Posts Tagged 'Public Interest'

Power running amok as voters can only look on

The latest nauseating case of that curious species, the Westminster troughing hog, has seen Maria Miller ordered to repay we taxpayers £5,800 she wrongly claimed.

The story had me primed to write a post demanding that taxpayers must get back the other £38,000 that the Standards Commissioner said Miller should repay.  But then yesterday the Chair of the Standards Committee of MPs, which voted to ensure Miller got to keep the rest of the money, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who originally said Miller should repay £44,000, issued a joint statement which had the effect of circling the wagons.

But while that was circulating and pouring copious amounts of mud into already murky waters, the former editor of the Telegraph, Tony Gallagher, was telling the BBC that one of Miller’s special advisers had leaned on the journalist writing the story of her claiming money she was not entitled to, effectively threatening that Miller had the ability to exact legislative retribution for the Telegraph running the story.

At the time I thought, if there is anything in this claim – and the wording did seem very specific – the journalist would surely have the comments on tape.  Having given Miller’s aide sufficient time and space to deny the story, the Telegraph has now released a recording showing that Miller’s SpAd did exactly what she was accused of.

In the same way I refuse to believe someone in the UKIP press office made up and issued a policy reversal on gay marriage without it being sanctioned, I refuse to believe Maria Miller’s SpAd acted without Miller’s knowledge or authority.  While Miller might have just about unjustly survived paying back a tiny amount of overclaimed money from our hard earned cash, and for giving an ungracious 32-second apology that was the equivalent of flicking two fingers to MPs (the public of course get no apology, despite being the party offended against), the actions of her adviser should have her clearing her desk by Monday.

No Cabinet Minister has ever made such an apology in the Commons and clung to their job.  She should have resigned this week.  But now we can add what amounts to blackmail in an effort to silence a media that is already shockingly poor, she should be sacked. No ifs, buts or maybes.  This abuse of office cannot be allowed to stand.

But of course, this is the state of our ‘democracy’ today.  The decisions will be made by MPs and men in grey suits.  The voters who have been offended against and who should have the ability to have Miller removed from office for what has happened, can only look on.  In this case it’s just as well the media decided to take an interest, otherwise Miller’s wrongdoing and the corruption in her office would not have come to light.

Just imagine how many more falsehoods, truths and corruptions could be exposed if the media chose to take notice and report them…

Scrutiny of the BBC: It’s time to amend the FOI Act 2000

One of the most controversial aspects of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is the way it is interpreted and applied by the BBC.

The BBC’s interpretation, backed by establishment cover among the political class, enables the corporation to reject requests for information, effectively exempting itself from being held to account by the public that is compelled by law to fund it if they own and use a device capable of real-time reception of a TV signal.

A recent story about left wing bias at BBC News and Current Affairs, as acknowledged by presenter BBC Radio 4 Today programme John Humphrys, and now a leaked briefing note from the Question Time programme showing David Dimbleby was told to direct a series of difficult questions to Lord Heseltine (Conservative) and Simon Hughes (Lib Dem), but only ask two tame and generic questions of Rachel Reeves (Labour), are the latest in a string of revelations which consistently point to BBC bias in one direction.

We could submit FOI requests to the BBC for information about the editorial line that had been taken and why it was taken, but we would receive a reply along the lines of:

…the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’    Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature” 1. The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities…

Therefore it is time for a concerted effort to have the FOI Act 2000 amended to remove the clause that allows the BBC to reject requests for information in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.

Ireland’s public service broadcaster, RTE, falls under that country’s Freedom of Information in the same way as the BBC here in the UK.  However, unlike the BBC, RTE doesn’t leave its exemption open to the widest possible interpretation to suit its own interests and instead it publishes exactly what is exempt and what isn’t.  RTÉ tells the Irish public that it:

… is funded in part by public money through the licence fee and we believe that our policies and operations should be open to public scrutiny and that access to our records by the public will show that we carry out our public service remit scrupulously and honestly.

before going to to explain:

What is excluded?

Commercially sensitive, personal or confidential journalistic records cannot be released. Reporter’s notes or off-the-record quotes, whether broadcast or not, are excluded. RTÉ’s internal reviews or analysis of broadcast programmes are also excluded.

It is a stark contrast to the BBC’s efforts to keep the public in the dark about how it works when suspicions are raised, questions are asked and when information requested is rejected on the basis of the catch-all exemption.

There is simply no justification for not answering questions from the public about:

  • details of its editorial position on important issues
  • details of its editorial decision making process when making programmes
  • the names of people who inform BBC policies
  • how and why it selects those people
  • how it selects or omits contributors and guests on its programmes
  • metrics about complaints from the public on specific issues

Releasing information about the details above would in no way compromise confidential sources or require details of whistleblowers to be revealed, which are reasonable exemptions and surely the purpose behind the exemption in the first place.  It would not mean sharing commercially sensitive information and it would not require journalists’ confidential notes or off the record quotes to be shared.

Instead compelling the BBC to release information from the bullet list above would enable the public to discover if there has been bias in the way influential programmes – news and current affairs programmes in the main – have been made and if the editorial process has sought to advance a political or activist narrative, in contravention of the BBC Charter requirements on impartiality.

The only way this will happen is if the FOI Act 2000 is amended so that the exemption is removed from the BBC, Channel 4 and S4C in Wales, and a clearly defined and much more narrow exemption put in its place.  The government talks at length about openness, transparency and accountability, so let the demonstrate it by agreeing to a demand from taxpayers to make those fine words a reality.


Some notes…

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives people a general right of access to information held by public authorities. As the Act makes clear:

Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled

(a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds information of the description specified in the request, and

(b) if that is the case, to have that information communicated to him.

But lurking deep inside the Act, on page 53, is an undefined, catch all exclusion that was granted to a public body which, more than almost any other public body, has the capacity to influence public knowledge and thinking on any number of issues – the BBC.  The full reference reads simply:

The British Broadcasting Corporation, in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature

That single reference is found in Part VI of Schedule 1 – Public authorities in the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which names the BBC as one of the ‘Other public bodies and offices: general’ under the provisions of the Act.

What the BBC thinks the exemptions means for itself…

In summary, the BBC considers the derogation protects the journalistic, artistic and literary integrity of the BBC by securing a creative and journalistic space for programme-makers to produce material for broadcast free from interference by those who would seek to influence our output.  Additionally, as also recognised by the Court of Appeal, it allows for a “level playing field” between the Public Service Broadcasters caught by the Act (BBC, Channel 4, S4C, GMS) and their commercial competitors.  In practical terms, the BBC has interpreted this to mean that we are not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

Putting patients first? Another example of the unaccountable NHS serving its own interests

The BBC is reporting that a hospital where a girl bled to death has refused to publish the findings of its inquiry for fear of “endangering the mental health” of staff.

Kettering General Hospital conducted a serious incident investigation following the death of 17-year-old Victoria Harrison, who bled to death on a ward after an appendix operation in 2012, but has said it will not be making the full report public despite an FoI request.

The trust has undertaken a public interest test with regard to providing a chronology of events.

It believes that Section 38 (1) (a) should be engaged as it is likely to endanger the mental health of individuals [staff] linked to the events leading up to the tragic death of Victoria Harrison, should the information be in the public domain.

The reason for this is due to the risk of colleagues and peers being able to identify the individuals [staff] involved in the incident, and placing the individuals concerned under additional stress and pressure in addition to that already experienced during the investigation and inquest.

Having made this response, Kettering General refused to say how many staff had been disciplined, or their rank, claiming individuals would be identified, but it did reveal that no staff were dismissed.

An artery had been damaged during surgery, with the surgeon rectifying the issue, but not all nursing staff had been told about the bleeding and a number of nurses – incredibly – did not routinely read medical notes of the patients, or when they did could not always decipher surgeons’ handwriting, the inquest was told.

The last written formal observations were taken nine hours before Miss Harrison was found dead by nursing staff.  It is staggering that Miss Harrison had texted her boyfriend to say she was in pain and bleeding, yet staff apparently did not know about it.  No surprise therefore to hear that the coroner said:

Windows of opportunity to treat Victoria were lost – had these been acted upon the outcome may have been different.

I believe her chances of survival would have significantly increased.

Yet despite these failings, the hospital is telling the public they have no right to know how the failings leading to a preventable death have been addressed.

How are residents, forced to rely on the ‘care’ provided at Kettering General, supposed to have confidence in how they will be treated and subsequently looked after?

The interests of the hospital staff are being put first.  This is another example of the public sector, the servant of the public, acting more like the public’s master in refusing to be held to account.  We are just expected to provide the funding and take pot luck when it comes to putting our lives in their hands.

Police and Bailiffs resort to desperate measures to prevent court case exposing criminal phantom visits and illegal fees

Back in August last year we covered a story that typifies the behaviour of bailiffs, local authorities and the police when they respectively choose to break the law and refuse to take action against such law breaking.

It is an incredibly important and far reaching story with implications for many people and the way the law is applied in this country by the police, in what is a biased and uneven way which treats ordinary people differently to the agents of local authorities.  As we explained at the time:

A compelling and detailed case history has been sent to Detective Inspector Caroline Stainer by Peter North.  North’s stand against the illegal fees and refusal to pay for phantom visits has so far resulted in Rundles clamping his vehicle, even though they had no right to do so, North being convicted of criminal damage for removing it by cutting the padlock and Rundles then reporting his car as stolen even though they were not entitled to possession of the vehicle and did not have possession of the vehicle.

Avon & Somerset Police, like forces up and down the country, have turned a blind eye to such criminal behaviour by bailiffs, because they consider the activity of recovering debts on behalf of branches of the establishment – even by illegal means – as upholding law and good order.

Yesterday the case came to court.  Peter North, with barrister representation ready to fight the charges on clear points of law, was confident of victory.  Yet despite months passing since it was known that this case would come to court and be vigorously contested, the bailiffs and police hatched a new plan in front of the judge.  North picks up the tale in detail on his blog which is dedicated to this matter:

Click here to visit the blog

Click here to visit the blog

We were well prepared to go in there and knock their socks off. But Avon and Scummerset Plod had different ideas.  They sabotaged the trial by suggesting to the prosecution that they are “considering” filing a complaint of contempt of court and, get this… Witness Intimidation!

These claims are based on North having published the email address of a witness on his blog; but more pertinently he posted a scanned image of a witness statement, which could be considered contempt of court if he did not remove it, but which was removed immediately – months ago – when he was made aware of the situation. Although North was firmly within his rights to publish the email address of Nicola Spring, a Rundles employee who had anonymously posted comments in an effort to undermine North on a public advice forum, attempting to discredit and libel him while ironically using the forum username ‘truthful and honest’, posting the witness statement was an issue, hence his action to edit both of his blog posts.

Even so, subsequent to this, Rundles made a complaint of witness intimidation (ironic considering their behaviour in the matter over a period of months) on the basis of North publishing the witnesses email address.  Rundles have had months to do this if they felt there was a case to answer for what they are alledging and the police have had months to consider whether arrest is appropriate and have the the Crown Prosecution Service assess the merits of the case, if they believe there is one and if there is a substantial chance of winning such a case.

Yet neither party have done anything about it until the very moment a judge, the police (who would otherwise be on duty, you know, supposedly catching real criminals), two bailiffs, prosecution barrister, defence barrister and a defendant who would otherwise be at work earning his pay in gainful employment, have been assembled in court.  The only reasons they would have done this are:

  1. because Rundles realise their case is wafer thin (their case notes are apparently in complete disarray) and is being contested by a defendant who is rather more clued up and motivated than most people
  2. North has employed a barrister who is doing more than go through the motions and is seeking to make the law work
  3. Avon & Somerset Police consider the activity of recovering debts on behalf of branches of the establishment – even by illegal means – as upholding law and good order, and are desperate not to have the floodgates opened, forcing them to deal with bailiffs who act in a criminal manner when appointed as representatives of local authorities

The blatant abuse of the law, use of illegal methods to enforce collection of debts and even false reports of a vehicle theft to ensure harrassment of the debtor, as exhibited by Rundles, needs to be put to an end and punished severely.  The actions of Avon & Somerset Police yesterday appear to be a conscious attempt to prevent that from happening – to prevent the establishment from being held to account by the law when its agents break the law.

Readers should draw their own conclusions from what North has presented on his blog, but as we said last August, it seems the police have been backed into a corner over bailiff phantom visits and illegal fees.  Now they, with Rundles, seem to be resorting to desperate measures to prevent North having his day in court to expose this contemptible inaction and have it held to account.

If the media really wanted to add value…

… then instead of doing the Tories’ dirty work by focussing on trade union entryism into the Labour Party, in an effort to paint Ed Miliband as even weaker than Neil Kinnock, as regaled on Political Betting, they should focus on entryism into the British civil service and the various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) around the world.

While the media plays its party political games of petty intrigue and personality politics, notionally democratic government is being subverted from within by the left wing entryists who are driving their own agenda and achieving in the shadows what has been rejected by voters at the ballot box.

Consider DEFRA and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.  Both of these departments are stuffed full of closet environmentalists and sustainability activists who control the flow of information to the Ministers of State, thereby influencing their thinking and the approach to implementing government policy.  These are the socialist idealists who went to college, secured a degree, and understanding how government works in this country, joined the civil service and have worked their way into positions of influence from where they can aid or hinder the government of the day.

Local Government has a similar problem to central government departments.  Think back through the raft of child abuse cases and other failures of social services departments and in many of them you will find the leadership of those departments is infested with members of the Marxist organisation, Common Purpose.  The media has barely scratched the surface when it comes to exposing Common Purpose and its nefarious agenda, so it is hardly surprising anyone casting a casual glance at the matter would not understand the serious consequences of this unaccountable body training ‘leaders’ from across the full gamut of public services bodies to work and act in a particular way – beyond authority.

There are even more serious issues with entryists across Europe who have worked their way into a raft of NGOs, that due to the way the EU works, actually inform and direct policy making.  So at a time when people in the UK are waking up to the potential for stabilisation of energy prices through the use of shale gas, we are finding entryists at work formulating the EU’s policy and regulations on shale extraction.

With the entryists striving to hold the line on the adoption and use of unreliable and hugely costly renewables and their ‘dirty’ and hugely costly STOR back up, while pressing for the eradication of hydrocarbons from the energy mix, the risk is that the cost of adhering to the regulations being developed for shale extraction may very well reduce the number of parties willing to invest in this energy source.  The result of this would be more of the ‘reduce demand by driving up cost’ approach that is pushing hundreds of thousands of people into fuel poverty, and scaring the poor away from heating their homes in even the coldest weather.

Each of these issues could easily spawn a number of blog posts in their own right and it may be this blog covers them in more detail in the coming days and weeks.  But with this kind of coverage and exposure being limited to the blogosphere, rather than the larger platform the mainstream media enjoys, the opportunity for raising awareness among the public is greatly reduced.

Thus we remain ill served by our media and its selective and agenda strewn editorial lines, packed full of tittle tattle and yah-boo nonsense at a time when the public is largely ignorant of what is being done in their name and with their money, by people who are subverting democratic control and accountability.

Misconduct in Public Office

Cynthia Bower, former Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and her former deputy, Jill Finney, stand accused along with media manager Anna Jefferson of being involved, to varying degress, in the decision to cover-up of failures over deaths of babies at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria.

There can be no doubt that, as a regulator of the National Health Service, the CQC is a public body.  These charges are of a particularly grave nature and far more serious than police officers selling titbits of information to the media.  As we have seen police officers being prosecuted for Misconduct in Public Office and imprisoned when found guilty, it stands to reason that Bower, Finney and Jefferson should stand before a court to answer the accusations.

Our public services are infested with people who have no interest in serving anything other than their own financial and career interests.  It is obscene that Bower was allowed to leave the CQC with a pension pot of around £1.5million with her appalling track record.  The absence of accountability seems to be the most common characteristic of those who reach the higher echelons of these lavishly funded organisations that produce very little, consume a vast amount and, as the Furness scandal, the Mid Staffordshire scandal and numerous other scandals already exposed and in the pipeline for exposure show, hold the public that funds them in sickening contempt.

These people have blood on their hands.  It is the most serious failure or wilful misconduct that anyone in public service can be accused of.  Nothing less than prosecution to the full extent of the law, accompanied by complete transparency about everything that has happened with no censorship, and crucially full details of what outside organisations – such as Common Purpose – they and those who hired them are members of and have spent public money to participate in, should be accepted.

The political class has facilitated the development of the parasite class, which is consistently failing the people they are supposed to serve while feeding off us like leeches.  Enough is enough.  It’s time to take them on.

Frack off, Cameron

Back in May this year, Ed Davey revealed to Parliament there had been a discussion at Number 10 with ‘experts in the shale gas industry’ concerning shale gas in the UK.

What was interesting about this, as Andrew Montford at the Bishop Hill blog pointed out, was that these experts apparently told David Cameron and other assembled stuffed shirts that it would take some time to exploit shale gas – and that ‘strong regulation’ would be required.  It was certainly a strange sentiment coming from people in the industry, who presumably would want to push ahead quickly to exploit shale, and do so with minimal constraints.

As Montford speculated at the end of his post, ‘I wonder who Number Ten’s experts were?’  I wondered the same thing, which is why I submitted the Freedom of Information request shown below:

Now bearing in mind in April this year, none other than the Cabinet Office (the department that would field my request) Minister Francis Maude wrote in the Guardian (where else?) the claims below, one would expect that openness and transparency to be readily on display:

Since coming to office, the coalition has made great strides towards David Cameron’s commitment that the United Kingdom would be the most open and transparent government in the world. We have already brought a new openness to all areas of government, radically challenging the damaging idea that public data is owned by the state, not the citizen.

– Francis Maude, The Guardian, 19 April 2012

But of course, when it comes to politics we are in the Post-Truth Age.  Anything goes in this ideologically bankrupt administration, so long as it and its friends benefit.  Which is why more than two months after submitting my request – without explanation for the failure to comply with the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, or apology for the delay and failure to respond to my follow up queries – I received the following:

The suspicion is that the government is – as it so often does – only listening to opinions that reinforce its viewpoint and agenda.  It stretches the bounds of credulity that even if the likely reserves of shale are not as extensive as some might suggest, representatives of the shale gas industry would seek to hinder their effort to exploit shale and actually demand significant government action to restrict the extraction of shale.

The rhetorical question is, in whose interest is this government working?  It’s certainly not ours.

Met Office forecasting produces another epic failure

Regular readers will remember the intense period of blogging activity during the 2010/11 winter about the Met Office’s weather forecast failures and our work in exposing their fraudulent attempt to conceal the reality of their seasonal forecasting activity.

After handing the information and evidence on a plate to the Daily Mail and the Daily Express who then ignored the story – and being told by three MPs they would investigate the evidence but true to form did not keep their promise – this blog has largely left the Met Office alone.  It seemed pointless devoting time and effort pulling back the curtains to show the Met Office in its true light because the establishment has a vested interest in protecting the Met Office due to its high profile role and profitable role in the climate change industry.

But perhaps there is still some value in drawing attention to the rank failures of the Met Office in the hope more people ask questions about why the department gets its weather forecasting so wrong so often, and ask why its executives are lavishly rewarded each year with substantial performance related bonuses and are protected from scrutiny and criticism despite demonstrably false statements.  So it is we offer our thanks to Paul Homewood – writing on Watts Up With That? – who draws global attention to the Met Office’s seasonal forecast for UK for the period including April.

It is another epic failure by the Met Office characterised by a forecast of drier and forecast of warmer weather being more likely (as always, in line with their global warming orthodoxy and warming bias of their computer models) in the UK during April.  No doubt the Met Office will issue its now standard retort that people do not understand ‘probability’ and excuse that these forecasts must be used in conjunction with 30-day, 15-day and 1-to-5-day forecasts.

The observed reality makes a mockery of the Met Office precipitation and temperature forecasts once again.  This month just gone was the wettest April since records began in 1910, and the coldest since 1989, at some 0.65C below than the 1971-2000 average.

As always, there will be no investigation.  The media will happily mock the contrast between the drought in force in southern and central England, but will steer well clear of serving the public interest by focusing on why these forecasts are so badly wrong.  Attention will be diverted by all parties to other subjects, particularly efforts to fight climate change.  The performance bonuses will continue to flow to the Met Office’s executives as surely as night follows day.

It’s always helpful to connect the dots.  The Chairman of the Met Office is Robert Napier.  Not only is he a Non-Executive Director of Anglian Water, which has a drought order in place, he is also the former Chief Executive of WWF-UK, the UK arm of the World Wide Fund for Nature.  That is the same WWF exposed as being engaged in systematic fraud in the developing world and which supplies the International Panel on Climate Change with material to prop up the climate change industry.

Burwood School assaults – Ofsted shows its inspections are worthless

In January this blog focused attention on the background to the serious assault on two teachers at Burwood School in Orpington, and the media’s failure to report the story in a fuller context.

The Daily Mail later looked deeper into the story and obtained an interview with the father of one of the seriously injured teachers, Diane Whithead.  In that interview, Ms Whitehead’s father shared the previously unreported news that she had suffered another assault at the school in 2009 that resulted in two broken ribs.  Although I carried out a detailed search for news of this incident, there were no reports about it in the archives of the local or national press.  Not only did was this incident hushed up, but it took place in in the very year that Ofsted took Burwood School out of special measures, having been placed in them after the 2007 inspection.

Clearly Ofsted had questions to answer about this – and as the media has lost interest in the story and moved on to its usual diet of celebrity fayre and tittle tattle, I duly submitted a Freedom of Information request asking the following:

  • Did the assault in 2009 take place before or after the Ofsted inspection?
  • If the assault preceded the inspection, were Ofsted told about it?
  • If Ofsted were told, was it taken into account when lifting the school out of special measures?
  • If the assault followed the inspection, were Ofsted told about it?
  • If Ofsted were told, did they consider another inspection?
  • Were the Ofsted inspectors conducting the 2011 inspection aware of the 2009 assault?
  • If they were aware, why did the school get a satisfactory rating despite safety concerns of several parents and carers and evidence of issues around behaviour management?
  • If they were not aware, why did the inspectors not investigate the parental concerns more vigorously?

Although the reply came in February, I’ve delayed returning to this story as I tried another avenue to get more information.  However, now seems as good a time as any to revisit the story and publish Ofsted’s reply following a written answer to a question about violent crime in schools in Parliament that was published yesterday in which no mention was made of Ofsted and its role in assessing safety and behaviour in schools:

Ofsted’s reply which amounts to ‘nothing to do with us, guv’.  It is staggering that documents are destroyed after only six months so there is no way of looking back at evidence collected during previous inspections.  How on earth is an inspector supposed to accurately assess a school’s change performance from its previous inspection when all that is available is what amounts to a brief summary report?  This only reinforces the belief that Ofsted inspections are largely cosmetic and ultimately worthless.

There is no point having Ofsted assess and share information about safety and behaviour in schools if it is incapable of being held to account for its reports when events show them to be flawed or hopelessly out of kilter with the day to day reality in our schools.

There was a hoo last year when Ofsted’s budget for 2014/15 was announced as £143 million.  This is down from £198 million in 2010/11 and £266 million in 2004/05.  For all the use Ofsted is and lack of value it provides, it would seem reasonable to argue that even £143m is far too high a price for taxpayers to pay.  It may have the motto ‘raising standards, improving lives’ but it clearly failed spectacularly when it came to Burwood School, with serious consequences.  Ofsted simply isn’t fit for purpose.

Journalism – the new exclusion zone

The Leveson Inquiry has long since ceased to be something worth watching carefully.  The self righteous bleating of celebrities, whose currency is column inches and photo coverage, about the behaviour of the media; and the weasel words and distortions of the media editors and hacks themselves, is simply too gut churning to put up with.

However, the odd snippet of news worthy material does emerge now and again and one such item has been picked up by the Guardian and covered by FleetStreetBlues and the Press Gazette.  It concerns the evidence yesterday of the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre.

The inquiry was always likely to give an opportunity for the government seize upon the British capacity for unthinking, emotionalised outrage.  What was it Macaulay said?  ‘We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality’.  Leveson is the outcome of one of those spectacles.  Well now we see the consequences, an agenda to impose regulation on the media in a way that would suit the media’s own interests.  But it was always likely to provide the mainstream media with an opporunity to shore up its position and make journalism a closed shop – an exclusion zone.  Dacre’s suggestions are merely the articulation of this self interest.  This sycophantic cloak wrapped around vested interest needs to be seen for what it is.

Editors such as Dacre not only allowed, but encouraged their journalists to behave in an appalling manner to generate column hectares of tittle tattle.  They have all but eliminated investigative, public interest journalism.  That has been sacrificed at the altar of immediacy and servicing the 24 hour news cycle with showbusiness gossip and shallow circus politics that intentionally keeps people in ignorance of matters of governance and state control.  It’s a cosy arrangement that suits the newspapers and the people they should be looking to hold to account.

These days, Dacre and his ilk simply preside over teams dedicated to churnalism – lifting copy from the wires of a small number of press agencies with largely anonymous and unaccountable staff, who provide the MSM with copy to cut and paste wholesale into print or digitial form as a ‘news’ – with no effort devoted to fact checking, looking into the sources and their motivations (which are primarily pubic relations companies working for clients), or providing essential context that shows the story in its true light.

Now, having helped dumb down the nation by flooding it with sub-literate huff and puff, Dacre is turning his eye to shutting the door on anyone who might upset the cosy arrangements that are in place.  Self preservation is the key, keeping out the upstart citizen bloggers and young turks who would upset the apple cart of cosy co-existence with the nation’s political and corporate ‘elite’.  That is the agenda. All that is required is for editors to enforce ethical behaviour among their journalists.  But of course, no crisis must be allowed to pass without taking the opportunity to secure some kind of benefit for the tribe, so the excessive ‘solution’ to a very simple problem just so happens to suit the interests of the fourth estate.

Dacre is proposing to make official what was only custom; putting a protective shield around those who are ‘on message’ through a system of approval and certification, ensuring only the hand-picked and vetted can ever identify themselves as a journalist and – more crucially – access the mainstream channels to sell their stories.  It is the last charge of the dead tree press.

In the United States, where regulation is a dirty word for many, there is less deference to the establishment and (rightly) less trust of official and semi-official sources.  Citizen journalists are much more widely read and rewarded.  It inspires more people to put quality news and analysis into the public domain, which in turn attracts more readers.  However, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, people have become too reliant on the establishment and a kind of fear holds them back from questioning and challenging in the manner many Americans do.  There is a deference to ‘prestige’ that makes people shun the unofficial and unsanctioned.

For reasons passing understanding, too many people in this country have accepted the establishment’s mantra that as it is ‘official’ and has ‘authority’, it alone can and should be trusted.  That is why our citizen journalism is so far behind that in the US and why the media of which Paul Dacre is a part is so craven.  The establishment has thus been afforded the space to build a security wall around itself to keep ordinary people at bay and Dacre is helping to man that wall in return for some titbits from the table that can be used to entertain the readership – and now working actively to ensure the journalist ‘guards’ he employs can be relied upon to do the same.

This will either further entrench the rancid ineffectiveness of the media, or finally wake more people from their slumber and encourage them to look away from the establishment and its lackeys and seek the information the MSM chooses to ignore or omit from its narrative.  One can only hope it is the latter, but that hope is very small indeed.

What does Ofsted mean by ‘Satisfactory’?

Regular readers will be aware this blog has been looking at the can of worms opened up by the serious assault on two teachers at Burwood School.

We return to the subject today following a story in today’s Guardian, which explains:

The Ofsted rating of “satisfactory” for schools – widely regarded as a euphemism for a poor school – is to be scrapped, the new chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, will propose as he outlines new plans to tackle “coasting schools”.

Granted, the Guardian’s angle with the story is to put forward the teaching unions’ narrative about this being another mechanism designed to shoehorn schools into Academy status.  But it nevertheless highlights an issue with Ofsted’s school inspections that is evidenced by the two most recent reports submitted about Burwood – one of the 28% of schools given one of these ‘Satisfactory’ ratings.

The Wilshaw proposals, that schools must demonstrate improvement over the course of two more inspections over a three-year period or face going into special measures, would have signalled greater focus at Burwood before the attack took place.  Burwood School’s 2011 Ofsted rating overall was ‘satisfactory’ as you can see below…

But this is no different to the inspection rating in 2009, where a separate inspector also gave Burwood a ‘satisfactory’ rating.  At the time, with the school emerging from special measures, the inspector described Burwood as a rapidly improving school.

Although the two reports do not present the key criteria in a like for like fashion (ensuring it is difficult to establish a benchmark to judge future performance – update… and a tweeter advises that the criteria has changed again from 1st January this year) what we can see is that there were items in the 2009 report, shown below, rated ‘2’ or ‘good’.  After that 2009 report it seems the rapid improvement arrested.  By 2011 there were no ‘2’ or ‘good’ ratings.

Having given Burwood School another satisfactory rating and highlighting required improvements, some of which are incredibly similar to those highlighted in 2009, why did Ofsted not consider putting the school back into special measures?  The direction of travel, to coin a phrase, was clearly not one of improvement.  If anything things were slipping backwards, but this seems to have been blithely dismissed and swept under the carpet.

One wonders if special measures had been in force again and there was more scrutiny on the inconsistencies in classroom discipline, and the excessive culture of rewarding pupils with fun activities instead of lessons, the 10-year-old alleged attacker might have had his behaviour nipped in the bud before he exploded out of control.

While Ofsted was content to rate Burwood School as satisfactory, it seems Ofsted’s own actions in addressing failings at the school were anything but.  It could be argued they share responsibility for what happened in that classroom on 5th January.

Burwood School assault – the questions Ofsted must answer

When this blog did what the media didn’t, and named Burwood School as the venue of a serious assault on two teachers by a 10-year-old pupil, we took a look at the Ofsted inspection report from 2011.

The report mentioned concerns by parents and carers about safety at the school, but this was offset by the inclusion of the finding that:

Burwood is a safe school

and that:

students are unanimous in confirming that they feel safe in school

At the time we said that:

Given the incident that has taken place, that assessment finding should surely come in for substantial scrutiny – something any half decent media would be focusing attention on.

The media, God love them, haven’t got that far yet.  Only the Daily Mail seems to have dug deeper into the story.  What the Mail has done is obtain comment from the parents of Diane Whitehead, the teacher whose leg was shattered and kneecap dislocated in the incident.  Although some people speculated the injury may have been caused by an awkward fall while restraining the child, it transpires the injury came as a result of a deliberate karate-style kick to the leg moments after the boy had headbutted another female teacher in the face, knocking her unconscious.

What stands out in the interview is the previously unreported news that Ms Whitehead suffered another assault at the school in 2009 that resulted in two broken ribs.  Reports of this previous incident cannot be found in the archives of the local or national press.  It appears to have been hushed up.  However, 2009 was the year that Ofsted took Burwood School out of special measures, having been placed in them after the 2007 inspection.

So what we have is a substandard level of performance at Burwood in 2007 necessitating special measures… sufficient progress supposedly being made to take the school out of special measures in 2009 – the year Ms Whitehead suffered the previous serious assault… parents and carers expressing concern about safety at the school in 2011 which Ofsted appears not to have investigated more deeply despite observations of behavioural management issues… then this grievous double assault in 2012.

Ofsted has questions to answer in respect of its inspections at Burwood School:

  • Did the assault in 2009 take place before or after the Ofsted inspection?
  • If the assault preceded the inspection, were Ofsted told about it?
  • If Ofsted were told, was it taken into account when lifting the school out of special measures?
  • If the assault followed the inspection, were Ofsted told about it?
  • If Ofsted were told, did they consider another inspection?
  • Were the Ofsted inspectors conducting the 2011 inspection aware of the 2009 assault?
  • If they were aware, why did the school get a satisfactory rating despite safety concerns of several parents and carers and evidence of issues around behaviour management?
  • If they were not aware, why did the inspectors not investigate the parental concerns more vigorously?

As the media is not asking them, we will.  An FOI request is on its way and we will return to this subject when we have received a reply.

Another example of lazy journalism failing the public – Burwood School

What is the point of journalists?  Increasingly in this country we see reporters publishing stories they have not written, and to which they add virtually nothing.

A story doing the rounds today is a glaring example of this churnalism.  Picked up from the newswires by the BBC, national papers and a raft of regional titles, is the story of a 10-year-old boy who has been arrested for allegedly attacking two of his female teachers at his school in Orpington.  One has facial injuries, but the other has a broken leg and dislocated kneecap.

All the reports and headlines are virtually identical, as you can see from the Press Association (the likely origin of the story), the BBC, the Independent, in The Sun, the Metro and more besides.

But all of these outlets miss the opportunity to put the story into all-important context.  For while they content themselves to repeat a police spokesman’s words saying that police attended a school in Avalon Road, Orpington, and detailing the injuries sustained, none of them name the school and therefore help the audience to understand more about what happened.

The only school on Avalon Road is Burwood School, which describes itself thus:

So the incident has not taken place in a run of the mill mainstream school, but in a boys only establishment made up of around 44 youngsters with various problems who are not suitable to be in maintstream education.  Not only that, but an establishment placed into special measures by Ofsted for two years in 2007 and was subsequently forced to reduce the designated age range of its pupils so it could no longer accept youngsters aged between 7-10-years-old.

While this information does not detract from the seriousness of the incident and the apparent extreme violence meted out by a mere 10-year-old, it is clear the school runs a higher risk of violent incidents taking place due to the troubled nature of its pupils.  Although it came out of special measures in 2009, the 2011 Ofsted inspection‘s key findings clearly show standards at the school have a lot of improvement to make:

The Ofsted report goes on to mention that concerns have been raised by a minority of parents and carers about safety in the school, something which appears to have been dismissed by the inspectors who state:

‘Burwood is a safe school’

and go on to add that:

‘students are unanimous in confirming that they feel safe in school’

The students? Since when does their opinion trump that of responsible parents and carers?  It is interesting therefore that this information is shared in the report given Ofsted confirmed in their introduction that their inspection was somewhat devalued (my description) by the fact that:

There were limited opportunities for lesson observations because Year 11 students were out of school on study leave throughout the inspection, and two of the five remaining classes went on an educational visit for the whole of the second day.

Given the incident that has taken place, that assessment finding should surely come in for substantial scrutiny – something any half decent media would be focusing attention on.  As should the feeling running through the report that pupils determine too much of what goes on in the school at the expense of formally planned and disciplined educational activity.  There are clear issues here that are of public interest, but will likely go unexplored because the media has failed to provide all the information.  The media is leaving the public in possession of only part of the story,  resulting in a very misleading impression of the circumstances.

The question is, why did none of the journalists who published this story take a few minutes to uncover and report these important details before making the story live?

We already know the answer.  This is yet another example of our media being lazy, derivative and unfit for purpose , therefore ill-serving the public audience.  No doubt it will fall to blogs to tell the story the media is incapable or unwilling to research and publish, and serve the public interest.

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