Issues Online – new look, new features and the Education Resource Awards 2015!

Okay, we hold our hands up, it’s been a while since we last blogged (guilty faces), but our silence has been in aid of a good cause! Since April 2014, we have been focussing all our efforts on the planning and development of a new all-singing, all dancing, Issues Online website.

12 months later, after a lot of hard work, some interesting challenges for our developers and a fantastic launch at BETT 2015, is finally ready!

We are all super excited about the new website. It is fresh, vibrant, engaging and easy to navigate. We have introduced features that will help our users save time and experience the wealth of content available:

  • Students can now filter their searches to look for videos, stats or articles.
  • Teachers can take a take a short cut to their dedicated resources area and access all of our assignment ideas.
  • Librarians now have access to free posters, user guides and more.
  • We are able to update and add information quickly and easily, which means we can add great content like videos and reports more often.

And to top it all off, Issues Online has been shortlisted for an Education Resource Award in the Whole Curriculum Resource category!

Now that Issues Online is up and running, we’ll get back to our blogging duties and will be bringing you some fresh new guest blogs very soon. In the meantime, click here to check out the new site!

New Issues Online site

New Issues Online site

Child protection is unreliable without Mandatory Reporting

By Peter Garsden, senior partner at QualitySolicitors

Jimmy Savile allegedly abused up to 1350 individuals, some under the eyes of employees of various institutions such as the BBC, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Leeds Police, Duncroft Chidren’s Home, Leeds Hospital, and other venues too numerous to mention. Children were warned to keep away from him, and warnings of his conduct went unheeded. There has never been a law which makes it a criminal offence not to report abuse which someone in loco parentis to a child either reasonable suspects has occurred or is witnessed. If such a law had existed since the early 1960’s as there is in America, then Savile may have been prosecuted years ago.

The Savile case, which unfortunately is not the first of its kind, highlights the need for the introduction of a law that makes the reporting of child abuse mandatory.

Together with a number of charities, including NAPAC, Innocence in Danger and the Survivor’s Trust (representing over 100 charities) we are pushing for a change in the law.  In my experience of manifest abuse that took place in many institutions such as children’s homes from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, had it always been a criminal offence not to report, then it is much more likely that the abuse which took place would have been reported. The police would also have been able to report wardens in charge of Children’s Homes, whom they knew had turned a blind eye to abuse in their children’s home. The Catholic Church, which has repeatedly moved abusive priests from one parish to another, could also have been brought to book. It is also much more

likely that Jimmy Savile would have been prosecuted in his lifetime rather than waiting until he died for a retrospective investigation.

On the 3rd of October 2013, to coincide with the publication of the serious case review into the death of Keanu Williams I was interviewed on BBC News 24 & Radio 5 to talk about the purpose of mandatory reporting in child abuse cases.

The report highlighted that many opportunities were missed by the services to:-

  1. Take him into care and away from his parents by Social Services.
  2. Report obvious signs of abuse so as to avoid the death which occurred.
  3. Police, Social Services, his school, and the NHS apparently all had contact with him, but only saw pieces of the jigsaw. The bits were never joined up until his mother finally exploded and beat him to death.

Mandatory Reporting is the obvious answer

  1. Make failure to report actual or suspected abuse a criminal offence
  2. Limit it to professionals carrying out a regulated activity ie. looking after children.
  3. Bring England into line with the USA where it has been the law since 1963, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Northern & Southern Ireland, and many other countries

Only recently Keir Starmer, the ex-director of public prosecutions has spoken out in support of a mandatory reporting law saying: “Now is the time to plug a gap which has been there for a very, very long time.”  Unfortunately the British government do not share his sentiment.

The Mandate Now coalition of survivor charities that I am working with, petitioning Education Secretary Michael Gove to introduce mandatory reporting have a petition which I would implore people to sign. This law is vital to protect our children from harm.

Notes to Editor

Peter Garsden is the senior partner at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden.  His firm has been representing victims of abuse in their claim for compensation since 1995.  In 1997 he helped to set up ACAL (Association of Child Abuse Lawyers), a claimant based organisation of compensation abuse lawyers dedicated to raising the standards of advice through training and support, of which he is now President.  He was awarded Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year at the Manchester Legal Awards in March 2013.

Merry Christmas!

Hello everyone! I think it’s now okay for me to say ‘Merry Christmas’?!

Our final set of 2013 books are almost wrapped up, no pun intended, the office resembles an explosion in a tinsel-factory, and the staff at Independence are gearing up for the highly anticipated Christmas ‘do’ tomorrow evening. So I thought I would take this opportunity to write my last blog post of the year and give you a little summary of our highlights and achievements.

In 2013, we:

  • Produced several brand new titles: Sexualising Society and War and Conflict in the Issues series, Poverty, Older People and Marriage in the Issues Today series.
  • Tripled the amount of eBooks available via Issues Online.
  • Conquered this ‘social media’ malarkey with our lovely blog, Twitter and Facebook musings.
  • Consumed far too much tea and coffee, and probably ate our body-weight in biscuits (big thanks to Tina’s Mum for regularly sending us boxes of goodies all the way from Germany!)
  • Wrote, edited, researched, and designed until our mouse-hands went crampy and our eyes went square.
  • Celebrated when Nick Griffin said yes.
  • Cried (on the inside) when Stephen Fry said no.
  • Learned that printing articles about pornography, drugs, condoms, and alcohol can make people think you’re a little bit weird if they don’t know what your actual job is.
  • Accidentally ended up on the Heart FM website because we bought charity cupcakes.
  • Cleaned out the storeroom (which is much more of an achievement than it sounds).

But most importantly, we had a flippin’ good time doing it all!
We have lots of exciting things planned for 2014, so Like us, Tweet us, email us or phone us with your ideas, comments, questions, or just general love and appreciation!

From me, and everyone here at Independence, have a very lovely Christmas and a fantastic New Year!

Best, festive, wishes,

Cara Acred (Managing Editor)

Is it really necessary for schools to tackle contemporary social issues with students?

Young people today encounter an incredible amount of academic pressure, with teachers increasingly urged to focus their efforts on hitting  targets and improving exam results. Because of this, we are facing a generation of young adults who are simply unequipped to deal with the world around them. I am by no means suggesting that exams aren’t important, but perhaps it is time we shift our focus?

On one level, the issues our teenagers face are the same as they always have been; bullying, sexual health and self-esteem have been discussed in PSHE lessons for a long time. But what about other social issues? Mental health, disability, domestic violence, human rights, pornography… the list goes on. All of these things have the potential to impact on young people and continue to affect them as adults.

Recently, there has been a lot of debate surrounding how much responsibility schools should take for discussing these kinds of contemporary social issues with students. Some believe it is asking too much of our teachers, others that it is a parent’s job to educate their child about these matters. In my opinion, the classroom is the best possible environment for fostering positive and appropriate discussions within peer groups. Teachers are able to approach topics from a neutral standpoint, to encourage engagement, critical thinking and debate; skills that can then be applied to other, more ‘academic’, areas of school life. They are also able to broach subjects that many parents would feel uncomfortable discussing.

We would all dearly love to pretend that teenagers don’t need to be aware of these issues. But to do so would be to do them a great disservice. It is the responsibility of our schools to teach young people the skills they need in order to be critical of the misinformation they are fed by the media and the Internet, to be comfortable with themselves and respectful of the world around them. They are entirely capable of understanding and engaging with these issues, if we give them the tools and the opportunity to do so.

What is ‘ISSUES today’ all about?

I was recently asked, by one of our contributors, to answer a series of questions about ISSUES today and our Body Confidence book, which was released in January. The questions were to form part of a blog on their site, so I thought I would share them with you too.


“What is ISSUES today all about?”

ISSUES today was created to help teachers, and parents, explore challenging social issues with the 11- to 14-year-old age group. Our older series, ISSUES, catered for 14- to 18-year-olds and was proving very successful, but a lot of teachers, librarians and parents were starting to ask if we had any material suitable for a younger age group. Through our research, we discovered that there really weren’t a lot of resources out there for the younger reader who wanted to learn about social issues such as human rights or body image. With ISSUES today, we try to present a balanced view of these thought-provoking topics; we explain what the topic is all about, look at the controversy surrounding it, and show-case information from a variety of different sources. Above all, it is important that we present the information in an appealing and digestible format, so that these complex issues are broken down to a level that the younger reader can understand, and enjoy.


“Why did you choose to create a title called Body Confidence?”

Whether we like it or not, body image and self-esteem are issues that affect more and more young people every year. Society is saturated with unrealistic, unhealthy, representations of the ‘perfect’ body. And it’s not just the female body; men are affected too. Our Body Confidence title explores these ideas with the younger age group in mind. As a publisher, we try to remain neutral and avoid ‘pushing’ any particular message, so with Body Confidence we have tried to encourage the reader to think about how they can develop confidence in their appearance, as well as a more critical awareness of the kind of images that appear in the mainstream media.


“What sort of people purchase the Body Confidence as a resource and how is it likely to be used?”

Body Confidence will primarily be used by teachers to support PSHE lessons in secondary schools. ISSUES today titles are designed to function as a support tool in the classroom, so teachers can pick individual articles to photocopy and explore with students – rather than expecting them to read the book as a whole. We also include assignment suggestions at the end of each chapter, to encourage critical thinking and debate.

Body Confidence will be available in a lot of school and public libraries so that students can also use the articles outside of the classroom, to support research for essays and projects. It can also be used at home, by parents who need help discussing this important topic with their child.


“Do you get any feedback from those who use your publications and if so what do they report?”

The main feedback we get from our customers is that it is a huge relief to find material that breaks down topics that are often hard-to-teach (for example, topics like self-harm, euthanasia and mental health). All of the articles in our books come from reliable sources, and this offers teachers a sense of security, not to mention saving them time in their lesson planning! I think a lot of our customers also place a high value on the different opinions and subjects that we explore in each title, as well as their timing and relevance – books are completely re-written every two/three years to ensure that only the most up-to-date information is included.


“How important do you personally feel it is to teach youngsters about issues relating to body image?”

I think a lot of people underestimate how important it is to teach this kind of issue to young people. Although they are usually very switched on and savvy when it comes to the media, youngsters often don’t quite realise the extent to which images have been altered or edited. It is also essential to highlight the fact that body image affects everyone: girls and boys, of all shapes and sizes. For example, we deliberately included an article that discussed body image from a ‘skinny’ person’s perspective because those who are naturally skinny can suffer just as badly as those who are overweight at the hands of cruel blogs and gossip magazines.

Young people need to be given the opportunity to explore these ideas independently and discuss their opinions with their peers. Our books don’t spoon feed information to the reader; instead, they are encouraged to really think about the issue and engage with their own experiences. It is essential for youngsters to develop the tools to critically assess the world around them; with regard to body confidence, this skill will enable them to develop a more secure sense of ‘self’, to feel confident and happy with their bodies, and to value attributes such as kindness and humour above appearance.

What about those countries without social pensions?

As part of our new blog series, we will be collaborating with some of the charities, organisations and groups who have contributed to our books. Contributors will be providing us with specially commissioned articles on pressing social issues, which will feature exclusively on the Independence blog, and will highlight topics that are raised in the ISSUES and ISSUES today books.

Our first featured contributor is Campbell Harrison, who provided content for our Ageing and the Elderly (ISSUES) and Older People (ISSUES today) books. In this exclusive post Campbell Harrison brings our attention to countries that do not provide social pensions – incorporating topics from our age-related titles, but also connecting with the issue of global poverty and the struggles faced by developing countries.

What about those countries without social pensions?

In the UK we’re lucky enough to have a system where the majority of older people are eligible to receive a basic state pension once they reach a certain age.  The amount you get is dependent on your financial contributions to society via national insurance (or national insurance credits), but as long as you have contributed some national insurance or received certain benefits you will get financial support.  A lot of countries have a similar kind of social pension but a significant number of countries don’t offer older people any kind of financial security in old age.  This leaves a lot of people, many of whom will have worked their entire lives, in a very vulnerable situation.

Fragile states

Out of 55 recognised African states only six offer some kind of social pension.  This is largely because a lot of African countries are considered to be fragile or weak states i.e. states where the Government cannot, or will not, deliver core functions to the majority of people or relatively stable states that are prone to violent conflict and humanitarian emergencies in some areas of the country.  When a country is recovering from conflict or in the throes of resurging civil war, establishing consistent state programmes that protect citizens is extremely difficult.  The problem is compounded by the fact that conflicts create more citizens in need; fragile states have poverty rates of, on average, 54% compared with 22% in other low income countries.

Fragile states all tend to share the following characteristics:

–          High levels of poverty

–          Poor access to basic services

–          Infrastructural deficiency: poor road networks and low telecommunication coverage

–          Lack of social trust in divided societies

–          Fragmented and competing elites

–          Weak state bureaucracies

–          Prone to violent conflict or are currently in violent conflict

What is it like for an older person living in a fragile state?

According, the majority of low-income rural areas in fragile African states are populated by older women and children.  This is because the majority of male and middle-aged family members have migrated to more urban areas, often in the hope of raising funds to send back to family in rural parts. The practicalities of sending money back from the city to the countryside, however, are frequently underestimated, meaning that most family members left behind do not benefit financially from urban migration.  Older women are often left responsible for providing income for themselves and for grandchildren who have been left behind in environments that are especially neglected because of the fragile state; environments where food is scarce and poverty and ill-health are prevalent.

Older women have to contend with these issues whilst also trying to work for an income and without receiving any financial support in the form of a pension.  Typically, they will work as farmers, but in fragile situations, such as northern Kenya, border disputes can make this impossible.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is just one of countless countries that do not offer their elderly citizens any kind of pension scheme. Aishatu Bangura is 80 years old; speaking about her everyday life in Sierra Leone she said:

‘I have six grandchildren under my care because my two sons have abandoned us in the village.  I have difficulties providing for them [grandchildren].  Two have dropped out of school because they need to support the rest of us.  I am also not feeling well and can’t afford to buy medicine because I don’t have money.’

What provisions are in place?

Despite older women’s status as a vulnerable group in society, they are not included in government-run programmes that provide free access to health services.  Sierra Leone offers free healthcare to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five years old, but no provision for older people, even though a significant number of older women suffer from mobility issues, non-communicable diseases and poor eyesight.  All of these could be treated at a low cost.

Sierra Leone does offer social insurance schemes, which provide some kind of social protection. However, they are only provided for those in formal employment.  Those in the formal sector are enrolled into the National Social Security Investment Trust (NASSIT) which offers a number of financial benefits and protects families from loss of employment.  However, since the majority of workers in Sierra Leone (and most fragile African states) are informal workers (up to 95% of women work informally) only 5% of the working population are eligible for the NASSIT scheme.

Although, currently, there is no working social pension in Sierra Leone, the Government has trialled a scheme to improve provisions for older people and the relationship between the state and its citizens.  From 2007 to 2008 the Government introduced a pilot scheme called the Social Safety Net (SSN), which specifically targeted the poorest older people.  As part of this scheme, over 16,000 older people received a one-off or two-cycle payment of SLL200, 000 (the equivalent of US$47).  Those who received the benefit said it had a positive impact but most respondents claimed that the system for deciding who would receive benefit and who wouldn’t was unfair and arbitrary, with many remaining neglected.  Pension’s watch, however, argued that the theory behind the scheme was robust but that improvements needed to be made in its implementation to ensure protection of the elderly in Sierra Leone.

A global issue

The lack of pension schemes in fragile states is a social problem that has significant global consequences. In many countries, older people who act as primary care givers to younger generations are unable to provide for them, leaving them stuck in an unavoidable poverty trap.

Independence does The Education Show

On Thursday last week, the Independence ladies packed their bags and headed up to Birmingham to exhibit at The Education Show. It was our second time as exhibitors and, with new book designs and developments to ISSUES Online to show off, we were very excited.

On arrival, we located our modest little stand and set up the fancy new Independence banner, a touch screen PC to demo our online products, and a lovely array of ISSUES and ISSUES today titles. There was already a heaving queue of visitors waiting to get in to the hall, and we were in a prime position in the first aisle of the Publisher’s Zone. Although sales weren’t really our main objective, within the first hour we had signed-up our first ISSUES today subscription, which was a very promising start!

So, what were our objectives? Exhibiting at such a high-profile event is a significant commitment – requiring both time and money – so it was important to think about what we hoped to gain from the experience. First and foremost, we wanted to tell people about ISSUES Online. Over the last year, we have been developing the service to include eBooks and videos, and will soon be adding even more content, so we really wanted to encourage visitors to sign up for our free trial and test it out for themselves.

Secondly, we hoped to introduce ourselves to schools and institutions that might not have known about us previously. We spoke to several international visitors, representatives from exam boards, youth workers, care workers, local education authorities, teachers working with students who have behavioural difficulties… the list goes on!  And, of course, we were able to connect with our core customer base – secondary school PSHE and Citizenship teachers.

Finally, we wanted to raise the profile of Independence Educational Publishers. It was fantastic to be recognised by a lot of fellow exhibitors who have contributed to ISSUES or ISSUES today, and truly valuable for them to be able to see the books in print and connect with us and our readers.

Did we achieve our objectives? The answer is a resounding ‘yes – and more!’

I will finish by saying a massive thank you to everyone we met at the show; it was a truly enjoyable three day event and we will definitely be back next year! Until then, here’s a quick run-down of our top five highlights from The Education Show 2013:

1. Mary met The Fonz! Our lovely Sales and Marketing Administrator, Mary, was thrilled when she discovered that Henry Winkler, a.k.a. The Fonz, was appearing at the show to talk about his struggles with dyslexia, and sign copies of his new book. Henry has written over a dozen children’s books featuring a young dyslexic boy, and spoke frankly about his struggles at school. Being busy on our stand, Mary missed the book signing, but bumped into Henry a little later and bagged a photo with the man himself!

Mary and The Fonz

Mary and The Fonz pose for the camera

Mary and The Fonz pose for the camera

2. Cara and Tina hugged Johnny Depp! Well, not quite. Tina, our Assistant Editor, and myself were a little taken-a-back when Captain Jack Sparrow, of Pirates of the Caribbean fame, rocked up at our stand asking if we had any food we’d like to share with him. After a brief, and very well impersonated, encounter he swayed back to the front of the hall, where he was stationed with a film company, and we giggled and reminded ourselves it wasn’t the real Captain Jack.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirates life for us!

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirates life for us!

3. The Alpacas were back. Last year, I was amazed to find that the British Alpaca Futurity was exhibiting in the hall next door. This year, they were back and, thankfully, a lot less smelly! We caught a glimpse of some little furry alpacas on Day 2, but resisted the urge to go in and stroke them.
4. Independence lost their apples. This year, as a give-away, we decided to offer visitors a healthy and delicious apple as they passed the stand (instead of the usual chocolates or sweets). Complete with Independence stickers, the apples were a big hit with the teachers and by the end of Day 3 we were all out of fruit.
5. Pottermania. Completely unable to resist a gimmick, Tina and I treated ourselves to a visit to Hogwarts on the very last day. Yes, that’s right, Hogwarts. Warner Bros were set up near the food court, promoting their educational Harry Potter World visits, and offering free photos on brooms in front of the green screen! I almost squealed when I ended up in a Gryffindor robe, and chose the dark and moody Voldemort’s lightning storm background. Photos to follow soon.

Lovely Independence stand

Lovely Independence stand