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Welfare Reform on the Web (September 2009): Education - UK - schools

Straight A's? A-level teachers' views of today's A-levels

A. de Waal

Civitas, 2009

Participants in a survey of teachers in England said that A-levels risked becoming defunct because universities no longer trusted them as a reliable gauge of student performance. Teachers also claimed that the year-on-year rise in the A-level pass rate and numbers of pupils awarded top grades were due to teenagers being allowed multiple resits to boost scores. The report recommends scrapping resits and establishing a single independent body to set syllabuses.

11-year-olds without basics of reading

J. Swaine

Daily Telegraph, Aug.5th 2009, p. 1 + 8

The proportion of 11-year-olds who reached the government's target of level four in SATS tests in English fell to 80% from 81% in 2008. The number reaching level four in reading, writing and maths also fell for the first time in 11 years. A government target for 78% to reach level four in both maths and English by 2011 looks likely to be missed.

35,000 start senior school 'unable to read'

J. Swaine

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 4th 2009, p. 10

Reports that SATS test results are expected to show that about 35,000 pupils, many with special needs, left primary school in 2009 with no useful literacy. Teachers remain concerned about marking inconsistencies, and there are on-going complaints that talented pupils were penalised because the formulaic marking did not allow for flair.

Allegations against school staff

Children, Schools and Families Committee

London: TSO, 2009 (House of Commons papers, session 2008/09; HC 695)

Many allegations of physical abuse and sexual misconduct made by parents and pupils against teachers are unfounded, and only a tiny percentage lead to a caution or conviction of the staff member. Those wrongly accused are likely to experience intense distress and may have their lives and careers ruined. This report concludes that:

  • There is too much pressure on headteachers to refer cases to local authorities instead of handling the allegations internally.
  • Headteachers are too hasty in suspending staff members when an allegation is made
  • Schools should not bar suspended staff from social contact with colleagues.
  • The arguments for and against a statutory right of anonymity for those accused should be revisited.
  • So-called independent investigations conducted to inform disciplinary proceedings are not always as objective as they should be.

'Ban A-level re-sits to save exams' credibility'

R. Garner

The Independent, Aug. 3rd 2009, p. 2

Pupils should be barred from re-sitting their A-levels to give the exam results more credibility, says the head of a government inquiry into testing. Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, also chairman of CIEA, the professional body which represents exam markers and assessors, has called for radical changes to the exam. Research from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the exams watchdog, shows the maximum number of re-sits by any one pupil to be six. It also shows that the percentage of A-grades awarded would have fallen from 25.3 per cent to 21.6 if re-sits had not been allowed.

Boys overtake girls in maths GCSE as coursework dropped

P. Curtis

The Guardian, Aug. 28th 2009, p. 1 & 2

The 20-year trend of girls beating boys in exams could soon be reversed after a move to drop coursework in maths GCSEs has allowed boys to overtake their female classmates' results in just one year. Coursework will be scrapped from nearly all GCSEs next year, but this year's results have shown that when it was dropped from maths boys surged ahead for the first time in more than a decade while girls got fewer of the top marks. The increase of nearly two percentage points in the proportion of top grades awarded to boys for maths has sparked a debate about whether girls and boys should be assessed differently, after teachers claimed that girls thrive on coursework tests while their male classmates do better cramming for exams.

(See also The Independent, Aug. 28th 2009, p. 1 & 3; The Times, Aug. 28th 2009, p. 2)

The class of 2009: scientific, religious - but monolingual

R. Garner

The Independent, Aug. 28th 2009, p. 10 & 11

This year's GCSE results have revealed that traditional science subjects are making a comeback with the take-up of biology, chemistry and physics all increasing. Ministers had encouraged a concentration on the separate sciences, which are considered to be more demanding than the general science GCSE. Take-up of religious education has also increased for the 11th year in a row - more than 75,000 entrants took the subject this year, putting it in the top five for growth in popularity. On the other hand, modern languages continued to decline with the numbers taking both French and German nearly half the take-up figure for 2000.

(See also The Guardian, Aug. 28th 2009, p. 12 & 13)

Don't trust data on school exam results, warns academic group

J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Aug. 18th 2009, p. 9

The Assessment Reform Group of lecturers, in their report Assessment in Schools: Fit for Purpose?, has warned that raw scores published to show how well schools and pupils have done in their A-levels can be misleading because they are a snapshot of a pupils' performance at a point in time and don't take into account previous attainment, background or errors made by examiners.

'Dumbed down' A-level under fire as pass rates soar

P. Curtis

The Guardian, Aug. 17th 2009, p.8

Alan Smithers, professor of education at University of Buckingham, alleges that the increase in the A-level pass rate from 78% in 1990 to 97% in 2008 - while the pass rate for the International Baccalaureate, a comparable qualification remained constant - reflects a decline in standards.

Feminism and 'the schooling scandal'

C. Skelton and B. Francis

London: Routledge, 2009

This book gives an overview of the development of feminist thinking in and on education in Britain from the 1970s to the present day. The focus throughout the book is on the years of compulsory schooling and it examines key concepts in gender and education which have been identified and developed by international researchers in educational feminism. Topics covered include: social class; ethnicity and sexuality in relation to experiences in school; theories and methodologies for understanding gender; pedagogy and practice in education; and the direction of educational policy and the 'problem of boys'.

New diplomas struggle with three Rs, inquiry finds

P. Curtis

The Guardian, Aug. 17th 2009, p.8

An Ofsted inquiry into the new diploma qualification has found half the areas visited are struggling to teach the 'functional skills' of English, maths and ICT.

(See also The Times, Aug. 17th, p. 16)

New teachers dropping out after six months

P. Curtis

The Guardian, August 14th 2009, p. 2

A study by the University of Buckingham has revealed that 40% of university trained teachers drop out of the state system within six months. It also raises concerns about the quality of new teachers after it found that many had not done well at school themselves. Only 31% of science teachers have two A-levels. The study is based on teachers who qualified from university last year and found that only 63% were working in state schools six months later, while 4% had moved to private schools. Another 4.5% were teaching outside the school system - for example as private tutors - and nearly one-third were lost to the teaching profession altogether.

Partnership working: why does it not come naturally?

R. Kaur

Journal of Integrated Care, vol.17, June 2009, p. 34-38

Since 1997, the New Labour government has promoted partnership working between a range of public services, with limited success. Available evidence suggests that interprofessional collaboration between teachers in mainstream schools and speech and language therapists can be difficult. This small scale exploratory study focused on the realities of interprofessional relations between speech and language therapists and teachers in an inner city school, including the perspectives and experiences of children and their parents. The research revealed that each group had its own perspectives, interpretations and priorities. There had been little dialogue between the groups, leading to a failure to develop a shared view of the way forward.

Policy and delivery: the National Curriculum Tests delivery failure in 2008

Children, Schools and Families Committee

London: TSO, 2009 (House of Commons papers, session 2008/09; HC205)

In 2008, the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency (QCA) and its contractor, ETS Europe, failed to deliver a significant minority of Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 national curriculum test results on time, resulting in considerable disruption for many schools and children. This report considers the role of the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) in the events leading up to the delivery failure. It is concluded that the DCSF involved itself too much in the detail of delivery, placing undue constraints on the executive decision-making abilities of its agent, the QCA. The Committee recommends that the leadership of government agencies should be more prepared to stand up to the government when it considers that directions from government to the agency are unreasonable.

Poorer class of teachers

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 14th 2009, p.1 +2

Research has shown that there are two different groups of applicants for teacher training places. In some subjects such as history there is competition for training places, high completion, and the successful are snapped up by schools. In other subject areas, such as mathematics and foreign languages, training places are hard to fill, relatively low entry qualifications are associated with high drop-out rates from courses, and there is a poor conversion rate of trainees to teachers.

Private pupils take more 'tough' A-levels

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 18th 2009, p.8

Cambridge Assessment surveyed almost 6,600 A-level students. Media studies, criticised by the Tories as a soft option, was one of the ten most popular subjects in comprehensive schools and colleges of further education, but was not among the most popular courses in grammar and private schools. Some 28% of privately educated teenagers took chemistry compared with 15% from comprehensives. Students of higher social class were more likely to choose biology, English literature, further maths, geography, history, language, music and physics. Pupils from poorer backgrounds took psychology, sociology, media studies, citizenship and film studies in greater numbers.

(See also Independent, Aug. 19th, p. 1+2)

Quarter of seven-year-old boys lack basic writing skills, government figures show

J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Aug. 26th 2009, p. 8

Government figures have revealed that a quarter of seven-year-old boys in England have failed to master basic writing skills, while over a fifth cannot read simple words. In maths, the proportion of pupils who reached level 2 - the minimum standard expected of this age group - has fallen by one percentage point from last year to 89%. This means that 11% of children cannot order numbers up to 100, or add or subtract in their heads. The figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), covering 533,000 seven-year-olds, show progress in maths, English and science has stalled in the last year.

(See also The Independent, Aug. 26th 2009, p. 11)

Record scramble for university courses

R. Garner

The Independent, August 20th 2009, p. 1 & 4

Many thousands of A-level candidates will miss out on a university place in 2009 as a result of record applications, up 10 per cent this year, combined with a squeeze on available places with only up to 13,000 extra places being provided. The situation is the most competitive ever as the number of places in clearing is also being reduced and the Government is being blamed. While ministers have announced that 10,000 of the extra places are available for maths and science students - areas where more graduates are needed - they have failed to supply any extra funding to cover teaching costs, forcing some universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, to refuse to offer extra places on the grounds that doing so would weaken the quality of education on offer.

Record 1 in 4 girls will get A grades in GCSE results

R. Garner

The Independent, August 24th 2009, p. 11

The 2009 GSCE results, due to be released later in the week, are expected to show girls as having achieved a 25 per cent A-grade pass rate for the first time ever. They are also set to show that the percentage getting grade A* to C passes - the benchmark by which schools are measured - has risen to around 66 per cent. This is up from 65.7 per cent in 2008 and represents more than a 50 per cent improvement in the last two decades. However, the rise in top grade passes may fall short of the Government's target of improving the A* to C grade pass rate by two percentage points every year. To a large extent, this has been held back by lower top grade passes rates in English and maths as a result of the two subjects being made compulsory for all pupils earlier this decade.

Schools reject test after marking fiasco

N. Woolcock

The Times, Aug. 4th 2009, p. 3

The Times has discovered that thousands of primary school national test papers have been returned by schools for remarking. This years tests were administered by Edexcel, following chaos last year when the tests were run by ETS Europe and 200,000 papers had to be returned for remarking. Union leaders say that hundreds of schools have complained about inconsistencies in the marking this year.

Schools 'swamped' by 1.3m words of Whitehall advice

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 13th 2009, p. 6

The Conservatives claim that schools are being overwhelmed by the amount of guidance they receive from the government covering all topics from health and safety and racial equality to target setting. They have found that schools were sent 3,982 pages of documents containing almost 1.3m words between April 2008 and April 2009.

Summer university helps to open doors

L. Higgs

Children and Young People Now, Aug. 13th-26th 2009, p. 8-9

Summer universities run by local authorities in London offer free courses to young people aged 13-19, enabling them to acquire new skills. Many of the courses are accredited, and valuable for young people who are not in employment, education or training, or who are not academic.

Two fifths of primary school pupils fail to make grade in science, maths and English

N.Woolcock

The Times, Aug. 5th 2009, p.13

Figures for 2009 indicate that results in English fell for the first time since the Key Stage tests were introduced 15 years ago. A quarter of boys and 15 per cent of girls failed to reach level 4 in English. Teaching unions have said that the Key Stage tests should be scrapped. A boycott is planned for next years Key Stage 2 tests.

(See also, The Guardian, Aug. 5th 2009, p.4; The Independent, Aug. 5th 2009, p. 6 & 7; Financial Times, Aug. 5th 2009, p.2)

When it comes to the crunch: how councils are responding to the recession

Audit Commission

London: the Commission, 2009

This assessment of council's response to the recession has found that 34% are experiencing increased demand for school places. Another 34% anticipate higher demand in the coming months. The problem appears to be due to a growing number of middle class parents who cannot afford private school fees, and to families who had planned to move being trapped in urban areas by a sluggish property market.

(See also Daily Telegraph, Aug.12th 2009, p.1+2)

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