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Teacher strikes to begin – and this Leicester school is making sure they have maximum impact | UK News

Pupils and parents across the country are preparing for disruption on Wednesday as striking teachers at thousands of schools walk out.

At Hazel Community Primary School in Leicester, headteacher Daniel Hansen has made the decision to close to all pupils.

He supports the majority of staff who plan to strike, and is making sure the walkout has maximum impact by not even providing childcare.

Daniel Hansen
Daniel Hansen

Instead, lunch boxes will be made available for pupils entitled to free school meals to collect from the site.

“I think there are two key elements of this,” Mr Hansen said. “There’s the funded pay increase that we want for teachers that matches inflation.

“A huge element is the fact that we have to protect the education sector and the teaching profession going forward.

“We have to do something about it, otherwise nobody will want to become a teacher.”

At the school gate, many parents supported his decision, but others were concerned about who would look after their children on strike day.

Rachel Badzire has never been on strike before and, as a teacher in a special school in Cheshire, she has found the decision to walk out difficult.

Hazel Community Primary School in Leicester
Hazel Community Primary School in Leicester

‘Enough is enough’

“I love my children that I teach, and I think it’s a worthwhile job, however I do feel at this point in time it’s good for me to join with other members of my union and show solidarity,” she said.

“We need to put a message out to the government that enough is enough. We don’t have much money, and we need to make sure that we can pay bills and still have a life”.

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Have previous strikes been successful?

At Cockshut Hill Secondary School in Birmingham, they’ve decided to open to year 11 pupils who have their GCSE exams in the coming months as well as the youngest year group, year 7.

Any other pupils who are vulnerable will be allowed in, but the majority of pupils will have to remain at home.

Luca Duggan and Aya Seid are among the pupils who face a day of online learning. They’re both in year 10.

Aya Seid and Luca Duggan
Aya Seid and Luca Duggan

‘I’m a little stressed about it’

Luca, 14, said: “We get a break off school, but then that may affect our learning, but we’ve got online learning so not too much to worry about really.”

He added it feels “similar” to time off during the pandemic, and said he supports teachers “to an extent”.

“I feel like if that’s what they’re going to have to do to get the pay, then that’s what they’re going to have to do.”

Aya, 14, is more concerned. “It is quite a shame that we don’t get the education that we need,” she said.

“I am a little stressed about it. In school each lesson contains so much knowledge and so much information that could help us get a few extra marks to get a grade 9 in GCSE, but even though we are at home we are getting lots of work to do.”

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Why are teachers striking?

‘Get around the table and seek a resolution’

Vince Green, the CEO of the Summit Learning Trust that runs Cockshut Hill and seven other schools, is urging the government and unions to reach an agreement so that further planned strikes don’t happen.

“From my point of view we don’t want disruption to the learning of children and young people particularly after the levels of disruption that they’ve had in recent years through no fault of their own,” he said.

“What I’d really like to see if that the adults involved get around the table and seek a resolution prior to next month.”

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Schools minister Nick Gibb has said the government is having “very constructive discussions” on the teachers’ strikes, and has already held several meetings within the department.

“We are still negotiating and discussing issues of pay, of workload, and other issues that are of concern to teachers,” he said.

“It is disappointing the NEU [National Education Union] has decided to go ahead with strikes with all the disruption it causes to children’s education and to families and how they plan their working life.”

Barbie doll with scoliosis unveiled as toy company aims to highlight the ‘power of representation’ | UK News

A barbie doll maker has made history by introducing its first doll with scoliosis.

The toy company’s line for Barbie’s little sister, Chelsea, will see a new addition that features curvature of the spine and a removable back brace, aimed at normalising the equipment and encouraging children to celebrate inclusion.

The team at Mattel worked closely with Dr Luke Macyszyn, a board-certified neurosurgeon and specialist in children’s complex spinal disorders, who advised the designers throughout the doll’s development.

The 15cm doll wears a pink dress and has a removable green back brace, white shoes, and her brown hair is styled in waves.

Celebrating inclusivity

Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, said: “We believe in the power of representation and are committed to creating dolls in a variety of looks so that kids can see themselves in Barbie – and now in a line celebrating Barbie’s little sister, Chelsea”.

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The Chelsea doll has a removable back brace and is a way for kids to be more “reflective” of the world around them.

Barbie doll with scoliosis unveiled. Pic: PA
Barbie doll with scoliosis unveiled. Pic: PA

In hopes of creating a conversation, McKnight added: “Our Chelsea line provides infinitely more ways to spark storytelling, all while providing kids with a way to develop their empathy and social processing skills through doll play.”

After being criticised in the past for making dolls too thin and overly sexual, the company have now been creating a more diverse range, but some of these have also sparked controversy.

Some of the dolls included: Wheelchair-using dolls, Plus size, Hijab-wearing and sign language dolls.

In 2022, the company also released its first Barbie with hearing aids – supported by Strictly Come Dancing winner, Rose Ayling-Ellis.

Mr Blobby costume buyer ‘backs out of £62,000 bid’ | Ents & Arts News

The buyer of an original Mr Blobby costume – who was set to pay £62,000 for the item – has reportedly backed out of the sale.

An eBay auction for the piece of TV memorabilia, which is more than 25 years old, attracted huge interest last week.

The costume sold for £62,101 but it has now emerged the buyer pulled out of the sale within an hour of placing the large bid.

The anonymous seller told the BBC: “I thought it would get to a level of £100 perhaps – and so I was shocked really that it reached the level it did.

“I think it was one of those things that was driven by social media.

“Ironically, it was being sold not to make money but to make space.”

The Mr Blobby suit was made by the BBC’s costume supplier and was due to be used for Noel’s House Party but the TV show was cancelled before it could be delivered.

Running from 1991 to 1999, Noel’s House Party was a BAFTA-winning light entertainment show.

Mr Blobby in 1993
Mr Blobby at the height of his fame in 1993

Earlier, the seller said the costume was in need of a new home after they claimed that neither the broadcaster nor the BBC’s production team wanted it.

The costume needed some attention due to its age, with one of the plastic eyes cracked.

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While eBay’s terms and conditions rule that winning an auction means the user has committed to buy the item, it cannot enforce this by law.

According to the BBC, the seller has decided to keep hold of the Mr Blobby costume for now.

Why spectre of British military becoming a ‘hollow force’ is now a reality | UK News

When considering national defence budgets, what matters is not simply how much is spent but what that money actually buys in terms of armed forces size and fighting strength.

The UK will typically bat off even the best-informed criticism of its eroding military prowess by trotting out lines on how Britain is the biggest European defence spender in NATO and – according to some measurements – has the fifth-largest defence budget in the world.

This may, for now, be true – though it won’t be for much longer if no new cash is found for the military and Germany and France overtake – but it does not equate necessarily to value for money or to credible capability.

The Ministry of Defence has a dismal track record of procuring weapons and equipment, from aircraft carriers and fast jets to boots and lightbulbs, with billions of pounds spent and – at times very little to show for it, in particular when it comes to the army’s armoured vehicles.

Countless attempts have been made to improve the process, with some successes.

There are examples of the military resisting the desire to chase an exquisite, bespoke piece of kit that will cost more and take longer to make over something that is not quite as gold-plated but works and can be delivered within the desired timeframe.

Yet it still takes around nine months simply for a business case to be approved by ministers and the Treasury – let alone implemented.

It means that the around £46bn annual budget does not go as far as it should, leaving the armed forces less capable.

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Is the British Army up to scratch?

At the same time, since the end of the Cold War, successive governments have chosen to cut the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force and divert money into other priorities, such as health, welfare and paying down the national debt.

This has often led to already chaotic equipment programmes being delayed to save cash in the short term – only for the cost of the project to increase over the longer run, or for the whole thing to be cancelled.

It has also meant that the size and strength of the armed forces have shrunk.

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Yet the UK, as a nuclear-armed power, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G7 and a leading state in NATO, has attempted to avoid reducing its global ambitions to project power and influence.

This worked in the initial years after 1991 as Britain’s military was shrinking from a position of significant mass and firepower.

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‘Defence has been hollowed out for years’

But for the past decade, the spectre of what defence experts call the “hollow force” – a military that lacks the manpower, weapons, training and stockpiles to be effective – has loomed large and is now a reality.

It will be a surprise to no one inside defence that a senior US general has told Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, that the British Army is no longer regarded as a tier one force and is barely tier two, alongside the likes of Germany, Italy and Belgium.

What Prime Minister Rishi Sunak needs to decide is whether he is comfortable with that, in which case he must reduce his ambitions for the UK’s role in the world, including in Ukraine.

Or whether he wants to retain his country’s position of relative strength, able to defend itself and its allies. In which case, he will need to spend more on defence immediately before attempting over time to secure better value for money from the expanded budget.

Foetus found in box outside hospital – police concerned for mother’s welfare | UK News

Police are appealing for information after a foetus was found outside a north London hospital.

The foetus, believed to be around 16 weeks’ gestation, was found in a box around 9am today.

The discovery was made outside Barnet Hospital and officers are currently treating the matter as unexplained.

Police are urging the mother to come forward as there are concerns for her welfare.

Detective Inspector Matt Coad said: “At this moment, our priority is to ensure that the mother is ok and that she receives the appropriate medical attention.

“This is likely to be a traumatic time for her, and I would ask that she makes contact either with us, her local GP or a hospital.

“We believe that the box was left by a man, aged in [his] 30s, who was wearing dark clothing.

“I would also encourage him to come forward so that we can help.”

Ryan Reynolds’s Wrexham could draw Premier League giants like Manchester United in FA Cup | UK News

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have already brought a touch of Hollywood to Wrexham – now the club could be at the heart of a true FA Cup blockbuster.

The Welsh football side could face Manchester United or Manchester City – two of England’s biggest clubs – in Monday night’s FA Cup fifth-round draw.

It comes after the National League outfit came just minutes from pulling off a famous David-and-Goliath-style giant-killing against Sheffield United – a team three leagues above them in England’s football pyramid – on Sunday night.

A late equaliser meant Wrexham were forced to settle for a 3-3 draw – and a tough away replay – against their Championship opponents.

Club co-owner Reynolds, star of Marvel hit Deadpool, watched on from the stands as the emotional rollercoaster of a match played out below, later describing it as “one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen”.

Tweeting after the match, he said: “When Rob and I got into this it all felt so impossible. But impossible is Wrexham’s favourite colour.

“That was one of the most exciting things I’ve EVER seen. Thank you each and every Wrexham supporter who came out and aimed your heart at that pitch tonight.”

Speaking to the media before the match, Reynolds also reiterated his desire to push the club into the Premier League.

While Wrexham fans will no doubt share the actor’s lofty ambitions, the club still has a long way to go, sitting four leagues below English football’s promised land.

But they could get a taste of Premier League life if they can win their FA Cup replay away at Sheffield United on 7 February – and draw one of the remaining big teams in the competition.

Wrexham, the only remaining National League side, could also face Premier League sides Tottenham, West Ham, Leicester City or Brighton.

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However, it will be a tie with 12-time winners Manchester United or current Premier League champions Manchester City that will really fit the Hollywood script for Wrexham.

It could prove a lucrative tie for the National League side, too. A draw against a Premier League side could earn Wrexham more than £200,000 in TV broadcasting income.

In 2017, Sutton United, then in the National League, earned £710,000 from an FA Cup run where they were eventually knocked out by Arsenal in the fifth round.

Wrexham still have to overcome Sheffield United in next month’s replay – but will be hopeful though of pulling off an upset.

Wrexham's Paul Mullin celebrates scoring their side's third goal of the game during the Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. Picture date: Sunday January 29, 2023.
Wrexham’s Paul Mullin has scored in the first four rounds of the FA Cup proper this season

On Sunday, the club became the first non-League team since the creation of the Football League in 1888 to score three goals in the first, second, third and fourth rounds of the competition.

They beat Oldham 3-0 in the first round, followed by a 4-1 win against Farnborough in the second, before beating Coventry City 4-3 in a dramatic third-round tie.

And they will be buoyed by the sensational form of striker Paul Mullin, whose goal on Sunday meant he became the first player since 1984-85 from a non-League club to net consecutive goals in the first, second, third and fourth rounds of the FA Cup.

With a superhero-playing owner, a lethal striker and the prospect of a near-undefeatable foe, Wrexham could be about to pen a story worthy of a true Hollywood epic.

Major search for missing 45-year-old who vanished while walking her dog in Lancashire | UK News

A major search is under way to find a 45-year-old woman from Inskip, Lancashire, who vanished while walking her dog.

Nicola Bulley was last seen two days ago – on Friday 27 January – at around 9.15am on a footpath by the River Wyre off Garstang Road in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre.

Emergency crews including Lancashire Police, Lancashire Fire and Rescue, Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue team and the North West Underwater Search Team have joined the search.

Police dive teams, fire service drones, search dogs, helicopters and mountain rescue volunteers have been sent to the area.

Lancashire Police said Ms Bulley’s dog – a brown Spaniel – has been found close to where she was last seen and hope this might help jog the memory of anyone who saw her at around the same time and who may have information relating to her whereabouts.

She is described as white, 5ft 3ins tall, with light brown shoulder-length hair and she speaks with an Essex accent.

Ms Bulley was last seen wearing a long black gilet jacket with a hood, black jeans and olive green ankle wellies. Her hair was tied into a ponytail.

As well as Inskip and St Michael’s on Wyre, she also has links to Thornton Cleveleys.

Police say they are “extremely concerned” about her and have urged anyone with information about where she may be to get in touch.

The force said it is keeping an open mind about where she may be, and detectives investigating the circumstances around her disappearance are following a number of lines of enquiry.

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Chief Inspector Chris Barton said: “Nicola has now been missing for two days and we are extremely concerned about her.

“Firstly, if anybody saw her on Friday morning and has not yet been spoken to by police, or if anybody has any other information about where she might be, please get in touch with us straight away.

“Enquiries are very much ongoing and we have a team of detectives working tirelessly to establish the circumstances around her disappearance, in addition to a large team of police officers, partner agency and volunteer groups on the ground searching the area around where she was last seen.”

He added officers are aware a large number of people from the local community have organised a search of the area, and urged them to stay safe.

The River Wyre and its banks are extremely dangerous and searching these areas presents a genuine risk to the public, the force said.

Virtual hospital wards no substitute for real people, says patient waiting for hip operation | UK News

Carlo Zamboni used to climb in the Scottish Highlands in the school holidays.

Today, crossing his small flat is a mission for the retired teacher. Nudging 70, he’s on the NHS waiting list for a hip operation and a diagnosis to confirm the Parkinson’s disease his hand tremors suggest.

We were speaking to him as NHS England said it was planning to free up space by treating up to 50,000 elderly and vulnerable patients in “virtual wards” at home.

Three months ago a fall put Carlo in hospital.

“I fell over in a graveyard, lost my balance for some reason,” he said. “I was suspected of possibly developing Parkinson’s disease nine months previously, so I was taken to hospital.”

After a week he was discharged into the reality of Britain’s overwhelmed health and care system; a care trap for those, like Carlo, not sick enough to be in hospital, but not quite poor enough to qualify for social care.

“I thought I wasn’t satisfactorily cured or knew what was wrong with me, because they couldn’t diagnose or do the test for Parkinson’s,” he said.

“You could feel the pressure to get people out of the hospital. I totally understand the crisis but it’s a crisis we could have planned for. And we didn’t plan for it.”

Carlo Zamboni
Carlo says the ‘promise’ of the NHS should be upheld

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Carlo is not alone. His brother pops in to help, he’s had support from charities and the local church food bank, and a district nurse visits once a week to check a catheter, the legacy of a collapsed bowel.

He does not qualify for social care support, however. Modest savings and a potential inheritance put him above the earnings threshold.

The local council has installed wall rails and a rope bannister at the top of the stairs to his flat, but the 400 yard walk to the chemist still takes an hour and leaves him exhausted.

How to deal with the needs of people like Carlo, living with multiple morbidities, is one of the fundamental challenges facing the health service in a crisis like no other.

One reason emergency services are overwhelmed is because a fifth of beds are occupied by people who could be at home if only they could be discharged safely. This winter has seen huge pressure to speed up that process.

With social care denuded by low pay and a staffing shortage, NHS England wants to scale up the use of technology, prescribing wearable devices to vulnerable people so they can be monitored remotely from home rather than a precious hospital bed.

Carlo says the “hospital at home” plan might help. “It’s a possibility worth exploring and experimenting with, but there’s no replacement for real people,” he told us.

What he really wants, though, is the government to honour the NHS commitment.

“I expect the NHS to remain true to its principles and I expect people to have faith in the NHS.

“Our generation were promised cradle-to-grave care. And I hope that promise is upheld – for more generations.”

Six British children discovered in abandoned wine cellar in Austria | World News

Six British children have been taken into care in Austria after they were found to have been living in an abandoned wine cellar with their parents.

Police have said their father, a 54-year-old Austrian, is a member of the far-right Reichsburger movement and is a known Holocaust denier.

Social services were called to the property in Obritz, near the Czech border, when locals became concerned for the children’s welfare.

But when they tried to get in, the father attacked them with pepper spray.

Police were called and the man was arrested. He has since been released on bail as an investigation is carried out.

The children – aged between seven months and five years – were taken with their mother to be checked out in hospital.

Police spokesman Stefan Loidl said they were “in a good health condition and were not neglected”.

The children are currently being looked after by social services.

Local authorities said they believed the family were living in the illegal hideout for several months but there had been complaints about them over the last few weeks.

Erich Greil, Orbritz deputy mayor, said: “The surveillance cameras in front of the cellar were particularly annoying and residents sometimes heard children’s voices in the basement and as soon as they approached it was quiet.”

Police said there was no suggestion of any sexual abuse of the children found in the cellar.

Mr Loidl added that a “long gun, two crossbows and several compressed air weapons”, were found in the cellar.

Esther Rantzen, 82, reveals she has lung cancer – but remains ‘optimistic’ | UK News

Dame Esther Rantzen says she has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

The 82-year-old broadcaster, long-time activist and founder of charities Childline and The Silver Line, confirmed the news on Sunday.

Dame Esther added that her cancer had “spread”, but that she was due to undergo tests to assess possible treatments and that she remained “optimistic”.

“In the last few weeks I have discovered that I am suffering from lung cancer which has now spread,” she said in a statement.

“At the age of 82, this diagnosis has prompted me to look back over the years, and I want to express my profound thanks to everyone who has made my life so joyful, filled with fun, and with inspiration.

“First and foremost my family. My three children Miriam, Rebecca and Joshua have been the most wonderful support, company, and source of love and laughter and I am deeply grateful to them.

“My friends have been amazing and have created memories which sustain me and give me strength.

“My colleagues with whom I have worked, and continue to work with in broadcasting, journalism, the voluntary sector, and in many other organisations, have been a constant pleasure, and have amazed me with their tolerance of my wild ideas and awful jokes.

Esther Rantzen (right) with Queen Consort Camilla (then the Duchess of Cornwall) during a visit to the Blackpool offices of the Silver Line, a charity which offers a free, national and confidential helpline for lonely older people which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

“I have been continuously inspired by the courageous children, older people and viewers who have trusted me with their life stories. I have always tried to live up to that trust.

“As I am sure you will understand, while I am awaiting the results of the tests, I am unable to answer questions.

“Thanks to the extraordinary skills of the medical profession there are wonderful new treatments, so I am remaining optimistic.”

A trailblazer for female broadcasters, Dame Esther became a household name during her career at the BBC.

Esther Rantzen after she was made a Dame by the Princess Royal at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday June 25, 2015. See PA story ROYAL Investiture. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

From 1973 to 1994, she presented the satirical consumer affairs programme That’s Life! which featured investigations and offered advice.

She also founded the children’s charity Childline, which offers support for children and young people in the UK, in 1986, before setting up a second charity, The Silver Line, for elderly people struggling with loneliness, in 2013.

She was made a DBE in 2015 for services to children and older people.

In 2021, Dame Esther received the lifetime achievement award at the Women of the Year Awards for her philanthropy.