Charity chief urges Prime Minister to create CSE national inquiry

Charity 4Children is calling for a stand-alone national inquiry into the extent of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the wake of the Rotherham abuse scandal.

For Attila

4Children chief executive Anne Longfield has written to Prime Minister David Cameron to make the case for why a national inquiry is needed following the publication last week of the Jay report that found 1,400 children and young people had been victims of systematic sexual abuse over 16 years in Rotherham

The government has vowed to incorporate the findings from Rotherham into its recently announced historical child abuse inquiry, but Longfield argues this gives a “false impression” the issue is in the past when many believe CSE is a growing and widespread problem.   4Children is also concerned that the full extent of systemic neglect and agency failings identified in the Jay report will not be fully scrutinised or addressed if it is part of a wider inquiry.

In her letter, Longfield says the extent and severity of the Rotherham abuse merits a “high-level, time-limited, Prime Ministerial-led inquiry” that should focus on what went wrong in Rotherham; the extent of CSE across the UK; what needs to be done to tackle the problem; and how agencies and communities need to change in order for allegations of CSE to be taken more seriously.  

Longfield said:

“We are calling on the Prime Minister to establish a stand-alone inquiry to reveal the true extent of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and other areas and answer questions about how and why services continue to fail our children. Adding it to the remit of an historical abuse inquiry misses the point. This week alone a number of potential new victims have come forward.  

“Perpetrators of these horrific crimes were allowed to continue their abuse for decades because nothing was done to stop them. Yet the key findings from the report – agencies not working together and children not being listened to – are not new ones and government must act now to ensure that children’s voices are never ignored again when abuse of this kind is reported. 

“The full scale of this systemic failure may never be known, but government must act now to carry out an urgent and transparent investigation to listen to and protect children and make sure this never happens again in Rotherham or anywhere else in the UK.

 

Is the UK a Christian country? Archbishop Justin Welby responds.

Archbishop Justin Welby

There has been lots of debate in the last couple of weeks surrounding the issue of whether or not the UK is a Christian country, following David Cameron’s article in the Church Times.  Following various responses, Archbishop Justin Welby has written a thought provoking and humorous response to the debate:

History provides as many uncomfortable facts as science. Neither can be ignored if anyone is going to talk sense. Last week, the Prime Minister wrote rather movingly in the Church Times about his sense of this as a Christian country.

It followed up other comments from Cabinet Ministers saying similar things, and finished on Tuesday with a very measured intervention by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, whose own Christian faith is well known.

Judging by the reaction, anyone would think that the people concerned had at the same time suggested the return of the Inquisition (complete with comfy chairs for Monty Python fans), compulsory church going and universal tithes. More than 50 leading atheists wrote to the Telegraph in protest.

It’s all quite baffling and at the same time quite encouraging. Christian faith is much more vulnerable to comfortable indifference than to hatred and opposition. It’s also a variation on the normal “Sword and Grail discovered” stuff that seems to be a feature of Easter week news.

Yet the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have not said anything very controversial. It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society ……  All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity. Add to that the foundation of many hospitals, the system of universal schooling, the presence of chaplains in prisons, and one could go on a long time. Then there is the literature, visual art, music and culture that have formed our understandings of beauty and worth since Anglo Saxon days.

It is clear that, in the general sense of being founded in Christian faith, this is a Christian country. It is certainly not in terms of regular churchgoing, although altogether, across different denominations, some millions attend church services each week. Others of different backgrounds have also positively shaped our common heritage. But the language of what we are, what we care for and how we act is earthed in Christianity, and would remain so for many years even if the number of believers dropped out of sight (which they won’t, in my opinion).

The atheist protesters are wrong to argue that expressing confidence in the country’s Christian identity fosters alienation and division in our society. Indeed, it is significant that non-Christian faith leaders – among them Anil Bhanot of the Hindu Council UK, Farooq Murad of the Muslim Council of Britain and Lord Indarjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations –  have spoken out in support of Mr Cameron. Mr Murad said: “No one can deny that Britain remains largely a Christian country, with deep historical and structural links with the established Church. . . We respect that.”

I know from personal experience that what Mr Murad says is entirely true. And I know that, as Iain Duncan Smith pointed out, the influence of a moderate and careful and generous Christian faith has enabled us to be welcoming to other faiths. That sense of generous hospitality provides the basis for tough discussion, and it is a hospitality that protects atheists as well, and so it should.

So why the fuss? As I say, for all of us, in the church, of Christian faith, of any tradition or set of beliefs, history makes for some uncomfortable reading. Its facts are awkward for all of us, but it is no use pretending they do not exist. The PM is right on this.

The education admission system is broken

School Admissions

Today was one of the two big dates for parents in the education calendar.  Today is national offer day for primary school places.  Parents around the country having been receiving emails notifying them of their child’s place of education for the next few years.  Earlier in the Spring, on 3rd March, parents received notification for secondary school places.

The news has a big impact on the family’s day to day life, and if we believe the media the decision will have long lasting effects on our children’s life chances.  These days, even for primary or infant and junior schools parents do incredible amounts of research.  When I was a child everyone just went to their local school – choice only kicked in for secondary school and beyond.

Now everyone scours league tables, reads OFSTED reports, goes to several open days/evenings, and look very carefully at the class sizes, specialisms and facilities.  Today’s report from the National Audit Office is official confirmation of what many parents have known – or feared – for the last few years: the shortage of school places is reaching alarming levels. The report said one-in-five primary schools was full or near capacity with London accounting for more than a third of all extra places needed.

The current education admission system is broken.  We see families buying that house in the ever-shrinking catchment area to make sure their children get in?  Others employ tutors so their children can pass entrance exams or the 11+?  Others sign in at church every Sunday when they have no sense of faith.

Every parent wants the best for their children.  Whilst most schools within the UK will provide a good education to all children it is hard to avoid the facts – we know that public school educated people dominate the upper echelons of UK society; politics, sport and the arts (The Guardian).  Then there’s selective state schools. 29% of Labour MPs went to grammar schools (The Sutton Trust).

As a children’s and youth worker, and a school governor, I still believe that education is more than just pure academics.  We need to develop well rounded adults, and whilst it is now near impossible to find employment without a GCSE grade C in English and Maths it is important that the education system supports children’s interests, support friendships between different social, economic and religious backgrounds.

Today for me is a reminder that education has become too focussed on a narrow band of results and league tables that cause stress both for parents and teachers.  We need an education system that truly values and encourages children rather than allowing economically affluent parents to in effect gain priority over other parents.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Two months into an uprising that has claimed at least two lives and brought thousands to the streets, Ukraine’s political crisis still seems far from any resolution. President Yanukovych has refused to declare a state of emergency, though by all accounts the protests are escalating.

Amidst burned buses, tear gas and barricades, however, there is another sight that stands out on the frontline: The strong numbers of Orthodox priests who have turned out, not to protest, but rather to pray.

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s government threatened to ban prayer services at the protests, but even that didn’t keep the priests from showing up with their robes and crosses and holy books.

As one priest said about the proposed ban, “It is illegal. It is immoral. Nobody can forbid people to pray.”

Check out these incredible photos:

Church in CAR gives shelter to Muslims fleeing Christian militia

central-african-republic-priest-xavier-fagba-said-he-will-not-turn-away-muslims-or-christians-seeking-refuge-from-the-fighting-within-his-church

A Christian church in the Central African Republic is currently providing shelter to a group of 700 Muslims, who are attempting to flee the vengeful “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) Christian militia.

For months, violence between Christians and Muslims has ravaged the country, leaving more than 1 million displaced from their homes. Following a series of atrocities committed by the Muslim Seleka rebel group targeting Christian communities, Christian “anti-balaka” militias have undertaken retribution attacks against Muslims in the country.

The pastor of the church in the city of Boali, which is currently being guarded by about 70 French troops, however, wants an end to the violence.  He told France 24 news,

“I am not going to let anyone hurt the people inside my church, it doesn’t matter whether they are Christians or Muslims,”

and encouraged his congregation to greet their Muslim neighbors with a “kiss of peace.”

Church and local officials are working on an evacuation plan for the Muslim families taking shelter at the church.

The World’s 85 Richest People Have as Much Money as the World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion

India - Agricultural Scale Up - Samarpan

You could read that headline every day for the rest of your life, and it’d probably never fully sink in.

Here are some truly staggering numbers from Oxfam, who released a study on the world’s income disparity that is absolutely eye-popping.  Just a run down of the bullet points is incredible:

  • Nearly 50 percent of the world’s wealth is owned by one percent of the world’s population.
  • The richest one percent of people in the world are worth about $110 trillion—65 times the sum total of wealth owned by the world’s poorest fifty percent.
  • 7 in 10 people live in countries where income equality has decreased over the past thirty years.
  • The total wealth of the world’s poorest 3.5 billion equals the wealth of the richest 85 individuals.

Apply to be on the 2014 UK Youth Select Committee

Youth Select Committee

Here’s a massive opportunity for a young person to help influence and shape the future:

Do you want to be part of a Youth Select Committee that will change things for young people? Are you aged 11 to 18, resident in the UK and able to volunteer your time on the dates as stated in the application?  Do you have an interest in youth representation, and democracy? Then apply to be on the Youth Select Committee 2014.

The topic for this year’s Youth Select Committee – which mirrors Parliamentary Select Committees –  will  be Votes at 16, which has been chosen by the majority of the UKs youth representatives in the UK Youth Parliament and the British Youth Council.

You will join a panel of eleven young people who will take and hear evidence before writing a report with recommendations to the Government. It will meet in one of the Committee rooms in the House of Commons in June and July 2014. You will need to be able to commit to the dates outlined in the application form and be willing to volunteer about 2 hours a week to take part until September 2014.  All expenses are covered and you will get a certificate of participation, insight into Parliament and your experience will be accredited learning through the BYC Youth Voice Award.

Your application form needs to be returned by the 31st January 2014 and the successful candidates will by informed by 7th February.  Please be aware that you may be called for a telephone interview that week.

For an informal discussion and further details, please contact Paul Boskett MBE, Youth Democracy Manager at the British Youth Council, on email at paul.boskett@byc.org.ukor by phone on 07507 639788.

Educating Yorkshire write an open letter to Michael Gove

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Educating Yorkshire

Deputy head Michael Steer in The Big Issue says education should not be a political football – but put back in the hands of the experts:

Dear Michael Gove,

As an out and proud data geek, league tables are unequivocally one of my favourite things in the world. Compactly presented information troves, packed with a multitude of information that can be analysed and reanalysed to the nth degree leading to a glorious compendium of graphs and charts. Heaven. Conversely, as a teacher and West Ham United fan I also find them to be objects of absolute horror.

Schools, by their very nature, differ wildly from one town to the nextI’m utterly convinced that every school in this country is packed with dedicated, creative, intelligent and passionate staff, desperate to secure the best outcomes for those students in its care. Because teaching is a vocation, not a job. However, schools, by their very nature, differ wildly from one town to the next. Myriad factors converge to create each individual environment.

Sure, the people who work in schools share a common ideology of wanting the best outcomes for young people but the definition of ‘best outcomes’ is entirely dependent on the context of the school. This is why league tables are such a contentious topic because the layers of complexity and circumstance are stripped away and we are judged and rated as if it were a level playing field – which it most certainly is not.

If you were to visit the schools at the top and bottom of the league table you would have very different experiences but I bet the common ground would be a core team of staff working themselves insensible for the good of the students. The staff in the bottom school must just feel utterly crushed when those tables get published, which makes it very hard to see their benefit.

The whole profession was similarly crushed recently when the PISA figures were released stating that we are lagging behind on the international stage when it comes to English, maths and science. The news was met, predictably, with a large amount of coverage in the media bemoaning our education system and laying the blame at the feet of either ineffectual teachers or demonic hellbeast teenagers.

We should always be looking at ways to drive up the standards – quality of education is absolutely paramount – but we aren’t going to bring about that improvement by simply shouting at people to be better at their jobs. We need to seriously consider reform.

The key to successful learning is very simple and straightforward. It’s engagementThe key to successful learning is very simple and straightforward. It’s engagement. If someone is truly interested in something, can clearly see the purpose and relevance of it and gets to apply it, then it will stick. For example, learning to drive is significantly more difficult than learning trigonometry – the difference is that people want to drive a car much more than they want to find the size of a missing angle.

The countries that are successful share a key similarity. They have all undergone significant reform that has placed education standards front and centre. Reform that focuses on fostering a love of learning, reform that acknowledges and addresses the fact that children are individuals and as such have different ways of learning and differing support needs, reform that makes education one cohesive journey, rather than a series of loosely connected phases.

You are very vocal about the need for improvement, and in actuality, everyone working in education would agree with you but that won’t happen with a series of, seemingly, knee-jerk policy changes and a culture of blame and finger-pointing.

While education standards remain a political weapon, any improvements will always happen on a political timescale rather than an educational one. If there is a serious desire to have a ‘world class’ education system in this country, then why not remove it from the political arena?

Hand it over to the experts and the academics who have dedicated their lives to the study of education and learning, to the thousands of dedicated staff who are committed to securing the best possible outcomes for young people.

Let’s be radical, Mr Gove: try working with us instead of against us, support us instead of denigrating what we do, don’t try and pit us directly against each other when it is clearly a meaningless exercise. Sit down with us, ask our opinions, see if we can come up with a shared vision and think of creative, yet practical ways to implement it. You may be surprised by what the Enemies of Promise are capable of.

Yours sincerely,
Michael Steer,
Deputy head of Thornhill Community Academy

Through Young Eyes

Through Young Eyes

How do we put children at the centre of the debate about child poverty? How can you start a conversation with young people about an issue as difficult as “poverty” and help them to speak out?

You may have heard about The Children’s Commission on Poverty, supported by The Children’s Society, which has brought together 15 young people across the country to uncover the realities of poverty.

The Children’s Commission on Poverty is a bold attempt to understand what poverty looks like through young eyes. Watch Jim and Larissa from The Children’s Society, who have been supporting the young commissioners, and hear how the commission is putting children at the centre of the debate on poverty.

Click here to see how it works

Jim and Larissa will be helping young people up and down the country, to make their views heard so that politicians, the media and the general public will take notice.

In the months to come, you’ll be hearing stories from young people and the ways you can support them to create lasting change.

Many thanks,
Gavin
Gavin Thomson
Campaigns Team
The Children’s Society

Young people to be funded to remain in foster care until age 21 if they wish

Education minister Edward Timpson

Children and young people brought up by foster carers in England will be allowed to remain with families until they are 21 if they choose to under a new legal duty for councils – this is brilliant news – it was always crazy to force young people to live on their own at 18 by withdrawing their funding:

Children and young people brought up by foster carers in England will be allowed to remain with families until they are 21 if they choose to under a new legal duty for councils, ministers will announce on Wednesday.

Charities have long argued for a change in the law, which currently forces many young people to live on their own at 18. The government has set aside £40m for local authorities over the next three years to put support arrangements in place.

The decision marks a U-turn for ministers, who had previously resisted calls to expand Labour’s pilot Staying Put programme – a scheme that gives young people the option to stay with foster families until they are 21.

The Labour scheme had been piloted in 11 English local authorities since 2008 and evaluations showed that young people who stayed on with foster carers were twice as likely to be in full time education at 19 as those who did not.

Education minister Edward Timpson, whose own mother fostered 90 children, said: “I know from the many foster children I grew up with how crucial it is for them to be given sufficient time to prepare for life after care.  A growing number of local authorities already offer young people the choice to stay, but with little financial support it can be challenging for their foster families. This is a further reform to our much wider package of support for care leavers, including much greater financial support for young people leaving care at 18.”

The government will now put forward an amendment at the third reading of the children and families bill in January.

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, which campaigned on the issue, said: “This change in the law will make a massive difference to the lives of this and future generations of care leavers in England. This issue has, however, not been resolved for young people in Wales and Scotland. We will continue to campaign for this change in the law to be replicated”.

Currently, local authorities in England fund the cost of children in foster care until they reach 18. At that point, support varies across the country. In many areas, teenagers are forced to live by themselves at an age when others would remain at home. Statistics from the Department for Education revealed only 10 more young people stayed with their foster carers after the age of 18 in 2012-13 than in 2011-12.

Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of the Who Cares? Trust, which supports children in care, said: “This represents the most significant reform to the support children in care are given in a generation.  Time and again we hear from young people who are extremely anxious about having to leave their carers when they turn 18 and effectively no longer having somewhere they can call home, especially when the average age for young people who aren’t in care to finally leave home is (at least) 24.”