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Gamekeeper turns poacher

AS the Government settles back into office and the new girl takes over in Sanctuary Buildings, it seems like business as usual. For one thing, the row over exams rumbles on with a surprising confession from Nick Tate.

The former chief of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority was the government adviser behind the introduction of the AS-level. Now he is head of the elite boys' public school, Winchester College, Dr Tate reckons it's all gone wrong. He is "very concerned" about the impact of his new exam on his pupils. "We have pupils taking some GCSEs a year early, so that means they get four consecutive years of exams."

As gamekeeper turned poacher, he now welcomes a review of the exam system to be carried out by Estelle Morris, the new Education and Skills Secretary.

If you want your child to do well at school, have two of them. A study by an Essex University academic has found that, contrary to popular belief, people who have a younger brother or sister get better results than only children, and better results than their younger siblings. Findings based on a survey of 11,000 men and women born in the same week in 1958 also showed that children of married parents achieved better exam results than those from single-parent families.

Given the dramatic changes in the education system and lifestyles since then, should we take the resuts that seriously? But Parentline thinks the results ring true. Parents may be more relaxed with younger children and less intent on worrying about education, said Dorit Braun, its chief executive.

Parents can't relax much as more changes are in store. The Church of England has the Government's blessing to create 100 "new" schools by taking over poor or failing schools, or establishing new ones with private-sector partnerships.

The National Secular Society is miffed. It points out that about 45 per cent of the population has no religious allegiance, and that the expansion of church schools works against integration.

In any case, can the church find enough committed Christians to run the schools and teach the classes? More to the point, can any school get the right kind of teacher? Wanderlust among young teachers is adding to the teacher shortage. Headteachers are reporting a growing number of staff leaving to backpack round the world to take a break from classroom stress, and perhaps earn more abroad.

Ms Morris, in one of her many interviews on taking office, acknowledged that a lifetime career in teaching would increasingly become a thing of the past. She has, after all, set a fine example by leaving teaching after 18 years to pursue a highly successful political career. But not many can do that.

Diane Spencer

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