Monday, September 27, 2010

Will NSW students go backwards under a national curriculum

NSW school curricula have not been dumbed down as much as in other States because of the influence of long-time NSW Premier Bob Carr. Carr is a scholarly man and blocked any erosion of standards during his time in office

State Labor governments are under pressure to fall into line with the new national curriculum. A statement from the national curriculum authority seems to assume state education ministers will not object to the final version of its national curriculum plan. The statement says: ‘‘Once Ministers endorse the curriculum in December, it will be available for implementation from 2011’’.

The 20-year history of numerous failed attempts to develop a national curriculum are also spelled out in full. The message is clear that the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority wants any obstruction from the states to stop.

The NSW government said nothing to criticise the national agenda in the lead up to the federal election this year. The order for silence had come from above.

The NSW Board of Studies quietly posted its objections to the national curriculum in late July. That is according to the state government which issued no press release at the time. The response went unnoticed for several weeks.

The Board was blunt in its criticism of the national curriculum draft. This view was widely supported by NSW science, English, history and maths teachers. Their collective view is that the national curriculum draft is vastly inferior to existing NSW standards.

The Board of Studies said the draft curriculum for kindergarten to year 10 students lacked an overarching framework and was overcrowded with content. It said the draft maths and science curriculums failed to cater for the full range of student abilities. Year 10 science was said to be too difficult for most students. The draft history curriculum was described as "far too ambitious to be taught effectively".

The question is whether Labor state governments will be brave enough to take on their Federal colleagues later this year when the nation’s education ministers meet to discuss adoption of the final version of the national curriculum.

The head of the national curriculum authority, Barry McGaw, said his press release was not an attempt to pre-empt their decision. He is confident that any grumblings from the states will have been sorted out in the final curriculum documents.

However, teachers and school principals remain unconvinced that this state will not be selling out what they believe is a gold standard curriculum in NSW.


Man dies while waiting three-and-a-half hours for ambulance

The ambulance union says a man dying of poisoning made nine desperate calls for help during an awful three-hour wait for help -- the delay being apparently due to "don't care" management. It's what you expect of public servants

Ambulance Victoria has launched an investigation after paramedics failed to arrive at the man's house for more than three hours, while he deteriorated as a result of deliberately swallowing a liquid detergent. The Burwood man in his mid-50s made his first desperate call for help about 11.28pm on the night of the Grand Final, but the ambulance did not arrive until 2.50am.

Just four minutes after the pair of advanced life support paramedics arrived, the man went into cardiac arrest. A MICA crew was immediately called, but the man could not be revived.

Ambulance Victoria spokesman James Howe conceded the man made "at least two or three" calls to triple zero, but the union today said the reality was far worse. Victorian ambulance union spokesman Steve McGee said his own figures showed the man called nine times, including a call at 2.45am, five minutes before the ambulance arrived. “He rang them nine times before they eventually dispatched an ambulance. It’s just not good enough," Mr McGee.

He said Ambulance Victoria had failed the community, after a string of similar delays and deaths, and called on the Coroner to immediately be involved in an investigation. “He was pleading for an ambulance.” “My belief is that this man should be alive today,” he said.

He said it was clear that the man was a much greater priority than he was given, since the first crew to arrive called for an intensive care unit a few minutes after arriving. “If this man had have got an ambulance in an appropriate time, he would have already have been in a hospital getting appropriate treatment. He wouldn’t have gone into cardiac arrest probably, more than likely his condition wouldn’t have deteriorated to the state that it had,” he said.

“Why did this guy have to wait three hours for an ambulance in his condition? “The system has clearly failed this gentleman and his family,” he said.

Ambulance Victoria earlier confirmed made several calls to the service, desperately asking when an ambulance was to arrive. “I know there were at least two or three calls,” Ambulance spokesman James Howe said today.

Dispatchers also made multiple calls to the patient to check he was stable, he said. "We had spoken to the patient through that time, and he was conscious and breathing and talking

Mr Howe said the man had been conscious and breathing when paramedics first arrived. But Mr Howe rejected suggestions that a lack of resources was the obvious problem, and said an internal investigation would determine what went wrong. "Before we jump to conclusions, before we try to allocate blame, we need to review what went wrong," Mr Howe said.

He said crews on the night had been stretched because of the heavy workload on the night, with its call centre comparing the pace of the night to that of New Year’s Eve. “We were prioritising a huge volume of calls at the time,” Mr Howe said.

He said the workload was 50 per cent busier than the previous weekend, with 180 call-outs on the night, compared with 120 the week before. But he said there had not been any been a shortage of crews in the Burwood area on the night as a result of “dropped shifts”.

He said the organisation realised ambulance crews faced a pressure situation. “I certainly have sympathy for them and the situation that they were in. I’m sure they were doing everything they could. But we have to look at what happened and learn from it." "This case is distressing for everyone involved," he said.

The involvement of family in any investigation had not been established, he said. He said the call tapes would be reviewed by the organisation’s quality team.

He said while the union “had the right” to blame the issue on resources, Ambulance Victoria had actually increased resources in the past 18 months. Mr Howe said another 300 paramedics per year had been added to staff in the past few years.

But Mr McGee ridiculed suggestions that a lack of resources was not to blame. “Even if its workload was high, they knew it was on Grand Final night, which happens every year. They know Grand Final nights are generally busy. Why didn’t they match the resource levels? “At 9pm, there were 50-60 cases waiting … why didn’t they bring in more people then?”

He said the union was unapologetic about its campaign for more paramedics, and said the State’s offer to boost rural services by 297 paramedics must be matched in the CBD. And he said while there may have been up to 300 paramedics employed each year for the past few years, that failed to account for the numbers being lost.

Mr McGee said detergents could cause serious internal damage as a result of corrosion, with one of the worst dangers swelling of airway passages that could prevent breathing.


Beware attention-seekers

Their mother probably didn't look when they were little and said to her "Look at me". There has never been any evidence of harm arising from the consumption of GM foods

Six female Greenpeace campaigners have been arrested for trespassing after staging a supermarket protest in Sydney's north on Monday over a Wyeth Nutrition baby formula they believe may be harmful.

The six were part of a 15-strong group who staged the sit-down inside a Neutral Bay Woolworths about 10am. They positioned themselves in front of the S-26 baby formula, made by the Pfizer-owned company Wyeth Nutrition, which they claim contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

A similar protest was held by Greenpeace at a Coles store in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.

Police said the six women, aged between 20 and 30, were expected to be charged with trespassing later on Monday. ``Police spoke with the (Woolworths store) manager and then commenced negotiations with the group," a police spokeswoman said. ``They (the campaigners) left the store and then without warning went back inside."

Officers spoke with the manager again and the women were arrested a short time later when they refused to leave. The remainder of the group left of their own accord.

Greenpeace named the arrested six as Sarah Roberts, Melissa Freeburn, Rebecca Evenden, Anna Parente, Claire Parfitt and Olivia Rosenman, and said they would be assisted by a Greenpeace lawyer.

Greenpeace is angry over what it said was a lack of labelling on the S-26 baby formula and called on Woolworths and Coles to remove it from their shelves. Independent tests of the popular baby formula have found it contains traces of GM soy and corn which could be harmful to infants, Greenpeace Australia spokeswoman Laura Kelly told AAP at the supermarket on Monday. The formula is not labelled as containing GM ingredients.

Wyeth Nutrition said the company has had a strict policy of using only non-GM ingredients in all its infant formulas since 2001. ``It is important to note that trace amounts of GMO (genetically modified organisms) do not present a health or safety threat to infants," it said in a statement.

The company was concerned by the allegations made by Greenpeace and had requested a copy of the test results. ``Wyeth Nutrition would welcome the opportunity to work with Greenpeace and relevant authorities to address the matter in detail," it said.


The school heater saga rumbles on in NSW

A very expensive bungle by clueless (or should that be flueless?) bureaucrats. The article below understates the problem. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, the unflued heaters can be used only with the windows wide open -- which makes them almost useless

THERE are certain things you should never argue about with a parent. Try telling someone with kids that Dennis Ferguson has served his time and has a right to live next door.

The issue of unflued gas heaters in NSW classrooms is similarly emotive for parents. The thought of exposing our children to invisible toxic gases – no matter how tiny the amount – is unacceptable to most people.

Whatever the findings of the Woolcock report into the health effects of heaters, Education Minister Verity Firth was always going to be under pressure to replace heaters in all state schools.

In the event, the Woolcock report found that there was a relationship between unflued heaters and symptoms of breathing difficulties in kids.

The study, which relied on a group of parents keeping an observational diary, found a 0.5 per cent increase in wheezing among asthmatic kids exposed to the nitrogen dioxide emitted from unflued heaters.

Despite that connection the report found no measurable reduction in lung capacity of any kids but concluded that replacing heaters was advisable as a safety-first approach. And not many would argue with that – indeed most parents of school-age kids would celebrate the decision. Except that this is no small decision.

It will cost upwards of $400 million and take a decade to complete, so the science has to be right.

A study in the US, huge in its scope, has reviewed the findings of 50 studies into the effects of nitrogen dioxide and suggests that the Woolcock Institute is playing it safe. The US study concludes there is no danger to healthy or asthmatic people at nitrogen dioxide levels at between 0.2 and 0.6 parts per million (ppm) in the air.

The Woolcock study found unflued heaters emitted nitrogen dioxide at between the equivalent of 0.0074 and 0.1352 ppm. On that basis, the worst of NSW heaters registers well below the lower limit of what the US report found to be safe.

There was more than a hint of policy on the run when Firth announced the $400 million replacement without the consent of the Premier or cabinet. I suspect if the wider government – particularly Treasurer Eric Roozendaal – was aware of the larger studies the Woolcock findings may have been treated differently.

Regardless of the scientific findings, Firth all but signed up to a full replacement when she announced that unflued heaters would be removed from schools in colder climates.

As I commented in this column back in June, how can you tell parents their kids aren't at risk when you've gone and replaced them in some schools on the same concerns? You can't. Which is why $400 million will be spent no matter what the science says.


1 comment:

Policy Adviser said...

This opinion piece doesn't understate the problem at all. The school gas heaters produce on average 14 more particles per billion of Nitrogen Dioxide above ambient levels in the classroom. This is an insignificant amount of Nitrogen Dioxide as correctly reported by the US study. The school gas heaters are also fitted with low ventilation shut-off valves (ODS pilots) which detect when ventilation rates are low and safely shut down the appliance. School heaters are also fitted with low emitting burners which produce levels of carbon monoxide of no health concern. Its time the public is properly informed on this issue and stop the fear mongering against unflued heaters, most people commenting have little technical expertise in this area and don't understand the technology or health facts. Unflued heaters have been used for decades without issue and are safe as houses.