Friday, June 07, 2013

College in 2028: Can You Save Enough?

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Dear Carrie, I have a 3-year old daughter who I hope will go to college one day. Given the increasing costs, what's the best way for me to save? I've opened a 529 plan, but is there anything else I can do? --A Reader

Dear Reader, The first thing you can do is to give yourself credit for starting to save so early. While saving for a child's college education is an enormous challenge, making it a priority when it's so far away can be the first big hurdle. So you're off to a good start.

As someone who believes in the power of tax-advantaged growth, I'd say having a 529 account is one of the best things you can do. Not only does your money grow tax-deferred, but withdrawals for qualified education expenses are also tax-free. Let's talk about ways to maximize these benefits before we get into other ways to save.

--For now, make sure you're investing aggressively enough

Most 529 plans offer a variety of investing options, from conservative (meaning bonds and other relatively safe investments) to aggressive (meaning the stock market). As a general guideline, the longer the time until college, the more aggressively you can invest, giving yourself more potential for growth. Of course, with that potential for growth comes more volatility, so you would have to be able to accept that risk and be willing to stay the course in spite of market ups and downs.

As college gets closer, it's appropriate to gradually shift your investments out of the stock market. Some 529 plans have an option that will do this automatically. But if not, it will be up to you to manage the investments over time.

Looking at numbers, let's say you save $5,000 a year toward college for the next 15 years. With an average 6 percent hypothetical annual return, you'd have about $125,000. If you could increase that savings to $10,000 a year, you'd have $250,000 -- enough to cover the projected cost of four years at an in-state public university in 15 years.

--Put your contributions on automatic

A 529 account is only as effective as the savings you put in it, so if you haven't already, set up automatic monthly contributions to the account. Choose the maximum amount you can comfortably handle and consider it one of your nondiscretionary expenses. If it comes out of your checking account automatically, you won't have to give it another thought. And should your income increase, think about increasing the monthly contribution.

--Direct gifts or unexpected money to the 529

When your daughter gets a monetary gift, put at least a part of it in her 529. In fact, you might suggest to family and friends that money towards college is the best gift of all.

Likewise, direct any other unexpected gifts, inheritances, even bonuses, toward college savings. One caveat is that you don't shortchange your retirement savings in the process.

--Consider an Education Savings Account (ESA)

An ESA is another tax-advantaged savings account that could work as a supplement to your 529. It's only available to couples making less than $220,000 a year ($110,000 for singles), but if you qualify, an ESA has the advantage of being available for qualified elementary and secondary school expenses, as well as for college. The contribution limit is $2,000 a year and you make all the investment decisions. You might consider it as a way to diversify your college savings.

--Get your daughter involved when she's old enough

Your daughter is only three now, but soon enough she'll be in a position to contribute to her own college savings account. As she gets older, get her into the savings habit. Once she's able to get a part-time job, have her put a percentage of her earnings toward her education. To help her learn, you could open a custodial account. The money in the account would become hers at 18 or 21 depending on your state, but in the meantime, you'd be managing it and could include your daughter in making financial decisions. That way you can have the added bonus of teaching your daughter how to handle her money.

--Think creatively

Remember, too, that there are other ways to pay for college. Loans, grants, scholarships -- these are all possibilities. And who knows what your daughter's talents and interests will be? As you watch her grow and develop, you can help direct her on a path that will maximize her future opportunities.


House Panel Questions Obama's Plan to Reorganize Science Education

Democrats and Republicans on the House of Representatives science committee agreed yesterday that the federal government needs to take a more coordinated approach to improving science education. But that's about the only aspect of the Obama administration's proposed reorganization of 226 programs at a dozen agencies that they liked.

The hearing was the first public vetting of a plan to reshuffle the government's current $3 billion investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. The proposal, part of the president's 2014 budget request to Congress, would cut the total number of federal programs by half and concentrate resources at three agencies—the Department of Education for elementary and secondary school programs, the National Science Foundation (NSF) for undergraduate and graduate programs, and the Smithsonian Institution for informal and public science activities.

Legislators pressed the administration's witnesses on how programs were selected for the chopping block, whether the lead agencies were capable of taking on new responsibilities, and if the outside community was part of the process. By and large, they weren't happy with the answers from presidential science adviser John Holdren, who was joined by NSF's Joan Ferrini-Mundy, and NASA's Leland Melvin, co-chairs of an interagency STEM committee staffed by Holdren's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Last week, that committee issued a long-delayed strategic plan for federal STEM education that lays out long-term goals to measure success in each of the four priority areas.

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Unlike most hearings at which the Republican-led House examines an initiative from the Democratic White House, the legislators' comments and questions were refreshingly nonpartisan. Unfortunately for the administration, however, that comity resulted in a steady stream of skepticism flowing from both sides of the aisle. Members were particularly worried about the fate of informal science education programs at agencies—including NASA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—whose STEM education budgets would be trimmed under the president's plan.

"I believed that it was important to look at what the federal government has been doing [in STEM education] and how we can improve our efforts," said the top Democrat on the panel, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, in her opening statement. "But I have serious concerns with the budget proposal itself. To be blunt, it seems to me it was not very well thought out. … NASA seems to have taken the biggest hit, and this doesn't make any sense to me."

Twenty minutes into the 2.5-hour hearing, which was interrupted by two floor votes, Republican Representative Randy Hultgren of Illinois shared similar sentiments. "Normally, I support efforts to reduce duplicative programs," said Hultgren, who has championed basic science at DOE's national laboratories. "But this reorganization seems rushed and poorly planned. The president's proposal seems to be taking a number of successful initiatives being done by high-quality groups at the local level and running a majority of them through a federal bureaucracy in Washington."

Several legislators said that constituent groups have flooded their offices with calls and e-mails objecting to the administration's plan. They are especially upset by the proposed 33% cut in NASA's $150 million STEM education budget, a 30% reduction in DOE programs, and termination of the government's only health science education program as part of the dismantling of NIH's Office of Science Education.

Lawmakers repeatedly asked Holdren how the White House chose which programs to eliminate or consolidate. He acknowledged that agencies did not submit a list of sacrificial lambs: "Ordinarily, if you ask people if they'd like any of their programs to be cut, they'll say no," Holdren told Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD), who wondered why NASA hadn't been asked for its advice.

His answers also made clear that an impartial, outside assessment of a program's successes and failures wasn't the determining factor. "We had to take into account the inefficiency of trying to run rigorous evaluations on very small programs," Holdren told Representative Larry Bucshon (R-IN), chairman of the committee's research panel. "This is one of the reasons we wanted to consolidate, to improve our capacity to evaluate."

Instead, Holdren said programs that fit into one of the administration's four priority areas—"improving K-12 instruction, reforming undergrad programs around evidence based practices, streamlining the graduate fellowship process, and amplifying engagement activities"—received top billing in the new lineup. Vocational education and job training skills were not a major focus of the reorganization, Holdren told legislators, although he said such efforts remain a top administration priority. And programs to attract more minorities and women into STEM-related careers were left untouched in this initial reshuffling, Holdren explained. "To the extent that those programs need a closer look," Holdren told Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), "that will be done in collaboration with the institutions that provide those programs."

The committee's chairman, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), added his voice to those questioning the plan. "I hope our witnesses can tell us what was wrong with the programs the administration wants to cut or consolidate," he said. And he wondered why the administration submitted a budget plan to reorganize STEM education programs 6 weeks before releasing its strategic vision for how to improve STEM education. Even so, Smith complemented Holdren on the bottom line in the president's 2014 budget request. "I am glad to see that the overall funding for STEM education is increased by 6%. That's a good sign," Smith said.


The British school that children WANT to go to: Academy bans all homework - but pupils have to stay until 5pm for extra study time

It is the scourge of schoolchildren up and down the country.

Classes can often be heard letting out a collective groan when the teacher mentions homework,  ruining plans for a night watching films or playing out with friends.

However, this will not be a concern for pupils attending a pioneering new secondary school in Norfolk -  because it has decided to ban all homework.

Instead, the 1100 children who will attend the Jane Austen Academy in Norwich will do longer days at school.

The mixed free school for 11-18-year-olds - which will specialise in English and the humanities - is set to open in September 2014.

The school yesterday unveiled its prospective principal, Claire Heald, who said that city children would do extra study at school as part of the extended day, which could last until about 5pm.

She said: 'Rather than setting homework that pupils could go home and struggle with at home, and where there may be limited access to computers, they will do that as independent study in the day.

'We are saying that when they go home they should enjoy quality family time.

'There will not be any traditional homework - and that has been really well received by parents who respect the fact that family time will be family time.'

But Ms Heald said the school would still expect youngsters to study at home ahead of crucial exams.

She's ready to create a new dramatic template in the UK after French president Francois Hollande called for the end of homework in primary schools last October.

The French leader insisted independent learning at school would enhance equality because kids who get help with homework from parents have a huge head start.

The exciting initiative has already sparked keen interest from other headteachers in Norfolk.

Peter Devonish, headteacher of Neatherd High School in Dereham, said: 'My initial thought is that it's really compelling. 'It sounds like a really good idea.

'Having the children on site a bit longer to consolidate their learning is a really good idea.  'The children can finish work and they can have their time with the family.'

But he warned: 'I have got two stumbling blocks.  'One is our rurality and getting children home at that time, and the other is changing staff contracts so they can be here until 5.30pm.

Mr Devonish said they set pupils project-based homework, such as looking at an energy efficient house, which allowed them to combine independent study with working with their parents.

Craig Morrison, principal of King's Lynn Academy, agreed that the whole prickly issue of homework should be looked at.

Mr Morrison said: 'I can understand why people want to experiment with this because it is one I would not say anybody can say they have got definitively right over the years.

'And if they are starting a new school then it gives them the chance to try out new things.'  He added: 'A large problem with homework, which we have tackled, has been that not enough is done with it.

'With homework, a lot of effort can go into it, so it's about celebrating what children do rather than processing it in terms of marking it and handing it back.'


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Fighting education fanatics

Schools treat 5-year-olds like hardened criminals. It smacks of fanaticism

I've been wondering if it's parental malpractice to put your kids in public schools.  In fact, it seems like a kind of quasi-religious fanaticism.

Increasingly, parents are exiting public schools for private schools, online schools or homeschooling.

For a while, I've been wondering if it's parental malpractice to put your kids in public schools. More and more, it's gone beyond wondering. For example, last week the Washington Post reported a nasty case of abusive behavior by school officials in Calvert County, Maryland: A five-year-old who brought a cowboy-style cap pistol on a school bus -- orange-tipped, and something that no one could possibly mistake for a real gun -- was interrogated for two hours (an interrogation that was so long, or so stressful, that he wet his pants) and then suspended for 10 days. Who treats a five-year-old that way?

The Post reports: "The case comes at a time of heightened sensitivity about guns in schools across the country. Locally, children in first and second grade have been disciplined for pointing their fingers like guns and for chewing a Pop-Tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun. In Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for talking about shooting a Hello Kitty bubble gun that blows soap bubbles."

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, another kindergartner was punished for bringing a tiny Lego gun -- the illustration in the Boston Herald places it next to a quarter coin -- with detention, and forced to write a letter of apology to the school bus driver. For bringing a tiny piece of plastic.

What's up with this? It's not based on any concern with safety. Lego guns, cap guns, bubble guns, nibbled Pop Tarts, and fingers are no threat to safety. And the wild overreaction in these cases says there's more going on here than simple school discipline. As I said, who treats a 5-year-old this way? It smacks of fanaticism.

In fact, it seems like a kind of quasi-religious fanaticism. I think it's about the administrative class -- which runs the schools with as little input from parents as possible -- doing its best to exterminate the very idea of guns. It's some sort of wacky moral-purity crusade. If a few toddlers have to suffer along the way, that's tough. You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

But that raises two questions. First, what business do public schools have in trying to extirpate "impure" thoughts? Aren't we supposed to celebrate diversity? And, second, why should public schools decide that a longtime staple of American childhood, the toy gun, is suddenly evil?

When Horace Mann first campaigned to introduce compulsory public schooling, the model he chose was based on the schools in Prussia. Some of his critics objected: The Prussian system, they said, was based on the presumption that the government was smarter than the people. In America, presumption was precisely the reverse. Mann won out, but the result raises some questions about who's smarter.

The people running these schools are providing considerable evidence that they are not especially bright. Or, at any rate, that they have little respect for American culture. And the way they back down when these cases comes to light indicates that they know they're out of step with the public.

Which raises the question: Why are we giving them so much money? If public schools are places where kids can be persecuted for being kids -- especially if, gasp, they're boys acting like boys -- what's their claim on our support?

Increasingly, parents are exiting public schools for private schools, charter schools, online schools or homeschooling. (Hey, the guy who sold Tumblr to Yahoo for a billion dollars was homeschooled.) This steady stream of stories involving what can only be called institutional child abuse can only speed that trend along. And once large numbers of parents are no longer sending their kids to public schools, how long will the tax money keep coming?

That's the question I'd be asking myself, if I were running public schools. The people who actually are running them, however, seem to be oblivious. Fanatics usually are.


Adjustable rate student loans are not ‘market-based,’ and will not ‘fix’ higher education

On May 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1911, legislation that purports to avert student loan interest rates doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The truth, as usual, in Washington, D.C., is always slightly more nuanced. The hike in interest rates does not apply to existing loans given at a fixed rate. Instead, it applies to new student loans that are given as of July 1.

For those new loans, it creates an adjustable interest rate that will instead go into effect next year. The bill pegs student loan rates to 10-year treasuries plus 2.5 percent, and then would adjust every year based on wherever treasuries are. It would cap rates at 8.5 percent.

So, if the legislation went into effect today, rates for new student loans would still rise, to 4.6 percent. Then, if government borrowing costs rise next year, student loan rates would rise. If interest rates fall for treasuries, then so would rates for student loans.

No market, no fix

Supporters call this approach “market-based” but there has been no private market for student loans since the government nationalized the system in 2010. Moreover, action by the Federal Reserve to purchase $55 billion of treasuries a month under QE3 has had the effect of driving interest rates lower — a market manipulation of the first order.

This supposed “fix” also will do little to reform higher education finance. Student loan interest rates will not be assessed on any sort of risk-based formula, for example on the likelihood that the loans will be repaid.

Financial aid offices will still not consider what a student’s major is, or what the likely income a student will be as a result of that concentration. They will not care if a student is in fine arts or women’s studies or engineering or medicine. They will continue to be highly lax with lending standards whether the student is failing everything or acing classes.

They will not even consider the current alarming rate of delinquency on student loans. A recent report by the Department of Education indicates that 11 percent of the 37 million Americans with student loan debt — which totals more than $1 trillion nationwide — are delinquent 90 days or more.

Nor will they consider the skyrocketing cost of higher education that, ironically, is fueled by unlimited government finance. When there are no lending standards for colleges, institutions can charge as much as they want — and Uncle Sam will finance it, no questions asked. If graduates or dropouts wind up broke and unemployed, it’s no skin off the university’s nose.

Therefore, under HR 1911 there will exist the same loose lending standards that created the current education bubble in the first place. Like today, everyone will still get the same treatment, a one-size-fits-all system — albeit with an adjustable rate.

Incentivizing low rates

But aren’t adjustable interest rate loans risky? Congressional Democrats have seized on this aspect of the proposal, citing a Congressional Research Report that suggests if interest rates were to normalize, student loans could rise even higher than if Congress did nothing. And, if 10-year treasuries were to rise higher than 4.3 percent, that would certainly be true.

Except, 10-year treasuries have not been that high since 2007. With Fed chairman Ben Bernanke pumping money the way he is into treasuries markets, coupled with keeping the Federal Funds Rate near zero for more than four years now, rates have plummeted across the board.

That may be the biggest problem with adjustable rate student loans. Suddenly, there emerges a political constituency — individuals who borrow money for college — for artificially low interest rates. This will place additional pressure on the central bank to keep rates low.

Of course, there already is an even more important constituency for such policies — Congress itself. For every interest point the Fed allows treasuries rates to rise, taxpayers will owe an additional $167 billion on the $16.7 trillion national debt. The thinking goes, with the debt growing more than 7 percent a year, since the government cannot afford for interest rates to rise with market forces, the Fed won’t let them.

At some point, inflation might compel the Fed to tighten monetary policy. But with the current economic slowdown, massive inflation seems unlikely in the near future, so the Fed appears more likely to repeat Japan’s experience. That, coupled with a continued weak economy, suggests the Fed could perpetually double down on quantitative easing.

College not all it’s cracked up to be

The greatest irony is that young Americans might actually be better off if interest rates skyrocketed. The Department of Education study also found 30 percent of 20 to 24 year olds are not working or in school, indicating the value of a college degree is dropping dramatically in this depression.

If interest rates got sufficiently high, it might dissuade more people from taking on excessive student loan debt, which is no longer a guarantee of long-term employment.


British Universities suffered huge student shortfall after fees hike

Universities fell short of recruitment targets by almost 30,000 students this year amid fresh warnings that the British higher education system risks losing its global reputation.

Vice-chancellors warned that student numbers in England alone were nine per cent lower than official forecasts in 2012/13 following the introduction of a new tuition fee regime.

In a report, Universities UK warned that institutions could face “significant financial pressures” over the next few years because of a squeeze on funding and “constraints” on the number of postgraduates and undergraduates being recruited.

It was claimed that Britain could struggle “to retain its hard-won global competitive advantage” without an injection of funding.

The comments come after figures showed a rise in the number of British students opting to take courses at high-ranking universities in the United States.

Data obtained by the Telegraph showed that entry rates had increased at a number of leading institutions including Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Chicago and Michigan.

The rise coincided with a drop in the number of students recruited by universities in the UK. The number of school leavers admitted across the UK in 2012 dropped by 5.7 per cent, while admissions among mature students – those aged 21 and over – were down by 9.2 per cent.

But the study found that admissions declined even more sharply in England where students face tuition fees of up to £9,000-a-year – higher than elsewhere in the UK and almost three times the previous maximum.

It emerged that English universities admitted around 28,000 fewer students than expected – undershooting recruitment targets by nine per cent.

The report cited a fall in the number of 18-year-olds in the education system, combined with concerns that universities would face financial penalties for over-recruiting.

It also found a drop in postgraduate students and "significant" falls in the numbers of new entrants to UK universities from countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Prof Eric Thomas, UUK president and vice-chancellor of Bristol University, said there was evidence that the higher education system was being “constrained in terms of its ability to expand in a sustainable manner in the medium term”.

“This has long-term implications for the UK’s skilled workforce, productivity, and economic growth,” he said.

“Factors constraining the ability of universities to expand undergraduate and postgraduate provision will inhibit the future economic potential and competitiveness of the UK. These constraints must be overcome if the UK is to retain its hard-won global competitive advantage.”

The study – The Funding Environment for Universities – said many institutions were already charging £9,000 a year for their degree and will need to increase student numbers to boost revenue.

Some may need to invest in buildings and facilities at time when funding is squeezed to make sure they have enough room to expand in the future, it is claimed.

Failure to invest in this area would be a "significant step back" for the sector and would be detrimental to the UK's ability to provide a world-class teaching and research environment, the study said.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "UK universities are world-class, but across the world higher education is changing fast.

"Our reforms have laid the foundations for a better funded and more competitive sector, with a ring-fenced research budget, more resources for teaching, and a renewed focus on the quality of the student experience.

"We are delivering more choice to students by relaxing number controls and ensuring a more diverse sector.

"Our universities are drivers of growth, contributing an estimated £3.4 billion a year to the economy through services to business. With the demand for higher education growing worldwide, we are developing an industrial strategy for education exports to ensure the UK's universities can take advantage of the growing international appetite for learning."


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

CAIR wants school to allow Muslim prayers, but attacks voluntary, off-site Bible lessons

How is the radical Council on American-Islamic Relations bending public school policy to its will?  Two stories from Michigan tell the tale.  From a CAIR press release:

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) said today that a Detroit-area school district has apologized for handing out permission slips for Bible study classes to elementary school students.

CAIR-MI sent a letter to Roseville Public Schools after receiving a complaint from two parents of children who attend Huron Park Elementary School about distribution by teachers of permission slips for the Bible classes at a local Baptist church.

CAIR Executive Director Dawus Walid wrote in a letter to the school district, “School staff and teachers are not to serve as advocates for one particular religion or congregation within a religion by passing out slips inviting parents to give permission for their children to attend religious instruction.”

But that’s precisely what CAIR sought in the nearby Dearborn district.

The Arab American News reported that CAIR staff “recently met with Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston to discuss concerns from some parents regarding prayer accommodations in Dearborn Public Schools.

“Dearborn Public Schools has implemented a policy which fully accommodates student-led prayer in all the schools, as well as unexcused absences for students who leave early on Fridays for Jumu’ah prayers. CAIR-MI is currently in discussion with Melvindale Public Schools to get similar accommodations for students that are now in place for Dearborn Public Schools.”

So Muslims can conduct religious activities within a public school, but Christians can’t go off-site to receive voluntary Bible lessons? What’s wrong with this picture?

Is political correctness accommodating such hypocrisy?


Classroom extremists will be rooted out: British  PM  orders crackdown on 'conveyer belt' of hate in schools and universities

David Cameron today ordered a crackdown on extremism in the classroom in the wake of the brutal killing of solider Lee Rigby.

Education and business ministers have been told to step up efforts to root out those spouting extreme views in schools and universities.

The Prime Minister convened a new taskforce aimed at tackling the spread of the sort of 'poisonous' views which can lead to violent acts on Britain's streets.

Senior ministers covering the police, education, local government and faith met in Downing Street to plot the official response to the threat posed by radicalisation.

In a statement to the Commons Mr Cameron said it was important to learn the lessons from the attack on the soldier in Woolwich.

He told MPs: 'Those who carried out this callous and abhorrent crime sought to justify their actions by an extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam to create a culture of victimhood and justify violence.

'We must confront this ideology in all its forms.'

Mr Cameron, who chaired the first meeting of the new taskforce in Downing Street, said the Government's Prevent Strategy had closed down websites and helped people vulnerable to radicalisation.

Since 2011, more hate preachers had been excluded from the UK than ever. And 5,700 items of terrorism material had been taken down from the internet with almost 1,000 more blocked when they were hosted overseas.

But he hinted that he will attempt to resurrect the controversial Communications Data Bill - dubbed a 'snooper's charter' - to give security services more power to track web and telephone use.

Mr Cameron added: 'It is clear that we need to do more. When young men born and bred in this country are radicalised and turned into killers, we have to ask some tough questions about what is happening in our country.

'It is as if that for some young people there is a conveyor belt to radicalisation that has poisoned their minds with sick and perverted ideas.

The taskforce meeting was attended by ministers including Deputy PM Nick Clegg, Chancellor George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May, Justice Chris Grayling, faith minister Baroness Warsi and policy minister Oliver Letwin.

They were tasked with working 'on practical suggestions which the task force could discuss at future meetings'.

The meeting agreed that it is 'necessary to tackle extremism head on, not just violent extremism, particularly in light of the appalling murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich', a spokesman said.

In particular, Education Secretary Michael Gove and schools minister David Laws to 'look at confronting extreme views in schools and charities' and Business Secretary Vince Cable will examine ways to stamp out extremism in universities.

Mr Grayling will look into similar issues in prisons while Baroness Warsi will draw up work in communities. Experts in these areas will address future meetings of the taskforce.

Mr Cameron said: 'What happened on the streets of Woolwich shocked and sickened us all.

'It was a despicable attack on a British soldier who stood for our country and our way of life and it was too a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country.

'There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror and I welcome too the spontaneous condemnation of this attack from mosques and Muslim community organisations right across our country.

'We will not be cowed by terror, and terrorists who seek to divide us will only make us stronger and more united in our resolve to defeat them.'

Mr Cameron said Tory former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, would look at how the suspects were radicalised, what the security services knew about them and whether anything more could have been done to stop them.  The committee would conclude its work by the end of the year.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair made an extraordinary intervention into the debate at the weekend, launching an outspoken attack on ‘the problem within Islam’.

He departed from the usual argument that Islam is a peaceful religion that should not be tainted by the actions of a few extremists.

Instead, Mr Blair urged governments to ‘be honest’ and admit that the problem is more widespread.

‘There is a problem within Islam – from the adherents of an ideology which is a strain within Islam,’ he wrote in the Mail on Sunday.  ‘We have to put it on the table and be honest about it. Of course there are Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones.

'But I am afraid this strain is not the province of a few extremists.  'It has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies.’

He added: ‘At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the world view goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. So by and large we don’t admit it.’


New middle school exam in Britain

GCSEs will be replaced by a new qualification called “I levels”, which will see the current A* to G grades scrapped in favour of numerical marks.

Under plans put forward by Ofqual, the exams regulator, the highest grade will be an 8 and the lowest will be a 1.

This will enable a higher grade to be added if necessary, so the whole grading system would not have to be re-done if it was decided there should be a greater distinction available to the top students.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, previously backed the creation of an English Baccalaureate Certificate under a new exam system operated by a single awarding body, but that plan has since been abandoned.

The aim of the I level - or Intermediate level - exams is to provide harder content for the pupils sitting them and greater differentiation among the highest-performing teenagers, The Times reported.

Their introduction in schools from September 2015 will mark the biggest shake-up of qualifications for 16 year-olds for a generation.

The last time such a major reform was brought in was in 1986, when the General Certificate of Secondary Education, a universal qualification, replaced the two-tier system of O-levels and CSEs aimed at different levels of academic ability.

The new changes, details of which are expected to be published imminently, will apply to qualifications in English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, double science, history and geography.

Other subjects will not initially be included in the new system, meaning hundreds of thousands of Year 11 pupils will sit a combination of I levels and GCSEs until the reforms are completed.

In another change, coursework will no longer be part of the formal assessment in Year 11, except in science, where 10% of a pupil’s marks will be awarded for practical experiments.

Under the new marking system, many of the pupils currently achieving A* and A grades at GCSE would be expected to receive grades 7 or 6.

Ofqual does not recommend a “pass” grade, but a grade 4 would implicitly be equivalent to a pass mark.

The Department for Education will soon publish specifications for the subject content of each of the new qualifications, with exam boards working on this basis to design the new syllabuses.

Earlier this year, Mr Gove admitted that his plans to scrap GCSEs were “a bridge too far” as he backed down on proposals for a new system of eBaccs.

He said there was a consensus that the exam system needed to change but conceded that axing GCSEs was "one reform too many at this time".

Ofqual said last month, however, that a growing number of schools had lost confidence in GCSEs following last summer’s exam grading fiasco.

In 2012, tens of thousands of pupils are believed to have missed out on good GCSE grades after exam boards suddenly shifted the grade boundaries between the exams taken by pupils in January and those sat in June.

The boundaries for those exams taken earlier in the year had been found to be too low and so the change was made to prevent an excessive number of passes being achieved six months later.

Under the new system, all end-of-course exams will be taken in the summer, except for English and maths papers that will be sat in November.

This will make it harder for pupils to re-sit papers when they fall below the grades they had hoped for, as most exams will only be able to be re-taken a full year later.

The Labour-led Welsh Assembly government meanwhile wants to retain GCSEs, along with the modules and assessed coursework that characterise the current model.


Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Commence This

Our friends at the Young America’s Foundation note that there are exactly zero conservatives among the commencement speakers at Ivy League universities this year, though this shouldn’t surprise anyone by this point.  I have a theory on this: the Ivy League is still reeling from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard commencement address, “A World Split Apart,” which was a fulsome attack on everything that Harvard stands for.  It could well have been called “A World Split Apart—By Harvard.”  If you’re old enough to remember, it caused a huge ruckus.  Won’t ever let that happen again.

So who did Harvard honor at commencement this year?  Oprah.  Need I point out that she’s attained the dimensions of people who only need to be referred to by a single name.  Like Bono.  Or Prince.  Or Cher.   Or Yanni.  Though—sorry—I think Oprah, as a commencement speaker, could well deserve the nickname “Yawnie.”

Anyway, of all the places one would least have expected criticism of Oprah at Harvard, Time magazine would be high on the list.  In fact it wouldn’t have even made my list.  Yet here is Time, suggesting that Harvard is embracing a devotee of “phony science”:
    It’s possible to admire Oprah Winfrey and still wish that Harvard hadn’t awarded her an honorary doctor of law degree and the coveted commencement speaker spot at yesterday’s graduation. .

    Oprah’s passionate advocacy extends, unfortunately, to a hearty embrace of phony science. Critics have taken Oprah to task for years for her energetic shilling on behalf of peddlers of quack medicine. Most notoriously, Oprah’s validation of Jenny McCarthy’s discredited claim that vaccines cause autism has no doubt contributed to much harm through the foolish avoidance of vaccines. . .

    This vote of confidence in Oprah sends a troubling message at precisely the time when American universities need to do more, not less, to advance the cause of reason. As former Dean of Harvard College, Harry Lewis, pointedly noted in a blog post about his objections, “It seems very odd for Harvard to honor such a high profile popularizer of the irrational. I can’t square this in my mind, at a time when political and religious nonsense so imperil the rule of reason in this allegedly enlightened democracy and around the world.”  . . .  Oprah Winfrey’s honorary doctorate was a step in the wrong direction.

Good for Time.


The pupils who think cheese is a vegetable and fish fingers come from chickens: Study highlights primary children's ignorance of food

One in three primary schoolchildren think cheese comes from plants and one in 10 says tomatoes grow underground.

A new survey reveals a young generation with unhealthy diets and an alarming belief in food myths.

Nearly one in five children says that fish fingers come from chicken and pasta is produced from animals.

Research by the British Nutrition Foundation among over 27,500 children across the UK also found many were skipping breakfast and too few eat fish.

Over three quarters of primary school children and nearly nine out of every ten secondary school pupils know that people should consume five or more portions of fruit and vegetables each day. 

But two-thirds of primary school children and three-quarters of older pupils reported eating four or less portions of fruit and vegetables daily, while two in every five children at secondary school don't think frozen fruit and vegetables count towards their five a day.

The research also shows that an alarming number of children do not eat breakfast each morning, which increases with the age of the children. 

On the day of the survey, one in 10 primary school children had skipped breakfast, rising to nearly a quarter of 11 to 14-year-olds and a third of 14 to 16-year-olds. 

Up to a quarter of children said they did not eat breakfast every day. Official advice is for children and adults to eat at least two portions of fish each week.

However, the survey found 16 per cent of children of primary school age never eat fish, rising to one in five children at secondary school.

Only one in six of children aged five to 16 years eats fish twice a week.

Around one in 10 children never cook at home, although three-quarters would like to cook more.

Roy Ballam, Education Programme Manager at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: 'Through this survey one in five (21 per cent) primary school children and 18 per cent of secondary school pupils told us that they have never visited a farm.

'This may go part way to explaining why over a third (34 per cent) of five to eight-year-olds and 17 per cent of eight to 11-year-olds believe that pasta comes from animals.'

The survey was conducted as part of the BNF's Healthy Eating Week, which involves more than 3,000 schools and 1.2 million children.

Mr Ballam said: 'Through Healthy Eating Week, we hope to start the process of re-engaging children with the origins of food, nutrition and cooking, so that they grow up with a fuller understanding of how food reaches them and what a healthy diet and lifestyle consists of.'


A British primary school that sounds rather wonderful

A stately pile in Shropshire houses a family-run prep school seemingly untouched by time

Boarding school heads often claim: “We’re one big family”. This is not only metaphorically but literally true in the case of Moffats, an extraordinary, quiet anomaly of a school snuggled away in rural Shropshire, which is run by eight members of the original founding family, the Englehearts.

Everyone here is someone’s cousin, or sister – or if not a member of the immediate family, then part of a community of “Old Moffats” (OMs), known unofficially as “Moffateers”. OMs frequently marry other OMs. One cousin even married the cook’s daughter…

Most of the family are former pupils themselves; the current head, Robin McCarthy (née Engleheart) lived in the house from birth, although, she is very quick to point out, she has “been away” – for 25 years; first to Oxford University, where she captained the women’s cricket team, and later as deputy head at a large prep school in the south of England.

She is the sixth member of the Engleheart family to lead the school, taking over from her brother-in-law Mark Daborn, a former surveyor and now the school chaplain, who held the post for 18 years, until last September. Mark also teaches mathematics and geography.

His wife Alex (Robin’s sister), takes English and drama; their son James offers forest crafts and survival skills, cricket and war games. “It might seem like jobs for the boys,” Robin says, “but if we need a specialist we get one in.”

The family is careful to select people who will respect the Moffats ethos. Appointments and big decisions are made by mutual agreement.

“Of course, we fall out sometimes,” Robin admits. “But there’s never anything that can’t be resolved by communication. The issue of our positions causes no friction. When Mark handed over he felt there was someone he could pass it on to without what he’d achieved being undermined.”

A few decades back England was liberally speckled with such establishments, but no longer. As Anne-Marie Hodgkiss, membership officer for the Independent Schools Association, delicately puts it: “Moffats is not alone... but it is certainly not in the majority.” The fees — £5,148 a term for boarders — are perhaps the least remarkable aspect of the operation.

The uninitiated might raise an eyebrow at the idiosyncratic spirit of the place but the school is well aware of the possible dangers of operating below the radar. “We don’t just examine ourselves,” Robin says. “We deliberately have outsiders coming in.”

Moffats functions as a limited company, owned and run by family members through a board, advised by an independent non-executive committee of former pupils, parents and local people which meets once a year, in much the same way as a board of governors. “We are all involved in things outside of school, which stops us becoming too insular,” Robin’s sister Alex says.

Also in the family are: piano teacher Francis Engleheart; Paul Engleheart, who teaches Latin, music, IT and junior sports; Robin’s youngest sister Kate, a riding instructor; and Julian Engleheart, the bursar. The ninth Engleheart, nine year-old Isabel, is a pupil.

Together – with a little outside help – they run the tiny, co-educational school of only 67 pupils, aged three to 13, over a third of whom are boarders, mostly full time. Moffats’ “home” is the daunting Georgian, Grade I listed Kinlet Hall, near Ludlow.

“People panic and say 'How can you be viable?’” says Robin. “We say that’s our business. As for the house, we haven’t got any parts we can’t use. We have run at this size for 79 years, why should we change now? The school went up to more than 90 pupils in the Nineties but because we don’t, and won’t, and can’t build, it was all a bit of a bulge. The fewer there are, the greater the opportunities.”

With secret doors, subterranean passageways, a wargames cellar and a riding school, all set in a glorious 110 acres of Shropshire countryside, there are plenty of opportunities to engage young imaginations.

I notice rows of in-line skates, which Robin tells me are “fantastic for speed bumps on the drive”, a croquet lawn, fields of equestrian jumps and walls of photographs from the sailing camp in Cornwall.

“What we do with them in our spare time is our own hobbies,” says Robin, a croquet nut and sailor. “They learn eccentric things but they also learn that a passion for something is part of life.”

From the age of seven, children wander freely in the grounds. They share the chores, and television is strictly limited to a historical soap on Friday evenings and a film on Saturday. Hobbies are undertaken in the two-hour lunch break, with the school day finishing at 6pm.

The children have created their own games, such as Rickets (a cross between rounders and cricket), Relievo (defending an old cedar tree) and one simply called “The Game”, which seems similar to tag rugby. Despite lacking a proper gym and swimming pool, Moffats fields junior and senior teams in most mainstream sports. “But we don’t need to win matches to feel good about ourselves,” Robin says. “It’s about playing hard, winning graciously and losing well.”

Horses are integral to school life; pupils can keep their own at school or choose from seven sturdy, ever so slightly Thelwellesque school ponies. “Some schools have speech day, we have a gymkhana,” Robin laughs.

Music is also respected. In the “Big Room”, a former library, now a concert hall, final-year pupil Baska Enkhjargal, from Mongolia, is working hard at a grand piano. At lunch we meet Mikuu Oluwayemi, 13, from London, a full-time boarder and keen guitarist and Asan Hems, 10, preparing for grade one flute. The children are self-confident and polite, with impeccable table manners. Kea Waite, 12, from Devon, steals the conversation, telling us all about her 14 parrots, sister called Hannah (also at school) and a horse-mad mum who works at Birdworld.

The pupils are not shy of engaging Robin in friendly banter and using her first name; there are too many Englehearts here to have it any other way. “Don’t tell Robin,” eight year-old Tom Gameson whispers, intending Robin to hear, “but I like Alison, the ICT teacher, best. I’ve never had a bad mark.”

Tom’s classmate William Freeman, eight, loves the school grounds: “It’s like having a massive garden to play in.” His mum Sue, a former Moffats pupil herself, flies Tornados in the RAF in Yorkshire. She values the Moffats’ prized qualities of sportsmanship, confidence in public speaking, integrity and determination which, she says, helped shape her own career. “The Englehearts became my second family as my parents were abroad. There was no doubt in my mind where William was to be educated.”

As for the academic side, the Moffats method might seem a bit Heath Robinson – there is a lot of “mucking in” and doubling, or even tripling of roles – but the most recent Independent Schools Inspectorate Report (ISI), in 2010 gives a picture of a school that is doing an entirely satisfactory job of preparing its pupils for a successful transition to senior schools, and also in the trickier task of pleasing parents.

Robin insists that her staff are all of high calibre and well qualified; albeit not in every case with an actual teaching certificate. “I never think of it in those terms,” she says. “We all have some sort of professional qualification for some part of what we do, although there’s no rule that says we have to.” Indeed, four staff members are Oxbridge graduates, but unusually, there is no honours board in the entrance hall and there is apparently no hothousing of pupils for entrance examinations. “I would like to think a child does well because they are a natural scholar, not because they have been pumped full,” Robin says.

Nor does she kowtow to the ISI: “I’m more interested in us doing well what we feel we must do well. We hope inspectors will agree but I won’t do it for the sake of inspections. We’re not part of the normal circuit of obvious names,” Robin says. “We aren’t flash. We don’t boast about our scholarships, although we do have them. We offer something completely different.” (There were, in fact, three scholarships earned last year: to Stowe, Concord College and King’s Worcester.)

What of the future? “I’m not worried about what happens in the next 10 years,” Robin says. “We don’t need to be possessive about it as a family, if someone wants to take over when the time comes.” The latest crop of Englehearts are, as yet, showing few signs of wanting to fall in line: several have gone into farming and one is an airline steward. But then, as Robin points out, she herself came back.


Monday, June 03, 2013

MD: Little boy harassed and upset over a cap gun

A five-year-old Maryland boy was interrogated until he wet himself and suspended for 10 days after school officials caught with playing with a “cowboy-style cap gun,” the Washington Post reports, citing the child’s family and lawyer.

School officials interrogated the boy for two whole hours until he “uncharacteristically” wet his pants, the boy’s mother said.  He’s “all bugs and frogs and cowboys,” she said.

“I have no problem that he had a consequence to his behavior,” said the mother, who has requested anonymity to protect the boy’s identity.  “What I have a problem with is the severity,” she said, adding that the school’s handling of the situation was unacceptable.

The family’s attorney has asked for the school to reverse its suspension decision and to expunge the boy’s record.

“If the punishment stands, it would become part of the boy’s permanent school record and keep him out of classes the rest of the school year,” the WaPo notes, citing the family. “He would miss his end-of-year kindergarten program at Dowell Elementary School in Lusby.”

According to the family, the boy’s friend had brought a water gun on the bus a day earlier. On Wednesday, unbeknown to his parents, the boy stowed his cap gun — from Frontier Town near Ocean City — inside his backpack as he left for school.

He told his mother after the incident that he had “really, really” wanted to show his friend.

The mother was called by the principal at 10:50 a.m. and was told that her son had the cap gun and pretended to shoot someone on the bus. She said that both the kindergartner and his first-grade sister, sitting nearby on the bus, disputed that account.

The mother said the principal told her that if the cap gun had been loaded with caps, it would have been deemed an explosive and police would have been called in.

School officials said the boy was suspended for being in possession of  a “look-alike gun.”

The boy’s mother is a high school teacher in Calvert who “strongly supports the school system and loves the teachers at her son’s school” and she and her husband are active in the community.

But support for the school aside, she says the interrogation process was over the line. “The school was quite obviously taking it very seriously, and he’s 5 years old,” she said. “Why were we not immediately contacted?”

“Kids play cowboys and Indians,” the family’s attorney added, saying the boy’s age is important in this situation. “They play cops and robbers. You’re talking about a little 5-year-old here.”


Sick Canada:  Heroic Canadian schoolboy disciplined for disarming knife-wielding classmate because it broke school rules

A schoolboy who bravely tackled a knife-wielding pupil who was threatening a classmate was punished because such heroic actions are strictly banned.

Briar MacLean, 13, stepped in after he spotted an argument was quickly beginning to escalate between two boys at Sir John A. Macdonald school in Alberta, Canada.

Suddenly one of the boys pulled out a knife and began to threaten the other turning an scuffle into a potentially deadly situation.

The heroic teenager charged and tackled the knife-brandishing youngster into a wall sending both attacker and knife falling to the floor.

But for his bravery the pupil received not a commendation but a stern telling off from staff for ignoring school rules.  According to the Calgary Board of Education, Briar should have left the scene to find a teacher - abandoning the unarmed student.

Instead instinct kicked in and he chose to act - meaning there were no cuts, no stab wounds, and no need to call an ambulance.

Briar said: 'He pulled out his flip knife so I came in and pushed him into the wall. 'It was just to help the other kid so he wouldn't get hurt.'

Briar's reward for his bravery was a day in the school office, removed from the other students, and a stern lecture about not playing the hero.

His mother Leah O'Donnell was furious at the dressing down.  She said: 'I received a call from the school vice-principal indicating there was an incident at the school and that my son had been involved.  'They my son was in trouble for being a part of it.

'They told him they don't condone heroics in the school and he wasn't allowed to go back to class for the day. Isn't that horrible?

'We've taught him to do the right thing and to step in - in our family we teach our children that they need to stand up for others and not run from danger out of self-preservation.

'When did we decide as a society to allow our children to grow up without spines? Without a decent sense of the difference between right and wrong?  'We're coddling kids and that doesn't make for strong individuals when they grow up - what are we teaching these children?'

A spokeswoman for the Calgary Board of Education said details of the incident could not be discussed due to privacy regulations.

But the Calgary Police Service confirmed they were called to the school where a student had pulled a knife while fighting with another, and a third boy had intervened to disarm the student.

The student with the knife has apparently been suspended and police are still investigating, meaning charges have not been ruled out.


No financial gain for British female graduates with first-class degrees

Any chance that women tend to take useless degrees in things like Art History?  Might that not affect how seriously their degrees are taken?

Women who leave university with a first class degree see little difference in their salary, but their male counterparts receive a clear financial advantage, a study has found.

As female students across the country prepare to sit their exams, the London School of Economics has discovered that the future salary difference for those walking away with a first and those gaining a 2:1 is small.

In contrast first-class male graduates are likely to be paid six percent more than their peers who obtained a lower grade.

The report was carried out by Professors Andy Feng and Georg Graetz who found that, on average, a first-class degree adds roughly 3 per cent to earnings in the first year of employment

“In cash terms, this means that the men get a bonus for a first of about £1,780 in today’s money,” the report’s authors conclude. “If this difference remains over a 40-year career, this would be worth about £71,000.”

The authors claim that the differences may wear off over time, but they cannot explain the gender pay discrepancies.

“The difference between monetary gains for men and women is a puzzle. Perhaps men are more likely to ask for or be given a higher wage offer. We honestly don’t know,” the authors said.

The findings come as increasing attention is being given to the lack of women in senior positions in British industry and a European drive to place more women on corporate boards of directors, the FT reported.

They are likely to fuel the debate about gender inequality in the workplace.

However, the researchers found that, regardless of gender, those gaining either a first or a 2:1 did considerably better in the workplace immediately after graduation than those with lower grades.

There is a bigger difference between a 2:1 and 2:2 - a 2:1 is worth about 7 per cent higher wages.

“‘Our study is probably the best evidence available that exam results matter, but there’s a lot more work to be done in understanding what drives the gender split and figuring out if the differences in pay-offs by degree result eventually go away,” the authors wrote.


Sunday, June 02, 2013

A Wrong Against the Right

Once again, graduation time is upon us, and a new study by the Los Angeles Times says plenty about the state of higher education in America. The paper looked at the invited commencement speakers for 150 colleges and universities. There are just four conservative speakers, as opposed to at least 69 liberal speakers.

In fact, Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker, a very liberal guy, has as many campus addresses as all elected Republicans combined.

There is no shortage of intellect or accomplishment on the right. The reason few conservative speakers are invited is that college administrators are frightened by radical-left students and faculty. Last month, Karl Rove's speech at the University of Massachusetts was disrupted, and so was the address by Sen. Rand Paul at Howard University. Nobody wants a graduation ceremony turned into an ideological circus, and that's what often happens when perceived conservatives are invited to speak on certain campuses.

Last year, I headed up a benefit for the It Happened to Alexa Foundation at Boston University, where I received a master's degree in broadcast journalism. As a freshman, Alexa Branchini was raped in a BU dorm and had to withdraw from the school. She eventually founded, with her parents, an organization to help victims of violent crime. I felt the campus of Boston University would be the perfect place to hold a fundraiser for this fine charity. How wrong I was.

A number of far-left professors and administrators, including a university vice president, boycotted the event. The school did little to promote it and essentially folded under the pressure of zealots. It was an absolute disgrace and an insult to Alexa and her family. That tells you all you need to know about the mentality of fanatical college professors and the cowardly administrators who enable them.

There is no question that liberal indoctrination is a fact of life on most American college campuses. Tenure means never having to say you're sorry or you're wrong. And, overwhelmingly, tenured college teachers are liberal. They dominate and intimidate their students. If you go up against them, your grade often suffers. There is a tyranny in higher education that is gravely harming this nation.

When a distinguished medical doctor and author such as Ben Carson has to withdraw as a commencement speaker at Johns Hopkins University because some loons don't like his conservative point of view, you know there is trouble in River City. And little is being done about it.

It is long past time to call out America's colleges, especially those funded by taxpayers, and demand that they be fair in their hiring practices and speaking forums. I give a nice annual donation to Marist College, where I obtained a degree in history, because it is fair. But I've stopped giving to Boston U. and to Harvard (where I received a master's in public administration), because those schools are not fair. All college grads should evaluate their contributions.

That's the only way the liberal higher-education stranglehold will be broken. Many of those pinhead professors espouse socialistic tenets -- but, believe me, they want the money. The goal of higher education should be to champion the airing of all honest viewpoints. Nothing less is acceptable.


When the First Amendment is repealed by bureaucrats

by Hans Bader

Greg Lukianoff is right to criticize the Education Department for illegally trying to abolish the requirement that comments must be offensive to a "reasonable person" to constitute sexual harassment ("Feds to Students: You Can't Say That," op-ed, May 17). As a former Education Department lawyer, I find that simply appalling.

The "reasonable person" standard is a cornerstone of sexual-harassment law, set forth in the Supreme Court's 1993 decision in Harris v. Forklift Systems, and amplified in its 1999 Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education decision, which states that conduct must be "severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive" to constitute illegal sexual harassment in the educational setting.

The Education Department's demand that the University of Montana define harassment as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," including speech about sexual issues that offends a single hypersensitive member of an audience, defines sexual harassment even more broadly than the harassment codes struck down by the courts on First Amendment grounds in DeJohn v. Temple University (2008) and Saxe v. State College Area School District (2001).


Children's play is under threat from adults who ‘over-supervise’ and ‘over-schedule’, a British report says

It says youngsters cannot develop normally and are ‘play deprived’ because of our risk-averse, regimented lifestyles.

This means many lack vital skills such as resourcefulness, independence or self-regulation.

The research, discussed on EU ‘play day’ at the European Parliament yesterday, is the work of Dr David Whitebread, a senior lecturer in psychology of education at Cambridge University.

He consulted researchers from across Europe and found children’s leisure time is cut down by too much school work, safety fears, and lack of understanding of the impact of free play.

His report, The Importance of Play, warns ‘play provision is under threat in Europe’ and adult intervention is often ‘counter-productive’.

It says the UK in particular is ‘quite risk-averse’, with children ‘heavily supervised’ and forced to play indoors or in a garden or specially designed soft play area.

This compares with the more rural Scandinavian countries where children play independently in natural surroundings.  Just a generation ago, British children did the same, it adds.

Children have ‘increasingly limited opportunities for the free play and association with their peers which were so commonly available ..... to their parents and grandparents,’ the report says.  Life in big cities adds to the problem, making children ‘much more heavily scheduled’.

Poor children in cities can suffer from ‘stressed parenting’ and lack of access to the outdoors, while wealthier families may be overly cautious about dangers.

The report states: ‘Children brought up in relatively affluent households may be over-scheduled and over-supervised as a consequence of perceptions of urban environments as dangerous for children, and a growing culture of risk-averse parenting.’

If lack of play becomes severe it can lead to ‘abnormalities in neurological development’.

Dr Whitebread writes that  over-supervision is growing, with more and more parents worried about children playing outside due to traffic, crime, harassment and violence, abduction, and germs.

There are also problems at school, with pressure to learn the curriculum and meet standards.

Combined with curbs on free play at home, this leads to a  ‘worrying picture’ across Europe, with ‘a growing tendency to reduce play time in children’s lives, both at school and  home, in order to increase time  for “learning”’.

The report recommends cities be organised ‘with children in mind’, to enable them to play in the street and walk to school.

Informal outdoor activities should be encouraged at school, with longer breaks to encourage more physical activity.

The European Parliament event was planned by the Toy Industries of Europe, whose members include the LEGO Group.