Sunday, April 28, 2013

Students face weekend detention and community service in crackdown on behavioural problems in Queensland schools

SATURDAY detentions and community service will be handed out to unruly children in the biggest shake-up of school discipline since the banning of the cane.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the measures were part of his Government's bid to crack down on behavioural problems in Queensland state schools.

A ban on detentions of more than 20 minutes at lunchtime or 30 minutes after school will also be lifted and work is under way to fast-track the exclusion process. It can take principals up to 25 days to exclude a child.

"This is about reducing the number of exclusions by giving principals more tools to nip poor behaviour in the bud before it escalates," Mr Langbroek said of the new measures, which are expected to be in place by January.

"I reckon some are going to get a shock the first time the principal says 'well, you're in for lunch' or 'I expect you to be here on Saturday morning'."

The move is part of the Newman Government's $535 million education reforms and comes after figures released earlier this month showed Queensland schools handed out more than 64,000 suspensions and exclusions last year.

The number of exclusions have jumped more than 50 per cent since 2008, from 804 to 1331 in 2012, the figures showed.

Mr Langbroek said schools would also be encouraged to partner with councils and community groups to enable problem students to undertake community service.

"It gives students a different perspective and maybe helps them to learn a bit more respect for others," he said of the community service interventions.

"The principals can decide exactly what it is they are going to do."

Teachers will be paid for the extra time they may need to spend supervising children handed a Saturday detention but Mr Langbroek said the cost would be covered within the department's existing budget.

"It's not going to be like The Breakfast Club. We don't expect there to be a lot of Saturday detentions happening around the state," he said.

Principals will also be encouraged to establish Discipline Improvement Plans or contracts of student behaviour with parents.

While the government is handing schools more power to discipline their students, Mr Langbroek said they would be audited this year and next to ensure the powers were not being abused. He also expected the number of exclusions to fall.

"We want to give the principals more tools . . . but we also need to make sure they are doing it correctly," he said.

The number of alternative learning centres for students with complex behaviour needs will also be expanded but Mr Langbroek said it was yet to be determined how many extra centres would be rolled out.

The Queensland Teachers' Union has called for more positive learning centres.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller said earlier this month he would welcome "greater flexibility around student detention", but it is unknown if he would support Saturday detentions.

Mr Langbroek said he hoped the state's principals and teachers would embrace the changes.


Education: NSW Premier's bad decision on a bad policy was bad politics too


O'Farrell's decision to sign up to Julia Gillard's Gonski deal - indeed, to be the first major player to do so - tells us he has no grasp of education policy, he's poorly advised and he takes the zeitgeist and Sydney Morning Herald editorials far more seriously than they deserve.

It's all of a piece with his recent posturing on the question of same-sex marriage: he simply hasn't thought the issues through and expects to be rewarded by the electorate for his delinquency.

It may be that the easiest way of holding on to power in NSW is to be a rather cleaner and more competent clone of state Labor, but it's short-term thinking and the public deserves better.

There are three compelling reasons why NSW should not have agreed to the Gonski proposal. The first of them is fiscal prudence. There is just not enough money to go around and at heart most people know that it is an unaffordable scheme. It gives the teachers' union what they want, but whether it can deliver what school-age kids most need is a very different question.

Sometimes the facts speak for themselves. Anyone who has been paying attention to the debate about education knows that in concentrating on reducing class sizes, rather than boosting teacher salaries, Labor has backed the wrong horse.

It led to hiring a lot more teachers, which swelled the union's revenue base and impressed some parents. However, it also meant a lot of the extra teachers who'd been recruited were either not very bright or were in other ways unsuitable, which goes a long way towards explaining why literacy and numeracy standards have been going backwards, despite all the money ploughed into schools in the past 20 years.

What's more, hiring extra staff meant states couldn't afford to pay an extra $30,000 or thereabouts to give committed teachers with real vocations a proper professional salary. It is a vicious circle, in which the students most likely to volunteer to take up teaching are the dopiest, most complacent and least ambitious.

The second reason O'Farrell should not have embraced Gonski is that there are far better ways to improve school performance. Gonski provides the Prime Minister with opportunities for multiple photo-ops in schools with smiling kids, but does nothing substantial to reform the system.

Greater accountability at local school level is a proven winner in raising education standards. The Barnett government in Western Australia has been exemplary in this regard. It also bears repeating that in the private sector students achieve excellent results without the state system's fixations on class sizes and "student-centred" learning.

Finally, it is a fundamental mistake to hand more control over schools to the commonwealth. Gillard is of the dreamy-eyed, Whitlamite generation, scorning the Hawke-Keating tradition and determined to create her own Medibank or national rail system, an institutional legacy. This means diminishing state responsibilities and entrenching commonwealth power. It's been a trend since Federation. All the more reason not to cede control over one of the few important areas of influence the states have left to them.

This was a bad decision on a bad policy, and bad politics to give Gillard a victory at a time when the government is increasingly seen as marking time before it gets put out of its misery.

Non-Labor premiers need to be banding together and holding firm against a reckless government that now seriously endangers the country's credit rating and its long-term interests.


Software pirates:  An Australian police force!

NSW Police incurred a $1.8 million legal bill defending itself against a multinational software company that sued for wide-scale copyright piracy, figures obtained under government information access laws show.

Software company Micro Focus alleged in 2011 that the NSW Police Force, Ombudsman, Police Integrity Commission, Corrective Services and other government agencies illegally used its ViewNow software, which is used to access the intelligence database known as COPS.

The company alleged police and other agencies were using 16,500 copies of its software on various computers when police were only ever entitled to 6500 licences. The group initially alleged $10 million in damages but later increased this to $12 million after reviewing the results of a court-ordered, $120,000 KPMG audit of the NSW Police Force's computer systems.

The police force maintained during the court proceedings that it had paid for a site licence that entitled it to unlimited installations of the software for all of its officers.

Despite this, it settled the matter out of court last year for an undisclosed sum. The other agencies previously settled the matter out of court, also for undisclosed sums.

No internal documents were handed over to Fairfax Media as part of its government information access request.

Darren Brand, Senior Sergeant co-ordinator at the NSW Police information access and subpoena unit, denied a request for documents relating to how much was paid to Micro Focus as part of the settlement, and why the matter was settled out of court.

Mr Brand did however divulge that no one was sacked as a result of the legal action by Micro Focus and the legal costs for the case totalled $1,829,709.29.

''To put these costs in context, Micro Focus has claimed as much as $12 million in damages,'' he said.

Mr Brand said there was a stronger public interest against releasing all of the information requested. He said it would ''breach'' the NSW Police Force's obligation to maintain the confidential terms of the settlement.

Mr Brand also believed the release of that information ''could result in further legal action against [the police force], which would incur further expenditure of government funds''.

But Sydney piracy investigator Michael Speck said it "beggars belief" that the NSW Police Force had continued to pursue the case even after all other government agencies had settled.

"One can only assume [the police force's settlement] was motivated by ready access to the public purse," Mr Speck said.

"They have settled the case after fiercely resisting it on commercial terms that include the settlement being confidential. You'd have to wonder how the confidential settlement sits with the obligation that police have to properly investigate and report on alleged misconduct."

Mr Speck said the public deserved to know if police had properly investigated the matter internally, if they had taken steps to ensure something like the matter never happened again, and if action would be taken against the individual who allegedly set it on the path of software piracy


Australian research suggests that tea is good for blood pressure

It is hard to reconcile the claims in the article below with Prof. Hodgson's actual research findings, as published in 2013.  The first article of the year here showed no difference in day/night variability in BP but the second article, later on in the year here found that blood pressure was slightly less changeable at night among tea drinkers.  It looks like Prof. Hodgson squeezed his data until he got what he wanted. The data underlying the two contradictory articles  appear to be the same!

Furthermore a 2012 article, also by Prof. Hodgson, here showed a long-term difference between tea drinkers and controls of between 2 and 3 mmHg.  Totally trivial, in other words, close to the error of measurement.

The claims below are BS, to put it plainly.  Prof. Hodgson could throw away his teapot with no adverse consequences for his health

You might have thought you were simply satisfying a thirst in that most British of ways.  But drinking three cups of tea a day may also stabilise your blood pressure, researchers say.  It not only reduces blood pressure, but also minimises the variability of readings taken at night.

Experts say the benefits of tea are largely due to the flavonoid content - antioxidant ingredients that counteract cardio-vascular disease.

Now wide variations in blood pressure are also recognised as an important risk factor compared with readings that show little difference over a 24-hour period.

Professor Jonathan Hodgson of the University of Western Australia said: `There is already mounting evidence that tea is good for your heart health, but this is an important discovery because it demonstrates a link between tea and a major risk factor for heart disease.

`We have shown, for the first time to our knowledge, that the consumption of black tea can lower rates of blood pressure variation at night time.'

A high blood pressure reading is one that exceeds 140/90 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg).

The first figure, the systolic pressure, corresponds to the `surge' that occurs with each heartbeat.

In the latest study 111 men and women consumed three cups of black tea daily or a flavonoid free, caffeine containing beverage for six months.They had systolic blood pressure between 115 and 150 mm Hg.

The rate of blood pressure variation was assessed at three time points, on day one and at three and six months.

At these three time points, black tea consumption resulted in 10 per cent lower rates of blood pressure variability at night time than the flavonoid free drink.

These effects were seen immediately on the first day of tea drinking and maintained over the six months.

The study team believe coffee boosts the effects of the drug.

As the caffeine content of the two beverages was the same, the improvement in blood pressure variability would appear to be the result of a black tea component other than caffeine, says a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

This is likely to be the flavonoid content, say the researchers, whose previous work found drinking three cups of tea daily led to a cut in blood pressure of between two and three mm HG.

Although black tea was drunk in the study, other research suggests adding milk does not affect the benefits.

Dr Tim Bond, from the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel, said `High blood pressure is a well-recognised risk factor for cardiovascular and total mortality. Traditionally the level of blood pressure has been equated with risk but the variability of blood pressure is now also thought to contribute to risk.

`Black tea and its constituent flavonoids are increasingly associated with improvement in blood pressure and cardiovascular health. The regular consumption of black tea has been shown to lower blood pressure.

`With its flavonoids, black tea packs a powerful punch with many health benefits particularly for the heart and recent studies show the flavonoids work their magic whether or not we choose to add milk. Drinking four or more cups of black tea each day is quite simply very good for us.'


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