Friday, October 13, 2006

Playing Matron at three-card brag

And they're off! The first House Points from the new parliamentary season. This column appears in Liberal Democrat News.

Education gamble

Culture, media and sport questions are usually obsessed with organised games in schools. But a
less healthy kind of activity featured prominently on Monday:
The roulette match against Fettes was won. The first XI are playing Eton at blackjack this afternoon and I expect a large and enthusiastic turn out to support them. And the boy who has still not paid Matron what he owes her from playing three-card brag: see me afterwards.
Mercifully, it was not school gambling they were talking about. But the government is in trouble with the adult variety. The days when Labour ministers imagined families enjoying days out at casinos are long gone. Now their ambition that Britain should become a world leader in online gambling looks equally questionable.

Gambling will always be with us. It is impossible to ban and must be regulated. But it is hard to see why government should encourage it.

Later Alan Johnson made a statement on young people in care. He spoke with feeling of the problems they face. They are five times less likely to get five good GCSEs and nine times more likely to be expelled from school than other children. A quarter of people in prison today have spent time in care . And he pledged that the government would do better in future.

The trouble is that Frank Dobson was saying much the same almost 10 years ago. Progress has been made, but it is dreadfully slow.

Everyone agreed on the need for more social workers, but Johnson’s statement hinted at a move from the professional model of care towards more of a family model. He wanted children to have long-term relationships with individual workers and those workers to be able to give children small sums of money for days out like a parent would.

Another proposal to win widespread support was compelling the best schools to take children from the care system. Sarah Teather welcomed it for the Liberal Democrats without mentioning that it goes against our wish for applications to secondary schools to be made anonymously.

But it would be best if that policy were quietly dropped. Children -including children in the care system - are individuals with unique abilities and needs. We need an education system and a care system that recognises this.

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