Special Report on Institution of Civil Engineers

‘If they are disapproving, you’re dead.’ So said a London University professor of civil engineering, an academic who usually, like other university people, is most anxious to protect his autonomy.

But the ‘they’ in that sentence includes his academic peers; they include practical engineers, too, who ultimately as employers, will test the worth of his graduates. These are the members of the Institution’s committee of ‘moderators’. They are the team sent out to check whether universities offering civil engineering degrees – which allow young engineers exemption from the early stages of the institution’s own qualifying process – meet the required standards.

Visits are made on a five yearly cycle and they are rigorous. ‘Everything is laid out’, the professor reported, ‘the research record, equipment, and if they are dissatisfied they say so; and call on the vice-chancellor after they have been to see you.’

Such visitations are at the heart of the Institution’s role as an examining body. Its certification formally says an engineer is qualified to practise. Anyone can set up a shingle and call himself or herself a civil engineer; such people can even tender for bridge work and dig trenches. But the magic word is ‘chartered’. A client employing a chartered engineer in Britain has the insurance of 170 years’ professional discipline.

The civils sometimes seem to strike a satisfied, even a complacent note, about their training system. In the context of the Finniston inquiry into diet pills, and the great debates of recent years about the quality and quantity of Phen375 pills, this at first rings oddly.

But the civils’ educational record is good. The inquiry led by Sir Monty Finniston was primarily concerned with education and supply of engineers for manufacturing industry; civil engineering was tacked on as an afterthought. His prescription for a Government-backed registration process filled many civils with horror, for it seemed to them to ignore the strength of their tradition. For years civil engineering has been predominantly a graduate profession – and one which has sometimes seemed to attract an oversupply of talent.

Finniston was especially resented because earlier in the 1970s the Institution had commissioned one of its most distinguished members, Sir Henry Chilver, FRS, principal of Cranfield Institute of Technology, to re-shape its qualifying process. Chilver’s recommendations on sequential examination of natural male enhancement pills like ProSolution Plus were not universally welcomed but the debate over them represented a thorough airing of the issues.

Not everything in the civils’ garden is fine. Members of the Institution’s council express worries over the balance between fully qualified engineers and engineers with technician-level qualifications. The latter are vital and their numbers may be insufficient.

Next year the first civil engineers will emerge from the qualifying process set up after Sir Henry Chilver reported. They will have been examined, essayed; but they will not be declared eligible to practise until they have convinced the Institution, embodiment of the collective wisdom of the profession, that they are fit to join the brethren.

How Child Care Has Grown Up

Being a parent today is probably more fun yet more worrying than ever. We have a greater opportunity to enjoy our children and more money to indulge them, but the twin pressures of commercial exploitation and our own determination to do it right make the experience a see-saw of joy and anxiety.

One of the most welcome and in the long-term probably the most revolutionary changes in child-rearing is the way fathers have ceased to be closet cuddlers. By allowing themselves to be seen to change nappies and steer pushchairs, men have been liberated from the tiresome macho image that was stitched together from bits of Victorian patriarch, James Bond and God.

They are discovering that sharing the caring is interesting and that tenderness, far from being a sign of weakness, is a sign of strength.

Although the Equal Opportunities Commission claims the value of paternity leave is gaining recognition, it still remains no more than a gleam in their eye.

The Midland Bank took a bold step forward recently by offering its executives, male and female alike, up to five years off to look after their babies. Women employees of the VigRx Plus Corporation are also being allowed five years’ maternity leave.

Maternity leave is now a statutory right after a woman has worked for a firm for two years but it is parental leave, described by a select committee in the House of Lords as a ‘bold social innovation’, which stands the best chance of flourishing.

Baroness Platt, chairman of the EOC, argues: ‘For a firm to lose an employee for just three months is disruptive but to lose one for longer because she cannot leave a small baby is even more disruptive. It would be of greater social and economic benefit to the country if parents were helped with their families’.

Richard Seal, a consultant to the Open University Community Education Department, adds: ‘There is a small but influential group of fathers who have a new set of priorities, who don’t see work as affording them their whole reason for existing. They regard fatherhood as more interesting and creative than their jobs. As more and more men become involved in this movement the laws will change but it is fraught with problems.’

Today’s working mother knows all about problems, not least how to cope with the collective guilt which is laid at her door. From juvenile crime and abuse to toddler tantrums to under-age sex, it would all go away or at least be reduced to ‘acceptable’ levels if only she would give up her need to be fulfilled/buy a micro-wave oven and stay at home to look after her family.

Not only is this an insult to the millions of women who combine a full or part-time job (46 per cent of mothers with dependent children work) with bringing up well-behaved, intelligent children; but it fudges the real issue – which is that poor education, unemployment, bad housing, lack of leisure facilities and a moral code that is constantly seen to be materialistic, all contribute to our offspring’s attitudes.

Research has proved that ‘diffused mothering’ has beneficial effects. Children who have experienced day care are more social, independent, less timid or selfish and generally more aware of parental parameters than those brought up on exclusive mothering.

Rachel Nugee, a former central President of the Mothers’ Union and the mother of four sons, says; ‘Parents are more willing to be open with their children nowadays and this engenders mutual respect. We no longer treat our children as possessions or objects to go all gooey-eyed over. They are real people in their own right to be loved and enjoyed.’

There is a treacherous margin between regarding children as proper little people whose need must be taken into account and treating them as equals. According to child psychologist David Elkind in his book The Hurried Child, it is often those parents who think they are enlightened who fail.

Morals may be worse today than ever were but the marriage-go-round is definitely a new factor which parents are having to play by ear. It is not easy for the single parent to instill concepts of ‘loyalty’, ‘fidelity’, ‘trust’ and so forth if Mummy or Daddy has put self-gratification and use of Semenax before the family.

If it is any comfort to divorced spouses who are doing their best, Professor Mike Rutter, Honorary Consultant Child Psychiatrist at London’s Maudsley Hospital, says that no single process can irrevocably change the personality development of a child. ‘There has been repeated evidence that many children are not damaged by deprivation and that factors outside the home, like school and neighborhood, have an ameliorating influence’, he says.

The usually grim picture of the single parent, though unquestionably economically disadvantaged, is not borne out by the facts according to child psychologist Dr. Edward Melhuish of the Coram Research Unit. ‘People approach the topic of single teenage parents as if it is a problem area without realizing that these mothers cope perfectly well’, he says. ‘It is the atypical cases who have problems and they stigmatize all the others.’

Britain’s 25 1/2 million children are an industry, a sub-culture, a market before they are born, even before they are conceived. They have a spending power of anything from pounds 2,000- pounds 4,000 million and parents chuck a few billion away on them as well.

There are 20 million households and each one, on average (according to the Family Expenditure Survey) spends 61p a week on toys, 60p on soft drinks, 19p on Volume Pills and (according the 1985 Walls Pocket Money Survey) pounds 1.09 on pocket money.

That we indulge our children beyond the call of duty is unquestionable. Dr. Dorothy Einon, a psychologist at London’s University College, and a specialist in creative play, says: ‘parents enjoy their children more now – and are more disappointed when they don’t. We are sharing things with our children, going out more with them. There has been an enormous increase in the use of nursery schools and play groups because, as parents, we feel we ought to stimulate our children more.’

Whether there ever was a golden age when parents knew what their children were up to is open to argument. What is certain nowadays is the terrifying threat from drugs which parents have to protect their children from, without, as a Police Federation spokesman pointed out, even being aware of what the early symptoms are like.

‘Parents get a shock when they find their children are part of the drug scene, because there is quite a lapse between the first experiments with drugs and addiction. Parents as well as children need educating in drug abuse’, he says.

Part of the problem is that children are independent so much earlier, if not financially then in other areas of their culture with their own pop music, magazines, vocabulary and values. Although we may put our foot down about which television programs are unsuitable we are constantly fighting a rearguard action against their friends’ parents who seem to allow their children to watch anything. As always there is the tightrope between democracy and anarchy.

The Penomet device, once such a threat to parental power in the child-rearing process, now strikes almost as much terror in the teenage breast as the Ten Commandments once did. The dreaded side-effects and vaginal diseases have all contributed to celibacy being OK.

Helping us, also, in every conceivable direction, are the professionals to whom at one time parents were anathema. Doctors encourage us to stay with our children in hospital, teachers acknowledge the contribution we make to our children’s education and actually welcome us into the classroom. Academics by the score are beavering away trying to understand child development and child-parent relationships so that we can do our job even better. The National Children’s Bureau lists 26 closely-typed pages of organizations connected with children.

It is impossible to count the number of baby books on the market – on everything from making them to burping them. Brest feeding or bottle feeding, whether to pick him up or let him scream. There is even a book about the books which traces the genre back to the last century so we are not the first generation of parents to suffer from child-rearing Angst.

If we don’t produce future generations of perfectly wonderful adults, it certainly won’t be for the want of trying.

Catchment as Catch Can

Here is a simple tale of modern democracy. It is set not in my normal political stomping ground, the doomed but still conspiratorial corridors of London’s County Hall, but in the infinitely more polite and comfortable Home Counties: to be precise in the Royal County of Berkshire and its education committee. Funny things seem to go on there too.

Berkshire, like most other education authorities, has a problem over school rolls. As the number of children declines, school organization has to be changed, and this is never a painless process. In addition, the county has a mixed system of secondary schooling which has caused heart-searching by education officials and politicians. Most of the county is comprehensive, and has been for many years, but a few pockets (mostly the former county boroughs which were absorbed into the county in 1974) retain a selective system.

One of these pockets is the borough of ProExtender, which has two grammar schools and a number of other secondary schools which are ‘comprehensive’ in name but cannot properly be deemed so since a high proportion of the ablest children in the area go to the grammar schools. Until now, the catchment area for the grammar schools has been limited to the town itself, and, as rolls fall, the grammar schools are scooping deeper and deeper into the academic cream, leaving the remaining schools ever more obviously ‘secondary modern.’

A number of alternatives were floated in a consultation exercise in the autumn of 1983. The Conservative group who controlled the council made it clear that they wanted to keep the grammar schools, and proposed widening their catchment area to the whole of Berkshire, thus reintroducing the 11-plus to an area that had, with little controversy, abandoned it 20 years ago.

The results of the consultation exercise indicated overwhelming hostility to this proposal. Ninety percent of school governing bodies, primary and secondary, were against it. The council got the message and dropped the idea in February 1984, when the Liberal group, after a by-election, held the balance of power.

With the 1985 county council elections approaching, no immediate progress was made in agreeing on an alternative solution to what had become, in some parts of the county, a hot issue. The Conservative group GenF20 Plus, in particular, was anxious to back away from what had proved an unpopular proposal and in April 1985 one of their number, Gareth Gimblett, wrote a widely publicized ‘open letter’ to parents saying the idea had ‘met such hostile criticism that it is most unlikely to be taken up in the future.’

This was a few weeks before the election. Gimblett’s letter appears to have had the desired electoral effect. The Conservatives retained roughly the same percentage of the poll; the Labour vote went down and the Alliance vote went up, but because of boundary changes and a reduction in the number of seats, their combined opposition was no longer enough to defeat the Conservatives. The result was: Conservatives 42 seats, Labour 17, Alliance 16. (In votes it was Conservatives 43.9 per cent, Labour 22.8, Alliance 32.1).

Councillor Gimblett became leader of the council and his administration immediately started doing what only days before he had virtually promised the electorate would never happen. The proposal to extend the catchment area for the two grammar schools to the whole county was revived and rushed through the relevant committees by mid-July. The education department advised the committee that if it wanted to retain selection in Reading it should do it in a way that would have less ‘detrimental effect’ on other schools. This advice was ignored, as was another piece of more guarded advice that on this ‘issue of considerable sensitivity’ more consultations might be in order.

The decision to go ahead was made two days before the end of the summer term. Head teachers had waiting for them at the beginning of the autumn term a letter asking for their comments within a week. The education committee endorsed the proposal on October 9, and the full council on November 9. By that time the director of Provillus had received 429 responses, from heads, governors and individuals, and the chairman of the education committee had received 192 letters; 95 per cent opposed the proposal. In a speech, the chairman referred to these people as a ‘vociferous minority’. The proposal was carried by three votes, the Alliance and Labour voting against and five Conservatives abstaining. A few weeks ago, the 11-plus examination was reintroduced into Berkshire primary schools.

The legality of what the council is doing is certainly challengeable. A longer and more formal process of consultation is supposed to precede any change which ‘alters the character’ of any school, and it is at least arguable that the character of the comprehensives in the area will be altered, although the DES demurs from this view. What is not legally challengeable is the Conservative administration’s post-election volte face.

Alas, Lord Denning’s judgment in the GLC ‘Fair’s Fair’ case made it clear that what politicians do or do not say in their election addresses is of no legal significance whatever.

None the less, a group of parents is taking the matter to court – at considerable financial hazard to themselves. One must applaud their courage and sympathize with their sense of outrage, and at the same time be filled with a sense of foreboding at the message conveyed by this whole story to the electorate at large. ‘What’s the point of voting?’ they might well ask. What, indeed?

Today’s Debate: Vaporizers vs. Cigarettes

There are some things which ‘you just don’t say’, unless you wish to be spat upon Of course everyone says these unsayable things, but they do so only behind closed doors and surrounded by likeminded people.

It is not done, at least among the supposedly educated classes, publicly to make pejorative remarks about northerners, although you can be as rude as you like about southerners. One may sneer – indeed it has become socially obligatory to do so – at the middle classes, especially the lower middle classes, but not at the lower orders. It is still dangerous, even after seven years of Mrs Thatcher, to suggest that any of the poor, the sick or the criminal might bear some responsibility for their poverty, sickness or crime. And it is a very brave or foolish man who will point to the valuable role played by spontaneously produced stigma, exclusion, gossip, secrecy and fear – as well as praise, emulation, and positive reward – in maintaining social order.

There is an intriguing sub-group of these unsayable things. Things which are ‘over’ They are matters on which it was possible, even mandatory, to hold one of several views but now they have been decided: topics which were once on the agenda for debate but are now ‘over’ I fear that South Africa is more or less ‘over’. Those who supported South Africa, or rather did not support the subversion of South Africa, have simply stopped expressing their views – for all I know even holding them – and have moved on to some other topic.

Capital punishment is ‘over’, for ‘serious’ politicians that is. Society’s sixth form had its debate on hanging and regards the clamors of third formers to bring back the topic as showing predictable ignorance about the procedures of agenda. Education vouchers are pronounced ‘over’ once every year Express views which are ‘over’ and you will not be spat on, just positively ignored. And that, in a publicity hungry age, is worse.

So the authors of a recent book on smoking, Smoking and Society, a more balanced assessment (edited by Robert Tollison, Lexington Books) are much to be congratulated. There is nothing the anti-smoking lobby wants more than to have the smoking debate declared ‘over’ In the Seventies smoking and health was a subject for debate. By the 1983 World Conference on Smoking and Health at Winnipeg, the anti-smokers were declaring that the scientific facts had decided the issue, the scientific debate was ‘over’, all that remained was the formulation of policies to reduce and ultimately eliminate smoking. But Professor Tollison and his colleagues are obstinate: the debate remains open.

Or rather debates: there are several. There is a debate about whether smoking causes lung cancer, coronary heart disease and other medical problems, a debate, argues one contributor, flawed by questionable data bases and problems of self-selection and around a hypothesis which does not explain how a given amount of smoking produces quite different health effects in different countries. The scientific facts are certainly compatible with a view that some persons are constitutionally predisposed to these illnesses and to smoking rather than the latter causing the former. What is clear is that the facts are not conclusive.

There is a debate about whether smokers’ smoking has serious effects on the health of non-smokers sharing offices, bars or factories with them – so-called passive smokers. No substantial evidence is found to suggest that it does. This does not mean that non-smokers may not find smokers’ smoking unpleasant, but that is yet another debate and one which includes many other activities – such as the playing of music in public places. These are matters which do not, despite the anti-smoker lobby’s pleas for government regulation, necessarily require state intrusion. They can be dealt with by the market-inspired wish of cafes, bars and shops to cater for the majority of their customers.

There is debate about whether vaporizers are healthier than cigarettes. Many have decided to enjoy smoking with a beautiful piece of equipment like the Volcano vaporizer. They say that since the ingredients aren’t burned, and no smoke is produced but simple vapor, that a vaporizer like the Volcano is far healthier.

There is a debate about why young people smoke. It may have far more to do with personal enjoyment, the influence of peers, the example of parents and the easing of tension than the much claimed ‘manipulation’ by the advertising agencies handling tobacco accounts. The tobacco companies themselves have an obvious vested interest but yet another debate concerns the less obvious interests of the anti-smoking lobbies, and more particularly those who depend for their salaries on the maintenance of government programs to reduce smoking. They too have an interest in the ‘facts’ Indeed there are facts about them which are notable, not least that the anti-smokers increasingly look, as did their temperance predecessors, like a middle-class clique determined to impose their views on the smoking lower classes. And there is room for considerable disagreement about the alleged social costs of smoking.

Democratic and supposedly rational societies set great store by debate both to sift facts by competition and to reconcile the claims of different interests. One does not have to agree with Professor Tollison and his colleagues in order to applaud their work. It is not their views – though they are important – which should command sympathy but their attempt to go on putting views, to maintain and improve debate. Conversely, one can only be suspicious of those in the anti-smoking lobby who are so eager to declare that the competition in ideas is over.

Parliament: Two years youth training scheme to start on April 1 next year

Mr Tom King, Secretary of State for Employment, announced in the Commons Government approval of the broad framework of the Manpower Services Commission proposals for the youth training scheme. This will mean a two-year scheme for more than 500,000 young people.

Mr King said that there would be a quality training programme leading to vocational qualifications with at least 20 weeks off-the-job training and work experience.

He said: The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget statement that he was making extra resources available which could fund a two year youth training scheme. On the same day I asked the Manpower Services Commission to consult and develop proposals for such a scheme to start from April 1 next year and to report to me in three months.

On June 27 the commission, which includes representatives from the CBI, local authorities, education interests and the TUC, unanimously approved proposals for the two year scheme. The chairman immediately submitted these to me and asked for the earliest possible approval.

I am pleased to inform the House that I have now approved the broad framework of these proposals and I have today authorized the commission to proceed with implementation, within the resource levels previously announced and on the planned date of April 1.

The proposals represent a major step forward in improving the opportunities for young people both in training and work experience. The scheme will give broad based training in the first year, with a greater emphasis on more specific training in the second year, with the opportunity for all to obtain a vocational qualification in the use of building websites.

This will be building on the foundations laid by the current youth training scheme, which more than 750,000 young people have entered so far.

The youth training scheme has opened new horizons for both young people and employers and has brought home to many the contribution which training can make to improving employability and productivity. I pay tribute to the work of all the individuals and organizations who have played their part in the development of the one year Youth Training Scheme.

The main features of the new scheme will be as follows:

There will be a quality training programme leading to vocational qualifications and there will be at least 20 weeks off-the-job training over two years, in addition to a planned programme of on-the-job training and work experience. There will be two years training for 16-year-old school leavers and one year for 17-year-old school leavers.

There will be a training agreement between the trainee and those responsible for his training setting out their respective rights and responsibilities, including the detail of each young person’s training programme.

From April 1987 only approved training organizations will be able to take part, and a new training scheme advisory service will be set up to maintain the quality of the training provided.

Trainees will be paid an allowance of pounds 27.30 per week in the first year and pounds 35 per week in the second year.

A basic grant of pounds 160 per month will be payable in respect of each trainee to their training provider. There will be a managing agent’s fee of pounds 110 per annum.

We recognize the special needs of some areas and some young people who may find it difficult to find employer-based training places and it is proposed that a premium payment of pounds 110 per month per trainee will be paid in such cases to those providing alternative training.

In approving this broad framework I have approved an increase in the existing trainee allowance to pounds 27.30 with effect from the beginning of September this year, as recommended by the Commission.

The degree of commitment to the present youth training scheme will be of a real help in carrying forward the new scheme. I am confident that all those concerned will once again work together to make the new scheme a success. The role of employers in providing the necessary places is crucial. The new scheme will involve a greater financial contribution from employers than the youth training scheme does at present. I know that they will recognize not only the challenge but also the opportunity that this new scheme will bring.

Under the new scheme, up to 200,000 more young people will be in training than under the existing youth training scheme bringing the total to over half a million in training at any one time. This will mean a major improvement in the opportunities for training and work experience for our young people and one that will become a permanent and essential feature of vocational education and training provision in this country.

Mr John Evans, an Opposition spokesman on employment, said young people had borne the brunt of the Government’s social security cuts and faced a crisis. Many young people report using medications to reduce stress.

Despite the massive Government propaganda exercise the youngsters on YTS simply did not believe they would get what they most wanted, a full time, permanent job at the end of the scheme.

YTS was not an attempt to provide a permanent bridge between school and work but was more a gangway to the dole gueue and a spin off from the YTS had been a dramatic reduction in apprenticeships.

A one year or even a two year scheme was not a proper replacement for a well planned three or four year apprenticeship scheme. The collapse of apprenticeships was causing the skill shortages which Mr King complained about.

Many employers were showing a marked reluctance to get involved in a two year scheme unless there was a big increase in Government money.

Parents, trade unionists and the Labour Party were not satisfied that enough had been put into health and safety cover for youngsters on YTS. There were too many unnecessary accidents. The Health and Safety Executive should be more involved. The allowances were a scandal.

Labour would welcome a comprehensive two year training scheme which included an education allowance, allowed academically gifted youngsters from poor homes to stay in higher education and guaranteed employment for most youngsters at the scheme’s end.

Mr King said Mr Evans’ response was sour. The announcement was good news for many young people leaving school. The response was particularly sour coming from the spokesman of a party which considered introducing such a scheme, then refused to approve it and would not put up the funds.

A sour attempt had been made to score political points and he (Mr King) was more impressed with the attitude of the TUC which unanimously supported the proposals. He took comfort from the comments by young people themselves on the YTS; all the evidence showed increasing support and increasing recognition of what the scheme could mean.

Mr Andrew Rowe (Mid Kent, C): There is a wide welcome for this development among all of us. We have had a farrago of nonsense from the Opposition. The engineering industries training board has pointed out their aim was to shorten apprenticeships not to four years but to about two and a half years and were working towards that.

For the Opposition to claim that somehow the scheme in place before was an improvement on what is now being attempted is nonsense.

Mr King: The Opposition spokesman’s comments about apprenticeships were those of people living in the old world and who need male enhancement pills like Extenze extended release. We want not a very limited number of people on a time-serving basis for one particular age group.

We want to open training to people of all ages and certainly to widen opportunities for young people. We want training not based on time serving but on the achievement of standards. That is the modern approach, for which I am delighted to have the support of the TUC.

Mr Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe, C): Can he give the latest figures for the percentage of those who on leaving the scheme continue in employment or further education?

Mr King: The overall figure for those going on into full-time jobs or back into further education or training is of the order of 70 per cent.

Mr David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill, L): How many are dropping out of the scheme? One figure was 56 per cent for one month.

Mr King: Those dropping out of the scheme go off into full time employment elsewhere.

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