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Welfare Reform on the Web (August 2008): Education - UK - schools

£35bn revamp will produce generation of mediocre schools

R. Booth

The Guardian, July 21st 2008, p. 1

An audit carried out by the government's architecture watchdog has revealed that 80% of the new building designs for schools are 'mediocre', with issues ranging from the creation of bullying hotspots in isolated areas to noisy open-plan areas and classrooms which are too hot or dark. Every one of the country's 3,500 schools is set to be rebuilt or improved under the Building Schools for the Future programme, at a cost of £35bn.

Behaviour review: paper 3

A. Steer


In the second of his three reports on discipline in schools, Sir Alan Steer calls for teachers to be given powers to search pupils for drugs and alcohol. Staff would also be able to check for cigarettes and stolen property, with parents being informed by text messages or email. He also calls for better training for teachers in dealing with unruly behaviour. Despite recent public concern about unruly conduct among children, Sir Alan remains optimistic about the situation and believes that standard of behaviour in most schools is good.

Cambridge exam chief warns interference by ministers is undermining qualifications

P. Curtis

The Guardian, July 22nd 2008, p. 4

The head of Cambridge University's exam board, Greg Watson, has claimed that governmental interference in the school examination system has led to a loss of public confidence in GCSE and A-level standards. The Conservative party is set to carry out an assessment of exams in Britain.

(See also The Daily Telegraph, July 23rd 2008, p. 6)

The changing landscape of languages: an evaluation of language learning 2004/2007


London: 2008

This report, based on inspections of foreign language lessons in secondary schools across England, finds that conversation skills are well taught in less than a third. Many students in the weakest classes were found to lack confidence and fluency, especially outside of the controlled conditions of an exercise set in class. Consequently, too few students could speak creatively in unrehearsed situations and relied on memorising sentences from textbooks. This poor teaching is deterring pupils from continuing to study languages past the age of 14.


Children left in limbo by school test chaos

J. Kirkup and R. Winnett

Daily Telegraph, July 18th 2008, p. 1+4

A series of delays and marking errors has led to calls for all of the 2008 SATS papers to be reassessed, and has piled pressure on the government to sack ETS, the American firm given a five-year contract to mark the tests. SATS, national tests in English, maths and science, help children decide what GCSEs to take. They are also used to rank schools' performances.

'Coasting' schools will be forced to improve

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, July 4th 2008, p. 6

The Schools Secretary has unveiled plans to force councils to intervene in all “coasting” schools which fail to make year-on-year improvements in examination results. Such schools are defined as those underperforming compared to others with similar pupils, those seeing a recent slump in standards and those heavily criticised by Ofsted. A recent report has highlighted cases where council officials had failed to intervene in failing schools.

A critical approach to researching social justice and school leadership in England

A. Taysum & H. Gunter

Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, vol. 3, 2008, p. 183-199

This article investigates how school leaders in England understand and describe social justice in terms of their own lived lives. By this the authors mean how they understand equity issues by recognizing the ways in which they themselves have experienced inclusion or exclusion in their lives. The authors then go on to examine how this way of knowing shapes the way school leaders want to implement social justice in their schools. The research is based on semi-structured interviews with 14 school leaders and aims to reveal the barriers school leaders say stand in the way of social justice in schools in England.

Early-years writing lessons 'do no good'

P. Curtis

The Guardian, July 14th 2008, p. 11

Research released under the freedom of Information Act indicates that teaching children as young as three to write short sentences and use punctuation has little effect on their literacy skills in later life.

Exams fiasco may result in company being sacked and repaying millions

N. Woolcock

The Times, July 15th 2008, p.5-6

ETS, the American contractor responsible for marking the Key Stage 2 and 3 SATs exams taken by British students has been accused of a 'catalogue of errors' which has culminated on the tests not being marked on time. Dr Boston, the Head of the Qualifications Curriculum Authority has claimed that ETS failed to respond to 10,000 emails and that staff from the QCA were forced to set up call-centres to respond to the high number of complaints about the ETS. Key Stage 2 students will receive their results one week late.

(See also The Guardian, July 15th 2008, p. 10; The Guardian, July 17th 2008, p. 6; The Independent, July 18th 2008, p. 16 & 17; The Daily Telegraph July 23rd 2008, p. 1)

The experiences of young people with obesity in secondary school: some implications for the healthy school agenda

P. Curtis

Health and Social Care in the Community, vol. 16, 2008, p.410-418

In the UK, the National Healthy School Programme (HSP) was developed as part of a wider government commitment to promoting social inclusion. One of the key issues to be tackled by the programme is childhood obesity, which is generally considered to be a public health problem that must be solved. However, the assumption that obesity leads to health problems and social exclusion is not without challenge. Critics say that anti-obesity campaigns may lead to fat people being discredited and suffering discrimination. This paper explores the experiences of obese young people within the secondary school environment in relation to the areas of concern prioritised by the HSP. Findings suggest that issues prioritised by the HSP, particularly physical exercise and healthy eating, present challenges to obese young people, and can reinforce their vulnerability to bullying in school and contribute to their social exclusion.

Healthy school dinners still a turn-off for pupils

S. Cassidy

The Independent, July 10th 2008, p. 4

Schoolchildren are still not taking up the offer of healthy school meals despite the efforts of the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and government ministers, meaning that the Government is unlikely to meet its target of increasing uptake to 52.3 per cent by September 2009. While the number of primary school children eating school dinners has risen for the first time - perhaps a sign that the youngest children may finally be changing their habits – in secondary schools the uptake was down 0.5 percentage points this year to just 37 per cent.

Identifying and selecting able students for the NAGTY summer school: emerging issues and future considerations

D. Hartas, G. Lindsay & D. Muijs

High Ability Studies, vol. 19, 2008, p. 5-18

In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition that the educational needs of able students were not being adequately met in British schools, resulting in a series of governmental educational initiatives aimed at improving the education of able students. The establishment of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) at the University of Warwick was a development aimed at enhancing able students' educational provision. An evaluation of the first summer school, established under the auspices of NAGTY, took place to address issues of identifying and selecting able students, exploring the relative value of different sources of evidence for determining eligibility, and looking at the overall effectiveness of the selection process. Qualitative methods (i.e. interviews, observations, document analysis) were employed to collect data on the process of identifying and selecting able students. The findings indicated variability in the selection process for the first NAGTY summer school and the authors recommend that areas that are potentially problematic should be recognised and issues of equality and opportunity should be addressed.

Legislative scrutiny: Education and Skills Bill

Joint Committee on Human Rights

London: TSO, 2008 (House of Commons papers, Session 2007/08; HC553)

This Bill's main provision requires many young people aged 16-18 to participate in education or training or potentially face criminal sanctions. In the Committee's view this reliance on coercion is potentially disproportionate interference with the right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Making school work: a practical approach to secondary school leadership

A. Buck

London: Greenwich Exchange, 2007

Written by a practising headteacher, the book is full of practical examples which underpin successful school leadership. It provides hundreds of examples of tried and tested ideas which have been proven to work in a range of schools. It sets out to give a pragmatic account of systems and approaches that deliver. By presenting a series of in-depth and practical solutions to the key challenges facing modern school leaders the book gives all those who lead or aspire to lead a school a chance to review their own experiences in the context of someone else's.

Official: some A-level subjects are harder than others

R. Garner

The Independent, July 1st 2008, p. 4

An analysis of 250,000 A-level results from 2006 by researchers at Durham University has revealed that a pupil would be likely to obtain a pass two grades higher in “soft” subjects – such as general studies, business studies or even English – than maths and science. The researchers warn that scores of students may miss out on university places because they have chosen a harder subject, given that Ucas gives the same point score for every subject.

(See also The Guardian, July 1st 2008, p. 14)

Reference, or advisory, groups involving disabled people: reflections from three contrasting research projects

A. Lewis and others

British Journal of Special Education, vol. 35, 2008, p. 79-84

Increasingly in recent years, the involvement of disabled people as co-researchers has been regarded as 'good practice'. This has been informed by growing participatory and emancipatory research paradigms as well as user-focused policy imperatives. The benefits of these shifts apply to the research itself, to non-disabled researchers, to people with disabilities involved as researchers or collaborators and, if externally funded, to the funder whose ways of operating are likely to be challenged profoundly. In this paper, the authors discuss the work of three independent research teams carrying out concurrent projects and share their experiences of trying to take seriously the participation of disabled people in research. All three projects were informed, to a significant degree, by their respective reference groups of disabled people. The work of these groups in each of the three projects is outlined and then discussed in relation to five common themes: formal contracts with members of reference groups; considerations concerning drawing on an established reference group; planning for reference group involvement; style of reference group involvement; and building on good practice.

Rethinking inclusive education: the philosophers of difference in practice

J. Allan

Dordrecht: Springer, 2008

The inclusion of disabled children and those with difficult behaviour is increasingly being seen as an impossible challenge and, not surprisingly, concerns are being expressed by teachers' unions and researchers about teachers' capacities, and willingness, to manage these demands. With Warnock, the so-called 'architect' of inclusion now pronouncing this her 'big mistake' and calling for a return to special schooling, inclusion appears to be under threat as never before. This book takes key ideas of the philosophers of difference – Deleuze, Foucault and Derrida – and puts them to work on inclusion. These ideas allow the task of including children to be reframed and offer, not solutions, but different ways of working which involve altering adult-child relationships. The propositions also include making use of the arts to challenge exclusion and to establish more inclusive practices. It offers fresh insights and a steer towards possibilities for a more productive engagement with inclusion.

Rising number of primary pupils unable to speak in sentences

P. Curtis

The Guardian, July 8th 2008, p. 5

According to a government review the number of children who start at primary school unable to speak in full sentences is rising, with 7% of children now having a serious communication problem. In some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, up to 50% of children have speech problems.

SATs company barred from pupils' appeals

R. Garner

The Independent, July 29th 2008, p. 6

The American company being criticised for failing to deliver national curriculum test results on time has been stripped of its powers to consider appeals by pupils and schools. The National Assessment Agency (NAA), the tests watchdog, is to now hear all appeals instead of ETS Europe. Headteachers have warned that there will be record numbers of appeals against the test grades for 11- and 14-year-olds because of fears over the quality of the marking.

Students face being locked in during lunchtime

R. Neate

Daily Telegraph, July 7th 2008, p. 12

The Children's Minister has proposed that all secondary school pupils under 16 should be prevented from leaving the school premises at lunchtime so that they have to eat healthy canteen food. There is evidence that 80% of pupils reject school meals in favour of junk food bought off the premises. Critics have dismissed the Minister's plan as unworkable.

Students pushed to drop “tough” sciences

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, July 1st 2008, p. 6

Research shows that students are being encouraged to study easy A-Levels such as media studies rather than “tough” science subjects because they are awarded better grades. There are concerns that schools push students towards soft subjects to inflate their positions in national league tables.

Teacher shortage threat to physics lessons

M. Wardrop

Daily Telegraph, July 1st 2008, p. 6

From September 2008, any child who performs well in tests for 14-year-olds will be entitled to study physics as an individual subject. However, research has shown that this entitlement could be undermined by a shortage of specialist physics teachers. Half of physics teachers have only a GCSE or A-level in the subject despite being expected to prepare pupils for university and more specialist teachers are retiring than are being recruited.

Teachers are to be allowed to frisk students

N. Morris

The Independent, July 14th 2008, p. 4

Teachers are to be given the authority to search pupils for alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and stolen property. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary will give the go-ahead for a major extension of teachers' existing powers to search teenagers for weapons.

Teenagers marking SATS papers

J. Kirkup

Daily Telegraph, June 17th 2008, p. 1+2

Head teachers have reported serious problems with the marking of tests taken by 11- and 13-year-olds in England. Thousands of results have been delayed and some teachers have reported basic marking errors. It has also come to light that thousands of pupils have wrongly been awarded no marks after being incorrectly recorded as having been absent for their tests. Ofqual has announced that an inquiry will be held into the performance of Educational Testing Services, the US company that holds the contract for marking the papers.

Thirty-five years of school inspection: raising educational standards for children with additional needs?

C. Marshall

British Journal of Special Education, vol. 35, 2008, p. 69-77

In this article, the author examines the history of school inspections over a period of the 35 years from the early 1970s through to the present day and traces key changes in provision for pupils with special educational needs in England. He examines the purposes of inspection and explores the role that inspectors have played in monitoring the impact of profound changes in legislation and policy upon pupils with special educational needs. The author also raises questions about whether the inspection regime has fulfilled its purposes in respect of these pupils- especially in relation to the vexed question of raising standards – and provides a critique of inspection methodology and an overview of the changes that have been introduced in the inspection system.

Unfilled teaching posts have risen by 23% in a year

S. Cassidy

The Independent, July 3rd 2008, p. 5

Schools are in the grip of one of the most severe staffing crises for many years, with a 23 per cent rise in the number of unfilled teaching jobs. The shortfall is being blamed mainly on a shortage of maths and science specialists but there is also a 'demographic time-bomb' of older teachers leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced.

Up to 10 pupils compete for every place at most popular secondaries

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, July 7th 2008, p. 12

Grammar and faith schools dominate a list of the most sought-after secondaries in England despite government hostility. Bexley Grammar, South-East London, rejected nine pupils for every one it admitted in 2007/08. In all, England's six most popular secondary schools turned down more than 5,300 applications where the student had named them as first choice.

White middle-class parents, identities, educational choice and the urban comprehensive school: dilemmas, ambivalence and moral ambiguity

G. Crozier and others

British Journal of Sociology of Education vol. 29, 2008, p.261-272

At a time when the public sector and state education (in the United Kingdom) are under threat from encroaching marketisation and private finance initiatives, this research reveals that, despite having the financial opportunity to turn their backs on the state system, white middle-class parents are choosing to assert their commitment to the urban state-run comprehensive school. The authors' analysis examines the processes of 'thinking and acting otherwise', demonstrates the nature of the commitment the parents make to the local comprehensive school and explores their anxieties concerning the perceived risks. The authors conclude that these middle-class parents are caught in a web of moral ambiguity, dilemmas and ambivalence, trying to perform 'the good/ethical self' while ensuring the 'best' for their children.

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