Wednesday, February 16, 2011

That good ol' government childcare again

TOGETHER they suffered unspeakable cruelty - years of severe sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the very people there to protect them. But 30 years on from their ordeals, 15 former child residents of a state-funded foster home are fighting back.

A multi-million-dollar class action has started against the State of NSW, lawyers working pro bono in a bid to help the 14 women and one man get the closure they need.

Tucked away in Brewarrina in the state's northwest in the 1970s and '80s was the BethCar facility, a foster home for poor, disadvantaged Aboriginal children who had nowhere else to go.

BethCar was run by a husband and wife team, Burt and Edith Gordon, but the place was certainly no sanctuary for its young residents.

Instead, the plaintiffs - none of whom spoke about what happened there until recent years - were subjected to sexual abuse by Burt, their "father", as young as four years old, with their "mother" Edith beating them if they failed to do what he asked.

In the '80s their son-in-law took over the running of BethCar, but that was no respite for the youths, and he has recently been jailed for two aggravated sexual assaults committed at the home.

One of the plaintiffs, now aged 40, said she had tolerated enough by her early teens. "I actually spoke out when I was 14, and my foster mother, she beat me," she said. "I kept my mouth shut, and eventually ran away."

Other victims will tell the District Court of being forced to endure endless molestation in darkened rooms, while on other nights they hid under beds, terrified, to avoid being the next in line.

Cruelly, their late "father" was held up as a model member of society, an ABC documentary once calling him the region's Father of the Year.

A victim said the legal process, which began three years ago, was like being mistreated all over again. Lawyers have been working for nothing since the case was first lodged in 2008. The statement of claim contends the State was negligent, but the defendant said a variety of agencies funded the facility.


Teachers tied up in red tape

THE just-released National Professional Standards for Teachers, detailing the characteristics of successful teachers and what constitutes quality teaching, apparently, is at the "leading edge of international practice" and is "fundamental to improving educational outcomes for young people".

How do we know? Because Tony Mackay, the chairman of the body responsible for the teaching standards, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, told us so (The Australian, February 10).

In the cliches much loved by Australia's educrats, Mackay boasts that the standards "make explicit the elements of high-quality, effective teaching in 21st century schools", will ensure that "good teachers" become "great teachers" and that the new standards will "enable teachers to constantly strive for excellence".

Mackay also claims the new standards are not about "simple measurement or ticking a box" and that the "standards unambiguously define what is expected of the new teacher and a more experienced teacher".

Not so. The seven standards and accompanying 37 focus areas and 148 descriptors, much like a corporate-inspired, performance management model for staff appraisal, impose a bureaucratic, time consuming and checklist mentality.

The result? Teachers wanting certification or promotion, instead of focusing their time and energy on being effective and inspirational classroom teachers, will have to spend most of their time collecting reams of evidence, attending fruitless in-service programs and genuflecting to education fads such as personalised learning, open classrooms and treating children as knowledge navigators.

Descriptors requiring graduate teachers to "include a range of teaching strategies in teaching", and "Demonstrate the capacity to organise classroom activities and provide clear directions" and "Understand the relevant and appropriate sources of professional learning for teachers" are also vague and generalised.

Most of the descriptors in the AITSL document are motherhood statements reinforcing progressive educational orthodoxy, and the reader searches in vain for any mention of the need for teachers to be judged on how effective they are in raising standards and improving students' results. While testing and examinations should never be the sole measure to judge teachers, students, parents and the wider community have every right to expect that an important aspect of any teacher's employment is to get students to succeed in their studies.

Worse still, the new national standards document, approved by all Australian education ministers last December, fails to detail what evidence will be used to prove that teachers have met the various standards or to ensure that the assessment regime for teachers is rigorous and credible.

The fact that little thought has been given to what evidence will be used to demonstrate whether teachers are effective or not is made worse by the reality that teacher promotion, at least for the first eight to nine years across the different states and territories, appears to be automatic.

Under the present situation, as noted in an Australian Council for Educational Research paper titled Research on Performance Pay for Teachers, "it is rare for increments to be withheld" and it "is difficult to find systematically gathered evidence about underperforming teachers in most school systems".

Much of the Rudd/Gillard inspired education revolution is imported from Britain and the underlying rationale is for increased government intervention and control via bureaucracies and quangos. Copying Britain is understandable given Tony Mackay's involvement with prime minister Tony Blair's favourite think tank Demos and the fact that Tom Bentley, now a senior adviser to Julia Gillard and also with her when she was minister for education, was also involved with Demos as director.

State and territory schools, both government and non-government, are being forced to abide by the dictates of Canberra and ALP-appointed education apparatchiks whether we are talking about the Building the Education Revolution infrastructure program, the national curriculum, national testing or the My School website.

The establishment of AITSL and publication of the National Professional Standards for Teachers are no exception.

Yet there is an alternative. Instead of enforcing a one size-fits-all command and control model, give schools the autonomy and flexibility to design and implement their own approaches to teacher certification and evaluation.

While the Australian Education Union, given its self-interest, opposes giving schools the power to hire, fire and reward teachers, there is increasing evidence that such policies lead to stronger outcomes.

Such freedom explains why Catholic and independent schools, even after adjusting for the socioeconomic profile of students, do so well academically.

Significantly, the British Secretary of Education, Michael Gove, is adopting such an approach in order to rectify the mistakes of the Blair years.

In an interview with Britain's The Guardian, Gove repeated his promise to abolish quangos such as the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency on the basis that: "There are too many quangos that take up a school's time without leading to any real benefits to standards.

"Teachers tell us that they have to spend hours outside the classroom going to meetings and filling in forms because of bureaucratic requirements. It takes time away from the core purpose of improving learning".


A much ignored petition in Australia

Political correctness trumps the voice of the people

The controversial petition calling for a ban on Muslim immigration has been tabled 48 times in Parliament, The Canberra Times can reveal.

ACT Liberal senator Gary Humphries angered the Muslim community when he tabled a petition on behalf of three Sydney residents last week, calling for a 10-year moratorium on Muslim migration to Australia. Several other senators had declined to do so.

However, an analysis of the history of the petition which appears to originate with the Christian Democrat Party reveals it is not the first time Senator Humphries has tabled it. Another 35 politicians 19 Liberals, six Nationals, eight Labor MPs and senators and two Independents have also tabled it since 2007, several more than once.

The petition calls for Christians to be given priority in immigration and for a 10-year ban on Muslims coming to Australia "so an assessment can be made on the social and political disharmony currently occurring in the Netherlands, France and the UK".

Senator Humphries said yesterday he would have tabled it the first time for the same reasons as last week. Although he disagreed with its sentiments, he had a responsibility to allow people's views to be presented to Parliament.

He was "not anxious to become the patron saint of ... extreme points of view" and sorry the publicity had given some people the chance to express bigoted or racist views, but stood by his decision to table it.

"I would do so, and in fact I will do so, again, because this situation is bound to recur in some form or another; not necessarily this issue, but something else that people consider to be controversial," he said.


More of that wonderful background checking from Queensland Health

Basically zero

Queensland's most wanted man spent most of his 15 years on the run working for Queensland Health.

Convicted killer Luke Andrew Hunter, 42, escaped from Borallon Correctional Centre near Ipswich in February 1996 by cutting through a fence. About 18 months later, he was given a job at Herberton Hospital in north Queensland where he worked closely with patients, the Courier-Mail reported.

Hunter, who in the late 1990s was Queensland's most wanted man and No.4 on Australia's most wanted list, was arrested on Sunday morning in a home at Herberton on the Atherton Tableland.

When Hunter made his escape, he had served just five years of a 21-year sentence for the murder of his lover's husband at Newcastle, New South Wales.

While the whereabouts of the fair-skinned and red-haired murderer remained a mystery to Queensland police, he became a familiar face to the patients and staff of Herberton Hospital as he tended gardens and strolled the wards.

Until his recapture, Hunter worked as a wardsman and groundsman for about $1000 a week under the alias Ashban Cadmiel. He is believed to have got the job with the assistance of the Jesus Group, a religious cult now being investigated for allegedly harbouring Hunter. Most of his duties in the wards involved moving patients and bodies and serving meals.

Hunter was initially employed part time but his position became full time in 2002 as an operational services officer. His wage was between $49,108 and $54,018, with superannuation and allowances taking his package to about $64,000. He started on November 24, 1997, and in the 13 years he was in the job, he may have earned as much as $650,000 of taxpayers' money and accrued significant holiday leave entitlements.

A hospital source said the man they knew as Ashban was a good worker who created a beautiful garden for patients and staff. He also assisted inside the hospital, carrying out wardsman duties involving the lifting and movement of patients around the building.

Police contacted the director of nursing at the hospital last week, after a tip-off, and searched his locker and the hospital's garden shed.

Although the State Government introduced criminal history checks for employees in August 2006, there were no retrospective checks for staff already employed.

A statement issued by Deputy Premier and Health Minister Paul Lucas yesterday said Hunter's employment at Herberton Hospital was "a serious matter and we are taking it seriously". "This person was employed in 1997 when criminal checks were not routinely undertaken prior to Queensland Health employment, as they are now," Mr Lucas said. "Even if there had been criminal checks at the time, this person had assumed a false identity."

Mr Lucas said he "made no criticism of the minister at the time, (the LNP's ) Mike Horan, as the only method of checking that would have established his true identity was finger-printing, which is not routinely undertaken for Queensland Health staff or most other public servants".

"No system is foolproof, but if proper background checks were done at the time, perhaps further queries would have been raised and his past brought to light," Mr Lucas said.

Queensland Health was last exposed in 2005 for failing to conduct adequate checks when it was revealed overseas-trained doctor Jayant Patel was employed at Bundaberg Hospital without so much as a Google search on his name. In June last year, Patel was convicted of the manslaughter of three patients and the grievous bodily harm of another.

Hunter is being held in maximum security at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre ahead of his next court appearance in March.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

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