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January 2011



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Archive for January 7th, 2011

First Published Sunday, 2 November 2008

May we never stop learning

Hope you’re all doing well. Time for a closer look at some of the latest news and issues affecting education/home ed in the world today.

Here in the UK, many new proposals relating to young people, whilst not directly aimed at home education, will greatly affect home educators and will effectively remove the option to home educate for many families. Wherever you may be, may your desire for learning never be quelled, may you/your children delight in life and learning despite obstacles that may cross your path, as they invariably do. Stay positive, stay inspired.

book stack, apple, pencil supply

Fraser Institute Report on Home Education Outcomes

Some time ago Paula Rothermel discovered that in the UK, working-class home-educated children performed better than their schooled peers.

This result has been confirmed by the independent Fraser Research Institute based in Canada. A study found that ‘poorly educated parents who choose to teach their children at home produce better academic results for their children than public schools do. One study we reviewed found that students taught at home by mothers who never finished high school scored a full 55 percentage points higher than public school students from families with comparable education levels.’

The research by Patric Basham and John Merrifield was peer reviewed and was researched using both new data and a 2001 study of the USA and Canada.

The director of education policy at the Fraser Institute said, ‘evidence clearly demonstrates that home education may help reduce the negative effects of some background factors that many educators believe affects a child’s ability to learn, such as low family income, low parental educational attainment, parents not having formal training as teachers, race or ethnicity of the student, not having a computer in the home, and infrequent usage of public libraries.’

This overturns many assumptions about less affluent parents who home educate their children. It suggests that there is something specific about parental provision that, of itself, causes an improvement in educational standards.

The report also demythologises the idea that home educated children fail to be socialised. ‘The average Canadian home schooled student is regularly involved in eight social activities outside the home. Canadian home schooled children watch less television than other children, and they show significantly fewer problems than public school children when observed in free play.’

Japanese calligraphy

Home Educators Visit Japan

Japanese home educators received a media boost earlier this past summer when a team of home-educated children from Swindon qualified to compete in an international Lego Robot competition in Japan.

The Japan Times reported positively on home education following the visit. The home education group delighted reporters when they revealed that they had studied Japan in preparation for the visit and one of them revealed a page of Japanese calligraphy he had produced.

While in Japan the UK home educators managed to do some exploring. They also stayed at a traditional Japanese Inn so they could try out Japanese accommodation and gain educationally from the visit.

Home education is illegal in Japan, so a high-profile visit of this kind is important to Japanese campaigners’ efforts. For years campaigners such as Kyoko Aizawa have worked tirelessly to gain acceptance for home education.

Home education in Japan is dominated by the issue of school refusal. Authorities tackle this issue with aggressive drugs that have led to a handful of deaths, either directly from the drugs or indirectly from suicides.

Irish children

Report on Home Education in Northern Ireland

An interesting report recently appeared in NI4Kids, a Northern Ireland magazine on parenting and children. In Northern Ireland home educating families are often the subject of harassment. Authorities frequently misrepresent the law in a way that was more common in England and Wales five or ten years ago.

The law in Northern Ireland is broadly similar to the rest of the UK. However, withdrawal from school can be difficult as different school boards have different approaches, some of which are fairly aggressive.

The article claims that quite a large proportion of the population home educate. Hedni, Northern Ireland’s home-grown support group, believes that it could be as high as 1%, which if accurate would place it somewhere around 2,500 children. That is approximately one and a half times to twice the estimated proportion in the rest of the UK. Furthermore, the number of people home educating is rising rapidly in Northern Ireland as it is elsewhere in the UK.

The report itself was refreshingly positive and generally accurate.

For more information on home education in Northern Ireland see: www.hedni.org

America's children mural

US Considers Federal Home Education Tax Relief Bill

The US Senate and House of Representatives are considering an amendment to the 1986 Internal Revenue Code to give home educators a whole slew of itemised and non-itemised tax relief amounting to $500 per child up to $2,000 dollars per tax year.

Many home educators in the US have grave reservations about receiving tax relief from the state. They are concerned that this may be used to justify authorities who want to ‘audit’ the families’ home education efforts. That is something campaigners have fought against from the earliest days of home education. Similar concerns have been voiced in the UK.

The bill was read in the Senate by Mr Vitter (a right-wing Republican senator for Louisiana, who has his own wikipedia page) on June 3 2008.

Global education campaign, Brandenburg Gate, Germany

Good News as Ireland MEP Raises Issues on Germany

For once I can report that there is some potentially good news for German home educators, but only via a very circuitous route.

A woman called Catherina and her family temporarily moved to Germany from Ireland to follow her husband’s work. For a variety of reasons, she decided to home educate her children.

As any regular reader of HEJ will know, the German authorities do not allow home education for any reason other than circus children and those with music careers. Inevitably the family became the subject of harassment by the German authorities.

However, Catherina would not let this situation stand. As an Irish citizen she had a constitutional right in law to home educate. She also discovered that German citizens working abroad are provided with German national curriculum materials to home educate their children in foreign countries, such as Ireland and the UK. However, the German authorities in Germany argue that children should go to school ‘for their own good’, which is clear hypocrisy.

Catherina argued that the rule that forbade foreign families to home educate in Germany was effectively a restriction of her right to live and work in Germany, a right protected by European Law.

She subsequently approached her MEP in Ireland, Kathy Sinnot, who presented a petition to the European Parliament Petitions Committee, of which she is also vice president. The committee agreed that this was an issue that should be discussed with the German authorities and resolved to do so. In summing up the decision by the committee, Ms Sinnot said:

“This petition brings into question workers’ mobility. One of the guarantees of the internal market is the freedom of movement of workers in the EU. There is an increasing awareness that workers have families and that flexibility to meet their needs should be part of employment law. However, Germany’s approach to home schooling compromises this and forces families to choose between a job and the best interests of the children. The need for family friendly employment policies must be recognised throughout the EU. We need to have flexibility in the education of children temporarily resident because of work. There is also an issue around the attitude to non-German families in the German children’s courts. I hope the dialogue between the Commission and the German State will resolve this discriminatory situation.’

German law identifies the state as the arbiter of a child’s rights, whereas European law and the law of most other liberal nations in the western world identify the parents as the principle arbiters. This is an important distinction, in consequence of which Germany has more children in care than any other country in the EU – removed from their own homes, families and parents for their own good!

While a successful resolution to this particular case would only allow foreign nationals to home educate in germany, it could lead to a higher profile for home-educated children and discussion in the press about the German ban on home education. Ultimately, if the German people see better adjusted home-educated children, it might encourage more German parents to challenge the authorities on this matter.

Further information: “Petition no. 477/2007 by Catherina Groeneveld”:


Brazilian children

Brazilian Homeschool Couple May be Jailed if Their Children Fail Harsh Government Tests

Despite Deception by Authorities, Brazilian Family is Optimistic

By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

MINAS GERAIS, Brazil, August 22, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – After receiving four days of intense testing by government authorities in a showdown over the future of homeschooling in Brazil, David and Jonatas Nunes are optimistic, despite the fact that the tests were changed on them only one week before, allowing little time for adequate study.

Although the Nunes family was initially told that the tests the children would be given were to be on mathematics, geography, science, and history, they were told only a week in advance that they would also be tested on Portuguese, English, arts, and physical education, including questions about the history of handball, basketball, soccer, and other sports.

The change put enormous pressure on two children who were already studying in a stressful situation.

“They’re two adolescents of 14 and 15 years of age who are studying for a test that could determine if their parents are going to be imprisoned or not,” said Cleber Nunes to the television network Globo. “It’s a huge burden for them.”

As LifeSiteNews reported previously, the Nunes children passed law school entrance exams at the ages of 13 and 14. Despite this success, Brazilian authorities decided to prosecute the family for “intellectual abandonment” because they were schooling the children at home rather than in a government-approved institution. If the Nunes lose the case, they could forfeit custody of their children, pay a steep fine, and even spend time in jail.

The Brazilian media, including the nation’s major television networks, are following the case closely, and the public is supportive of the Nunes’ struggle. Reports posted on network websites have received hundreds of comments, mostly indignant at the treatment being received by the Nunes family.

“I think it’s unjust to apply special criteria to them,” said one reader, who added that “it would be more fair if the tests were done with other students who study in public schools.” Another said that the public school system is “shameful”.

“I asked the Portuguese teacher, in front of the cameras, if she could take the same tests the kids were going to take,” Nunes told LifeSiteNews. The woman told him she couldn’t.

“Then, her boss said that every teacher has to know the subject they teach,” said Nunes. “Isn’t it ironic?”

According to Nunes, the tests ask questions that few high school students, or even adults, could answer, on topics as diverse as Japanese theater, choral theory, and the works of Claude Monet. The tests were created by a committee of 16 public school teachers, specifically for the Nunes trial.

However, the Nunes family remains optimistic that the children answered a majority of the questions correctly, despite the seemingly impossible conditions under which they were administered.

In any case, Cleber Nunes is aware that the story of his children’s success has already reached the Brazilian public. “We already won,” he told LifeSiteNews.

Brazilian home ed

Previous LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

Homeschooling Showdown in Brazil: Children to be Tested by Court in Battle Over Educational Rights of Parents

Brazilian Government Prosecutes Homeschooling Family, Threatens to Remove Children

Source: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/aug/08082207.html

Let's Talk About Sex book

Parents Urged to Talk about Sex

Research from Populus (Everyday Conversations Every Day) suggests that the best way to tackle sex education is, as the title suggests, dropping it into everyday conversation, from the age of 11.

Children, the report says, mostly know that what their friends tell them is probably wrong. It goes on to say that 75% of them want their parents to talk to them about sex.

The writers also suggest that the traditional, formal, one-off chat about sex does not work. Instead, informal discussion initiated as the opportunity arises, within a context of TV or magazines, is much more effective.

The UK has the worst record for both teenage pregnancy rates and sexual health in Europe and the problem is rapidly worsening.

Following a related report from the NSPCC, which found that a significant number of people under 16 were calling their helpline because they felt under pressure to have sex, Jim Knight has announced a review on how the subject is dealt with in schools. Currently schools only have to teach the biological aspects of sex.

To go along with this campaign, Brook (the advisory service) has produced a full-colour magazine-style book aimed at young people aged 14+, called Making Sex Safe. It costs £2.25, with discounts for multiple purchases, and is available from their website (www.brook.org.uk/content/M8_1_sexrelationships.asp) or by post from Brook Publications, PO Box 1239, Coventry, CV2 2WT. Include the title ‘Making Sex Safe’ and the product code A51.

single parents

Single Parents’ Forced Employment Campaign

Research for Home based education 1 suggests that as many as 16% of home educators are single parents. So the latest government plans to force single parents into paid employment may have a serious impact on home education, affecting as many as 8,000 children. Numerous home educators (not only single parents) have embarked on a campaign to stop this.

Home education organisations have contacted government departments and home educators have campaigned with letters, emails and postcards. This is intended either to get the government to rethink its policy wholesale or to get recognition that home educating parents are a particular category that needs to be specifically exempted.

No progress has been made on this front. Ministers are reluctant to create such a category and the children’s commissioner has written back to one parent saying that he has better things to do.

The changes are part of a larger package of reforms that will see those with a registered disability also being forced into work(as has now been officially introduced this past week). Ministers are probably feeling confident that home educators will not gain the general public’s sympathy and are probably concerned that some single parents might pull their children out of school to avoid forced employment.

However, the current financial climate is likely to make it all a moot point as the number of jobs available to single parents is probably going to remain small for some time to come. There are also concerns about the availability of child-care places. The new framework for under-5s education has been so unpopular that many child-care options, particularly individual child-care workers, have dropped out of the business altogether. In some parts of the UK this has left an already stretched sector practically in a state of crisis; particularly in larger cities and the south east where for many the cost of child care remains unfeasibly high.

In preparation for the new government measures, some home educators are considering setting up home businesses that will be compatible with continued home education.

Whatever the outcome, and regardless of how it’s implemented, for some parents and children these reforms will have serious and dreadful consequences. In the UK there are a small number of children who are home educated because of serious and complex problems; LEAs often claim to be able to provide for these children, but the reality is that they cannot do so adequately. The LEAs’ inability to cope is often why these children were home educated at the outset and sometimes the cause of the breakup of the parental relationship.

Staff in employment centres, untrained on these issues and possibly wary and cynical of attempts to avoid work, might pass the significance of parents’ pleas for exemptions. Some parents will inevitably be forced into unsuitable arrangements and the consequences for their children will be dire.

LA’s only recourse for ‘school refusal’ is to force children to attend, a strategy that has proved unworkable for many home-educating families. Parents will have to choose between losing a significant part of their income or allowing their child to be bullied and harangued into returning to a place they consider unsafe. Sadly, if children are forced to return to school against their will, I think we can expect to see some instances of suicide; desperate children might see no other options open to them.

A significant rise in truancy prosecutions is also likely. If more single parents are forced to work full-time and their children truant, how can they be expected to comply with the school’s demands to ensure their children’s attendance?

Even the parents of disabled or sick children will not have an automatic exemption from the measure. Government employment advisors have apparently been told to be sensitive to circumstances, but without specialist training those sensitivities will largely depend on personal prejudice. One cannot expect people working in the field of employment to understand the ramifications of dozens of disabilities, psychological disorders, phobias and fears; or the vagaries of the education system and how it relates to children.

In practice the number of families who find themselves in real difficulty is likely to be low, but the severity of those difficulties is probably going to be extreme; in some cases perhaps even fatal.

Virtual college poster

Virtual Schools – Popular Among Teachers

Teachers in the US have realised that by working for virtual schools they do not have to come up against actual (that is non-virtual) children and appear to find this preferable to teaching in real schools.

In e-schools like Virtual Virginia, a virtual school run by Virginia state education department that enrols ‘home educated’ pupils around the state as well as elsewhere in the US and abroad, a full-time teacher can earn $40,000 per annum with benefits. Teachers are fast realising that all they have to do for their $40,000 is to teach. They do not have to provide cafeteria duties or manage disciplinary issues or attend endless management meetings. Most of all, they don’t have to physically interact with pupils. In the US’s culture of growing school violence this is a deal clincher for some teachers; it means that teachers feel safe and secure, working from home at their computer desk where pupils may not even know their real name, let alone address, etc.

The pupils are made up of various sorts with various needs. Some are attending ‘real’ schools but want to study subjects unavailable to them locally, while others are home-educated children. Others still live abroad and want to study an American curriculum or in the English language. Foreign and out-of-state pupils pay through the nose for these courses, but many US students can recoup the costs from their state education authorities.

Competition for staff posts are stiff with hundreds of applicants for each opening, which are few as once teachers start working for e-schools they rarely want to leave…


4mations – a Channel 4 Initiative(UK)

Channel 4 has a new initiative intended to encourage young people to develop animations.

Young people create and upload animations to the Channel 4 website and will then be paid a small amount for each time their animation is viewed.

The initiative is still in the planning stage, but Channel 4 is asking for those interested to register with the site so they can be informed about progress with the project. Www.4mations.tv

“My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school.”

Margaret Mead 1901 – 1978

(Anthropologist and early promoter in the west of breast-feeding on demand)

“No School Like Home”

Jessica Shepherd

The Guardian, Tuesday August 19 2008

Brookes family

Home Education, long dismissed as a hippy option, can be ‘astonishingly efficient’, says a new study, Jessica Shepherd meets the children who don’t go to school.

Ian Fisher, like three-quarters of a million other 16-year-olds, is waiting to get his GCSE results in two days’ time. But, education-wise, that is where the similarity between him and the vast majority of his peers ends, because Ian has never set foot in a school.

In a lifetime of home education, the only formal lessons he has experienced were evening classes at his local college in Reading to help him prepare for the English and physics GCSEs he sat this summer. He studied for a maths GCSE last year and was awarded an A.

Learning at home, when he feels like it and without the restrictions of a curriculum, is “much more efficient” than studying at college, purple-haired Ian says confidently. “The main difference between my informal education at home and my formal education at college has been that at home I can focus on what I want to learn, when I want to learn it.”

Ian’s mother, Jill, took her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, out of school at the age of five in 1992. She decided her child just wasn’t ready for a day that finished at 3.30pm, and saw that she was losing the ability to occupy herself.

Fisher gave up her job as an archaeologist and opted to educate her three children at home. The family lived on the salary of her husband, Peter, a university professor.

Elizabeth has just graduated with a fine arts degree, and Ian’s other sister, Katherine, is about to start her second year of an environmental science degree. Katherine and Elizabeth were awarded As for most of their GCSEs and A-levels.

When they were young, Jill read to her children and took them to museums and to play with others their age. They amused themselves, to a large extent. “There were never any lessons at home, or anything structured for more than a couple of weeks,” she says.

The Brookes parents, from Gloucestershire, have also home-educated their three children: Joe, 18, Freya, 16, and Lindsey, 13. Joe is about to study for a diploma in interactive games design at college and Freya starts her A-levels at college in September. Their parents, Fiona and Peter, earn enough as foster parents to stay at home to educate them.

“The school system is so geared to competition,” says Fiona. “It produces robots.” Her decision to home-educate was met with a mixed reaction from her family, many of whom are teachers.

“Days go by in the same way that they would in the summer holidays for other children,” she says. “One of my children might be outdoors with the chickens, another may be looking after the pets, and the third may be on the computer.”

Surprisingly, the exact number of children learning at home is unknown. Local authorities are not required to find out. But experts say as many as 50,000 children are learning at home in the UK – a figure that has trebled since 1999.

The methods employed by parents vary enormously. Some imitate schools to such an extent that they ring a bell in the morning; others allow their children to do exactly as they please all the time. Many have kept their sons and daughters out of school because they believe formal education starts too early in this country, and that it is restrictive, with a misplaced emphasis on testing. Some worry their children may be bullied.

Critics of home education dismiss it as a hippy option that disadvantages children socially and educationally for the rest of their lives. So a book just published by academics at the Institute of Education, University of London, is highly controversial. It argues that home education is a viable alternative to school up to the age of 14.

Alan Thomas, a visiting fellow in the institute’s department of psychology and human development, and Harriet Pattison, a research associate, conclude that informal learning at home is an “astonishingly efficient way to learn”, as good if not better than school for many children.

“The ease, naturalness and immense intellectual potential of informal learning up to the age of middle secondary school means they can learn certainly as much if not more,” they say in How Children Learn at Home.

Thomas and Pattison interviewed and observed 26 families who home-educated, between them, more than 70 children. Some had been out of school for a couple of years, others had never been inside a school. Most were British, but a handful were Irish, Australian and Canadian.

The authors discovered that these children absorbed information mainly by “doing nothing, observing, having conversations, exploring, and through self-directed learning”. They liken the “chaotic nature” of informal learning to the process that leads to scientific breakthroughs, the early stages of crafting a novel, coming up with a solution to a technical problem, or the act of composing music.

“Its products are often intangible, its processes obscure, its progress piecemeal,” they say. “There are false starts, unrelated bits and pieces picked up, interests followed and discarded, sometimes to be taken up again, sometimes not… Yet the chaotic nature of the informal curriculum does not appear to be a barrier to children organising it into a coherent body of knowledge.”

Thomas and Pattison acknowledge that critics will say home-educated children are likely to pick up information peppered with misunderstandings or inaccuracies, and parents may unwittingly pass on their own misconceptions. “Yet the lack of information quality-control does not appear to lead to muddled, confused children,” they say.

“In some ways, it may be an advantage because, rather than presenting knowledge in neat packages, the informal curriculum forces learners to become actively engaged with their information – to work with it, move it around, juggle ideas and resolve contradictions… It is not a static thing contained in a series of educational folders. It is alive and dynamic.”


This comes across in their interviews with families, who say learning occurs in the “simple hurly-burly of everyday life”. One mother said: “I provide materials, resources, help with research, discuss what they are reading and what I am reading, watch documentaries with them, have stimulating conversations, listen a lot and answer questions.”

Most teachers and parents would balk at one parent’s remarks that all her son did until he was 12 was “watch Star Wars and play on the trampoline” and that he “didn’t even know when his birthday was”. Another said: “Sometimes days go by without anything special happening.”

But Thomas and Pattison marvel at the way one girl learned maths by “helping with the cooking and shopping, and collecting supermarket-trolley money”.

“She came to appreciate the value of material goods, but she did not see it like that,” they say. “She saw only the concrete activity. If she did sometimes count money or do sums in her head, it was her decision, sparked by her emerging understanding, or simple curiosity about numbers.

“The point is that maths, certainly most of what is acquired at the primary level, can be learned as an integral part of everyday concrete activities. In school, maths has to be divorced from the dynamic realities of everyday life.”

Home education is just an extension of good parenting, Thomas and Pattison argue. “School itself necessarily curtails such parental contribution.” Why, they ask, do we as a society assume that formal learning needs to take over beyond the age of five? “There is no developmental or educational logic behind the radical change in pedagogy from informal to formal when children start school,” they say.

Contrary to expectations, the home-educated children had no difficulty entering formal education, the authors found. The informal curriculum is “as good a preparation as any” for college, university or academic correspondence courses, they say. “The young people had the personal skills to make the transition with apparent ease.”

Caution urged

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, urges caution. Informal learning is an adjunct, not a replacement for a formal curriculum, he warns. There’s a case for starting formal education later in this country, he acknowledges, but the curriculum is still essential.

“Living our lives is a deeply mysterious business,” he says. “The curriculum opens up a number of ways we can understand it: history, science, art, maths. It’s very important that we give all young people the opportunity to engage with all subjects, whether they immediately occur to them or their parents or not. Schools have developed ways of condensing canons of literature, for example, and introducing it in sequence to children.”

And not all learning is pleasurable; some of it is painful and repetitive. Unless children are in a social situation that makes them stay at it, they will lose out. “It’s very important that parents have the option to home-educate their children, but I wouldn’t advise it,” he says.

Anyway, if home education is that good, why is Ian Fisher hoping to go to college to do A-levels? The only reason, he says, is that he needs qualifications to have a career and that, at his age, the only way to be taught by experts, is to go to college.

That will always be the conundrum for home education.

· How Children Learn at Home by Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison is published by Continuum at £16.99

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/aug/19/schools.education

Home education: a class apart

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 12/04/2008

They are sparky, enthusiastic and imaginative, yet have never seen the inside of a school. David Robson meets the ‘home-eds’

How many A* GCSEs would Chung Chung Stockman achieve if she were receiving a conventional education? Twelve? Fifteen?

Chung Chung is 10, going on 11, going on 18, one of those sweetly precocious children who make your heart dance with their wide-eyed curiosity about the world.

“I’ve got a theory,” she tells me, “but I don’t think you’ll understand it.” Cue a fascinating, breathless discourse on the nature of education.

She’s right: I don’t understand her theory. It’s too idiosyncratic. But I know a clever cookie when I see one.

Hua Hua, her eight-year-old brother, is no slouch either. My eye strays to the bookshelves of the converted warehouse in Rotherhithe where they live, opposite a film studio. Good grief, Hua Hua isn’t reading Proust, is he?

The extraordinary thing about the Stockman siblings, who were adopted from an orphanage in China, is that they have never been near a school and never will, if their parents, film-makers Annabel and Olivier Stockman, have anything to do with it.

Chung Chung and Hua Hua are what is known as “home-eds”, raised entirely outside the school system. Their parents did consider local primary schools, but were unimpressed: the children emerging from the schools seemed alarmingly regimented, drilled to act and behave in a certain way rather than try to discover themselves as individuals.

Home-eds are in such a small minority that most people, myself included, have only the sketchiest notion of what it entails. Does mum have to mug up on algebra? Does dad give PE lessons? Do snoops from the local council come knocking on the door?

The answer, in a nutshell, is none of the above. The education Chung Chung and Hua Hua are receiving is gloriously eclectic. Latin and Greek, sewing and weaving, cycling and swimming, singing, visits to museums, galleries, theatres…It is a free-range, middle-class, bohemian upbringing, although Annabel Stockman, who superintends it, is adamant that it is no soft option, either for her or the children.

“It is bloody hard work. You have to talk to your children the whole time, field their questions and hold their interest. The important thing is to encourage them to think for themselves and see connections between, say, things they have seen in museums and things they may have read in history books.”

She and her fellow home-educators are a close-knit community: they pool resources, teach together and co-operate in a hundred ways. Thursday morning in Rotherhithe is “study club”, when Chung Chung and Hua Hua are joined by other home-eds in front of an educational film, in this case a BBC2 documentary about oceans, which they then discuss.

The “class” consists of eight children ranging in age from five to 12. It is not easy for Tina, one of the parents, and a former teacher, to craft the discussion in such a way that all the children feel equally involved. But interest levels are high and behaviour is flawless.

Just a nice, normal group of kids, you would say, except that they are not normal, not in the influences that are being brought to bear on them. Do they know more or less about the world than their contemporaries? Or do they just know different things?

“Who is David Cameron?” I ask. None of them knows. “Andrew Flintoff?” Incomprehension. “What job has Fabio Capello just been given?” One boy sticks up his hand. “How about Jamie Oliver?” Eight hands this time. And I thought I was looking at the Einsteins of the future.

After a scamper around a local playground, then a soup-and-sandwiches lunch, Chung Chung and Hua Hua are driven to Southwark for a pottery class.

It costs £9 per child, a reminder that home education does not come cheap. But there is no doubting the quality of the tuition or the enthusiasm of the children, as they sit at their wheels, sloshing and kneading.

“Who’s the most famous potter in the world?” I ask. No reply. “Harry Potter!” Hua Hua looks blank. Chung Chung frowns and says, “Isn’t he someone in a story?” Annabel glares at me as if I have uttered a four-letter word.

Will the adult world be flexible enough to accommodate Chung Chung, Hua Hua and their home-ed friends? One would dearly like to think so.

Although they are bubbly, friendly and well-behaved, it is their individuality that is most striking, an independence of outlook that throws down the gauntlet to classloads of battery-reared schoolchildren.


  • *Recognise that home education is a huge commitment of both time and effort. You don’t need to be super-educated or have teaching qualifications, but you will need to accept responsibility for keeping your children intellectually stimulated and culturally curious.
  • *Be flexible. Recognise that children have individual needs.
  • *Don’t try to replicate the school curriculum, subject for subject.
  • *Encourage your children to think for themselves and develop inquiring minds.
  • *Be prepared for scepticism from others. There are some common misconceptions about home-educated children, that they have been bullied at school, for example. Have the courage of your convictions that you are doing the best for your child.
  • *

  • *Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know all the answers. Teaching children to discover things for themselves is an intrinsic part of the process.
  • *Get to know your local librarian. He/she could become your best friend.

  • Famous people who have been educated wholly or largely at home include the astronomer Patrick Moore, the singers Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield, Beatrix Potter and Noel Coward.
  • The websites of the Home Education Advisory Service (www.heas.org.uk) and Education Otherwise www.education-otherwise.org) are the best starting-points for parents interested in acquainting themselves with the rudiments of home education.
  • No official register is kept, but estimates of the number of home-educated children in Britain range from 7,000 to 50,000.

  • Source:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/main.jhtml?xml=/education/2008/04/12/fhomeds112.xml
  • FT Weekend Magazine: A Class Apart

    It’s 11 o’clock on Tuesday morning. Throughout Britain, school bells are ringing and corridors are pressed with shrieking teenagers on their way from geography to double science. Excuses are being formulated for late homework; gossip is being shared. But elsewhere, an alternative vision of contemporary British education can be seen. Across kitchen tables and on suburban sofas, in museums and parks, a growing tribe of home-schooled children is learning without whiteboards, timetables or uniforms.

    Cover picture

    At a rugby club in Bromley, London commuter-belt country, nine home-educating parents are giving their charges a day’s “socialisation”. Amid a wall of high-pitched noise, some kindergarten-age children are mixing paints and playing with glitter. Two 11-year-olds are idly flicking a table-football machine, and two boys – friends 30 seconds ago – are fighting over whose turn it is to play with a toy castle.

    Alex, a pale, undersized seven-year-old with dyspraxia and autism, has upset Sam (below left), 10, who has Asperger’s syndrome – which means he too can find it hard to read social signals. “It’s not fair. Go away, go away,” shouts Sam. Sam’s father runs over to rule, Solomon-like, on their contested claims. Just as the dispute is resolved, one girl breathlessly reports that she has seen another child climbing on the roof.

    Elsewhere I speak to a self-possessed 10-year-old girl whose mother has taken her out of school because she felt she was too advanced for the work. She reels off reading lists of children’s classics: “I’m reading the Just Williams. I’ll read them all in two days. I finished The Hobbit. I’m now on book five of The Chronicles of Narnia.” Though she’s precocious, she speaks unselfconsciously. As we’re approaching Easter, I ask her if she takes school holidays. “We don’t really need to. We learn wherever we go. Say we went to the south of France – we’d learn stuff about France on holiday.”

    Home schooling has been on an upward trend in Britain over the past 10 years. Since there is no legal duty on parents to inform local education authorities that they are home schooling their children, the government has no idea how many children are in this position. Only if a child starts school and is then withdrawn is there an official record. But this misses out the thousands of children who never start school in the first place.

    Mike Fortune-Wood, a pro-home-education researcher, estimates that about 50,000 children are presently being schooled at home – but says that number is growing fast: “The rise I got was 17 per cent annually. If you kept on at this rate, the figures start to get quite scary for schools by around 2020.” Still, Britain is decades behind the US, where an estimated 1.2 million children are home educated, largely for religious reasons.

    Unlike in Germany, where home schooling is banned, there has never been a legal obligation for British parents to send their children to school. The only demand is that every child receives an “efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude … either by regular attendance at school or otherwise”.

    But within this definition parents have generous latitude. They don’t have to follow the national curriculum, enter their children for exams, observe school hours, give formal lessons, or mark work. Local authority inspectors can ask annually for written information on how a child is being educated, but they have no right to meet the child or visit the home. Should a local authority decide a child is not receiving a “suitable” education it does have powers to send him or her back to school. In practice, though, courts rarely rule in the authority’s favour.

    Sam’s mother, Ann Newstead, is a spokesperson for the Education Otherwise support group for the Kent area. She withdrew her son from school in July 2005 because he was being badly bullied: “The differences between him and his classmates got more obvious. At school he couldn’t have a meltdown like that. You can’t start shouting and screaming in class.” Ann and her husband Roarke (right) gave Sam’s elder brother Josh, 12, a choice about whether to stay in school or leave. Initially he opted to stay: “He said, ‘I’ve got friends at school, we’re doing a really interesting project at the moment’. He carried on for one day. That night I went into his room. He was really tearful and said: ‘I don’t want to go back tomorrow’.” Sam’s younger brother, Will, six, is also educated at home.

    Do the children have any regrets? “We live opposite school and they hear the kids playing. I think they miss that. But they don’t remember that it’s the every-single-day aspect of it that did their head in.” Children on the verge of adolescence, however, can be stifled by a home education. “Because they’re closer to us, letting them out of your sight can be a bit harder,” says Newstead. “If [my son] was going on a school bus every day, he would be totally independent. Now he’s not.”

    . . .

    In the US, 75 per cent of home-schooling families are practising Christians – and a third of that number cite religion as their main reason for choosing home education. In secular Britain, only 8 per cent home-educate for reasons of faith. But it’s a contributory factor for many others who feel state schools have become too permissive.

    Modupe has come to Britain from west Africa after completing a masters degree at an Ivy League university. She’s teaching her son, Theo (left), at home, with a curriculum partly based on the teachings of the 19th-century home-education pioneer Charlotte Mason. Mason warned of the dangers of insulting children’s intelligence by giving them “twaddle” to read, and Theo’s reading list is furnished with such doughty classics as The Pilgrim’s Progress and H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story (a volume of high Edwardian patriotism that has long since disappeared from British classrooms but is still taught in traditional African schools). “The modern stuff doesn’t make you think,” says Modupe. “It almost seems to be for entertainment. It’s important for Theo to be aware of the history of this country.”

    Theo was attending a private school in the south of England. His teacher – who seemed to be unmarried – fell pregnant. As a Christian, Modupe felt awkward having to answer a child’s questions about why an unmarried woman would be having a baby. There were worrying hints of racism at the school, too: Modupe’s son was the only boy in class not invited to a classmate’s birthday party for three years in a row.

    She also felt she was fighting low expectations from some staff. One teacher said: “It’s really good that you are keeping [your son] busy so he doesn’t get into trouble.” “He hadn’t even spoken to my son,” says Modupe, “but he was really negative towards him.” A sociable boy, Theo was initially upset at being removed from school: “At first he complained that I had ruined his life. But the socialisation they get from school is not the kind of socialisation we want.”

    Ronald Meighan, a former professor of education at Nottingham University, has been part of the home-education movement from the days when it was a besieged minority. In 1977 he knew of only 20 home-schooling families in Britain. “Home education started as an alternative lifestyle for people living in smallholdings,” he says. “People who believed in a better and more self-sufficient society also believed in a more self-sufficient form of education. At the first meetings of Education Otherwise, I was the only one wearing a suit. But the message got round to doctors and solicitors and teachers that this could work for us. The Sound of Music – which shows a home-education family in operation – gave it a shot in the arm.”

    Still, it was a risky lifestyle choice. Before the early 1980s, parents who home-educated their children stood a good chance of seeing them taken into care. In the 1960s and 1970s, a generation of home-education martyrs fought the government in the courts – greatly restricting the powers of local education authorities. Now, official attitudes vary. Some local authorities provide teaching materials online for home-educators and allow them to take extra books out of the library. Others, though, have inspectors who are still deeply sceptical about the value of home education.

    Meighan is a proselytiser for “purposive conversation” – the belief that in-depth discussion is the most effective way to teach children. He believes formal schooling is actively harmful: it removes children from the comfortable home environment in which their natural curiosity thrives and they learn best.

    According to a survey of 297 home-schooling families by Mike Fortune-Wood, 62 per cent never use a timetable, the same percentage never consult the national curriculum, and 50 per cent disagree with the statement that a child should be able to read by the age of eight. Fortune-Wood, who home-educated four children, says: “I know of children who’ve started to pick up books at nine or 10, and there are no indications that they do any worse than others. One of our children didn’t read until he was nine or 10 – and he’s just completed an MA in creative writing.”

    . . .

    A week later I join a home schooling trip to an educational farm amid the lush countryside of the south downs. On a windswept hill, to the bleating of Pygmy goats, I meet Janice, a former policewoman turned homeopath who educates her 11-year-old son Jesse at home. Jesse is a gifted footballer – and for most of the trip he is a hurtling streak on the horizon. “I’ve never been to school but it doesn’t sound very good,” he tells me during a two-minute hiatus before tackling the adventure playground. “This boy at a school that I know had his head flushed down the toilet.”

    Janice home-educates because, “Like most boys, Jesse has an enormous amount of testosterone. And the school system does not really allow for that. Jesse does not absorb information if you go over 20 minutes. He needs to run around the garden and be manic for a minute and then come back.” Jesse is following the “Unschooling” philosophy: “We’re not following the national curriculum. His writing is coming along really well, but it is at his pace. He wouldn’t be at the age level that the schools are at. He might be in a specialist reading class because we did not start reading with him until he was seven-and-a-half.”

    Jesse is a “practical learner” so he learns “experientially” – going on outings, visiting museums, taking photos and creating scrapbooks. He has daily morning sessions of maths and English and a weekly session with a private tutor. But it’s Jesse’s gentle self-assuredness that his mother sees as the main achievement of home schooling: “He’s so confident. He gave a talk about football training to a group of parents. He spoke with such authority. When he’s training he always involves the younger kids.”

    So why have the numbers of the home-educated grown so quickly over the past five years? In the UK, home-educating religious and ethnic minorities – Muslims, Romany travellers, Presbyterians, pagans – have grown in number, but they have not been the recruiting sergeant for home education they are in the US. Bigger factors have been the increasing number of children diagnosed with special needs, parents fleeing the British state sector’s testing and targets, the ready availability of teaching materials on the internet and the doubling of private school fees in a decade.

    But a survey of 34 local authorities showed that by far the most significant factor was bullying: 44 per cent of parents cite it as the reason they withdrew their children from school. In this less deferential age, parents are less willing to trust teachers – and when faced with a problem such as bullying, they sort it out themselves.

    In spite of its somewhat anarchic origins, home-schooling is more than anything a product of consumer power. Take the Norton family. They live on a suburban close near Rochester, where Rob works from home for British Telecom and is a squadron quartermaster sergeant in the Territorial Army, while Karen works evening shifts at the local retail park. The couple deregistered their 11-year-old son, Andrew, from the school roll last Easter after an unhappy move from junior school to a comprehensive with 2,000 students. It was, says Rob, “educational factory farming”. There was “lots of disruption, lots of behavioural problems. The place is just too big. We logged everything that happened over two terms on two sheets of A4. We are looking at assault, stealing and criminal damage.”

    Andrew, a serious-minded boy, gives a litany of complaints – from scrawls of “boffin” across his exercise book to a lesson in which one pupil hit another over the head with a chair. “We hated taking him to school,” says Karen. “He didn’t want to cry but you could see him welling up. I was concerned that I was going to see a child that wanted to start self-harming.” The teachers “tried their hardest” to sort out the issues. But in the end, according to Rob, “they didn’t get the support they needed. They’ve got the crest, they’ve got the uniform, they’ve got the procedures, but they haven’t got the willingness at a higher level to deal with the problems.”

    After ruling out private school on the grounds of cost, they signed Andrew up to InterHigh – an internet-based school that runs virtual classes each weekday morning in real time. Teachers scattered across Britain speak to pupils at home via a Skype-type headset and microphone. Inside his bedroom – all Star Wars posters, Lego space stations and Airfix models of helicopters – Andrew shows me how he files his homework by e-mail and his teachers upload their class notes to a central database. There is no disruption – any pupil who misbehaves in cyberspace is logged out by the teacher.

    For a few hours in the afternoon, Andrew does his homework on his own and bounces on a trampoline in the garden in lieu of PE lessons. Rob’s meticulous accounting gives a taste of the new home-educating consumer: “We worked out that the cost in petrol of taking Andrew to school – up and down the gears – is about £1,000 a year. It costs £2,000 for the internet course. So we’ve knocked half the cost off already.”

    The Nortons are home educating not because of any sweeping alternative vision of education. Theirs is a pragmatic decision, based on a belief that state education is lagging behind expectations: “We as a family are so happy,” says Karen. “Andrew has opened up his world a lot more.”

    The most common fear is that the home-educated miss out socially. American studies have yet to prove this: observations of home-schooled children at play show they have fewer problems with social interaction than state-educated children – and are involved in a wider variety of activities outside the home. It is true that home-educated children seem well-balanced and thoughtful. But isn’t there a contradiction between an educational philosophy that stresses a child’s independence and the fact that they remain much more cloistered and dependent on their parents?

    Home education can produce the ultimate “helicopter parents” – constantly hovering over their children, protecting them from the failures that might be thought essential rites of passage. And oughtn’t we be concerned that so many parents, particularly those under pressure with children with special needs, are finding state education so poor they take the drastic step – and make the financial sacrifice – of keeping their child at home?

    More fundamentally, the growth of home education is a challenge to the age-old concept of universal education. It is bizarre that while the state insists on a detailed, legally enforced national curriculum for every pupil at school – whether at Eton College or an inner-city comprehensive – those schooled at home are able to opt out of these obligations entirely. The teachers’ union Voice – which represents 34,000 educational professionals – is campaigning for greater inspection rights for local authorities.

    As general secretary, Philip Parkin, says: “It is absolutely unbelievable that we don’t know how many home-educated children there are and we don’t know who is educating them. Society has got to get a grip on this.”

    Source:  http://robblackhurst.com/2008/homeed/

    “Attending School on the Web”

    Virtual classrooms have pros, cons – and the trend has some harsh critics

    by Rhonda Bodfield

    Arizona Daily Star

    Published 1st September, 2008

    High school math teacher Dan Tucker no longer has to worry about whether this student’s midriff is showing or that one can have bathroom privileges. And now, with his only commute being the one along the Internet’s information superhighway, he has been known on occasion to work in his pajamas from his rural Catalina home.

    Meanwhile, while other students are groggily getting ready for morning classes, high school senior Angie Ronquillo is off to work. Her school day, which largely takes place in the bedroom of her Rio Rico home, won’t start until after most other students already are home.

    The two are big boosters of the brave new world of virtual education, touted as a way to fix some long-standing education bugaboos and allow students to design their own educational experiences. Not a morning glory? Log on later. Want to take a class not offered in your district? No problem. Bored with the pace set in a traditional class? Work at your own speed. Don’t like the food processor that can be the high school social scene? OK.

    No longer merely for the high school student who needs to make up the occasional credit, distance learning is catching on, increasingly offered to primary school students and giving resources to parents who might consider home schooling but are panic-stricken at the idea of teaching trigonometry.

    Arizona has been operating schools without walls for a decade now, with almost 27,500 students last year attending programs approved in seven districts and seven charter schools.

    The biggest action is in the charter schools — the largest, Primavera Technical Learning Center, reported 8,000 students last year. Tucker and Ronquillo’s school, Arizona Virtual Academy, run by K12 Inc., has 4,600 students in the state this year, with about 2,000 of them in Tucson.

    Four years into it, the Tucson Unified School District program has about 600 students signed up for online learning.

    Stuart Baker, TUSD’s principal of distance learning, said students likely will experience some form of online learning in postsecondary education, so early exposure is helpful.

    “Virtual education is the wave of the future. It’s exploding everywhere, and it’s being looked to as a real way to deliver education quickly and efficiently to kids all over the world,” he said. “I don’t know what form it will take ultimately, but it’s not going away.”

    Seventeen-year-old Ronquillo sees no downside to the choice she made in her sophomore year to go wholly online. It allows her to work full time, and while she initially was wary of computers, she now considers herself solidly technologically literate.

    With a full class load that includes two Advanced Placement courses, she finds the work more challenging than that in conventional classrooms.

    Her mother agrees.

    “It takes a lot of discipline to succeed in these classes,” said 33-year-old Veronica Ronquillo, whose 9-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter also attend Arizona Virtual Academy. “All through school, at parent-teacher meetings, her teachers would always say she was one of their best students and always at the top of the class,” she recalled.

    Some parents might think that was encouraging. Veronica Ronquillo had another take.

    “I thought it was too easy for her, and she really wasn’t being challenged,” the mother said.

    OK, but what about missing out on the prom or football games, or interacting with other kids? The school hosts occasional get-togethers, and Angie Ronquillo said she has a full social life. Last year she was the editor for both the newspaper and the creative-writing club. She now leads the school Bible club and mentors younger students.

    “Before I started the program, I didn’t really understand online friendships,” she said. “It seems odd to have friends and never see them, but I’ve learned in this program you can have meaningful relationships without ever actually speaking.”

    Ironically, she said, she feels she has more one-on-one time with her teachers. And she’s exposed to a more diverse group of students than she would if she went to her neighborhood school — online classmates hail from as far away as Flagstaff and Yuma.

    But even as their popularity grows, online programs are raising questions among some observers who are looking for greater accountability and are squeamish about sinking tax dollars into for-profit ventures.

    A recent auditor general report shows there is indeed room for improvement on the accountability front.

    Auditors found that in 2006, the state overpaid by about $6.4 million because of funding errors, partly because schools were receiving full payment even when students split their time with conventional bricks-and-mortar classes. Auditors also found the schools as a whole were inconsistent in reporting expenditures, making it difficult to compare costs and evaluate cost-effectiveness.

    And, they noted, the effect on student achievement was similarly inconclusive, with a sample of high school students getting 48 percent fewer instruction hours than what is required.

    David Safier, a Tucson blogger and a retired teacher, is critical of K12, which reported on its latest quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has more than 42,000 students in 17 states. The latest prospectus showed more than 10 percent of revenues — reported at $141 million in fiscal year 2007 — came from the Arizona operations.

    Safier broke the news on his blog that K12 had outsourced grading to India, a practice the provider has discontinued.

    The story came to light after some parents noticed mixed-up pronouns on graded papers. Safier accuses the company of breaching the trust of parents and students. He said he isn’t convinced that the Indian workers, who weren’t subject to fingerprinting, didn’t have access to student data, although a K12 spokeswoman said the data were scrubbed of identifying details.

    Safier also has concerns about quality, fretting that some online providers, using what he dubs “lesson plans in a can,” are flirting with replacing teachers altogether.

    “There’s this ideal out there that if you can teacher-proof education, you’ve reached nirvana,” he said. “If you aren’t paying the costs of bricks and mortar and attendance clerks and counselors, that reduces a huge cost in running a school. You can’t convince me that the costs are equal.”

    State auditors side with Safier on the cost question. On average, with lower costs for transportation and food and with a smaller special-education population, online charter schools spent $6,140 per pupil, while a conventional-school pupil cost $6,700, according to the report. Arizona Virtual Academy reported per-pupil expenditures of $5,792.

    Mary Gifford, a K12 regional vice president, said the outsourcing began in fall 2006 and was designed to help teachers meet workload demands. Gifford, who said teachers still had the final word on grading, said few teachers actually used the service, but it was available because the school commits to returning graded essays within three days. That’s a really fast pace, she said, especially given that English teachers generally have a class load of about 180 students. Online students need more timely feedback, she said, because teachers can’t walk around a classroom and see who’s getting it and who isn’t.

    This year the company is using two highly qualified Arizona English teachers who work part time reviewing essay drafts. And the school now will standardize communication so parents will be universally informed if someone other than the teacher reviews class work.

    John Wright, the president of the Arizona Education Association, has reservations. While he sees value in online course work, he applauds states such as North Carolina and Kansas for setting up strict controls on how and what the schools teach.

    “Where you get into trouble is that in Arizona, the philosophy on regulation is very libertarian, and it’s more about letting the market meet the need and create innovation. But what you get are for-profit shops setting up that are much more interested in the bottom line,” Wright said.

    But Tucker, 37, who spent seven years teaching at a charter school and is now in his second year as a virtual instructor, said the concerns are unfounded. Teachers always will play pivotal roles, he said, although the instruction definitely looks different. At a session Monday morning, very few students showed up for his online lesson, where he was able to manipulate a triangle to show different angles, sharing what was happening on his screen with the class members. They could hear him, but he couldn’t hear them back, so they typed smiley faces when they got the concept.

    Most of them work through the modules and listen to the class recordings on their own time, so he spends the bulk of his time working one-on-one with students. And because the course work is somewhat scripted, he saves time on lesson plans and can focus more on instruction, he said.

    There are some trade-offs. There’s no more venting with peers in the teachers lounge, and the benefits aren’t comparable to those of the public system. But he can eat a warm cookie that his daughter baked while he’s answering students’ questions. And he doesn’t have to do the part-time acting and the stand-up comedy that it often takes to hold the attention of 35 students for an hour.

    “I don’t think online will ever replace traditional school, but the fact is, you get out of high school what you put into it,” he said. “And that’s true whether you’re working in a virtual environment or not.”

    Source: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/related/255452

    Welsh schools

    WALES,UK “Row over Teenage Learning Changes”

    Plans to make a flexible learning programme for 14-19-year-olds compulsory in all schools in Wales have been criticised by teaching unions.

    Learning Pathways, enabling pupils to take a wider range of courses at different schools and colleges, has so far run on a voluntary basis.

    Now the assembly government wants to make it compulsory for all schools to offer the scheme from next September.

    Unions said not all schools would cope, but ministers said the plan was ready.

    Unions have drawn comparisons with the troubled roll-out of the Foundation Phase, the play-based early learning scheme for three-seven-year-olds, which is being introduced more gradually than originally planned after funding worries.

    Individual needs

    Learning Pathways is the assembly government’s flagship teaching policy for secondary schools, which aims to provide each pupil with a unique education, supporting their individual needs.

    It means pupils can choose to study a far wider range of subjects than is available at their own school or college, mixing both academic and vocational studies.

    Through neighbouring institutions working together, students and teachers can move between different campuses to access different courses.

    Deputy Education Minister John Griffiths has defended the decision to bring in legislation to make Learning Pathways compulsory, saying that £32.5m has been ring-fenced every year for it.

    The timescale is unrealistic and we need to ask if legislation is necessary at this stage

    Iwan Guy, NAHT

    He said local area officers will also be made available to facilitate co-operation and he added that, due to the concerns of unions, there will be a three-phase roll-out, beginning next September.

    But unions fear there has been insufficient research into the scheme and warned not all areas have the infrastructure in place yet to support it.

    Iwan Guy, acting director of the head teachers’ union NAHT Cymru, said the roll-out could “mimic the debacle we saw when the Foundation Phase came in”.

    He said they felt another three-to-five years of research and preparation was needed before legislation was brought in.

    “The timescale is unrealistic and we need to ask if legislation is necessary at this stage,” he said.

    “Learning Pathways has been offered on a voluntary basis by some schools in England and Wales for quite a few years and for many it is working very well.

    “But legislation makes it a ‘one-size-fits-all’ situation. And in this case one size doesn’t fit all.

    ‘Building partnerships’

    “What about Welsh education schools? Would pupils be able to go to their neighbouring schools, which are likely to be teaching them in the English language? Their parents send them to Welsh schools to learn in the language of Welsh.

    “And then you have areas like Builth Wells where pupils would spend a lot longer travelling to other schools and colleges – that’s time when they could be being taught.

    “We support more choice but we need to look at what is working well and how we can make it work in all areas.”

    He added that teachers’ hours would also have to be looked at, while administration issues, such as providing adequate transport between schools and colleges, needed to be addressed.

    But Mr Griffiths insisted the scheme was ready to be rolled out.

    “We have been working towards this new system, this new way of doing things – of opening up choice – for an awfully long time,” he said.

    “When I first became an assembly member in 1999 it was on the agenda then and had been progressed for some years.

    “Since then a lot of work has taken place right across Wales at local level in terms of building partnerships and expanding choice, so we have already done some of the work.”

    Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/wales_politics/7647185.stm

    “Failing Teachers Too Hard to Sack”

    Ofsted’s Christine Gilbert said weak teachers are difficult to sack.

    Weak teachers can put children off learning and are too difficult to sack, the chief inspector of schools has warned.

    Christine Gilbert, the head of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), claimed pupils were being let down by inadequate teachers.

    She said teaching rated as “satisfactory” was not good enough, especially in deprived areas.

    Her comments come ahead of the new academic year as children across the country prepare to return to school.

    In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Gilbert called for schools to be able to fire underperforming staff more easily and criticised a “revolving door syndrome” which lets weak teachers move from school to school.

    “As I go round the country heads tell me how difficult it is to get rid of weak teachers,” she said.

    “They say they start the procedure and they might be 18 months down the line and the teacher will move… we need to be thinking of ways of preventing that. That isn’t Ofsted’s role but I sympathise with head teachers about that.”

    Last Updated sun 31st August, 2008

    Source: http://news.aol.co.uk/failing-teachers-too-hard-to-sack/article/20080831043740716538948

    child internet safety

    “New Internet Watchdog Unleashed”

    Last modified 29 September 2008

    Fresh efforts are being made to ensure the internet does not pose a threat to young people.

    The UK Council for Child Internet Safety has been set up to help police websites.

    It is made up of more than 100 experts from the IT industry, charities and the Government.

    The council will report directly to the Prime Minister and be tasked with tackling issues like online bullying and violent video games.

    Children’s Secretary Ed Balls said: “Today’s launch is a significant achievement and I thank all members of the Council for their support and commitment.

    “We want to help children and young people to make the most of what all digital and interactive technologies can offer.

    “By putting in place the right support for children, young people and parents we can reduce much of the anxiety that exists around the internet.

    “UKCISS will enable everyone from parents to industry, Government, education, and children’s welfare organisations to play their part in keeping children safe online.”

    Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “We are determined to do all we can to ensure that the internet environment is safe for children to use.

    “Earlier this year, the Home Office published the first ever social networking guidance developed with industry, charities and law enforcement.

    “The new UK Council builds on this by bringing together over one hundred organisations all committed to keeping children safe online. By working in partnership we can intensify our efforts to protect young people.”

    Source: http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/uk/new+internet+watchdog+unleashed/2479882

    school exclusions

    “Schools Excluding More Children”

    Schools are excluding more children permanently for bad behaviour because of difficulties in arranging support for them, head teachers say.

    The Association of School and College Leaders says rules to help vulnerable children stay in school are backfiring.

    Pupils on temporary exclusions are the responsibility of head teachers after they have had five days out of school.

    But the ASCL says a few days is not long enough to organise the mental health support such youngsters need.

    We are well aware of the detrimental effects of permanent exclusion

    Brian Lightman
    ASCL president

    The teaching union’s survey of 50 schools found it took 80% of head teachers more than a month to access mental health support for children and teenagers.

    About four out of 10 schools said it took more than three months.

    ASCL president Brian Lightman told his union’s conference in Brighton: “Earnest efforts to address the immense challenge of providing for the education of our most vulnerable young people are being undermined by the difficulty of accessing appropriate support services.

    “This has begun to force schools to resort to permanent exclusions instead of longer fixed-term exclusions which might have enabled them to help these students.

    He said five days was not long enough to organise referrals to mental health services or restorative justice sessions.

    He added: “We are well aware of the detrimental effects of permanent exclusion and are trying hard to implement approaches which avoid the need to exclude.

    “However we feel that the government’s policy is backfiring and the pressure of stretched resources is getting worse as the year progresses.”

    Wander the streets

    Under the rules brought in last September, parents of excluded children are responsible for the first five days and local authorities from day 15.

    But schools are responsible for these pupils for the period in between.

    This was introduced to ensure a child is not left to wander the streets during their exclusion and that their education continues.

    A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said he was not aware of any rise in the number of permanent exclusions.

    “Permanent exclusion should always be a last resort – and in the case of children with special educational needs, who are sometimes the most vulnerable pupils, they should only be excluded in the most exceptional circumstances.”

    He added that the department was, however, aware that schools sometimes had difficulty accessing relevant services.

    Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7283125.stm

    Italian protests

    “Italian Streets Hit By Protests”

    30th October, 2008

    Tens of thousands of teachers, students and parents have marched through Italian cities in protest at reforms they fear will “destroy” schools.

    Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s multi-billion-euro education cuts were voted into law on Wednesday.

    It has been reported that up to 130,000 teachers’ jobs could be cut.

    Organisers claimed that up to one million people marched in the capital, and that nine out of 10 schools across the country were closed.

    There was no official confirmation of that estimate.

    “I have worked for 25 years but I am here today to defend my younger colleges. I think the others have the right to dream a future,” Rossella Angelini, a teacher who had travelled to join the protest in Rome, told the Reuters news agency.

    Marches also took place in Milan, Turin, Venice, Naples and other cities. In some places, the protests have been going on, on a smaller scale, for weeks.

    Mr Berlusconi has reacted to the protests by saying: “I regret that young people have been manipulated by the left.”

    Referendum attempt

    The plans include changes to primary school education, including a return to one all-purpose class teacher, who will remain with the same class for five years.

    They will also reinstate a 10-point system for grading pupils’ conduct, aimed at curbing bullying.

    Riot police on guard during student demonstrations, Rome, 30/10/08

    Riot police were on guard after scuffles had broken out on Wednesday

    Universities also face budget cuts.

    Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said the measures “will bring seriousness and merit back to schools”.

    But Domenico Pantaleo of the General Confederation of Labour union said: “These are not reforms, these are just budgetary cuts. The government is destroying public schools and replacing them with a private system.”

    The opposition is trying to raise enough signatures on a petition to force a referendum on the reforms.

    After the government decree became law on Wednesday, with 162 senators voting in favour and 134 against, some scuffles broke out in Rome.

    At the Piazza Navona, a popular tourist spot, several people were lightly injured in a clash between left- and right-wing students.

    Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7700434.stm

    Italy, computers

    “Italy pupils ditch books for PCs”:


    Pupils at a school in Italy are replacing all their text books with computers for a year – in what is being described as a unique experiment.

    More than 60 children – aged between eight and 10 – at Turin’s Don Milani school will be using mini laptops with the full curriculum.

    Their access to the internet will be controlled by special software.

    The experiment, which is backed by parents, aims to test how a computer alone can improve the learning process.

    Cheaper alternative

    Until Wednesday, the Don Milani di Rivoli elementary school was like any other in Italy.

    Children turned up, got out their books and pens and began the process of learning.

    But now, 60 fifth grade pupils and a number of third graders will start using computers only.

    The mini laptops, which run Windows software, weigh less than a kilogram, can be dropped from a height of one-and-a-half metres and are waterproof.

    Instead of spending the equivalent of $700 (£400) a year on books, the laptops, built by the Italian company Olidata, cost less than $400 (£228).

    “Disabled pupils ‘need safe areas”:

    British School, Birmingham

    Pupils with learning disabilities would like safe areas in school to counter their vulnerability between lessons and at break times, a report has said.

    Often problems could be avoided if the young people were consulted – boosting their skills and self-confidence.

    The report – What about us? – comes from Cambridge University’s education faculty and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities.

    Researchers worked with nine different institutions around the UK.

    They found that involving young people in such a study could enhance their social and emotional well-being and status among other students, and develop the sort of skills they needed to lead productive adult lives.


    Official policy is to encourage the teaching of children with special educational needs alongside their peers in mainstream schools.

    “The overall message from students was that the inclusion policy is a good one, but that it needs to be translated and put into practice more effectively,” said Cambridge University lecturer in special and inclusive education, Richard Byers.

    “Schools are very busy places and are naturally concerned about challenging and developing all their students.

    “In most of the successful schools and colleges we worked with, however, it was clear that it was entirely possible to drive towards excellence and include young people with learning difficulties at the same time.”

    These young people wanted the chance to influence the day-to-day running of their places of learning through bodies such as student councils.

    But it was “noticeable” that they were not included and sometimes did not even know their school had such a council.


    Consulting them meant simple issues were easily resolved. The report mentions a wheelchair ramp that was too steep and sinks in an art room that were too high.

    It said a lot of the young people involved in the study felt that the extra curricular parts of the day could be particularly stressful and wanted “safe places” to go to.

    “They felt that if they could go into a library, a social area or somewhere that was actively staffed and developed for them, things would be better.”

    In the lessons, consistency and continuity were “vital”.

    “In one college, most staff working with students with learning difficulties were part-time, paid by the hour, and did not know where they would be teaching from one year to the next.

    “This had a negative impact on student experiences.”

    Jill Davies of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities said the students provided a very effective check on policy implementation and quality.

    “Involving them in this way is good for schools, colleges and policy-makers – as well as being good for the young people themselves.”

    newspaper articles

    “Election Issues: Education”:


    “Report card on boys troubling”:


    “Teaching kids about money”:


    “Primary schools need more cash”:


    “History should be like a detective hunt, says author Carol Baxter”:


    “Gifted poor pupils ‘need advice”:


    “Talent pool for university access”:


    “Many violent pupils not expelled”:


    “Advice to help employment chances”:


    Sex Ed “Nine-month review bears fruit”:


    “Relationship lessons from age 5”:


    “Sex education should begin at 4”:


    “The truth about sex education”:


    yellow pages

    Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities

    Long-time disability advocates Pete and Pam Wright have launched a new information referral service on their website. It’s called Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities. Bookmark it today – it’s a universe of information at your fingertips. It includes listings for psychologists, educational consultants, therapists, tutors, coaches, health care providers, advocates, attorneys, support groups – and more – for every state in the US. Find useful state agencies, too, like your Parent Training & Information Centers.

    Valuable articles help you become a more effective advocate, build your team, learn about the law, and find advocacy training.

    Listings are free for professionals and providers.


    resources - pastel chalk

    “SEN Teacher” – free special needs teaching resources


    “SEN Worksheets”


    “Schofield and Sims” – Buy educational workbooks, dictionaries, posters, reading books, homework books, school books, textbooks and more for teachers, parents or retailers for schools, home education or trade online at Schofield and Sims – helping children to learn.


    “CGP Books” – The UK’s most popular educational books

    CGP will garnt you 10% discount off total cost on orders of £20 – £40 and 20% off orders over £40. Delivery is free on orders over £20. Upon entering the site through the schools section and stating that you are a Home Educator in the box for additional information, you will be granted the much cheaper school prices.


    “Lett’s Educational” – Accessible revision guides at every level.


    Free Handwriting Practice Sheets

    Postively Autism, described on their website as “ … celebrating the sunny side of the spectrum”, offers an assortment of free resources, including discrete trial training data sheets, fine motor and pre-writing activities, visual structured learning activities, and one of their latest additions, handwriting practice sheets. These come in an assortment of line sizes and can be easily downloaded. Simply click on free resources.


    artist's window

    Sites for Teachers – Literally hundreds of educational websites rated by popularity.


    The Ever Popular “Do2Learn” – Educational Resources for Special Needs


    My Free Calendar Maker – Print your own free calendar


    Vertex 42 – Free Printable Blank Calendar


    Plain calendar Grid Printable Calendar



    Mathematics Enrichment – maths problems, games and articles


    “Project Happy Child” – Linking Children All Across the World

    Contains a multitude of free printable resources up to GCSE level


    “A to Z Teacher Stuff” – free online lesson plans, lesson plan ideas and activities, thematic units, printables, themes, teaching tips, articles, and educational resources.


    “Kids Like me” – Leading Educational Online Store, Specialising in Multicultural and Inclusive Learning Resources for EYFS, KS1 and KS2”


    a little 'light' reading

    Books for free

    A relatively new website has appeared which offers over 20, 000 titles to download for free. This not only includes a number of classics, but also some more recent titles as well as foreign language books.

    What makes this particularly interesting is that unlike many similar sites it offers many of the books in over 25 formats: not just for PCs and Macs, but for other mobile storage and playback devices, with some books available even in audio formats. While there are a number of other webistes offering similar services, this one appears to be the most versatile so far and is clearly a ground breaker for the future.

    When e-books finally come into their own, in perhaps the next 5 or 10 years, sites like these will become extremely important hubs from which one can access vast amounts of data in convenient formats for free. In the mean time they are still important and useful sources of classic works of literature from around the world.


    magnets and iron filings

    Tips from the Home Front

    AA Digest


    One of the most challenging aspects of homeschooling a child with ASD is momentum: how to get kids focused and KEEP their learning moving at a steady pace. We’ve discovered a few tricks within our little homeschooling crew that might work for you too. Come to think of it, even regular education teachers might find these handy …

    • A familiar start to the “school day”. For us, that means prayer, pledges, and lots of singing – the same songs every day, with a new one added each week or month. There is an abundance of body movement, as well, which helps rid us of the “wiggles” and prepare our minds to be “alert”.

    • A clear schedule for the day, where desirable activities are interwoven among the more “undesirable” ones. This is priceless, especially when your ASD child drops his head in a clear expression of “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Being able to concretely point out, “This, THEN that” is a surprisingly effective motivator when used consistently.

    • Jump tracks for a while when their attention wanes. Grab a white board and find a way to make the lesson more visual, or incorporate music and movement.

    • Hidden surprises (a.k.a. The “bribe”). My kids know that from time to time I have tiny candies (organic and chemical free, of course!) hidden in my pocket. They never know when it will happen, but as I catch one of them doing exactly as I want, out comes a surprise. You can bet the other two kids take notice and straighten up!

    • Allow for “do-overs”. When things start falling apart, STOP – review the expectations, try to laugh a bit, and declare a “do-over.” Then PRAISE LIKE CRAZY the tiniest of successes as they try to get back on track.

    If some aspect of homeschooling is a constant challenge, keep looking for better solutions. That jackpot might be just another token away!

    ~Michelle McConnell, homeschooling mom of three kids

    Balance beam

    Homeschooling NewsBites

    AA Digest

    Tips from the Home Front:

    Outside-Inside Learning

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my son Luke, it’s that his thinking is all about associations. If he can connect information to a visual picture, music, or best of all – an experience he’s had – it’s there forever and fairly easy to recall. But if there’s no association … there’s no learning. You might as well be Charlie Brown’s teacher: “wah wah wah wah …WAH wah”.

    The warm sunshine of spring provides the perfect opportunity to leave the desk behind, get outside, and BUILD those associations – the framework for learning! Experiences, sights and smells, literally getting their hands dirty, all create that foundation of “concrete knowledge” so crucial for our kids.

    One of Luke’s science lessons was about decay, and because of our outdoor adventures he already had a “file” in his brain to which he could relate. There are plenty of rotten logs in the patch of woods behind our home. Luke’s picked at them, kicked them – it’s one of his favourite things to do. So while he may not have the language to explain decay perfectly yet, he does have prior knowledge in his mind that a tree, over time, can turn into something not at all like wood! He’s EXPERIENCED it.

    Don’t think of outdoor breaks as wasted time or simply a chance to burn off some energy. Think of them as an integral part of your homeschool day! And enjoy!

    ~Michelle McConnell, homeschooling mom of three kids

    budding pianist

    Subscriptions to Home Education – The Journal of Home Education in the UK & Beyond

    The Journal is published 3 times a year. We intend the journal to become the highest quality source of news and information available on the subject. A publication that can be kept and referred back to for years to come. It is possible to subscribe either by post or online at:


    Cost – including postage:

    UK £11.99 for 3 issues

    £4.50 for 1 issue

    The rest of the world £14.99 for 3 issues

    £6.00 each

    autumn walk

    Support Listings

    For a comprehensive listing of online support see:


    Home Education UK
    England and Wales support and legal info mailing lists


    England, Wales & N. Ireland



    Education Otherwise
    Support charity covering all of the UK

    PO Box 325, Kings Lynn, PE343XW
    ph. 0845 478 6345

    Support charity for Scotland
    Schoolhouse association,
    PO Box 18044 Glenrothes, Fife, KY 9AD
    ph 01307 463120 (24/7 support line)

    Learning Unlimited
    A support network for continental Europe

    Free Range Education

    Choice in Education
    Alternative education newsletter

    PO Box 20284, London, NW1 3AA
    ph. 0208 969 8935

    Islamic Home Schooling Advisory Network
    PO Box 30671, London, E1 OTG

    Personalised Education Now
    Promotes learner-managed learning

    113 Arundel Drive, Bramcote,
    Nottingham, NG9 3FQ
    ph/Fax: 0115 925 7261

    BLOGS with content relevant to home educators:



    Independent Panel for Special Education Advice (IPSEA)

    Enquire (SEN Helpline)

    Disability Rights Commission
    Promoting the rights of disabled persons

    Disability Law Service
    ph. 020 77919800

    Family Law Association
    help finding lawyers
    0207 797 7837

    Arch Ed
    Action on the Rights of the child

    Bullying Online



    Kids Health Foundation


    The Brook Charity (sexual health advice)


    ph. 0800 0185 023 (9-5)

    ph. 020 7950 7700 (24hr)

    Drugscope Info & help on drug abuse


    32-36 Loman Street

    London SE1 0EE

    ph. 0207928 1211


    ph 0800 1111

    ph 0808 800 2222

    marbles macro

    First Published Monday, 3 November 2008

    Dan Aykroyd

    MPs join fight to save McKinnon from US prison

    Pentagon hacker ‘too vulnerable’ to survive hard time

    MPs are being asked to support accused Pentagon hacker via a motion demanding he serves any jail time he might eventually receive in the UK, even if his long-running campaign to avoid extradition and trail in the US fails.

    Lawyers for McKinnon claim his recent diagnosis with Asperger’s syndrome ought to preclude his extradition to the US on hacking offences. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith rejected these arguments last month, triggering a judicial review of the decision.

    Gary McKinnon at Infosec

    Although it might be politically embarrassing to haul off the admitted hacker at this point there are currently no legal barriers to his extradition, following decisions by the House of Lords to reject his appeal and a decision by the European Court of Justice not to get involved. Since the US political establishment has bigger concerns than the fate of a UFO hunting hacker in the run-up to tomorrow’s presidential elections its unlikely that anything will happen in the immediate future.

    Meanwhile McKinnon’s supporters in the Houses of Parliament are seeking to apply pressure on the Home Secretary via an early day motion calling for the UK government to seek assurances that McKinnon will be sent back to the UK to service his any sentence handed down by a US court.

    David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate in London, Tory front bench spokesman on Justice and McKInnon’s MP, has sponsored the Early Day Motion. The motion asks the UK government to seek the same types of assurances as the Israeli and Dutch governments receive in cases where citizens from those countries with health problems are deported to the US.

    Supporters of the motion (full text herereportedly include former Home Secretary David Blunkett. Other supporters include Chris Huhne, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman and Chris Mullin, former Foreign Office minister. via the Free Gary support blog)

    Burrowes has also asked parliamentary authorities to schedule a debate on the extradition, an opportunity extended to defendants in the NatWest Three extradition case.

    McKinnon faces seven charges of hacking into 97 US government, NASA and military systems during 2001 and 2002. He admits the attacks but argues he was only seeking evidence that the US government had suppressed knowledge about advanced technologies harvested from crashed UFOs and contacts with aliens. US authorities, on the other hand, have described the former sysadmin as the biggest military hacker ever.

    Supporters of the London-based Scot have run a high-profile campaign against his extradition since 2005, arguing that justice would be better served by McKinnon’s trial in the UK. ®

    Source:  http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/03/mckinnon_parliamentary_support/

    Calls grow to save autistic Scots hacker from threat of US prison

    Lucy Clarke, girlfriend of computer hacker Gary McKinnon, outside the Home Office yesterday. Picture: Getty
    Published Date: 30 October 2008

    PRESSURE is growing on the Home Secretary to step in and halt the extradition of a Scots-born autistic computer hacker who is facing up to 60 years in a US prison.

    Shadow justice minister David Burrowes MP was today set to put down a motion in parliament calling on Jacqui Smith to review the medical records of Gary McKinnon who is only weeks away from being sent to the US.

    Mr McKinnon’s supporters claim he was merely looking for information on his UFO hobby rather than being “the biggest military computer hacker of all time” as the US claims.

    The supporters say the unemployed UFO obsessive, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, has become a recluse and is on suicide watch after becoming depressed while awaiting his looming extradition.

    In the US he faces life in prison for using his dial-up modem to hack into computer systems at the Pentagon and at Nasa between 2001 and 2003.

    The Glasgow-born 42-year-old went from being a cannabis-smoking hacker looking for conspiracy theories on UFOs to America’s most wanted cyber-terrorist after 9/11.

    So far, an appeal to the House of Lords has been rejected and now Mr McKinnon’s legal team is waiting for a judgment on a judicial review which it has asked for in light of his recent diagnosis with Asperger’s.

    A decision on the review is due imminently. Should this be turned down, he will have just ten days to pack his bags, possibly never to return.

    Mr Burrowes, his MP, is demanding his extradition be halted until his condition has been more carefully assessed. Last night he said: “My concern is also over this extradition treaty where UK citizens are being plucked out of our country without evidence and facing the full force of the American law.”

    The Home Secretary is also facing pressure to ensure Mr McKinnon is at least allowed to return to the UK on bail before the many months that could await him before a trial.

    Mr Burrowes pointed out nationals of countries such as Israel and the Netherlands are allowed to serve their sentences at home, and asked why Mr McKinnon has to be sent to America.

    A letter from Lord West, the Security Minister, received by Mr Burrowes yesterday showed the government had no plans to stand up to the US authority’s demands. “The starting point you will understand, is that the UK has important obligations in the area of extradition. It takes those obligations seriously,” Lord West wrote.

    Mr McKinnon’s father, Glasgow scaffolder Charlie McKinnon, insisted his son was “no terrorist” but a lonely hacker who had cracked military systems using a dial-up modem. He said: “I have seen the computer he used. It is a piece of junk. It is incredible he was able to get into the American system with it.”

    His mother, Janis Sharp, broke down in tears while speaking to The Scotsman. “Why is the UK the only country in the world where it allows its people to be picked up without prima facie evidence? Why would she (Jacqui Smith] not ask for bail?” Ms Sharp said.

    “He has really withdrawn into himself. He was optimistic but what really shocked him was the House of Lords’ verdict.

    He was a stupid boy but he is no cyber- terrorist.”

    Ms Sharp has been swamped by support for her son however, not least from American comedy actor Dan Ackroyd and Scottish artist Peter Howson, both of whom suffer from Asperger’s.

    Case comes as US gets tougher on tech ‘crime’

    COMPUTER hackers face ever-stiffer sentences in America, as Washington tries to play catch up with technology “crime”.

    Since 2002, hackers have faced up to life in prison if deemed to be acting “maliciously”.

    The House of Representatives overwhelming passed the Cyber Security Enhancement Act in that year.

    It also expanded police powers to conduct internet or telephone eavesdropping without first obtaining a court order.

    Gary McKinnon is not the first British hacker to face the force of American law.

    In 1997, Mathew Bevan was accused of breaking into US military systems. But he escaped without punishment when his case at Woolwich Crown Court was dropped after a long legal battle.

    Questions have also been raised over why the UK is sending its citizens to the US for hearings on scant evidence.

    Both the Israeli and Dutch governments have tried their computer hackers caught in US sites at home.

    The US is currently trying to extradite one Israeli hacker, Ehud Tenenbaum, from Canada over allegations that he hacked into financial institutions. He escaped extradition in 1998 after hacking into the Pentagon.

    Gerri Peev

    The gifted child who became obsessed with investigating UFOs

    GARY McKinnon was a gifted child. He started speaking in full sentences at ten months and was reading books by the age of three.

    But his keen interest in computers and UFOs would eventually land him in trouble as a wanted criminal.

    Born in Glasgow in 1966, he left Scotland as a six-year-old after his parents split up. His father, Charlie, still lives in Scotland while his mother is based in London. His stepfather, from Bonnybridge, sparked an interest in UFO’s, after he related a dream to the boy, in which he saw “huge ships” near his Stirlingshire home.

    He owned his first computer when he was 14, but chose hairdressing as a career. At 15, he joined the British UFO Research Association, which further entrenched his firm belief in aliens.

    Two years later, he went to see the film WarGames , in which a computer enthusiast’s skills lead him into trouble with the Pentagon. After hacking into Oxford University’s network, he managed to crack the US Space Command.

    By November 2000, he was hooked, and quit his job and spent his time hacking from his North London flat.

    His girlfriend at the time grew increasingly worried. He stopped washing and spent hours in front of his computer.

    In November 2002 he was finally caught, after leaving notes on computers of military experts, and now faces charges of hacking into computers of the US army, navy, air force and defence department, and Nasa. He also faces claims that he obtained secret files that “could be useful to the enemy”.

    American prosecutors say his hacking caused $700,000 (£430,000) in damage to government systems and that he deliberately set out to destroy files not long after the 9/11 attacks.

    He insists he only wanted to look around, rather than damage any files.

    He is now unemployed and banned from going on the internet.

    Mr McKinnon was arrested under the Computer Misuse Act but no charges have been brought against him in the UK.

    His online name was “Solo” and Mr McKinnon has described himself as a “bumbling computer nerd”.

    Source: http://news.scotsman.com/scotland/Calls-grow-to-save-.4643340.jp

    Hacker’s song hits Myspace charts

    Tender tears of pity for downtrodden

    Called Only a fool, and owing something to soulful house boys Cabaret Voltaire, the song reached number five in the myspace video chart within 48 hours of being posted.

    In it, Gary gives us an idea how he has sustained his resolve through six years of court battles against an extradition order to face hacking charges in the US.

    “Don’t stop don’t say it don’t matter,” he sings, “If it ain’t easy, try harder; Only a fool would let it go.” It is a heartfelt statement of solidarity for the lovelorn, the dejected, dispirited and lost people of the world.

    Gary has himself struggled to keep his head up throughout his years fighting hacking charges that US prosecutors say should land him 70 years in prison. And was in the summer diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

    The US has labelled him a terrorist who shut down military computer networks. He has said he was a UFO enthusiast looking for evidence and didn’t do any harm. He did, however, leave messages on US government computers that taunted it for its warmongering foreign policy.

    Having gone through the district, appeal and high courts in the UK, and been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights, Gary’s legal team has appealed for a judicial review of his extradition.

    A Parliamentary petition for Gary to serve his sentence in the UK if he is found guilty in a US court has received 20 signatures.

    MP cries mercy for McKinnon

    Jacqui Smith slammed by McKinnon lawyers

    Contempt for hacker’s autism defence

    Gary’s family and Friends speak out in the THE INQUIRER spodcast

    McKinnon looks for legal loophole

    Hacker’s mum squares up to US
    McKinnon loses European appeal

    Lords throw McKinnon to the dogs

    Pentagon hacker in the hands of the Lords
    Hackers attack Boris as Tories call for crackdown

    Hacker Matthew Bevan vents his spleen on the INQ

    Source:  http://www.theinquirer.net/gb/inquirer/news/2008/11/04/hacker-song-hits-myspace-charts

    Myspace bans McKinnon as latest deadline looms

    Top tune hacked

    PENTAGON HACKER Gary McKinnon received a double blow yesterday when Myspace took down his music video and the UK’s High Court refused his application for a judicial review.

    Gary’s music video, Only a Fool, had stormed the Myspace video charts, reaching number three the last time we checked, not three days after it was posted.

    His application for a judicial review had sought to prevent his extradition on the grounds that it would be cruel to send him, as a sufferer of Asperger’s Syndrome, to a US jail. The government should secure him the right to serve time in a British prison if he was found guilty in a US court, said the application.

    Janice Sharp, Gary’s Mum and lead campaigner, said that Myspace had removed his video because it was being used to promote his campaign.

    She said the High Court had given Gary until 5 December to apply for an oral judicial review. The High Court’s refusal yesterday had been for a written review. This may be his last recourse.

    Myspace was unable to explain what had happened to the video. But The INQUIRER understands that the video was pulled by someone in the US without explanation.

    Source:  http://www.theinquirer.net/gb/inquirer/news/2008/11/07/myspace-law-courts-dump

    Hacker hopes hit internet song will help to beat extradition rap

    Published Date: 09 November 2008

    HE IS the self-confessed computer nerd who faces 60 years in an American jail after hacking into the Pentagon’s computer system.

    But now Gary McKinnon has become this year’s most unlikely pop star.

    McKinnon’s online recording ‘Only A Fool’ has stormed into the MySpace charts, hitting the top five of most-watched videos alongside Christina Aguilera, the Pussycat Dolls and Rihanna. Campaigners hope the popularity of the song will help in their bid to halt the Scot’s extradition.

    The 44-year-old Glaswegian, who suffers from a form of autism, faces life in a US prison for using his dial-up modem to hack into military computer systems at the Pentagon and Nasa between 2001 and 2003.

    The amateur songwriter managed to gain entry to the most heavily protected data systems in the world while sitting in the bedroom of his north London flat.

    He became America’s most wanted ‘cyber-terrorist’, was arrested by specialist UK police and faces being handed over to the US authorities.

    McKinnon has always insisted he had no malicious intent and claimed he was motivated by his interest in conspiracy theories and a desire to find classified information about UFOs and aliens. He did, however, leave messages on US government computers that taunted it for its warmongering foreign policy.

    Despite struggling from depression, McKinnon posted his self-penned track on MySpace and within 48 hours it had been viewed by more than 100,000 people – taking it to No.5 in the video charts.

    McKinnon’s melancholy ballad is a tale of survival in the face of great adversity. The chorus features the lyrics: “Don’t stop, don’t say it don’t matter/If it ain’t easy try harder/Only a fool would let it go/Don’t stop, don’t sit and do nothing/If it ain’t easy say something/Only a fool would let it show.”

    The equally downbeat video features youngsters trudging around a bleak inner-city location.

    McKinnon was first arrested six years ago, but the Law Lords rejected his appeal against extradition in August. The UK Government has fully backed America’s attempt to bring the hacker across the Atlantic for trial.

    The programmer, who wants to be tried in Britain, says he will be treated as a terrorist, with one US attorney stating authorities want him to “fry”.

    Source:  http://news.scotsman.com/world/Hacker-hopes-hit–internet.4675449.jp

    Justice should punt McKinnon

    Published: Monday, November 10, 2008 at 2:26 p.m.
    Last Modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 at 2:32 p.m.

    It’s good to see Obama transition team chief John Podesta taking aim at untangling the Bush catastrophe with executive orders, and let’s hope Executive Order 13292 (De Void 11/5/08) is at the top of the list.

    Podesta’s advocacy of UFO declassification is generating considerable speculation about how far he can push it, but it’s doubtful President Clinton’s former chief of staff wants an early test. Which he may get if this Gary McKinnon thing keeps tottering towards America’s shores.

    Dubbed “The Nerd Who Knew Too Much” by Fleet Street, McKinnon is the 42-year-old British hacker who confessed to breaking into U.S. military and NASA computers seven years ago in search of secret UFO data. He didn’t strike the mother lode, but the Justice Department is about to haul him across the pond for wreaking an alleged million dollars in damages during his fishing expedition.

    Since his arrest in 2002, McKinnon has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and his defense team is hoping the British High Court will hear him out in an oral judicial review by Dec. 5. Otherwise, McKinnon’s headed for trial in the States.

    Problem: Thanks to Gitmo, waterboarding, and assorted other upgrades to America’s definition of human rights, McKinnon has became a cause celebre in the UK. Supporters at FreeGary.org.uk have been pressing Parliament to tell Uncle Sam to bring the trial to England. Last week, a bipartisan group of MPs urged British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to freeze McKinnon’s extradition unless the U.S. agrees to return him home for any jail time he faces if convicted.

    A hyperbolic American federal prosecutor’s labeling of McKinnon as “the biggest military computer hacker of all time” has apparently transformed the Glasgow native into a video martyr, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfO1G0Ozypwhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXHXM-82Wlc. According to The Inquirer in London, the latter became the third most-viewed clip on Myspace last week until it vanished: “The Inquirer understands that the video was pulled by someone in the U.S. without explanation.”

    Wow. More conspiracy intrigue. How unusual.

    This isn’t the fight a new administration committed to transparency really wants to pick, not now. A McKinnon trial in the U.S. could conceivably slip the bridle of cyber-vandalism and provoke a broader discussion about UFO secrecy. That’s not likely to happen, given the MSM’s endlessly comfortable whirlpool bath in talking-points Thorazine. Still, it’s not a chance that a guy like Podesta, given his vulnerability on UFOs, wants to take at this point.

    If the Justice Department were smart, it’d punt the venue back to England. The cowboy days are over.

    Source:  http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20081110/BLOG32/811100261?Title=Justice_should_punt_McKinnon


    Marillion to play gig for McKinnon

    Tony Blair refuses help

    PROG ROCK supergroup Marillion has agreed to play a benefit gig for Gary McKinnon as the Pentagon hacker’s legal team prepares a last ditch attempt to have his US extradition order quashed.

    Meanwhile, a political campaign to persuade Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to reject the US extradition request has gained momentum, with a clutch of big hitters demanding she show humanitarian care when considering the fate of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, with which Gary was diagnosed in the summer.

    Mark Kelly, keyboard player with Marillion, told the INQUIRER: “We’re definitely interested. I spoke to the band about it and said let’s put ourselves forward because its an important cause. They have agreed in principle. We just need to get some more details.

    “I’ve always had an interest in computers and I read about Gary’s case a couple of years ago. I identified with him a bit – someone hacking into computers and it being a bit of harmless rummaging around. He was looking for evidence of UFOs – it’s not like he was a terrorist or anything,” he said. “I’m a bit of a computer geek – keyboard player in a band – it comes with the territory really. Not that I ever got into hacking systems, but I could imagine in my younger and more stupid days I would have done something like that if I had the technical capability and would have seen it as a bit of harmless fun, and would never have thought it would lead to something as serious as this,” he added.

    “When I heard he was being extradited and was facing many years in prison and was being made an example of I thought, that’s a bit harsh. He should stand trial here, shouldn’t he?” said Kelly, who has someone with Asperger’s Syndrome in his own family.

    Ross Hemsworth, host of the Glastonbury Radio show Now that’s Wierd was putting the gig together. “We sent emails out today to the Stones, to U2, to Bowie, just about everybody because its got the potential to be a Live Aid if we can get the support behind it,” he said, adding that he had not set a date.

    That would depend on the availability of headline acts and finding an appropriate venue: “We are asking, with cap in hand, for the 02 (the Millennium Dome), or Wembley (the national football stadium), or various other venues.”

    It is looking likely that McKinnon will spend Christmas with his family in London rather than in a US remand prison awaiting trial for charges of hacking military computer systems. His lawyers registered their intention to make an oral application for a judicial review with the High Court today. The application should be made before Christmas.

    It will challenge Jacqui Smith’s refusal to allow Gary’s Asperger’s condition to influence her treatment of his extradition order. If the application is successful, renowned human rights lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC will make the application in the new year.

    McKinnon’s written application for a judicial review was rejected by the High Court last month. Karen Todner, his solicitor, said Fitzgerald had more evidence of Gary’s condition and his likely treatment by the US authorities, but it was usual for an oral application to differ only in the form of its delivery – that is, a personal plea can have greater success.

    “If we are denied permission that’s the end of the road,” she said, ” Although we’ve seen the end of the road before.”

    A Parliamentary petition started by David Burrowes, Gary’s MP, has attracted the signatures of 62 politicians. Big hitters who have added their names include Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat’s shadow justice secretary, Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and Labour MP for Leicester East, Clare Short, the campaigning Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, John Pugh, the Liberal Democrat shadow Treasury minister, and Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Libdems.

    Gary’s campaigners emailed all MPs with a description of the reasons why his Asperger’s condition would make him too vulnerable for extradition to face imprisonment in a US jail. They also requested the support of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. His office refused.

    Source:  http://www.theinquirer.net/gb/inquirer/news/2008/11/14/marillion-play-gig-mckinnon

    Cruel and unusual punishment

    Extraditing conspiracy-theorist hacker Gary McKinnon, who has been diagnosed with a form of autism, is inhumane

    Last week, the computer hacker Gary McKinnon was given a Thursday deadline to apply for an oral judicial review, which is the last legal challenge that could stop his extradition to the United States.

    As he runs out of time and chances, it seems to me and others from across the political spectrum that we should look again at the fundamental case for extradition. There are strong arguments for allowing McKinnon to stand trial in the UK and serve any sentence in this country.

    The London-based hacker, who is alleged to have broken through Pentagon and Nasa security, has recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a fact that was not available and hence not taken into account by either the district judge or the High Court when they reached their decisions in favour of his extradition.

    Sarah Ludford, McKinnon’s constituency MEP, and I have written to the home secretary Jacqui Smith urging her to use her discretion to agree or refuse an extradition request.

    The news that Gary McKinnon has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome should surely justify a more humanitarian approach. According to the Asperger’s Syndrome Foundation, the condition is characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication. A pattern of behaviour includes a lack of empathy, impaired imagination, difficulty in making friends, intense absorption in a special interest and often problems with motor coordination.

    It can often result in frustration, anger, depression and a lack of self-esteem. In these circumstances, it would be oppressive to extradite him without – at the very least – undertakings from the US authorities as to his treatment.

    The two-and-a-half year gap between McKinnon’s arrest and the US extradition request also raises serious questions about the plea-bargaining process that took place in the intervening period. McKinnon could have done what the US wanted and pleaded guilty and waived his statutory extradition rights in exchange for a more lenient sentence and repatriation for sentence.

    The result of this voluntary surrender might have been a three to four-year sentence for non-terrorist offences and speedy repatriation to the UK. However, McKinnon chose to exercise his right to resist extradition. As a result, he is faced with a possible 45-60 year prison sentence without parole for terrorism and no repatriation. He has effectively been blackmailed by the US authorities to plead guilty.

    Having exercised these rights, the US authorities are now categorising McKinnon’s behaviour as (cyber-)terrorism. There is a real risk of him being detained, both pre-trial and in the event of a conviction, for a long time in a “Supermax” high-security prison. Such detention is hardly suitable for a computer hacker with no previous criminal history and whose potential as a future risk must be seriously questioned.

    These coercive tactics must surely be contrary to the tenets of any fair legal system, and amount to an abuse of extradition. The High Court rightly described the threat of withholding repatriation if McKinnon refused to surrender as “anathema”, and viewed the way the US authorities conducted plea bargaining with McKinnon in London with “distaste”.

    This coercive plea bargaining is an abuse of our judicial process. At the very least, Jacqui Smith should seek clarification from the US authorities as to the availability of pretrial bail for McKinnon. If she had real confidence in British justice she would go further and demand that McKinnon stand trial in this country and, if convicted, serve any term of detention in a British prison.

    This issue, however, is not just about Gary McKinnon. No extraditions of British citizens should be granted until the forum amendments of the Police & Justice Act are enacted, which would allow McKinnon and others to be tried over here. The government could have enacted these provisions in November 2007 but still shows no sign of bringing them into force.

    Express assurances should also be obtained from requesting countries of immediate post-trial/sentencing repatriation to the UK. This is in accordance with the principles of the European Treaty on transfer of prisoners (to which the US is a signatory). Jacqui Smith must not let our special relationship with the US override the best interests of justice.

    Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/12/mckinnon-hacker

    Friday 21 November 2008, 3:40 PM


    Marillion sought for McKinnon concert

    Posted by Colin Barker

    A rock concert to benefit self-confessed hacker, Gary McKinnon, is being pitched by the man who runs Glastonbury Radio, who is hoping to recruit bands like Marillion.

    Ross Hemsworth is putting together the concert, he says, to draw attention to the plight of McKinnon and others who are scheduled for extradition to the US without having committed any offence any serious crime in the UK.

    The concert, to be called ‘Rock Against Injustice’, is being staged at very short notice by Hemsworth, who says he plans to stage it within the month.

    The concert does appear to be at a formative stage. When we asked to talk to someone who had said they would appear, Hemsworth put us in touch with Mark Kelly, who plays keyboards with Marillion.

    “I don’t know what is happening there,” Kelly told ZDNet UK. “Sure, I am interested in getting involved but I haven’t heard anything since I said I was interested.”

    Kelly, Hemsworth and McKinnon do have an interest in common. When he was first threatened with extradition by the US authorities, McKinnon said that while it was true he had hacked into secret US web sites at NASA and elsewhere, his activities were innocent, as he was looking for UFOs.

    Hemsworth maintains that he is trying to recruit a diverse range of rock starts to do the concert including Sting, Mark Knopfler, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Dave Gilmour, Peter Gabriel and others.

    The event, while drawing attention to McKinnon, is also intended to raise money for the charity to help those with Asperger’s syndrome. McKinnon has been diagnosed as suffering from Asperger’s.

    Source:   http://community.zdnet.co.uk/blog/0,1000000567,10009799o-2000331827b,00.htm

    PM speaks out on Nasa hacker plight

    A boost for UK sentence hopes?

    By Colin Barker

    Published: 21 November 2008 09:04 GMT

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown has spoken publicly for the first time on the future of Gary McKinnon, who is facing extradition to the US on hacking charges.

    During Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, David Burrowes, the Conservative MP for Enfield, Southgate asked: “Will the Prime Minister ensure that extradition arrangements are changed so that UK citizens such as… Gary McKinnon, are not routinely extradited, despite having Asperger’s syndrome?” McKinnon is one of Burrowes’s constituents.

    Brown did not answer the question directly but instead pointed out that the “UK and the US are signatories to the Council of Europe convention on the transfer of sentenced persons, which enables a person found guilty in the United States of America to serve their sentence in the UK”.

    This is the first time Brown has spoken publicly about the case of McKinnon, who currently faces extradition to the US on charges of hacking 97 US military computers. He faces up to 70 years in prison if found guilty by a US court and, as it stands, would serve his sentence in the US.

    McKinnon has said he hopes that, in the event he is extradited to the US, he would be allowed to return almost immediately to the UK to serve any sentence. He is currently waiting to make his latest appeal against extradition, which is due to be heard on 5 December.

    McKinnon’s chances of serving his sentence in the UK were strengthened earlier this month when a cross-party group of MPs, including Burrowes, petitioned the Prime Minister to guarantee that McKinnon would serve any sentence in the UK.

    McKinnon was diagnosed in September with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the autistic spectrum. In his parliamentary answer, Brown did not refer to McKinnon’s condition.

    Original article: PM comment boosts McKinnon’s UK-sentence hopes from ZDNet UK

    Source:   http://management.silicon.com/government/0,39024677,39349367,00.htm

    PM needs to help hacker Gary McKinnon, says MP

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown needs to intervene to ensure Gary McKinnon is not jailed in the US, says David Burrowes, MP for Enfield Southgate.

    McKinnon faces imminent extradition to the US to face trial for allegedly hacking more than 73,000 US military computers.

    Burrowes is leading a campaign by several politicians to halt McKinnon’s extradition unless the US allows him to serve any sentence in Britain.

    David Blunkett, former home secretary, is among supporters who have called for McKinnon to be repatriated immediately because the hacker has Asperger’s syndrome.

    This week Burrowes asked during Prime Ministers’ questions if the PM will ensure UK citizens such as McKinnon are not routinely extradited.

    Brown responded by saying the UK and the US are signatories to the Council of Europe convention on the transfer of sentenced persons, which enables a person found guilty in the US to serve their sentence in the UK.

    Burrowes said, “I am pleased that the possibility of repatriation has been acknowledged by the Prime Minister and I will continue to press for this to become a reality.”

    McKinnon expects a decision early in December on a request for judicial review of the case by the High Court.

    His lawyers filed the request in October after the Home Office rejected an appeal for the extradition to be set aside on health grounds.

    McKinnon has admitted that he gained illegal entry to US military computers between 1999 and 2003, but he has denied the alleged extent of his incursions or that he caused damage.

    Source:   http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2008/11/21/233508/pm-needs-to-help-hacker-gary-mckinnon-says-mp.ht

    First Published Monday, 3 November 2008

    The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) is changing from 3 November 2008.

    We have received a number of queries from people worried about the changes. SENDIST is parents’ main point of recourse to challenge aspects of the statementing process, and more tribunal cases concern autism than any other special educational need. It is vital that parents have confidence in the system. The National Autistic Society (NAS) has been working hard to make sure that these changes reflect the experiences and needs of families of children with autism.

    Below we explain the changes, update you on current activity in Parliament, explain what we have been doing, and correct some inaccurate information about the changes.

    In the related resources at the bottom of the page you can find links to useful resources and further information about the changes from the NAS and SENDIST, including the new Rules and answers to questions we asked MPs to raise in Parliament.

    If you need help getting the right education for your children contact our Advocacy for Education Service on 0845 070 4002.

    What is happening?

    The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) is changing as part of reforms to streamline the whole tribunal system under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 1997. The NAS has been working to make sure that the system works effectively so that parents can continue to represent themselves and panels have the expertise to make appropriate decisions.

    SENDIST is being brought together with two other tribunals on mental health and social care. Cases will now be heard by the SEN and Disability Panel (SENDISP) within the new Health, Education and Social Care (HESC) Chamber of the Tribunal.

    These changes take place on 3 November 2008 and will apply to cases registered on or after that date. All cases registered before 3 November will take place under the old system.

    SENDIST have produced two newsletters to explain the changes. Some inaccurate and misleading information has been circulating, so they have also written a briefing to correct this. All these documents are available below.

    Our Tribunal Support team are fully trained in the new system, and we suggest that any parents considering appealing to Tribunal contact our service or other support as soon as they can.

    If you need support in getting the right educational provision for your son or daughter, including if you need support in taking a case to Tribunal, contact our Advocacy for Education Service on 0845 070 4002.

    What do we think of the changes?

    Some of the changes to SENDIST are welcome. For example, the new case management system should mean that the right evidence is gathered before the case reaches its final hearing and so fewer cases are delayed or rejected at hearing stage because of inappropriate or insufficient evidence. Also, appeals against SENDISP decisions will now be heard by an Upper Chamber of the Tribunal rather than having to take a judicial review to the High Court. Appeals on decisions issued on or after 3 November will be to the Upper Tribunal not the High Court.

    However, we have a number of areas of concern, which we have raised in Parliament. Overall, the NAS believes the lack of information about the new process has been unacceptable and has resulted in misinformation, anxiety and stress for families, which could have been avoided. Another area of concern is that parents will have to provide more information about their case and identify potential sources of evidence they will use at an earlier stage than under the previous system. We recommend parents get support as early as they can when they consider taking a new case to tribunal to ensure they are well-prepared.

    Current activity in Parliament

    Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs have objected to the new Tribunal Rules in Parliament (known as ‘praying against’ them) with the aim of getting a debate on the issues. There is a small chance that this could mean that the Rules are repealed, although this is very unlikely. The NAS is in contact with MPs about this process.

    What the NAS is doing

    The NAS continues to raise our concerns in Parliament and with Government about the lack of information that has been made available about the changes, particularly for families who are taking cases to SENDIST. We have prompted MPs to ask the Government questions in Parliament to try and get answers to our concerns and ensure that the needs of families with autism are taking into account. Answers to some of the questions are in the related resources section below. We have also continued to raise these issues with officials behind the scenes.

    The National Autistic Society formally commented on the draft Tribunal Rules proposals and raised our concerns when the Government originally consulted on them. You can read our response in the related resources at the bottom of this page. We have been working closely with other SEN experts and advocacy services to try and influence the Rules.

    Inaccurate information

    Some of the information that has been circulated about the possible impact of the changes has been very misleading, and we would like to clarify the following points.

    Parental representation: It has been claimed that the new system will make it much more difficult for parents to represent themselves at Tribunal. The NAS has raised this in Parliament, and in response the Government has stated that it does not expect the changes to make it harder for parents. However we will continue to monitor this, and push to make sure that parents are able to succeed at Tribunal without legal representation.

    We know that local authorities are already increasingly using barristers at tribunal which makes it harder for parents to represent themselves. Our Tribunal Support Service aims to provide support for families who do not have legal representation, and in some cases we are able to access pro bono legal support to help with cases.

    Balance of power between local authorities and parents: We do not expect the balance of power to shift in favour of local authorities as some have suggested, although we will continue to monitor the situation and feed back to Government. The NAS is involved in the SENDIST special user group, and, in response to a question we asked in Parliament, the Government has identified this group as a mechanism to report back to the Secretary of State for Justice on how the new changes are working.

    Assessment of children: There has also been concern over a proposal that a Tribunal could order a child to be examined. The SENDIST Judicial Management Group has clearly stated that the new rules will not be used to force any child to undergo an assessment against his or her wishes or without parental consent (see briefing note in related resources). Where there are sound reasons for refusal, the Tribunal is very unlikely to make a finding adverse to a party’s case. Local authorities and schools will also have to be open to an independent person coming for example to see if the provision is appropriate for the child.

    Costs of tribunals: In relation to the costs of tribunals, the Government answered a question asked by the NAS saying that overall the new system is expected to lead to a reduction in the time and costs for users of SENDIST. However, they say that in some cases it may lead to some additional upfront cost in some individual cases, whether in the form of paperwork to provide better information or a preliminary hearing, in complex cases, to identify the issues and tell the parties what they need to provide.

    Awarding of costs: On the awarding of costs to parties, the Judicial Management Group has stated that they ‘are unlikely to change the current practice of rarely awarding costs and the threat of costs must not be used to deter people from appealing or making a claim.’

    Number of witnesses: It has also been claimed that the changes to SENDIST would mean that local authorities would be able to have unlimited witnesses while parents could only call on one or two people to support their case. However, the increase in the number of witnesses that can be called will apply equally to both sides.

    Both sides will need to be clear why these people need to attend in person and the tribunal will probably decide ultimately who needs to attend as a result of the case management process being introduced (see next point). This will help to make it clear who needs to be called and whose evidence is not needed because all the necessary evidence that they could give has already been obtained.

    Length of tribunals: It has also been said that the changes could also see a tribunal lasting for two to three weeks. However, any hearing itself will in general only last one day.

    The confusion surrounds the introduction of a case management process (mentioned above) which will start early on in the process and will enable SENDIST to consider fully what evidence and reports are needed and issue directions to ensure that these are obtained. As a result much of the negotiation will occur before the hearing date and many cases will hopefully be resolved without the need for a hearing. If a hearing is needed then hopefully all the evidence that would be needed will have been gathered during the case management process to avoid the need for adjournments. Under the current system many hearings are adjourned as the panel discovers that it needs some additional evidence.

    You can find a statement on these and other issues in the SENDIST briefing from SENDIST judicial management team below.

    October 2008

    Related resources

    Relevant areas/articles elsewhere on this website

    External links

    Relevant documents for downloading

    Link to download Adobe Acrobat Reader in new window
    Download Acrobat Reader®

    Source: http://www.nas.org.uk/nas/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=241&a=16828

    First Published Tuesday, 4 November 2008

    Winter Light - Know That The Sun Is Coming ...

    With the days shortening toward winter, many people will begin to experience the winter blues. For some, the effect can be devastating.

    About 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a sometimes-debilitating depression that begins in the fall and continues through winter. Sufferers may even find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

    The disorder, which is not well understood, is often treated with “light therapy,” where a SAD patient spends time each morning before a bank of bright lights in an effort to trick the brain into believing that the days are not so short or dim.

    A new study indicates that SAD may be linked to a genetic mutation in the eye that makes a SAD patient less sensitive to light.

    These individuals may require brighter light levels to maintain normal functioning during the winter months,” said Ignacio Provencio, a University of Virginia biology professor who studies the genetics of the body’s biological clock, or circadian rhythms.

    Provencio and his colleagues have discovered that melanopsin, a photopigment gene in the eye, may play a role in causing SAD for people with a recently discovered mutation.

    We believe that the mutation could contribute to increasing the amount of light needed for normal functioning during winter for people with SAD,” Provencio said. “Lack of adequate light may be a trigger for SAD, but not the only explanation for the disorder.

    The study was conducted with several other institutions, including the National Institute of Mental Health, and involved 220 participants – 130 of whom had been diagnosed with SAD, and 90 participants with no history of mental illness.

    Using a genetics test, the study authors found that seven of the 220 participants carried two copies of the mutation that may be a factor in causing SAD, and, strikingly, all seven belonged to the SAD group.

    While a person diagnosed with SAD does not necessarily carry the melanopsin mutation, what we found strongly indicates that people who carry the mutation could very well be diagnosed with SAD,” Provencio said. “We think that if an individual has two copies of this gene, he or she has a reasonable chance of having the disorder.

    When Snowflakes Melt

    The researchers found that a person with two copies of the gene is five times more likely to have symptoms of SAD than a person without the mutation.

    That is a very high effect for a mental illness, because most mental illnesses have many potential causes,” Provencio noted. “A mental illness may arise from many mutations, and we have found one that has a clear link.

    The melanopsin gene encodes a light-sensitive protein that is found in a class of photoreceptors in the retina that are not involved with vision, but are linked to many non-visual responses, such as the control of circadian rhythms, the control of hormones, the mediation of alertness and the regulation of sleep.

    The mutation in this gene may result in aberrant regulation of these responses to light, leading to the depressive symptoms of SAD. About 29 percent of SAD patients come from families with a history of the disorder, suggesting a genetic or hereditary link.

    The finding suggest that melanopsin mutations may predispose some people to SAD, and that if you have two copies of this mutation, there is a very high probability that you will be afflicted,” Provencio said. “An eventual understanding of the mechanisms underlying the pathological response to light in SAD may lead to improved treatments.

    Provencio adds that the finding, with further study, could also lead to improved testing for SAD.

    Roecklein KA, Rohan KJ, Duncan WC, et al. A missense variant (P10L) of the melanopsin (OPN4) gene in seasonal affective disorder. J Affect Disord. 2008;doi:10.1016/j.jad.2008.08.005   [Abstract]

    “There has been little research into a connection between autism and SAD but a report published in 1998 described 2 patients with learning disabilities

    who showed symptoms of SAD and responded to bright light therapy. The authors suggested more research was needed in this area (15).”

    Let There Be Light

    What is S.A.D?

    Seasonal affective disorder, appropriately referred to by the acronym “S.A.D”, is a form of depression that occurs only during certain periods of the year. In some cases, an existing depression may become more severe during certain times of year. By far the most common and recognized form of seasonal affective disorder is “winter depression”. This is characterized by recurrent episodes of depressed mood, over-sleeping or the urge to “hibernate”, cravings for carbohydrate rich foods, and associated overeating and weight gain. Symptoms typically begin to appear in September and don’t abate until spring comes around at the end of March or beginning of April. Since winter depression is the most common form of seasonal affective disorder and the type that almost everyone is familiar with, we will be concentrating on this and for simplicity will refer to it as SAD.

    Like all forms of depressive illness, SAD can vary greatly in severity and can be a severely debilitating condition. Many sufferers can be perfectly healthy during the spring and summer months but unable to function during the winter. This leads to obvious problems with work and family life.

    It is estimated that SAD affects 4-6% of the general population with a further 10-20% experiencing mild symptoms that don’t meet the requirements for an official SAD diagnosis. The incidence is thought to be much higher than this in environmental illness sufferers, such as those with chronic fatigue syndrome. A study published in 1998 involving 110 CFS patients found that a large proportion had depressive symptoms, and that these, and the typical CFS symptoms not associated with depression, worsened during the winter months. The researchers concluded that SAD was present in a large subset of chronic fatigue syndrome patients and that CFS and SAD may share common causes. They suggest light therapy (one of the main treatment options for SAD) as an appropriate therapy for CFS patients who show seasonal changes in symptoms(1).

    Women suffering from SAD outnumber men by 4 to 1 (2) and the risk of been affected by SAD appears to decrease with age (3). Of course this is if you are otherwise healthy. Suffering from environmental illness would appear to increase the risk of also suffering from SAD at any age.

    A number of studies have found that the risk for SAD is greater the further north a person lives, although the evidence is not conclusive with other studies finding no significant connection between latitude and the number of people suffering from SAD. A major review of SAD research carried out in 1999 found that in both North America and Europe, there are more cases of SAD the further north you go. However, it was also found that North America has twice as many cases of SAD than does Europe, so other factors must also play a role (4).

    Diagnosing S.A.D.

    The criteria for diagnosing all psychiatric conditions are laid out in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). The manual describes SAD as a “specifier” for major depressive illness rather than as a separate mood disorder. This means that SAD is seen not as a condition in its own right but as a subset of major depressive or bipolar disorders. It should be noted that SAD is much more common as a form of major depression rather than bipolar disorder. Never the less, seasonal variations in symptoms do occur in those suffering from bipolar disorder.

    Considering the above it would make sense to first look at the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder.

    Making The Diagnosis of Major Depression

    The DSM-IV states that “At least five of the following symptoms have been present during the same two-week period, nearly every day, and represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.”

    The symptoms being:

    • *Depressed mood (or alternatively can be irritable mood in children and adolescents).
    • *Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities.
    • *Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain or decrease or increase in appetite.
    • *Insomnia or hypersomnia.
    • *Psychomotor agitation or retardation.
    • *Fatigue or loss of energy.
    • *Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
    • *Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.
    • *Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

    As well as the symptom requirements, other diagnoses must be ruled out before major depression can be diagnosed. This is clarified in the following statements:

    “The symptoms are not better accounted for by a mood disorder due to a general medical condition, a substance-induced mood disorder, or bereavement (normal reaction to the death of a loved one).”


    “The symptoms are not better accounted for by a psychotic disorder like schizoaffective disorder.”

    Making The Diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder

    In addition to meeting the requirements for major depressive disorder (or bipolar disorder), the following must be true for a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder to be made:

    • *Regular temporal relationship between the onset of major depressive episodes and a particular time of the year (unrelated to obvious season-related psychosocial stressors.
    • *Full remissions (or a change from depression to mania or hypomania) also occur at a characteristic time of the year.
    • *Two major depressive episodes meeting criteria A and B in last two years and no nonseasonal episodes in the same period.
    • *Seasonal major depressive episodes substantially outnumber the nonseasonal episodes over the individual’s lifetime.

    If all these criteria apply to you then you will be diagnosed as having SAD. Of course, as we have already mentioned, a large section of the population is affected by low mood and other symptoms during the winter months and may suffer from a mild version of SAD that doesn’t meet the official diagnostic criteria.

    What Causes SAD?

    The cause or causes of SAD are not as clear cut as it may seem. Although it would appear to be a direct result of lack of sunlight in winter months, the exact mechanism by which this causes depressive symptoms has yet to be determined. There are of course a few leading theories that at least partially explain what is going on in patients suffering from SAD.

    Disruption of Circadian Rhythms

    One major theory for explaining SAD involves the circadian rhythms of the body. The term “circadian rhythm” describes the fact that bodily functions seem to follow a set pattern throughout the day as if the body is working to a set schedule or internal clock. It’s thought that in SAD this internal clock is disrupted, leading to various biochemical abnormalities and associated symptoms. According to this theory, sunlight acts as a type of synchronizer of the circadian rhythms in humans, and exposure to light can shift these rhythms out of phase. What this means is that the SAD sufferers body may be producing hormones (such as cortisol) and neurotransmitters that promote wakefulness well into the early hours of the morning and then still be producing sleep inducing chemicals such as melatonin until midday. This results in the unlucky sufferer not being able to sleep until past midnight and then not being able to drag themselves out of bed until late morning or later, which is a common situation. It has been found that the timing of light exposure, rather than the amount of light exposure, may have the greatest influence over circadian rhythms, and hence SAD symptoms (5).

    Blue LED SAD tube

    To further explain the enormous effect light exposure has on the physiology and functioning of the body, we need to take a closer look at the hormone melatonin. As light levels decrease in the evening, the pineal gland begins producing melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone whose main function is to induce sleep by traveling through the bloodstream and transmitting the sleep message to other body systems. In healthy individuals the secretion of melatonin peaks in the middle of the night during our deepest sleep. At dawn, sunlight shining into the eye triggers the pineal gland to switch off the production of melatonin, thus removing the desire to sleep. Since melatonin travels to all parts of the body in the blood, it has far-reaching effects, as all hormones do. During the hours of darkness and sleep, melatonin influences the secretion of hormones from the pituitary gland, often referred to as the “master gland” of the endocrine system. The pituitary then reduces hormone production from other important endocrine glands such as the thyroid and adrenals. These glands produce vital hormones such as thyroid hormone, cortisol, and adrenaline, which control metabolism and motivate us to action during our waking hours.

    Researchers have found that this system is disrupted in people with SAD. When SAD patients were compared with healthy controls, it was found that the SAD patients had consistently higher daytime melatonin levels during the winter months (6). High daytime melatonin levels would be expected to produce the symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness and the lack of motivation and desire to hibernate, that is seen in SAD sufferers. Other research has shown that taking melatonin supplements, which are available over-the-counter in the US, effectively “phase-shifts” the disrupted circadian rhythms (7). What this means is that if you have SAD and you tend to get to sleep past midnight and wake well into the morning or midday, if you take melatonin at say 9-10pm to induce sleep, your sleep cycle will be shifted back to normal and you will be able to wake earlier in the morning.

    Serotonergic Dysfunction

    Another major theory explaining SAD involves disruption to the way the neurotransmitter serotonin works. Serotonin is an extremely important chemical messenger in the brain and its function has a major impact on mood. Low serotonin function is thought to result in a type of depression characterized by symptoms such as feelings of sadness, worthlessness, guilt, and suicidal thoughts.

    The hypothesis regarding serotonergic dysfunction is based on the findings that serotonin levels vary significantly in normal humans across seasons with lowest levels in the winter months. The research that found high daytime levels of melatonin in SAD patients, also found that the serotonin levels of everybody tested, even the healthy volunteers, were lower in winter than in summer (6). The serotonergic dysfunction theory of SAD states, based on research findings, that the receptors on brain cells that are stimulated by serotonin are not functioning correctly, resulting in abnormal neuroendocrine responses and the symptoms experienced in SAD (2).

    Serotonin production is also intimately connected with the “sleep” hormone melatonin whose levels we have already seen are abnormal in SAD. In fact, serotonin is actually converted into melatonin. This happens as light levels fall in the evening and the pineal gland signals for melatonin production to increase. In simplistic terms the actions of serotonin and melatonin are opposing with serotonin stimulating us during the daytime and melatonin inducing sleep at night. In SAD, we know that melatonin levels are higher than normal during the day, so sufferers experience sleepiness and other melatonin induced effects, and are also prone to serotonin deficiency symptoms such as negative emotional states.

    As a result of the close relationship between serotonin and melatonin, the circadian rhythm and serotonergic dysfunction theories should probably be seen as complementary to each other rather than as totally distinct explanations for SAD.


    An interesting area of SAD research has focused on genetics and how SAD affects families and populations both within countries and internationally. The issue of how susceptible different ethnic groups are to suffering from SAD has also been looked at.

    One particular gene known as 5-HTTLPR has received a lot of attention from researchers as it has been found to be expressed differently in SAD patients (8). The 5-HTTLPR gene is involved with the function of serotonin (5-HT). Researchers have been careful to explain that this gene may not be the root cause of SAD but is certainly involved in the disease process and the production of symptoms. Other research has implicated the 5-HT2A gene, which is also involved with serotonin function. This gene they say is associated with the depressive symptoms of SAD but does not explain the seasonality of the disorder (9). Many of the genetic studies looking at particular genes have also looked patients families and found that, as with most mental illness, there is often a family history of mental health problems.

    Intriguing facts have been discovered when researchers have looked at SAD in different populations. The general consensus appears to be that the further north you go (in the northern hemisphere), the greater the number of people there are suffering from SAD. As mentioned in the introduction, a major review of SAD research found that in both North America and Europe, there are more cases of SAD the further north you go. However, it was also found that North America has twice as many cases of SAD than does Europe (4). What this suggests is that the lower light levels at more northerly latitudes are indeed an important risk factor for SAD, but are not the only factor. Perhaps the higher incidence of SAD in North America can be attributed to greater racial diversity than is present in Europe or to other cultural and social factors.

    Another piece of evidence suggesting a genetic predisposition to SAD comes from a study conducted at Columbia University, NY, in 2002. This study of 165 SAD patients found differences in symptoms experienced by sufferers of different races, and also the intriguing result that blue eyed people suffered less severe symptoms than those with darker eyes. The researchers stated that “lightly pigmented eyes, in particular, may serve to enhance photic input during winter and allay depressive symptoms in vulnerable populations” (10). Essentially, lighter eye colour allows more light to enter the eye and thus reduce susceptibility to SAD during the dark winter months.

    These research findings lend some weight to the assumption that millions of years of evolution and adaptation to the environment have optimized human biochemical and physiological systems for living in equatorial conditions, where light is plentiful and of even intensity throughout the year. Humanity began its migration out of Africa only about 150,000 years ago. This relatively short evolutionary time-span may not have provided enough time for us to fully adapt to conditions in the more northerly areas of the globe that hundreds of millions of us now inhabit (11).

    In Conclusion

    Although the exact mechanisms by which SAD occurs are not yet clear, the information presented in the theories above provides us with a basic understanding of the factors that contribute to the condition, and help direct treatment approaches (bright light therapy, antidepressants, nutrients, getting outside in the sun etc). It is likely that factors from all the theories discussed are involved with the illness. Further research should fill in the blanks in the coming years.

    SAD in Environmental Illnesses

    SAD itself could be described as an environmental illness, since lack of sunlight appears to be one of the most important factor in its development. Here however, we’ll take a look at the relationship of SAD to the main environmental illnesses we focus on at The Environmental Illness Resource.

    SAD appears to be common amongst chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia sufferers. Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, a CFS and fibromyalgia specialist, and author of best selling book ‘From Fatigued to Fantastic’, addresses the issue of SAD with his patients. Dr. Teitelbaum recommends using a 10,000 lux lightbox for 30-45 minutes every morning if his patients symptoms get worse during winter. He is the only physician to have had the effectiveness of his CFS and fibromyalgia treatment protocol proven by clinical studies (of the kind used to test effectiveness of new pharmaceutical drugs). Dr. Teitelbaum is not the only doctor treating CFS and fibromyalgia patients for SAD, it is common amongst environmentally aware physicians.

    The instincts of Dr. Teitelbaum and others is backed up by research that we looked at earlier. If you recall, a study published in 1998 involving 110 CFS patients found that a large proportion had depressive symptoms, and that these, and the typical CFS symptoms not associated with depression, worsened during the winter months (1). Like Dr. Teitelbaum the researchers recommend bright light therapy to improve symptoms of both CFS and SAD during the winter months.

    The results from a research study published in 2000 also found a link between multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and SAD. Two hundred and twenty-five subjects, including normal volunteers and patients with previously documented seasonal affective disorder (SAD), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Cushing’s syndrome, Addison’s disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), completed questionnaires describing their reactions to exposures to various chemicals. Patients with CFS, Addison’s disease and SAD self-reported more sensitivity to chemical exposures than normal controls (12). The researchers suggest that these illnesses are linked to chemical sensitivity through the HPA-axis, the body’s stress control system, as it is known to be dysfunctional in all of these conditions.

    Anecdotal reports also suggest a link between SAD and MCS, and the author has also experienced this. It is often the case that people suffering from MCS also have problems with SAD. The interesting thing is that not only do SAD symptoms abate during the summer but the severity of their MCS symptoms also decreases. They may be able to tolerate larger amounts of chemicals, or reactions on exposure are less severe or prolonged, or both. This all suggests that serotonin is involved with both conditions. We’ve discussed serotonin’s role in SAD, but it could also be involved in chemical sensitivity. A leading theory for MCS involves over-sensitivity of the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is intimately involved with mood and emotions, and has high levels of serotonin. We could therefore hypothesize that disruption of serotonin function could result in both SAD and multiple chemical sensitivity.

    Gut dysbiosis may also be connected to SAD by way of serotonin function. Serotonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan which we get from protein foods. Unfortunately, it is known that if a gut dysbiosis condition is present, the unfriendly microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast can get hold of the tryptophan themselves before we have time to absorb it through our intestines (13). Without sufficient supply of tryptophan, susceptible individuals are likely to become deficient in serotonin, with the result being various forms of depression, including SAD (14).

    There has been little research into a connection between autism and SAD but a report published in 1998 described 2 patients with learning disabilities

    who showed symptoms of SAD and responded to bright light therapy. The authors suggested more research was needed in this area (15).


    Source:   http://www.ei-resource.org/illness-information/related-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-(s.a.d)/

    light through the blue

    New Treatment Options for Seasonal Affective Disorder

    Bright white light therapy has been used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for more than 20 years. Although it remains a mainstay of treatment, in the past few years researchers have investigated ways to improve and refine light therapy, reports the November 2008 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

    Improvements are necessary for three reasons. First, light therapy doesn’t work for everyone. Studies have reported that 50% to 80% of patients achieve complete relief and that remission may depend upon carefully individualized timing of light exposure. Second, dosing remains a major question. The recommendation for 30 minutes of daily exposure to 10,000 lux is based on average response to white light. Finally, side effects, while mild for many patients, may be more of a concern for others.

    Dr Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, notes that investigations are now under way to see if changing the timing or type of light therapy might improve response or reduce side effects. Some areas of study:

    • *Better timing. Researchers reported that remission from SAD was twice as likely if light therapy was precisely calibrated to melatonin rhythms — which may vary by several hours from one individual to the next.
    • *Dawn simulation. In this variation, a preset light device turns on before a patient awakens. Light intensity increases gradually over a period of 90 minutes. Although studies so far have been small, they have also been promising.
    • *Blue light. Studies have found that cells in the retina are particularly sensitive to blue light, suggesting that this wavelength may powerfully affect circadian rhythms. Researchers are investigating whether blue light might provide the same benefit as white light but with less exposure time.

    Supplementary video…

    Winter Blues

    “No Clear Association” Between Vitamin D Levels  and Winter Blues

    A lack of Vitamin D, due to reduced sunlight, has been linked to depression and the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but research by the University of Warwick shows there is no clear link between the levels of vitamin D in the blood and depression.

    Exposure to sunlight stimulates vitamin D in the skin and a shortage of sunlight in the winter has been put forward as one possible cause of SAD. However Warwick Medical School researchers, led by Dr Oscar Franco, have discovered low levels of vitamin D in the blood may not be connected to depression.

    In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the team recruited more than 3,000 people and tested levels of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) in the blood. They then carried out a questionnaire with the participants to assess the prevalence of depressive symptoms.

    Vitamin D deficiency exists when the concentration of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25-OH-D) in the blood serum occurs at 12ng/ml or less. The normal concentration of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D in the blood serum is 25-50ng/ml.

    The researchers found there was no clear association between depressive symptoms and the concentration of vitamin D in the blood.

    Dr Oscar Franco, Assistant Clinical Professor in Public Health, said: “Few studies have explored the association between blood 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and depression in the general population. A deficiency of vitamin D has also been attributed to several chronic diseases, including osteoporosis, common cancers, autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases.

    This study was carried out in collaboration with colleagues from the Institute for Nutritional Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences in China.

    The team recruited 3,262 community residents aged 50-70 from Beijing and Shanghai in China as part of the Nutrition and Health of Aging Population in China (NHAPC) project.

    Dr Franco said his study did not evaluate whether the depressive symptoms were seasonal and suggested more studies needed to be done.

    Dr Franco said: “Previous studies into the effects of vitamin D supplementation have produced mixed results. More studies are still needed to evaluate whether vitamin D is associated with seasonal affective disorders, but our study does raise questions about the effects of taking more vitamin D to combat depressive symptoms.

    Pan A, Lu L, Franco OH, et al. Association between depressive symptoms and 25-hydroxyvitamin D in middle-aged and elderly Chinese. J Affect Disord. 2009 Mar; doi:10.1016/j.jad.2009.02.002   [Abstract]

    First Published Wednesday, 5 November 2008

    Sydney Opera House

    A4 Update 2008 (October), Vol 6. No. 8

    Links to the latest A4 Update are on the webpage http://a4.org.au/a4/updates/2008. The links to download the files are:

    MS Word

    Previous A4 Updates are available for downloading from the A4 website (see http://a4.org.au/a4/publications).
    A4 has a new website. Please check it out … and it would be great if you re-register with A4 on the new website.

    Some of you may be interested in (temporary) free access to some of the recently published research into autism. If you are interested you can follow this link and take up their offer … Read it online!

    Research News

    A Current Affair will air an interview with Josephine Barbaro (PhD student) and Dr Cheryl Dissanayake on their “Social Attention and Communication Study” tomorrow (Thursday) at 6.30pm.

    "Comrades" - Moldova


    “UKAF congratulates President Elect Obama”:


    “Barack Obama and Joe Biden – Supporting Americans with ASD”:


    “Missing Xbox runaway Brandon Crisp found dead”:


    “Parents fear internet addiction”:


    “Children in care drugged”:


    “Doctor barred from Australia because of Down syndrome son”:


    “Chorus of demands to let doctor Bernhard Moeller stay”:


    “Torfield teachers trip to Russia”:


    “Major initiative on poverty and autism in the UK”:


    “Treehouse supports the UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities”:


    “The inaugural Annual Treehouse Lecture: “Are we ambitious enough about autism?”:


    “Single vaccine safety warnings”:


    “Clarke backs bid for better deal for autistic people”:


    UK “Elaine Hill appointed as the new specialist advisor for autism”:


    “I Exist campaign win: Department of Health appoints new specialist advisor for autism”:


    “Benefit changes come into force”:


    “Looking for a home for special needs play centre”:


    “City set to ban the mosquito”:


    Gary McKinnon “Calls grow to save autistic Scots hacker from threat of US prison”:


    “Cross-party attemt to fight extradition of British hacker”:


    “Appeals made to prevent hacker being extradited”:


    “Hacker too sick for US extradition”:


    “Jacqui Smith should be ashamed of handling of hacker case”:


    “Understanding Adolescents Conference to be held … Topics include: promoting sexual health within the context of teen health care visits; update on the use of antipsychotics in primary care pediatrics; adolescents with autism spectrum disorders; and the teen presentation “Communicating with Teens.”:


    “New NAS branch opens in Calderdale”:


    “New autism support group to launch in Stratford-upon-Avon”:


    “help! at hand for parents of autistic children in Sandbach: free support programme”:


    “Invitation to a Christmas party”:


    “Denis Leary tells parents: I’m Sorry”:


    “When not to write about autism”:




    “Probe into anti-depressants being conducted ‘in secret”:


    “Machinery that helps make memories identified”:


    “Autism link to firstborn of older parents”:


    “Treatment with Paliperidone ER significantly improves symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, Study”:


    “Personal genomes: The case of the missing heritability”:


    “Is mirror neuron activity just a mirage?”:


    “NEJM – A functional genetic link between distinct developmental language disorders”:




    “Educational neuroscience: where are we?”:


    “Norfolk’s shock £8m bill for out of county schooling”:


    “Training would cut bullying of autistic pupils”:


    “Taking stock as garden centre makes way for a £6m school”:


    “Differently abled students earn and learn at store in Reading school”:


    “Pupils earn just reward for healthy eating”:


    “Program helps autistic students discover the joys of recess”:




    Deborah Orr: “Having a hard time in the office? … Recently Gill Switalski appeared to have won a case against F&C Asset Management, in which she accused a new line manager of becoming “fixated” with her flexible hours – even though she was hitting her targets – and mounting a campaign of “bullying, harassment, intimidation, sexual discrimination and victimisation against her”. Switalski’s flexible hours were in place so that she could look after her sons – one with cerebral palsy and one with Asperger’s. She still faces further litigation, with the prosecution alleging that she “faked a breakdown”. Individual cases tend to drag on, as allegations are always ruthlessly contested.”:


    UK: NAS Prospects Employment Service “Employment training courses for autistic adults”:


    Individuality, Diversity, Equality, Achievement

    Auties.org is an Aspie & Autie friendly site for all people on the Autistic Spectrum who are ready to dare reach out to occupation and employment, open the doors to the community and market their abilities directly to the public and for those interested in supporting these pioneers. http://www.auties.org/


    Linking job seekers with vacancies in work related to autism, Aspergers and ASDs

    “Current job vacancies within the NAS”:

    For further employment information, please view”:



    Indonesia & Korea “Breaking down barriers for autistic children”:


    “Children with Asperger’s: A 21st Century Brain Trust”:


    “Service dog changes life for Fairbanks autistic girl”:


    “Braxton comes to terms with son’s autism”:



    Flag of Moldova

    “Flag of Moldova”:


    Chisinau, Moldova's Capital

    “Keystone Human Services International – Community based children and family services available on an international basis”:


    Moldovan countryside

    “Services Center for Students with Disabilities”:


    House of Parliament, Moldova

    Moldova CAJPD(Founded 2006) “Legal Assistance Center for people with disabilities”

    Defence and promotion of the Rights of Disabled People

    Company Address: MD-2002

    Phone: (+373 22) 287090

    Email: consultant_juridic@yahoo.com

    Web: http://www.advocacy.md


    Fountain at Opera, Chisinau

    “Moldova’s system of social protection of disabled people will be reorganised, President says … Data put out by the Social Protection, Child and Family Ministry show that there are 168,600 people with disabilities in Moldova, of whom 13,000 children.”:


    Air Moldova

    “UN experts examine disability issues, family support”:


    Moldavian children

    “International Prospects(Christian Support): A Visit to Hincesti, Moldova”:


    Returning from the fields

    “Moldova Vision”:


    Moldovian boy with Russian car

    “Moldova Aid Project”:


    Park in Chisinau

    “Outreach Moldova”:


    Moldavian kid

    “UNICEF – Moldova – New options for disabled children”:


    Nightfall in Chisinau

    “Diagnosing autism from a distance”:


    Moldova's Grapes

    Disability with Ability “Young people with disabilities to display their works at National History Museum in Chisinau”:


    Moldovan mosaic

    “Moldova facts, travel videos, flags & photos”:




    “ADHD more likely to affect movement in boys”:


    “Study: Kids increasingly medicated”:


    “More kids taking medication; Obesity blames”:


    “ADHD tied to more severe nicotine dependence”:


    “A license to drive with ADHD”:


    “ADD/ADHD – Medication Management Series: Measuring the top of the window”:


    “Is a walk as good as Ritalin?”:


    “Expert advice to de-clutter homes”:


    Our objective is to promote awareness to AD/HD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and to provide information and as much free practical help as we can to affected by the condition, both adults and children, their families in the UK and around the World via this website.

    “ADDISS” The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service…



    “hi2u ADHD Pages”:




    “Davies sets off to ‘Bike India”:


    Wii Sport “Real workout, virtual world”:


    “The 5k Santa run – 7th December”:


    “Flora London Marathon 2009”:


    “It’s back! The London to Paris Bike Ride 2009”:


    “Cycle India 2009”:


    “Sahara Desert Trek – 8th-15th November, 2008”:

    “Cycle China 2009 – 19th-29th March”:

    “Trek the Inca Trail 2009 – 14th-23rd May”:

    “Trek Jordan 2009 – 10th-14th September”:



    “The AutisMusic Project”:




    ARTIST – Steve Frisby

    “Steve Frisby has been inspired to paint and study geometric and fractal designs for 14 years. He is 34.

    Diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in January 2005, Steven has pondered about boldness and the nature of beauty since childhood, and feels that geometry has led him to see his autistic abilities as keys to understanding.”:


    Yvette Prefontaine “Autistic expression through art”:


    Art Exhibition “Celebrating 10 years of caring at Little Havens”:


    “Show helps autistic artists”:


    “NAS Christmas cards”:


    “ARTROOM …where under 17s can make and display art online”:




    “Autistic teen makes TV debut”:


    “The Lost Prince”:


    “Films of my life: Miranda July on Billy the Kid”:

    Billy the Kid
    Jennifer Venditti (2007)

    I’m such a fan of this movie. A film-maker called Jennifer Venditti followed a 15-year-old kid with Asperger’s around for three days. He’s just amazing and fascinating, because he seems to be the thing that each of us have inside us and that we make sure to keep inside so we won’t get destroyed. Watching him walk around so undefended is totally terrifying and exhilarating. It really affected me.


    “Actors for Autism”:



    Dr. Paul Offit: Debunking the Vaccine-Autism Link”:


    New “Why do I have To?: A Book for Children Who Find Themselves Frustrated by Everyday Rules”

    Author: Laurie Leventhal-Belfer

    Illustrated by Luisa Montaini-Klovdahl


    New “The Red Beast: Controlling Anger in Children with Asperger’s Syndrome”

    Author: K.I. Al-Ghani


    New “Fun with Messy Play: Ideas and Activities for Children with Special Needs”

    Author: Tracey Beckerleg


    “Asperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and Identity: Looking Beyond the Label”

    Authors: Harvey Molloy and Latika Vasil


    “Talking Teenagers: Information and Inspiration for Parents of Teenagers with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome”

    Author: Ann Boushey


    “Asperger Syndrome in Adolescence: Living with the Ups, the Downs and Things in Between”

    Edited by Liane Holliday Willey

    Foreword by Luke Jackson


    “AS Poetry: Illustrated poems from an Aspie Life”

    Author: Wendy Lawson

    Illustrated by Alice Blaes Calder


    “Build Your Own Life: A Self-Help Guide For Individuals with Asperger Syndrome”

    Author: Wendy Lawson



    Banjo Kazooie Nuts & Bolts

    Banjo Kazooie Nuts & Bolts (Released Nov ’08)

    Banjo Kazooie Official Website


    President Elect Barack Obama


    “Obama promises new era of scientific innovation”


    “Obama on science, in his own words”:


    “Obamanauts’ may become space watchdogs”:




    VIDEO“Robot maid launched in Japan – Revolutionises housework”

    A Wall-e style robot that loves doing the washing, cleaning and tidying up has been launched in Japan.


    “Cultured robots make sweet music together”



    For those celebrating Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night, Activity Village have some great safety advice, crafts, puzzles and recipes”:


    Hope you enjoyed the read.

    Take Care,


    Moldova River at sunset

    First Published Friday, 7 November 2008

    Will Hadcroft

    AVAILABLE NOW: Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows

    I am delighted to announce the release of my second Anne Droyd novel, Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows.

    Set six months after the events of Book One, Gezz, Malcolm, Luke and Anne are treated to a winter break in the coastal town of Whitby. Something very strange is going on at Lanyon guesthouse. What is the secret of the Stevenson family? Who are the hooded creatures that roam the streets at night? And what is going on in the attic? The three children and their android friend are about to find out…

    The book is listed on Amazon UK and European equivalents. It will filter through to the USA and elsewhere in time.

    If you live in or near Bolton in the UK, you will be able to buy it from Sweetens bookshop as of Saturday 8 November.

    I will be signing copies of the book at Sweetens from 2pm on Saturday 6 December.

    Alternatively, if you want to order signed copies directly from me, you may do so using the Paypal system that I’ve implemented top right.(refer to Will’s website as below)

    I have priced the book at £5.99.

    So, come and get it!

    To Order A Copy:  http://www.willhadcroft.com/

    First Published Sunday, 9 November 2008


    Study the first to show a specific neurochemical difference in the brains of adults with primary insomnia

    A study in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Sleep is the first demonstration of a specific neurochemical abnormality in adults with primary insomnia, providing greater insight to the limited understanding of the condition’s pathology.

    Results indicate that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the most common inhibitory transmitter in the brain, is reduced by nearly 30 percent in individuals who have been suffering from primary insomnia for more than six months. These findings suggest that primary insomnia is a manifestation of a neurobiological state of hyperarousal, which is present during both waking and sleep at physiological and cognitive levels.

    GABA is reduced in the brain of individuals with insomnia, suggesting overactivity is present not only at the level of excessive thoughts and emotions, but can also be detected at the level of the nervous system,” said principal investigator Dr John Winkelman of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass.

    GABA decreases overall activity in many brain areas, helping the brain to “shut down.” Having a “racing mind” and an inability to shut down at night is a common complaint of people with primary insomnia.

    Chronic insomnia, or symptoms that last for at least a month, affects about 10 percent of all adults in industrialized countries and is the most common sleep disorder. Most often insomnia is a “comorbid” disorder, present with another medical illness, mental disorder or sleep disorder, or associated with certain medications or substances. Approximately 25 percent of people suffering from insomnia are considered to have primary insomnia, which is defined as a difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep in the absence of coexisting conditions.

    According to Winkelman, the recognition that primary insomnia is associated with a specific neurochemical deficiency helps validate the often misunderstood complaint of insomnia.

    Recognition that insomnia has manifestations in the brain may increase the legitimacy of those who have insomnia and report substantial daytime consequences,” he said. “Insomnia is not just a phenomenon observed at night, but has daytime consequences for energy, concentration and mood.

    This preliminary study included 16 participants (eight men and eight women) who were screened to be free of medical and sleep disorders, as well as anxiety and mood disorders, and who were not taking prescription medication. Ages ranged from 25 to 55 years. Researchers recruited people who had difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep with resulting daytime distress or dysfunction for a period of at least six months. The average duration of participants’ symptoms was 10 years. Objective data were collected by actigraphy and overnight polysomnography. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) was used to non-invasively determine GABA levels. For statistical comparison the study included a well-matched control group consisting of seven women and nine men.

    Significant correlations were found between GABA levels and both subjective and objective sleep measures after adjusting for age, body mass index (BMI) and gender. In subjects with primary insomnia, sleep continuity, as measured by minutes of wake after sleep onset (WASO) on sleep study, was strongly associated with GABA levels.

    According to the study, reductions in brain GABA levels also have been observed with 1H-MRS in major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorders. Primary insomnia shares many features with anxiety and depressive disorders, including sleep disturbance, elevation in anxiety, and impairments in concentration and energy. In addition, primary insomnia is an important risk factor for incident mood and anxiety disorders. The study raises the possibility that GABA deficiencies seen in people with mood and anxiety disorders may be based on disturbances in sleep.

    The study also reports that many of the hypnotic medications that are most effective in treating insomnia are benzodiazepine receptor antagonists (BzRAs), which increase activity at the GABA neurons. According to a new clinical guideline for the evaluation and management of chronic insomnia in adults, which was published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, hypnotic treatment should be supplemented with behavioral and cognitive therapies whenever possible.

    Another sleepless night

    Winkelman JW, Buxton OM, Jensen JE, et al. Reduced Brain GABA in Primary Insomnia: Preliminary Data from 4T Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (1H-MRS). SLEEP 2008 Nov 1;31(11):1499-1506   [Abstract]

    An observed neurotransmitter deficiency associated with a disorder does not necessarily mean the deficiency causes the disorder. It may be an effect of the disorder. ‘Chemical-imbalance’ theories have been postulated for many disorders in the past but they rarely survive the test of time (see below)


    Serotonin:  The ‘chemical imbalance’ myth

    The chemical hypothesis of anxiety and depression proposes that these disorders are caused by too little of a neurotransmitter, usually serotonin, in the brain, which is corrected by antidepressant drugs.

    Its been known for more than a decade that the ‘chemical imbalance/low serotonin’ theory was deeply flawed, yet it continues to be promoted in the media and even medical journals.

    Serotonergic antidepressants do increase serotonin levels both in synapses and the brain overall within about 30 minutes of the first dose, and levels may remain higher for some weeks. But they drop back to baseline or below at about the time patients begin to feel an improvement in anxiety or depression, usually some 4 to 12 weeks after beginning treatment.1

    The fact that the boost in serotonin doesn’t immediately alleviate anxiety and depression is the first clue that there is more to these disorders than just a lack of serotonin.

    Perhaps, the best indicator that increasing serotonin levels isn’t the factor responsible for the therapeutic effect of antidepressants is the French drug tianeptine (Stablon®), a Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Enhancer/Accelerator. That is, it speeds up the removal of serotonin from the synapses. Yet, it is as effective as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors such as Prozac®, which delay removal of the neurotransmitter.

    Further evidence against the hypothesis comes from rat models of depression. Rats bred to have a high genetic predisposition for depression have up to 8 times more serotonin in brain regions associated with anxiety disorders and clinical depression – the nucleus accumbens, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and hypothalamus – than controls.2 Chronic antidepressant treatment reduces serotonin to levels found in normal rats.

    How antidepressants work is still a matter of debate. The most likely current theory is that they do so by stimulating neurogenesis – the formation of new neurons, especially in the hippocampus, and encouraging increased nerve-fiber innervation between limbic structures and the forebrain.

    It shouldn’t matter how antidepressants work, just as long as they do, except that the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory is used to promote sales of the serotonin precursors L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP which not only can’t work as advertised, but which, at least in the case of L-Tryptophan, may cause harm because of a contaminate, Peak-X. Peak-X is thought to trigger the immune system disorder Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). L-Tryptophan linked EMS caused the deaths of 37 people in the late 1980s and permanently damaged the health of another 1,500+.

    Despite claims that Peak-X contamination was confined to a few batched produced by one manufacturer, Simat et al found markers for Peak-X in pharmaceutical grade L-Tryptophan on sale in Germany in 1998. A 2001 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Information Paper on L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP) contains more information on the current thinking about these supplements.

    See also: Abstract+: The media and the chemical imbalance theory
    of depression

    The “Chemical Imbalance” Explanation for Depression: Origins,
    Lay Endorsement, and Clinical Implications
    (PDF format)

    References: (Note 5-HT = serotonin)

  • Bianchi M, Moser C, Lazzarini C, Vecchiato E, Crespi F. (2002)
    Forced swimming test and fluoxetine treatment: in vivo evidence that peripheral 5-HT in rat platelet-rich plasma mirrors cerebral extracellular 5-HT levels, whilst 5-HT in isolated platelets mirrors neuronal 5-HT changes.
    Exp Brain Res. 2002 Mar;143(2):191-7. [Abstract]

  • Stenfors C, Yu H, Ross SB. (2001)
    Pharmacological characterisation of the decrease in 5-HT synthesis in the mouse brain evoked by the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor citalopram.
    Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol, vol 363(2):p 222-32 [Abstract]

  • Alvarez JC, Sanceaume M, Advenier C, et al. (1999)
    Differential changes in brain and platelet 5-HT concentrations after steady-state achievement and repeated administration of antidepressant drugs in mice.
    Eur Neuropsychopharmacol, vol 10(1):p 31-6 [Abstract]

  • Moret C, Briley M.
    Ex vivo inhibitory effect of the 5-HT uptake blocker citalopram on 5-HT synthesis.
    J Neural Transm. 1997;104(2-3):147-60. [Abstract]

  • Trouvin JH, Gardier AM, Chanut E, et al. (1993)
    Time course of brain serotonin metabolism after cessation of long-term fluoxetine treatment in the rat.
    Life Sci, vol 52(18):p PL187-92 [Abstract]

  • Caccia S, Anelli M, Codegoni AM, Fracasso C, Garattini S. (1993)
    The effects of single and repeated anorectic doses of 5-hydroxytryptamine uptake inhibitors on indole levels in rat brain.
    Br J Pharmacol. 1993 Sep;110(1):355-9. [Abstract]

  • Caccia S, Fracasso C, Garattini S, Guiso G, Sarati S. (1992)
    Effects of short- and long-term administration of fluoxetine on the monoamine content of rat brain.
    Neuropharmacology. 1992 Apr;31(4):343-7. [Abstract]

  • Leonard BE. (1988)
    Pharmacological effects of serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
    J Clin Psychiatry. 1988 Aug;49 Suppl:12-7. [Abstract]

  • Zangen A, Overstreet DH, Yadid G. (1997)
    High serotonin and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid levels in limbic brain regions in a rat model of depression: normalization by chronic antidepressant treatment.
  • J Neurochem, vol 69(6):p 2477-83 [Abstract]

  • First Published Tuesday, 11 November 2008

    movie theatre

    The Isle of Wight branch of The National Autistic Society and Cineworld have joined forces to bring much-needed autism-friendly cinema screenings to the Island. The screening started on 26 October at Cineworld in Newport – families of children with autism are invited to attend the next screening on Sunday 30 November at 10.30am.

    Tickets are £1 each for everyone including parents/carers and siblings.

    NAS Isle of Wight branch officer Louise Foley said:

    “As the parent of a child with autism I am absolutely delighted that Cineworld in Newport have agreed to hold autism-friendly screenings. Autism is much more common than people think and trips to the cinema for families affected by this disabling condition can often be very difficult due to a lack of help, support and understanding. These screenings are fantastic and will make a big difference to many families on the Island.”

    Wayne Roberts, manager of Cineworld Newport said:

    “We are delighted to be able to provide regular autism-friendly screenings, which will feature lower sound levels and subdued lighting, plus the opportunity to move around and make noise without anyone minding. It is a great opportunity for local children affected by autism and their families, carers and friends to enjoy trips to the cinema, and we’re sure it’s going to be a huge success.”

    All the autism-friendly screenings take place at Cineworld in Newport:


    Coppins Bridge
    Isle of Wight PO30 2TA

    Please contact Cineworld Newport on 01983 537 560 or Louise Foley, NAS Isle of Wight Branch Officer on 07827 308 768 or email isleofwight@nas.org.uk for further information.

    Source:  http://www.nas.org.uk/nas/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=253&a=17993

    Nominate our Isle of Wight Branch for a £1,000 Grant

    Barclays has teamed up with the Isle of Wight County Press to give five island good causes the opportunity to win a £1,000 grant.

    Our Isle of Wight Branch supports people with autism and their families on the island, offering practical help and support, and information including:

    • *online support through the Yahoo Group IOWASN and NAS website
    • *fortnightly coffee/support group meetings
    • *out of school get-togethers for families affected by autism
    • *autism-friendly film screenings at the local Cineworld
    • *regular branch meetings.

    The branch will also be starting sport and social groups in Janaury 2009.

    However, Louise Foley, the Isle of Wight Branch Officer, says that they could offer even more with a grant of £1,000. For example:

    • *printing information leaflets and posters
    • *producing a branch newsletter
    • *the payment of specialist, qualified teachers for the launch in January 2009 of the sports and social club
    • *society membership of Fishbourne Sailability, which would allow the branch to offer sailing activities
    • *to purchase more autism-related books to put into public libraries on the Isle of Wight
    • *to purchase sensory and motor skill-related toys for the toy library service.

    Local support can make a real difference to the lives of people affected by autism, and help to raise awareness of autism across the island.

    To nominate the Isle of Wight branch, write to:

    Barclays Making a Difference
    Isle of Wight County Press
    Brannon House
    123 Pyle Street
    Newport PO30 1ST

    Write down what we do; why we deserve £1,000; what we would spend the money on (eg producing leaflets or newsletters, or paying specialist teachers to support our new sports and social club); and how it would benefit you and other parents/carers. Your nomination should not be any longer than one side of A4 paper.

    The more letters of support that are sent in on our behalf the more likely it is that we are selected for a grant.

    The closing date for nominations is 14 November 2008.

    Isle of Wight Branch Forum:  http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/IOWASN/

    First Published Wednesday, 12 November 2008

    The Beatles

    Eleanor Rigby worked as a maid on a ward where she slowly grew old, mystery solved

    Was the song’s tragic heroine based on a real person? Andy McSmith reveals a new clue to her identity

    Wednesday, 12 November 2008

    Who was the lonely person who picked up the rice in a church where a wedding had been? It is a subject that has intrigued music fans for 42 years: did someone called Eleanor Rigby ever live, or was she non-existent, like the supposed lover for whom she was, “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door”?

    In the summer of 1966, after the England team beat West Germany to win the World Cup, the Beatles scored yet another No 1 with a double A-side single. On one side was the amiably meaningless “Yellow Submarine”, and on the other there was “Eleanor Rigby”, a sombre song with string backing about lonely people. It featured Eleanor Rigby, who sat by the window, and Father McKenzie, who may or may not have been the priest who officiated at her funeral, to which nobody came.

    Eleanor Rigby statue

    Mystery girl: ‘The Eleanor Rigby statue in Liverpooll

    Sir Paul McCartney – who is assumed to be the song’s main author despite a late counter claim by John Lennon – originally encouraged people to believe that they would never find traces of the real Eleanor Rigby, because she was entirely fictitious. He said he had originally considered calling her Daisy Hawkins, although it is difficult to see how “Daisy” could have been made to fit the song’s meticulous scansion, in which two unstressed syllables follow each stressed syllable, except at the end of a line. But a fascinating document that is to be sold at auction this month suggests that he knew more than he was letting on. It is a page from an accounts log kept by the Corporation of Liverpool, which records the wages paid in 1911 to a scullery maid working for the City Hospital in Parkhill, who signed her name “E. Rigby”.

    The document belongs to Annie Mawson, who runs a charity in Cumbria teaching music to children with learning difficulties and other disabilities. She received it from somebody working in McCartney’s office after she sent him a letter describing how she had taught a severely autistic boy to play “Yellow Submarine”. Now she hopes that the money raised from the sale will go towards paying for a permanent premises for her charity, the Sunbeam Music Trust.

    Paul MacCartney, Eleanor Rigby statue

    “I wrote to Paul McCartney in 1990 to tell him how I was working at a special school in Cumbria,” she said yesterday. “One of the boys was autistic – but one of his obsessions was the Beatles. I built up a very trusting relationship with him and taught him to play ‘Yellow Submarine’ on the piano, which got him his Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award.

    “It was very moving to see how he came out of his very locked up and insular world. I wanted Paul McCartney to know this. I also wanted to set up a centre of my own. I asked him for half a million pounds, but by the time I’d finished my 11 pages I said, ‘Actually Paul, I don’t want any money, I want you to know what joy you brought’.

    “Months later, I got a reply with a logo that meant it could only have come from Paul McCartney’s office. Inside there was this document dated 1911. Then I saw the name Rigby and I realised why I’d been sent it. I feel that when you’re holding it you’re holding a bit of history.”

    When McCartney was interviewed after the release of “Eleanor Rigby” in 1966, he said: “I was sitting at the piano when I thought of it. The first few bars just came to me, and I got this name in my head – Daisy Hawkins picks up the rice in the church. I don’t know why. I couldn’t think of much more so I put it away for a day.”

    He claimed that he took the name “Eleanor” from Eleanor Bron, who starred with the Beatles in the film Help!, and “Rigby” from the Bristol wine merchants, Rigby & Evens. But in the 1980s, a grave was discovered in St Peter’s Church, Woolton, Liverpool, where McCartney and Lennon went sunbathing as teenagers, bearing the name Eleanor Rigby. She died in October 1939, aged 44, but unlike the lonely people in McCartney’s song, she was married. Another gravestone had the word “McKenzie” sprawled on it. Paul McCartney has denied that that is where he got the names, though he has acknowledged that they may have registered subconsciously.

    The auction is being held at the Idea Generation galley in east London, on 27 November. The organisers hope it will fetch £500,000.

    Source:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/eleanor-rigby-worked-as-a-maid-on-a-ward-where-she-slowly-grew-old-mystery-solved-1012505.html

    Eleanor Rigby record cover

    Eleanor Rigby signature auctioned

    Eleanor Rigby signature

    The document dates back to 1911 from Liverpool City Hospital

    A document with the signature of Eleanor Rigby, who inspired the Beatles’ hit of the same name, is to be auctioned to raise money for charity.

    The paper, dated 30 November 1911, shows the pay received by scullery maid E Rigby from Liverpool’s City Hospital.

    It surfaced in 1990 when Sir Paul McCartney sent it to Annie Mawson of Cumbrian-based Sunbeams Music Trust, when she asked for a £500,000 donation.

    It will be auctioned at London’s Idea Generation Gallery on 27 November.

    The signature is expected to fetch £500,000.

    Two guitars – one owned by Sir Cliff Richard and one from Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock – will also be auctioned at the same time.

    Miss Mawson, founder and chief executive of the Graystoke-based charity which helps children with special needs, said she believed the document was the inspiration behind the song Eleanor Rigby.

    Very little is known about the hit, except that a grave to Eleanor Rigby was found in the churchyard of St Peters Church, Woolton, in the 1980s.

    It was spine-shivering really
    Anne Mawson, Sunbeam Music Trust

    “I wrote a letter to Paul McCartney in 1989 on a pink paper asking for £500,000 to help provide music therapy to help children with disabilities,” Miss Mawson said.

    “I just wanted him to know how much joy his music had brought.”

    But nine months later the document arrived with the former Beatle’s world tour stamp on.

    Miss Mawson said: “I opened it and inside was this beautiful, ancient document.

    “It was spine-shivering really. Partly because he had responded in such a personal way.”

    Miss Mawson had kept the document ever since.

    The Sunbeam Music Trust was set up in 1992 to provide music therapy for children with special needs and disabilities, adults with Alzheimer’s and people with dementia.

    The funds generated from the auction will go toward the charity’s new centre expected to be build near Penrith, Cumbria.

    Source:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/merseyside/7723003.stm