Latest Educational News

How can we make geography popular again?

by Guardian, March 31, 2006

This is now a matter of some urgency. Geography GCSE entries have fallen by a third in the past 10 years, and A-level take-up by a quarter. To the rescue, yesterday, rode the government's new £2m Action Plan for Geography, which intends to engage children with this most maligned of subjects "in an enjoyable way that they value".

"Geography has been in the doldrums," says Sue Lomas, president of the Geographical Association, "and the plan will help restore confidence. It is designed to help teachers do their jobs effectively, and also think 'around corners' and 'outside the box'." This, needless to say, means celebrities.

First up at last night's launch was Michael Palin. "He is the equivalent for geography of Simon Schama and David Starkey for history," said the schools minister Lord Adonis, rather unconvincingly. While Palin is a nice man, who has now been around the world in 80 ways, his geography credentials remain hazy. Perhaps he got them cheap in a market in Bhutan. After Palin, among other measures, the plan will hire further role models to travel the world presenting educational films.

While we should welcome any rebranding exercise that might bring us David Beckham explaining industrial zoning or 50 Cent talking oxbow lakes, this one does not go far enough. After years of abuse, and despite its happy association with field trips, geography desperately needs a change to its fusty name. Surely "camping GCSE" would gather a healthy subscription? Would A-level students not be more tempted by "planetology" or "fjord studies"?

Group work benefits pupils, study finds

by Guardian, March 31, 2006

Young pupils who work in groups learn how to compromise and resolve petty arguments as well as making rapid progress in maths, science and reading, a new study reveals.
The study from the Institute of Education at London University suggests that teachers should act as "guides on the side" of the groups, rather than directly teaching children in the traditional whole-of-class way.

The project, involving more than 4,000 pupils, aged between five and 14, found children who worked together in groups made rapid progress and behaved well.

Pupils became more focused on their work and the amount of thoughtful discussion between children more than doubled in many classes, the study found.

One of the projects' researchers, Ed Baines, said: "Group work serves the learning needs of pupils. What teachers should do is encourage pupils to get over their personal difficulties. Teachers shouldn't dominate a group but support it."

Dr Baines said there was "very little effective group work in schools" and most of it only occurred in PE or social activities outside the classroom.

However, the project's findings have come under fire from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, (NASUWT), which accused the researchers of not living in "the real world".

Division over NI education reform

by BBC, March 31, 2006

At the beginning of March 2006, the consultation period ended on a controversial new law.

A special team at the Department of Education has been set up to read and collate the responses to the Education (Northern Ireland) Order.

It is a safe bet that the majority who wrote in were attacking the plan to ban all sorts of academic selection.

The proposed law says: "The criteria... shall not include the academic ability or aptitude of the child (whether assessed by reference to his performance in any test or examination or by any other means whatsoever)."

There are two extreme camps on that issue.

One thinks a ban on academic selection is a great idea, the only pity being that they have to wait until 2008 for it to end.

The opposing camp believes the idea will be a disaster for grammar schools which would be forced to take in pupils of such a wide variety of abilities, meaning they would no longer be able to give the best encouragement to more high-flying students.

City academies among worst schools

by Guardian, March 31, 2006

More than half the government's flagship city academies are today named as among the worst schools in the country in new league tables, despite some year-on-year improvement in their pupils' performance in the core subjects in national tests.

Seven of the 13 semi-independent academies which have been open long enough to provide data for results of the compulsory tests taken by 14-year-olds in English, maths and science appear in the table of the worst 200 state schools in England.

Make your move early to secure assistance

by Telegraph, March 31, 2006

Like many parents, one of my and my husband's greatest concerns is to be able to furnish our children with the best education we can afford.

The problem is, we can't afford much. Over the past 20-odd years the cost of an independent-sector education has risen disproportionately.

School fees vary, but the average you can expect to pay for boarding is between £4,000 and £8,000 per term. Three terms in a year, and three children, and we would be looking at in excess of £50,000. Per annum.

However, despite our not having the wherewithal, we might still be able to secure the education we want for our children.

Why mixed is no blessing for female education

by Telegraph, March 31, 2006

The decision by some well-known boys' schools to admit girls reopens the debate surrounding single-sex education.

The desire to widen the talent pool by admitting girls is understandable. But parents tempted to sign up should be warned: schools with girls are quite different from schools for girls.

Technological advances are permitting access to brain activity during the learning process and show clear gender differences in adolescent learning, evidenced in the work by Dr Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at University College London's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Dr Jo-Ann Deak, an American educational psychologist, agrees. "Girls' brains are wired differently,'' she says. It follows that adolescents need to be taught differently.''

There are other undisputed differences. Girls mature earlier than boys, physically, mentally and emotionally, facts that pose a major challenge to teachers. How can they guarantee teaching and learning will be pitched appropriately in a co-ed classroom of 12-year-olds?

Crossing the great divide

by Telegraph, March 31, 2006

First Wellington College - founded in 1859 as a memorial to the Duke - announces plans to take girls in September. Then Shrewsbury, former school of Charles Darwin, tells us it, too, will take girls in the sixth-form.

The traditional "boys' public school'' is becoming a dying breed. Over the past 11 years, the number of all-boys' schools has tumbled from 230 to only 137, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC).

What are the advantages of co-education and why is it such a growing trend?

When I was head of the sixth-form girls at Cranleigh School, Surrey, I interviewed dozens of teenage girls and their parents about why they were so keen to make the switch to co-education.

As they had started at a girls' school aged 11 and already spent five years there, many were simply keen for a change.

Half of city academies find way to worst schools list

by ABC Money, March 31, 2006

More than half the government's flagship city academies are listed among the worst schools in the country in the new league tables. Seven of the 13 semi-independent academies, which are open long enough to provide data on results of the compulsory tests taken by 14-year-olds in English, mathematics and science, appear in the list of the worst 200 state schools in England.

Nine of the 11 academies reporting results were in the table last year, which shows results for the key stage three tests.

It has come to light that at the Manchester academy in Moss Side, students aged 14 had failed to reach even standards of 11-year-olds in primary schools. The academy scored average points of 26.8. In all English state schools, the average was 34.5.

School 'not a factor in housing price rises'

by Belfast Telegraph, March 31, 2006

Ulster estate agents today played down claims of a 'postcode lottery' situation developing in Northern Ireland in which parents are prepared to pay more for houses near popular schools, following the scrapping of the 11-plus.

The industry experts say the province's property price boom is currently being driven by a shortage of houses for sale rather than demand for addresses near grammar schools.

The University of Ulster's House Price Index revealed house prices in Northern Ireland rose to record-breaking highs at the end of 2005, and estate agents say prices are still on the up.

But they have denied there is a link between escalating house values and proximity to popular schools following the Burns Report.

Keith Mitchell, partner/director of Templeton Robinson, said: "The prices being achieved for property here are exceptional, but it would be slightly misleading to say this is the only reason. There is strong demand for houses near leading schools, but that has always been the case."

Possible retrial for schoolmaster as jury fails to reach two verdicts

by Streatham Guardian, March 31, 2006

A former schoolmaster, accused of molesting three pupils at one of the country's top public schools, is facing a retrial after a jury's deliberations ended in deadlock last Thursday.

Nicholas Cousins, 51, ex-head of PE at the famous boys' school, Dulwich College, allegedly carried out a series of torch-light gropings.

Cousins, who is married with four children, was earlier cleared of three charges relating to two of his alleged victims.

But jurors at Inner London Crown Court were unable to reach verdicts on two other alleged indecent assaults relating to two pupils.

Cousins, of Caradon House, Bassetsbury Lane, High Wycombe, denied five sex charges relating to boarders aged between 14 and 16 who cannot be named claiming they either invented their stories or misunderstood his actions.

Deputy head cleared of sexual abuse charges

by Bucks, March 31, 2006

Nicolas Cousins, a deputy head of High Wycombe's Royal Grammar School, has been cleared of sexual abuse charges.

Mr Cousins, 52, ex-head of PE at south London's Dulwich College, was accused of carrying out a series of torch-light gropings as boys in his charge lay in their beds at night.

He found out yesterday he will not face a retrial on two charges of molesting pupils at the prestigious private school in the mid 1990s.

Last week a jury cleared the married father-of-four, of Bassetsbury Lane, High Wycombe, of three charges of indecent assault, but failed to reach verdicts on two similar charges.

However, Judge Quentin Campbell allowed the two undecided charges to "remain on file."

Mr Cousins had denied all five charges of indecent assault relating to three teenage male pupils, which were said to have taken place in the 1990s.

Test results hold mixed messages

by BBC, March 29, 2006

The number of secondary schools in England where less than 50% of 14-year-olds reached the expected standard in national tests has fallen.
The government says all schools should manage this so-called "floor target" in English, maths and science by 2008.

Figures published on Wednesday show last year 13% of schools failed - six percentage points less than in 2004.

But nationally the measure of overall progress has got worse in each of the last two years.

Reading schemes are failing pupils

by Belfast Telegraph, March 29, 2006

Nearly a quarter of children in Northern Ireland are leaving primary school with under-developed reading skills - despite Government investment of almost £40m in literacy and numeracy programmes, it emerged today.

A hard-hitting report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office points out that none of the reading and maths targets originally set by the Department of Education in 1998 have been met. Controversially, some were even lowered and timescales extended for their achievement.

The Department plans to review its overall approach to literacy and numeracy this year as part of a wider review of school improvement.

Today's report, published by Comptroller and Auditor General John Dowdall, said that improving standards continues to be a major challenge for schools, despite the Department investing almost £40m on literacy and numeracy programmes since the mid-1990s.

Schoolchildren fail to meet literacy and numeracy targets

by UTV, March 29, 2006

Not one of the literacy and numeracy attainment targets set by the British government for Northern Ireland's children eight years ago has been met, it was revealed today.

£40m spend fails to raise literacy and numeracy standards

by 4ni, March 29, 2006

It has been revealed that significant numbers of Northern Ireland's children have not reached literacy and numeracy attainment targets set by the government.
A report to Parliament from John Dowdall, the Auditor General for Northern Ireland, stated that large numbers of school children, especially those in secondary level education, failed to reach adequate levels of attainment.
Since the mid 1990s, the Department of Education has invested almost £40 million on literacy and numeracy programmes, in addition to normal spending on the school curriculum.
However, according to today's report, improving these standards continues to be a major challenge for schools in Northern Ireland. The report also shows that boys have continued to lag significantly behind girls in performance, and in Belfast, two thirds of boys attending secondary schools fail to attain the basic level of literacy by the age of 14.
The report also said that the poor attainment situation was complicated by a decision to lower some targets and extend the timescale for their attainment.
It also found that literacy and numeracy proficiency levels compared very favourably at an international level and also with England.
But they had not reached levels proposed and showed up a huge difference between grammar and secondary school pupils.
After looking at the Key Stage 1 attainment by primary school pupils aged 8, the report said: "The Strategy's target of all children, excluding those with severe Special Educational Needs, meeting the standard level in literacy and numeracy by 2002 remains unfilled."

Gifted and talented

by Guardian, March 28, 2006

A Birmingham head once greeted me with: "I hear you do prize givings!" I'd been at a neighbouring school and word must have got around. Not surprising, really. Finding someone to do prize day must be one of those things heads dread - or delegate. I don't do as many these days, but recently, and with great pride, I did one at Sidney Stringer school in Coventry, where I used to teach.
Thank goodness these events have been restored to most school calendars. For those of us who have done a fair few, every one leaves a memory of the power of education. And at a time when education rightly faces up to its weaknesses, it's the one day when smug satisfaction about its successes is not only allowed, but is compulsory.

Parents are at their proudest. Some make that whooping sound as their offspring cross the stage; others rush down the central gangway with cameras to capture the great moment. Some are better parents than photographers and there's been many a time I've had to re-run the handover of the prize because the flash hadn't gone off.

What's wrong with cheats

by Guardian, March 28, 2006

Last week a survey of 1,022 undergraduates at 119 institutions indicated that cheating has become widespread in British universities. In a poll carried out by the Times Higher Education Supplement, one in six undergraduates admitted copying from friends' work. Sadly, most academics know only too well that plagiarism has become a widespread practice. Discussions with social-science colleagues - including chief examiners - in different universities suggest that 20%-25% of assessment work contains either wholesale or partial unacknowledged reproduction of someone else's work.
The really interesting story is not the disturbing extent of cheating but the increasing normalisation of it; it is treated as a learning problem. In universities one often hears the argument that some students simply lack the skills to understand what is meant by cheating. Consequently many institutions are devoting greater resources towards providing students with the "skills" necessary to avoid the problem. However, in reality undergraduates have a reasonably good grasp of what it means to cheat. The problem is that they are encouraged to regard it in a morally neutral way. That is why students caught cheating are far more likely to feel a sense of irritation at being caught out than to feel a sense of shame, humiliation or remorse.

Last week, a senior figure from Oxford University blamed schools for creating a culture of work "cobbled together from the internet", and the idea that cheating is being normalised is supported by figures published yesterday by the Qualifications and Assessment Authority: from 2004 to 2005 the number of candidates penalised for "malpractice" in A-level and GCSE exams and coursework rose by 27% to more than 4,500. Tragically this culture of cheating afflicts children from a very early age. Children as young as seven or eight arrive at school showing off polished projects that have benefited from more than a little help from parents.

School heads call for cutbacks protest

by Belfast Telegraph, March 28, 2006

A Group of primary school principals have called on teaching unions and politicians to refuse to co-operate with the Department of Education in protest at cutbacks in education.

Up to 20 school principals from the South Eastern Education and Library Board area were due to meet today to discuss what action they will take to fight planned cuts by the board.

UUP education spokesman David McNarry has said that more than 100 teachers may be made redundant and up to 16 schools could merge or close after the SEELB, despite opposition from politicians on the board, finally agreed last week to set its budget and make cuts of over £4m as a result.

The decision leaves the Belfast Education Board members ? who have so far refused to set their budget ? isolated.

The North Eastern Education Board was due to meet this morning to discuss its budget for the 2006/07 year.

'What message is this sending?'

by Guardian, March 28, 2006

At first glance, the design resembles a coloured bar code or a Damien Hirst artwork. The repeating, vertical sequence of red, white, blue, green, white and orange in the classroom painting is a blending of the Union flag and the Irish tricolour. "I picked this because it represents both faiths - Protestants and Catholics," an 11-year-old at Oakwood integrated primary school explains in a comment underneath.
Through the tortuous and bloody course of the Troubles, Northern Ireland's integrated education movement has learned to accommodate political antagonisms and accept religious differences. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the foundation of its first school enabling Catholics and Protestants to sit side by side in the same class.

But there is now bitter resentment at what is felt to be an outright betrayal by the government. Four integrated schools - three of them hoping to open in September - applied for public funding last year. This month all were refused grants by the Northern Ireland Office, despite an explicit promise in the Good Friday agreement that it would "encourage and facilitate" the development of integrated schools.

"What message is this sending for the future?" asks Michael Wardlow, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (Nicie), at his headquarters in Belfast. "The government [has also] announced £300m in building grants to segregated schools. Where is the strategy in all of this?"

Too many exams 'are distorting what pupils learn'

by Telegraph, March 27, 2006

Pupils are suffering from exam overload, which is distorting what they learn in class, says Ken Boston, the head of the body that oversees the system.

The amount of assessment in England and Wales is far greater than in other countries and "not necessary for the purpose", he will say in his annual report on Wednesday.

"Assessment for learning is critical but stacks of tests can distort the balance of the curriculum and put too much emphasis on what is examined," he will say.

Mr Boston, who is responsible for examinations and national curriculum tests, has complained of overload in the past but this year he will promise to reduce it.

When he became the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in 2002 he expressed his surprise at the "exam frenzy" and said that children were the victims of too many tests and too little learning.

In his annual report in 2003 he again said that the number of exams and tests was placing huge burdens on pupils and later that year suggested that schools could allow teenagers to skip GCSEs and go straight on to AS-levels.

This week he will publish proposals to reduce by a third the time A-level students spend in the exam hall. From 2009, pupils will take four papers for most A-level subjects instead of the present six to make way for the new extended piece of coursework that will form part of the new diplomas.

The time limit from 2009 will be seven hours of written papers, compared with the current maximum of 10.5 hours.

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