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Northern Ireland - School buildings get Pounds 1.4bn boost.

The Northern Ireland Assembly government will spend more than Pounds 1.4 billion this year on building projects to improve the fabric of its schools and other infrastructure.

It is part of a wider strategy to increase government spending as a way of countering the deepening recession.

Nigel Dodds, the Northern Ireland finance minister, said: "This (Pounds 1.4 billion) represents a dramatic increase in expenditure, which has only been achievable by the devolved administration recognising the importance of investment in infrastructure."

In 2003, government spending was just Pounds 676 million.

The figures were released in response to the Construction Employers Federation's calls for further investment in schools to make up for what it called "the legacy of more than 30 years of gross under- investment".

John Armstrong, managing director of the federation, also called for the Assembly Executive to meet the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to ensure that Northern Ireland is included in UK plans for growth in spending on infrastructure projects in education and health. MR

Liverpool - Armed response to fired-up film students.

Armed police were put on standby earlier this month after two youths were seen brandishing a gun at a school in Liverpool.

Police arrived at North Liverpool Academy following a call from a local resident, only to discover that the weapon the pupils were carrying was a replica being used in a school film project.

An armed response unit had been put on standby and school staff and pupils were told to stay inside the building as police officers confronted the supposed gunmen.

Senior staff at the academy were forced to apologise for the "confusion" and confirmed the pistol was in fact a prop for a school project.

A Merseyside police spokesperson confirmed that officers had visited the school following a report of "youths carrying a firearm". He said: "On arrival, it became clear two youths were filming a scene as part of a school exercise.

"Officers spoke to the headteacher of the school, who apologised for the confusion and gave the weapon - thought to be an air pistol - to the officers to dispose of."

It is understood that the air pistol was not loaded. RV

Wales - School-trip quality mark scheme falls short.

Anna Brychan (pictured), director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, has called on tourist attractions and education centres in Wales to sign up for the Government's new school-trip quality mark to provide a broader choice of destinations for pupils.

Sixty-five centres across the UK have received the official mark, but Elan Valley Trust, a conservation centre in Powys, is the only one so far in Wales.

The official badge signifies approval of health and safety provision and educational standards. "If it takes away the bureaucratic effort and makes the process of taking children out of school easier, then we would welcome that," Ms Brychan said.

The Assembly government's tourism agency, Visit Wales, plans to encourage take-up of the scheme in Wales as attractions such as the Big Pit National Coal Museum and Snowdonia National Park become increasingly popular with schools all over Britain.

The quality-mark scheme is part of the Government's 2007 Learning Outside the Classroom manifesto, which also pledged Pounds 2.7 million to help pay for school trips. No such fund is planned in Wales. IK

Gloucestersire Booster classes follow snow closures.

Pupils in the South West who had a day off school during this month's snowfalls will have to attend booster classes to catch up on their work.

Teachers were criticised when 286 Gloucestershire schools were shut because of the bad weather on February 6.

But staff in say they will bring in extra supply teachers for one-on-one help and arrange after-school and holiday revision classes.

Individual schools have devised their own catch-up programmes.

Most of the booster classes will be run for pupils in Years 6, 11, 12 and 13.

Karen Charters, head of improvement at Gloucestershire County Council, said: "The decision to close schools is not taken lightly because of the impact on lessons, revision for important exams and extra-curricular activities. However, headteachers have a duty of care to pupils and their staff, and appreciate that closing a school has an impact on the community.

"Schools are using a range of measures to make up the time lost through closure, but these will vary from school to school to meet their individual circumstances."

Joan Nash, the cabinet member for schools, said: "I welcome the positive steps being taken by schools to ensure that pupils' education is not adversely affected by the severe and unprecedented weather conditions." KM.

Scotland - Winners won't take all in youth sport.

Positive Coaching Scotland, a cultural change programme based on the American Positive Coaching Alliance, is being piloted by five Scottish local authorities in a bid to get more children to play sport.

By the age of 13, 70-80 per cent of children in Scotland drop out of sports.

The aim of Positive Coaching Scotland is to change the focus of sport from winning to participation.

It aims to alter cultural attitudes so that rather than half the players being defined as losers, the winners are those whose effort is 100 per cent.

Last week, teachers from the Woodfarm High School cluster in East Renfrewshire attended a professional development session where speakers included Tommy Boyle, who has coached Scottish athletes such as Tom McKean and Yvonne Murray.

"We need to redefine what coaching is," says Mr Boyle, "and what winning is. The parameters of measuring sports needs to be adjusted.

"The big change happened when we began being bombarded by television sports. But youth sports has nothing to do with professional sports, and this only adds to the pressure." GM

Oldham - Heats are on as the O Factor hits town.

Oldham music service is using the enthusiasm for television talent contests to inspire schoolchildren with its own O Factor competition.

The town's answer to The X Factor (pictured) will require pupils to perform pop music in one of three categories: singers, singing groups or singer-songwriters. Contestants will be split into three age groups: Years 4-6, 7-9 and 10-13.

Schools are to hold their own heats, with the winners to appear in a grand final next month.

Oldham music service has acquired a reputation for its work in classical music, but has now begun to extend its range. WS

Lowestoft - Middle school closures approved.

Eight middle schools in Lowestoft will be closed after plans for a major overhaul of Suffolk's education system were approved by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator.

The adjudicator backed county council proposals to replace the current three-tier system - first, middle and upper schools - with a two-tier system of primaries and secondaries.

The eight middle schools, which teach pupils aged eight to 13, will shut at the end of August 2011.

Overall, 22 schools in the Lowestoft area will be affected by the plans, which include building a secondary school on the current Pakefield Middle School site.

A study commissioned by the council found that pupil performance under a two-tier system was better than in the three-tier approach.

The council wants to use the new system to reduce the number of surplus places in Lowestoft from 20 per cent to about 5 per cent.

It also wants to close school sixth forms and open a new central college.

Patricia O'Brien, the cabinet member for schools, said detailed work would now be put in place in time for September 2011.

The Lowestoft plans are the first of three phases in the council's plan to reorganise schools across Suffolk. DM

Cheshire - Parents battle to save village primary.

Parents have joined teachers and governors who are battling to save a village school earmarked for closure this summer by Cheshire County Council.

Church Lawton Primary has only 46 children on its roll despite capacity for 105. The budget for each pupil is Pounds 4,642, one-and-a-half times the local average.

At a meeting this week, council officials pointed out that there are seven alternative schools with a significant number of surplus places within a two-mile radius of Church Lawton.

Local parents insist they have an effective two-year plan to ensure the school's recovery. This includes marketing to attract more pupils and a scheme to use the school for community activities.

They are also looking at opportunities to form a federation with nearby village schools.

Mark Nichols, a school governor and father of three, told the Cheshire Sentinel: "We are obviously disappointed that the county council has not listened to what we put forward. We will now be seeking clarification to find out what was wrong with the recovery plan. All the parents are behind us."

Neville Price, a councillor, pointed out that almost a third of the Church Lawton pupils come from Staffordshire. "Cheshire county council should be putting in money to educate Cheshire children, not Staffordshire children," he said. AB

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