News round-up: October 17

15 Oct 08

16 October 2008

A local government think-tank has called on ministers and opposition politicians to make fairer access to school places a priority, suggesting councils look at ability banding or random allocation to achieve a better balanced pupil intake. Martin Rogers, a policy consultant at the Local Government Information Unit's children's service network, said: 'We want to encourage local authorities and their partners to look more critically at the way that admissions arrangements in their area work and, specifically, at what the outcome is for young people in terms of fair access to provision.' The call came as Sir Philip Hunter, the government's schools adjudicator, told an LGIU conference that half of England's schools that dictate their own admissions policy were breaching the government's admissions code.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has welcomed the findings of a World Health Organisation report into Europe's mental health services, saying he was 'delighted the WHO has recognised the transformation in mental health care in England over the past ten years'. The report showed progress being made towards community-based services. In England, more than 700 teams provide community services, reflecting a move away from treating people in hospital. Matt Muijen, regional adviser for mental health at WHO Europe, said: 'Mental health services here are increasingly being seen across Europe as a model to follow.'

Specialist heart unit Harefield Hospital has called in the Healthcare Commission to review its procedures after four people died within a month of their heart operations. An independent surgeon and a cardiologist will carry out the review, the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust said. Last year 24 heart transplants were performed at the unit, with no deaths within 30 days. But of the 15 carried out so far this year, seven patients had died. Nigel Ellis, head of investigations at the commission, said: 'We must remember that heart transplantation is extremely high-risk surgery carried out on very ill patients. Nonetheless, there are a range of measures that can be put in place to mitigate that risk.'

The Department for Children, Schools and Families and Ofsted have launched a consultation on a proposed set of indicators that will recognise and reward schools for their contribution to pupil wellbeing. The department is consulting on measures, such as the school's overall attendance rate and the take-up of school lunches, and perceptions about how well the school promotes wellbeing, a spokesman said.

Staff at the Criminal Records Bureau in England and Wales began a work-to-rule on October 14 in protest at a 0.5% pay rise. The Public and Commercial Services union urged its CRB members to refuse to work overtime and not to exceed targets for processing criminal record checks. Officials warned that the action could increase to more than eight weeks the time it takes to clear applicants to work with children. Up to 450 staff are expected to take action. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'Industrial action is a last resort, but there is a growing sense of betrayal over the government's public sector pay cap.'

Lesley Strathie, chief executive of Jobcentre Plus and second permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, has been appointed chief executive of Revenue and Customs as of next month. Dave Hartnett, acting chair of R&C before the appointment of Mike Clasper, becomes permanent secretary for tax. Chancellor Alistair Darling said: 'This chief executive role at HMRC is one of the biggest delivery jobs in government and Lesley Strathie has a first-rate proven record in the public sector.'


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