousands of teaching jobs, close campuses and ditch courses to cope with government funding cuts, the Guardian has learned.

Other plans include using post-graduates rather than professors for teaching and the delay of major building projects. The proposals have already provoked ballots for industrial action at a number of universities in the past week raising fears of strike action which could severely disrupt lectures and examinations.

The Guardian spoke to vice-chancellors and other senior staff at 25 universities, some of whom condemned the funding squeeze as “painful” and “insidious”. They warned that UK universities were being pushed towards becoming US-style, quasi-privatised institutions.

The cuts are being put in place to cope with the announcement last week by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) that £449m – equivalent to more than a 5% reduction nationally – would be stripped out of university budgets.

The University and College Union (UCU) believes that more than 15,000 posts – the majority academic – could disappear in the next few years. Precise funding figures for each university will be released on 18 March.

The chairman of the Russell Group of elite institutions, Professor Michael Arthur, vice-chancellor of Leeds University, warned that budgets would be further slashed by 6% in each of the next three years. Last month he described the cuts as “devastating”.

The savings envisaged include:-

  • More than 200 jobs losses at King’s College, London, around 150 at the University of Westminster and, unions claim, as many as 700 at Leeds, 340 at Sheffield Hallam and 300 at Hull.
  • Entire campus closures at Cumbria and Wolverhampton universities, where buildings will be mothballed and students transferred to other sites.
  • Teesside University scrapping £2m worth of scholarships and bursaries that would have helped poorer students. It will also share services with a further education college in Darlington.
  • Postponing plans for a £25m creative arts building at Worcester and £12m science block at Hertfordshire.
  • Under-subscribed arts and humanities courses are being dropped. The University of the West of England has already stopped offering French, German and Spanish; Surrey has dropped its BA in humanities.
  • Student/lecturer ratios are expected to rise, with more institutions using postgraduates and short term staff filling in for professors made redundant.

Ballots for industrial action are due to be held or are pending at the University of the Arts, Sussex University, the University of Gloucestershire and King’s College London. Lecturers at Leeds – where 750 posts are at risk – voted by a large majority to strike this week.

Higher exam pass marks will be required to win a place at university, according to the survey of academic principals. The cap on student numbers – set at 2008 levels – is restricting entry just as youth unemployment is peaking and intensifying competitive pressure.

Peter Mandelson, the business secretary who is in charge of universities, accused the principals of “gross exaggerations” and “extreme language”, but would not be drawn over whether he would make further cuts to higher education. Universities had to do “no more than their fair share of belt-tightening,” he said.

“We know that universities have a vital contribution to our economic growth, so we are not going to undermine them. We are asking for savings of less than 5% and we expect universities to make these in a way that minimises the impact on teaching and students. I am confident they will.”

Mandelson also denied claims by vice-chancellors that he was letting arts and humanities courses close and cared only about maths and science degrees.

On Monday it was announced that an extra £10m would go to the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to support universities “that are shifting the balance of their provision towards these subjects”.

Mandelson said: “I am an arts graduate myself. We don’t dictate to universities which courses they put on. They tailor courses to meet demand. We want universities to play to their strengths, but we also want to keep this country civilised.”

The pattern of cutbacks is not uniform, with some universities insisting they have been preparing for the downturn. Many have already dropped more vulnerable subjects such as music and history, increased fees for part-time students and expect to become even more reliant on income from higher, overseas student fees.

The vice-chancellor of Southampton, Professor Don Nutbeam, told the Guardian: “This [decision by Hefce] is one of a series of insidious cuts that have been made to higher education.”

Professor Geoffrey Petts, vice-chancellor of Westminster University, said: “After a decade of huge successes in higher education we suddenly have to rethink.”

Tomorrow the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) is due to announce record numbers of applications for places this autumn. It is expected that as many as 300,000 applicants will be turned away.

The surge in demand comes as a government-commissioned independent review considers whether to raise tuition fees from £3,225 per year to up to £7,000. Over three years total cuts will amount to at least £950m.

The policy adopted by the government is in stark contrast to the response in the US where President Obama this week proposed a 31% increase in education spending for next year in order to combat unemployment and develop skills.

Skanska RM Chosen For Essex BSF Programme

ESSEX COUNTY COUNCIL has chosen Skanska RM, a Swedish company that can trace its roots back to 1887, as its preferred bidder for the Essex BSF programme.

The Essex Building Schools For The Future (BSF) programme is one of the largest in the country, with the first phase alone worth in the region of £150 million.

Work on the first schools in the programme (The Cornelius Vermuyden School and Arts College on Canvey Island, Castle View School on Canvey Island, Pioneer School in Basildon and Columbus School and College in Chelmsford) is due to be completed by January 2012.

Not only will the school buildings themselves be transformed, BSF will also bring considerable investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), creating 24-hour learning environments for pupils.

Councillor Stephen Castle, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Education, said: “We are delighted to be working with Skanska RM on this exciting project. BSF will bring substantial investment to Essex, enabling us to build world class facilities that will transform education and the way it is delivered.”

Councillor Derrick Louis, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Central Services, commented: “Skanska RM has successfully demonstrated they can meet the very high standards we have set for our preferred bidder. Under the partnership we will create state of the art facilities that will inspire generations of learners to come.”

Steve Cooper, Development Director, Education, for Skanska RM, said: “Everyone at Skanska RM is delighted with this announcement, now the hard work begins and we look forward to a long-term partnership with Essex County Council to deliver the schools for the future.”