Friday, October 01, 2010

South Australian schools cutting the crap

Demand for Year 12 humanities subjects has collapsed because of changes to the South Australian Certificate of Education.

Schools have told The Advertiser students choosing their subjects for next year are shunning languages, history, arts and social studies in preference for more "conservative" subjects. Most students are choosing a more traditional pattern of "maths one, maths two, physics and chemistry", meaning schools are likely to axe humanities subjects from their curriculum.

It has raised concerns the cuts could put less academic students at risk as they often rely on the humanities subjects to pass Year 12.

The new SACE, to be rolled out to Year 12 next year, will reduce subject choice from five to four. The new SACE will no longer require final-year students to complete a compulsory humanities or maths subject. They will instead have to complete a compulsory independent research project on a subject of their choice.

Adelaide High School is likely to cut tourism, social studies, economics and geology, while history is also at risk, despite the nationwide push for it to become a core subject in the national curriculum. Assistant principal Michael Black, who is in charge of timetabling, said next year's enrolment for languages in Year 12 had also halved.

"We usually have interest of 12 or 15 but we are down to seven or eight. Because we are a specialist language school we will offer them and (look) at combining Year 11 and 12 classes," he said. "It is narrowing the curriculum and without the comprehensive (choice) it's pigeon-holing students."

A survey of other school leaders by The Advertiser found other subjects at risk include: legal studies, visual arts and geography with principals reporting preliminary enrolments of fewer than 15 students, which meant they were unlikely to survive. They say many subjects could also be reduced from offering multiple classes to just one.

Le Fevre High School principal Rob Shepherd said humanities and biology had taken the biggest hit. "Studies of Society has collapsed ... it was a really strong subject," he said. "Biology has taken a big hit (and) some of our art programs, which means there are a lot less offerings. "The curriculum has narrowed to the same conservative subjects - physics, chemistry, maths 1 and 2." Mr Shepherd said they also expected to take on Woodville High students studying Indonesian, because of low interest in languages at that school.

The Mathematical Association of SA collected data from about 30 schools and said that "surprisingly" maths enrolments for next year were remaining steady - at the detriment of humanities subjects, particularly languages. President-elect Carol Moule said they had feared maths enrolments would drop drastically under the changes. "If kids are happy to take four subjects: double maths and physics and chem ... I would be delighted to see our numbers stay up," she said.

South Australian Secondary Principals Association president Jim Davies said "no doubt" it was an emerging issue. "There is significant variability in subject shifts from school to school ... (it's) complicated because of the reduction in subjects," he said.

Mr Davies said schools were further left in the dark over which subjects they could staff because the state government is yet to release the new funding model.

The SACE Board of SA chief executive Dr Paul Kilvert said the new SACE would provide a broad curriculum for students.

"The Research Project subject, gives students the flexibility to investigate topics from any SACE subject while developing learning and research skills they can use throughout their lives," Dr Kilvert said. "The responses we have received from schools piloting the Research Project indicate the new subject is an ideal vehicle for students to pursue a topic of interest in areas that can come from other SACE subjects, the workplace or the community."


School building programs eating up play space

Government food obsession not matched by promotion of exercise

There was a small flurry of aghastness recently when primary school canteens were exposed as serial breachers of government healthy-food nazism. By "healthy", here, we mean essentially non-fattening, worried as we are that before they hit 30 the roly-poly little dears will blow the nation's entire health budget on diabetes, heart disease, joint replacement and fully funded lap-banding.

Schools across the country, force-fed by Julia Gillard's "education revolution" funding, are eating their own playgrounds. Two-and-a-half thousand in NSW alone, yet we're all happy about this, since it plumps the economy and could, we tell ourselves, drag our education system out of the toilet.

In construction are thousands of brick-veneer multipurpose halls and aluminium-windowed air-conditioned computer rooms with not a single string attached. No requirement to be carbon-neutral (kick-starting a new industry), or to be as gracious as their 19th-century counterparts, so steadfast in presenting education as a dignified pursuit. And no consideration at all, apparently, of what this rampant playground-guzzling might mean to the kiddies.

Perhaps, in Quirindi or Euchareena Heights where land is still (seen as) limitless, it's fine. But here in mid-metropolis - where play space is already scarce and school rolls are still swelling after decades of naked government profit-taking neglected the inevitable city-centre revival as habitat for breeding pairs of young professionals - here it's a problem.

Already, schools have lunchtime "no running" rules. This is true. No big balls (I'm refusing the obvious joke here, but have you ever tried to play soccer with a tennis ball?) and no chasey, barring the tamest possible version. Now that almost every school has a major chunk of its "open" space fenced and scaffolded, what will give?

Boys, and boy-ness, for a start. As even boisterousness becomes frowned-upon and the fighting that is bound to erupt in such pent conditions becomes punishable by that boys' own worst-possible penalty, endless hours of raking-it-over talk, just being a boy becomes a problem.

The incentive is to stay static, watch the screen, make like a girl, gossip, get fat. Which is where the double whammy kicks in. Estrogen. Double whammy, double mammy. For not only does estrogen generate fat; fat also generates estrogen.


Expulsion from Australia looming for Afghans

Hundreds of Afghans seeking asylum in Australia face an increased chance of being sent home after the Gillard government lifted its controversial freeze on processing their applications.

Announcing the end of the freeze, new Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday flagged an increase in deportations. "The percentage of successful refugee claims is likely to be lower than in the past," he said.

But he refused to release advice the government had received about the situation facing Hazaras, who comprise the majority of Afghans seeking asylum, when they return home.

Refugee advocates questioned whether it had become safer to send people back, saying 2010 had been the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001.

They also blasted the government for introducing the freeze in the first place, saying it had led to bottlenecks and overcrowding in detention facilities. More than 2000 Afghan asylum seekers are now awaiting decisions, including about 1200 who arrived after the freeze started.

The opposition said yesterday's decision confirmed that the freeze on applications by Afghans had been an "election fix" from the start. "The government's grounds for introducing the freeze in April were bogus then and remain bogus today," immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said. "The decision to lift the freeze is an admission by the government that this was a failed policy that should never have been introduced."

It was former immigration minister Chris Evans who ordered the suspension of processing of new refugee claims from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka on April 9. "What the pause says is that we think conditions are improving," he said at the time.

But a report released by the United Nations in June said violence by insurgents had increased and suicide bombings had tripled from the year before. And in Ghazni, where Mr Bowen said many of the asylum seekers were from, deputy governor Mohammad Kazim Allahyar and his son died in a suicide attack this week.

The move to send more Afghan asylum seekers home also comes after the opposition called on the government to bolster Australia's military commitment in Afghanistan in a bid to provide more protection for troops already on the ground.

Since the freeze on new applications was announced, approval rates for Afghans who arrived in Australia beforehand have fallen from about 90 per cent to 30 per cent. Mr Bowen flagged more rejections to come, and said he was working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Afghan government to facilitate people's safe return.

Amnesty refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom said the government deserved no congratulations for overturning a ridiculous policy. "The only outcomes of this farcical approach have been negative, including major bottlenecks in the processing system and significant overcrowding in Australia's immigration detention facilities," he said.

Families with children were now likely to spend close to a year in remote detention facilities as a result, he said. "This is manifestly unacceptable."

The Human Rights Commission welcomed the end of the freeze, saying it had created differential treatment of asylum seekers based on race.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said the freeze had been untenable from the outset. "The fact the government was continuing to process applications from before April 9 on the information they had available undermined any claim that they had insufficient information to process those after," he said.

Said Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glendenning: "Our concern is that 2010 has been the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001, and most victims of the increased violence have been civilians, especially women and children. "Our research in Afghanistan has found that a number of returnees from Australia and their children were killed upon return and many today live with the well-founded fear of persecution they sought to escape. We can never do this again."

The Greens said the freeze on applications had magnified anxiety, frustration and trauma in detention facilities.


Top Victorian cop in bid to stop flow of information about police corruption

Victoria Police chief commissioner Simon Overland has banned police from covertly recording colleagues. Police members, well versed in the advantages of recording evidence, have a history of covertly taping workplace disputes, some of which have been made public, embarrassing the force.

Former police commissioner Christine Nixon was recorded when she told detectives she was disbanding the armed offenders squad in 2007, which was leaked to the media and later broadcast.

Only non-operational matters cannot be recorded and the ban applies to all staff working for the force.

Covertly recorded conversations have also cost the force, with one police officer exposing a senior officer racially vilifying him.

Mr Overland's instruction, effective from July 4 for 12 months, was detailed to police members in The Gazette this week, stating the practice undermined workplace relationships. Those found to have recorded conversations could face disciplinary action. An internal notification of the same instruction was circulated on the force's intranet in September last year.

The Police Association has written to members worried the move could leave them vulnerable. Secretary Greg Davies is opposing the ban. "The association does not encourage members recording other members in a covert fashion however, regrettably, on some occasions it is a necessary step in order to protect themselves," he wrote in a letter to union members.

Mr Overland's instruction is at odds with the force's increasing use of surveillance tactics. The Herald Sun exposed Victoria Police were secretly checking phone records of its reporters to save face over whistleblower leaks.


Note that I have a special blog on Queensland cops, there is so much misbehaviour among them.

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