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Import limits lifted to ease staff shortages

THE teacher-recruitment crisis and bullying panic show no sign of going away, although they failed to dominate the news this week. And there is no escaping the latest election skirmishes.

School standards minister Estelle Morris made attempts to ease the staffing problem by lifting restrictions on teachers trained overseas. In future, "imports" from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa can stay in a post for four years, not just four months. This will, no doubt, be unpopular with the governments of these countries, as they too face recruitment difficulties.

In the meantime, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has been branded as "irresponsible" for announcing a London-wide ballot on "no cover" industrial action over staff shortages. The Government said children's education would be damaged if union members refused to fill in for absent colleagues. But Nigel de Gruchy, the union's ebullient general secretary, retorted that the ballots were needed "to counter a climate of fear" that had descended on schools.

Education Secretary David Blunkett, meanwhile, is launching yet another drive to tackle bullying and truancy by funding an extra 400 mentors for inner-city schools. Ministers hope a small army of 3,000 volunteers will be in post by 2004. Mr Blunkett said: "This is one element of the Government's drive to lift standards in secondary schools and it will be a key focus of our second-term Labour governmet."

On the hustings front, William Hague trained his sights on higher education. The Tory leader's latest wheeze is to privatise student debt to raise pound;3.5 billion to give some universities a "golden goodbye" from state funding. This would create US-style endowment funds at universities, replacing public funding with the new income stream from investing the capital. (And that's the simplified version.) Baroness Blackstone, higher education minister, who obviously understands these things, dismissed the plan as "costly and unworkable". Ministers, Tony Blair included, were dismayed, however, at news that adult literacy courses were having little effect, as they are about to launch a major strategy to tackle the country's basic skills problems. Research commissioned by the Basic Skills Agency found nine out of 10 adults who have attended government-funded literacy courses still cannot read and write properly. Seven million adults are effectively illiterate. Malcolm Wicks, the minister for life-long learning, condemned the findings as "dismal" and "dire".

A little light relief came from a piece of research by a couple of academics from Strathclyde University's education department which showed that some pop music could aid pupils' academic performance. A 10-minute burst of Britney Spears in the morning "energises" pupils; but heavy metal and rap should be banned as they have no beneficial effects.

News, 6,7 and 12 FE Focus, 33

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