Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Parents who lit birthday candles on three-year-old's cake at play centre party reported to police by British health and safety fanatic
No three-year-old’s birthday would be complete without a brightly-coloured cake with candles on top.
But Oscar Barlow was left in tears when police swooped on his party at a play centre – after staff said his cake was a health and safety risk.
Bosses at Rumble Tumble play centre said the candles constituted a safety risk and if the family wanted to light them they would have to move to a specific area and be monitored by staff.
After a disagreement, Oscar’s mother Natasha Bent and her family trooped out into the car park to light the candles outside instead. But they were stunned when two police officers arrived at the children’s play centre in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.
The children burst into tears as officers spoke to the family over claims they had acted in an intimidating manner.
Last night Miss Bent, 27, insisted she had not been threatening and claimed they were frustrated by the health and safety red tape. Miss Bent said the family decided to visit the play centre after returning from a theme park on Oscar’s birthday last Thursday.
‘When we were there we brought in Oscar’s birthday cake from the car, but just as we were going to light the candles they told us we couldn’t. ‘All we wanted to do was sing Happy Birthday and have Oscar blow out the candles,’ she added.
‘We tried to reason with a staff member but she said we were bullying her and told us to leave, saying she was going to call the police. In the end we went outside and lit the candles in the car park. Oscar and the other children started crying when the police turned up. ‘How on earth would a child get injured by singing Happy Birthday?
‘It was a bad way for a three-year-old to experience a birthday. It’s a special occasion and his first one understanding what a birthday is. ‘I love my son with all my heart and didn’t want other children to have their birthday ruined.’
Her partner David Meir, 32, said: ‘When the police officer told us the staff member had accused us of intimidating her, I just laughed. I had my two sons with me so there’s no way I’d do that in front of them.’
Rumble Tumble declined to comment on the matter. A Staffordshire Police spokesman said: ‘Officers established the dispute was over the level of service received and advice was given to all involved.’
British government cracking down on "special needs" racket
Hundreds of thousands of children face being taken off the special needs register because they have been wrongly labelled as requiring extra help, the Government will announce today.
Under the biggest shake-up of the system for 30 years, ministers will toughen up rules on the diagnosis of behavioural and learning problems. It follows concerns that schools are abusing the system to disguise poor teaching and climb league tables.
For the first time, rigorous screening measures will be introduced to prevent pupils from being classed as having special needs when they have merely fallen behind or caused disruption in class.
The bureaucratic process used to identify children with the most severe special needs will also be scrapped and replaced with a single assessment covering education, health and care.
Ministers believe that the current system is “outdated and not fit for purpose”. They claim that those most deserving of help often find it difficult to get adequate support while too many are wrongly placed on the register.
Almost 1.7 million schoolchildren in England - more than one in five - have some form of special needs requiring particular attention from teachers.
In some schools, more than half of pupils are registered as suffering from problems that affect their ability to play a full part in lessons or activities.
It has been claimed that many difficulties are exaggerated to explain poor exam results or bad behaviour.
Ofsted has claimed that as many as 450,000 “special needs” children are actually no different from other pupils. Many are simply underachieving because of a culture of low expectations, a report found.
Figures show that pupils from poor homes are far more likely to be diagnosed with special needs than those from middle-class backgrounds. Inspectors suggested that state schools were being encouraged to over-identify pupils to attract more funding from local councils and to boost their position in league tables that give weighting to schools with high numbers of special needs children.
Parents of children with severe special needs can also qualify for extra tax benefits.
Today, the Government will announce a major shake-up of the system to “tackle the practice of over-identifying”. Ministers will legislate for the proposals in the Children and Families Bill announced in last week’s Queen’s Speech.
The two most common categories of special needs - “school action” and “school action plus”, which are usually diagnosed in-house by teachers - will be scrapped and replaced with a single grouping.
There will also be “tighter guidance on which children should be identified as having special educational needs alongside better training”. The new guidelines will be published following a fresh consultation exercise.
Ministers will also announce plans to form an expert panel to look at which children should be classed as having behavioural, emotional and social development difficulties to stop these problems being “overused” by schools.
At present, just one in seven pupils with special needs has a “statement” - a legal document setting out their entitlement to certain teaching and support.
The Department for Education says this system is “complex and adversarial”, with children facing “multiple assessments over months and years to get the basic support they need”.
Under the reforms, parents will be given legal powers to control budgets for sons and daughters who do require support, enabling them to buy specialist help instead of relying on services provided by local authorities. Young people with the most serious problems will get help up to the age of 25 instead of the current “cliff edge” cut-off point at 16.
Children with special needs will be able to gain a priority place at one of the Government’s academies.
Better teaching training will also be introduced to give new and existing staff help to “manage challenging behaviour” and bullying.
A Coalition source said there was “broad agreement” that the current categories used to diagnose some special needs problems were “far too broad”, with children classed as requiring extra help when their needs “could be met with strong teaching and pastoral care”.
“We are going to tighten up the definition of special educational needs in the statutory guidance so children who have genuine special educational needs get the support they need,” the source said.
Sarah Teather, the children’s minister, is expected to say: “The current system is outdated and not fit for purpose.
“Thousands of families have had to battle for months, even years, with different agencies to get the specialist care their children need. It is unacceptable they are forced to go from pillar to post, facing agonising delays and bureaucracy to get support, therapy and equipment.”
The current system of identifying special needs has been blamed for delays that have led to disabled children waiting months for a new wheelchair.
The Council for Disabled Children suggested that some youngsters were left in pain and required operations to correct growth problems because their wheelchairs were too small for them.
Why should an insult be against the law?
What matters most: free speech or public order? And how much of the former must we sacrifice to ensure the latter? This question has vexed our legislators for many years. In 1936, with Mosley’s Blackshirts on the march in London’s East End, a new Public Order Act criminalised behaviour that was not of itself violent but was “threatening, abusive, insulting or disorderly” and that was intended or likely to cause a breach of the peace.
The aim was to stop fascists screaming abuse at Jews in the streets; and while most civilised people wanted to shut the thugs up, there was a good deal of agonising over whether the wording was an unwarranted restriction of free speech, the beacon of liberty that marked us out from what was happening in Continental Europe at the time. On the other hand, the fear perpetrated by the Blackshirts was itself a threat to essential British liberties. A balance had to be struck and Parliament endeavoured to do so.
This debate was revisited 50 years later, when the Thatcher government updated public order laws in 1986 to take account of the disturbances in Brixton and Toxteth and at a succession of industrial disputes, such as the miners’ strike and Wapping. Ministers also wanted to get a grip once and for all on the mayhem that had taken hold of our national sport. Every Saturday, the football terraces were a seething mass of contorted faces and vile chanting (so little change there, then). Crucially, section five of the Public Order Act 1986 removed the requirement for an intention to cause a breach of the peace. Instead, abusive or insulting behaviour was to be penalised if it was within the hearing or sight of a person “likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”. This marked a further retreat from free speech. As one legal textbook put it, the criminal law had been “extended into areas of annoyance, disturbance and inconvenience”.
Here we are, 25 years on, and once again this provision is proving controversial, not least because it is being used to criminalise what many people might consider simply to be a point of view that others do not like. Tomorrow, a parliamentary campaign is being launched in an effort to persuade the Government to remove the word “insulting” from the Act after a series of arrests and prosecutions of Christians for expressing their opinions.
They include a preacher who was convicted under section five for walking the streets of Bournemouth carrying a placard with the words “Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism”. Another case involved Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, Christian hoteliers in Liverpool charged with insulting a Muslim guest because they engaged in a conversation about religion. Mr Vogelenzang was alleged to have said that Mohammed was a warlord, while his wife stated that Muslim dress is a form of bondage for women. They were acquitted, but campaigners argue that they should never have been arrested in the first place and that people like them would be spared months of worry if the law was amended. Other notorious arrests under this measure include that of a teenager who described the Church of Scientology as a “cult” and the Oxford undergraduate who was arrested for asking a police officer if he realised his horse was gay.
Clearly, none of these “crimes” were envisaged as such in 1936, when a real menace stalked the land, or even in 1986, when the law was changed largely to stop abuse by football fans. The obvious problem is the subjective nature of an insult. While most of us can recognise abusive language when we hear it, in what way is it a crime to take issue with someone else’s opinion, or even their religion? This is likely to become more problematic as the gay marriage debate heats up. This measure was not in the Queen’s Speech, principally so that Her Majesty would not have to announce something opposed by the Church of which she is head. But when the consultation ends next month, the Government intends to legislate. As Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem equalities minister, said at the weekend, the consultation is not about whether to proceed, but how.
Christian groups are worried that antipathy to gay marriage will fall foul of the law. In this they are supported by Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner, who sees how such a law can easily be abused on grounds of political correctness. It is not so long ago that it would have been used to stop gay pride marches. Nor are these isolated matters. Figures unearthed by the Conservative MP Dominic Raab show that in 2009, section five of the Public Order Act was used more than 18,000 times, mainly for the non-specified crime of insult.
The Home Office has been consulting on this matter, but shows little inclination to do anything about it. If the debate around gay marriage is not to get ugly, the Government would be advised to change the law before people are hauled before the courts for defending their traditional understanding that matrimony, as the root of the word suggests, is the union of a man and a woman.
In a free and civilised country, people should not be abusive or gratuitously offensive to each other; but they should be entitled to voice an opinion that someone else might find insulting. It is a hallmark of liberty that it allows a person to say something that is provocative, otherwise it is no freedom at all. John Milton put it best: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
British cellphone networks already practicing censorship
Non-sexual websites such as one created by the residents of St Margarets, Middlesex, to act as an online hub for local news and events, and a blog that challenges the impartiality of the BBC, have been blacklisted by mobile networks, a report by the London School of Economics found.
Currently, the major mobile networks impose restrictions to block access to content unsuitable for under-18s by default, on the grounds that young people may access the internet from their smartphone unsupervised. Adult customers who want to access such material must ask for the restrictions to be lifted and provide credit card details to prove their age.
The blacklists sometimes go too far, the report says. They have also been imposed on eHow.com, one of the biggest general 'how to' websites, on a church in Sheffield, on a London bar, and on the business website of a graphic designer, the researchers said.
“It can mean a business is cut off from a slice of its market,” said the report, which was produced by the LSE’s Media Policy Project in collaboration with the Open Rights Group, a campaign group which opposes online censorship.
“It can simply see people unable to get directions to a bar. It may stop a prominent political organisation from reaching concerned citizens.”
This “over-blocking” is likely to become a bigger problem if compulsory pornography filters are imposed on home broadband networks, the Open Rights Group said.
“This report shows how child protection filters can actually affect many more users than intended and block many more sites than they should,” said campaigner Peter Bradwell.
“The lessons for 'porn filter' proposals are clear. Default-on blocks can have significant harmful and unintended consequences for everybody’s access to information.”
The report also identifies a lack of transparency from the mobile networks over the rules they use to decide what to restrict, and highlights difficulties in getting wrongly-imposed blockades lifted.
David Cameron said this month that he would consult on introducing a similar system for home broadband, meaning custopmers would have to tell their provider if they want access to adult material. Supporters of the idea, promoted by the Conservative backbencher Claire Perry, argue children are being damaged by easy access to explicit content online and that the internet industry does not offer parents enough control.
Opponents such as the Open Rights Group argue that tools are available for parents to take responsibility for what their children see online. Professor Tanya Byron, who conducted a review of child safety online for the Government, also criticised filtering systems, suggesting they could result in “lulling parents into a false sense of security”.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.