Northern Ireland fears for Catholic Education

The future of Catholic education in Northern Ireland is threatened by proposed reforms, the province's education committee has heard.

Cardinal Sean Brady, in the first address from the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland to a NI Executive committee, last week expressed reservations about the education bill. It provides for a single body responsible for employing teachers - an education and skills authority - to replace the five education and library boards and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, which employs about 8,500 teachers.

"This is a fundamental impediment to the ability of ownerstrustees to exercise their right and duty to promote and safeguard the ethos and defining character of a school," said Cardinal Brady, who is the chair of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education.

"To exercise our duties as trustees adequately, we require that the board of governors of each school shall be the legal employer of all staff in the school. As it stands, the proposal in the draft bill appears to run contrary to this principle, which we support, of giving maximised autonomy to schools."

Jim Clarke, the council's deputy chief executive, also addressed the committee and said clarification was needed about the proposed authority as teachers' employer. mr

Liverpool Opening Doors on the World for Girls

Merchant Taylor's Senior Girls School in Liverpool is hosting a conference for local sixth form girls on alternative career paths.

The Opening Doors conference, to be held next Friday, will focus on the success of women in finance, business and commerce.

Jenefer Greenwood, a Crown Estate Commissioner, will be one of 16 women leading sessions and workshops to promote a range of career opportunities.

Louise Robinson, the school's headteacher, is looking forward to hosting the event. "We wanted to show girls that there was something other than medicine and law for them to consider.

"Of the 78 girls who left the sixth form last year, 30 went into these professions. We want them to think about the wider world and the achievements of women in other professions," she said.

The conference has been organised in association with the Girls' Schools Association. Similar events will be run in London and Newcastle this term. dg

Staffordshire Strike Ballot Called Over Academy

Teachers at Woodhouse Business and Enterprise College, in Tamworth, Staffordshire, are to hold a strike ballot over plans to turn the school into an academy.

Members of the NASUWT have expressed serious concerns. Chris Keates, general secretary of the union, says Landau Charitable Foundation and Rocco Forte Hotels, the proposed sponsors, are hostile to trade unions.

She says the Landau Forte partnership has failed to apply national pay-and-conditions standards at Landau Forte College, a post-16 college in Derby which it also sponsors.

"Public services must remain in public hands and not hived off to private companies who are free to determine teachers' pay and conditions," she said.

"This ballot for action is a principled and important stand to protect a state school from being handed over to an external organisation, and to protect and defend teachers' national pay and conditions of service."

Ms Keates also criticises Staffordshire's plan to concentrate all sixth-form facilities at the new Tamworth Academy. She says this would limit parental choice and reduce the local authority's power over sixth form education.

A spokesperson for the authority was unavailable for comment. ab

Wales Assembly 'Failing Deprived Children'

Pupils entitled to free school meals performed well below the national average at every key stage and in all subjects last year, new Assembly government figures show.

The teachers' union ATL Cymru criticised the government as it emerged pupils from low income families had shown little academic improvement since 2006. Phil Dixon, the director, said the government were failing deprived children. "These statistics are disappointing because they reveal we are still not tackling the issues relating to deprivation and educational attainment," he said.

At KS1, 63.5 per cent of pupils who qualify for free meals reached the expected level, compared to 84.7 of their better-off peers - the same as 2006. By KS3, the gap between the groups had grown more than 10 percentage points.

The best improvement was at GCSE level. In 2006, 26.5 per cent of pupils entitled to free meals achieved five good A*-C grades. Last year, it was up to 28 per cent, but that compared to 61.9 per cent of better off pupils.

The greatest gap in subject performance was in English. np

Scotland Pounds 2.5m More for Children to Try Golf

The clubgolf programme - to introduce every nine-year-old in Scotland to the game by 2009 - will receive an extra Pounds 2.5m before the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

At its 2003 launch, the Scottish Executive pledged Pounds 500,000 a year until this year. But First Minister Alex Salmond said earlier this month the funding was likely to continue indefinitely.

Although the programme has not yet reached its 2009 target, it is ahead of schedule in other areas. It had hoped to establish 200 clubgolf centres in golf clubs and other facilities: there are now 233.

Last year saw a 30 per cent increase in numbers introduced to the game, compared with 2007. In 2008, 33,600 nine-year-olds - 61 per cent - took part in the introductory game, firstclubgolf, and 8,563 were involved in clubgolf coaching.

Many more girls are playing as a result. Between 2007 and 2008, their numbers increased by 46 per cent. Some 2,130 of the 8,563 children on clubgolf were girls. hh

West Yorkshire Brighter Classrooms by Design

Pupils at a West Yorkshire primary are to have their classroom transformed according to their own ideas, after beating more than 130 rivals in a Design My Learning Space competition.

Pupils at Morley Newland Primary, near Leeds, explained: "If we were able to transform our classroom, it would open up our space, introduce more light and be a brilliant classroom to work in."

The colourful design designated specific work areas as blue and green zones, with information technology integrated into the desk spaces. They also proposed seating areas outside to make extra space to learn in.

Adrian Stygall, the headteacher, said: "The investment in the school will make a real difference to our mixture of a 1950s building and outside classrooms."ws

Buckinghamshire Alert to the dangers of drink

A hard-hitting play about alcohol abuse is touring schools in Milton Keynes. Year 9 pupils at 10 schools have been taking part in an alcohol awareness workshop with the Solomon Theatre group.

The play is about two girls who hold a boozy party while their parents are away and then explores the consequences for them. Afterwards, pupils could quiz the actors about characters' decisions.

Chris Williams, a local councillor, said: "Under-age drinking can lead to many social problems, including health issues, and can often be the trigger for anti-social behaviour.

"That is why ideas like this, that attempt to reach out to young people in a way they can identify with, will hopefully be the wake up call they need not to be tempted to drink alcohol under age." hw

Clacton-on-Sea Reprimand for undue care

A teacher has been reprimanded for consistently turning up late for lessons, failing to take proper care of pupils on a school trip and being unable to account for Pounds 600 given by pupils for art materials. Stephen Greenfield admitted the allegations. He was an art teacher at Colbayns High in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, between 2005 and 2007 when the incidents occurred.

He has been given a conditional registration order for four years, banning him from receiving or processing pupils' money. Mr Greenfield is not allowed to lead or organise any off-site trips and must provide an annual report to the General Teaching Council proving he is abiding by the ruling.

The professional conduct committee said he had not given an acceptable explanation for what had happened to the pupils' money, though he had "ample opportunity" to rectify discrepancies.

It found that he had failed to follow procedures when taking pupils on a trip to Clacton Pier, where he left them unsupervised. He had not carried out a risk assessment nor received approval from the headteacher. dm

Oxfordshire Drive to halt teenage pregnancies

The county council has asked teachers to take urgent action on the quality of personal, health and social and economic education after a rise in teenage pregnancies.

Figures just released for 2007 show a rate of 350 conceptions per 1,000 teenagers, compared to 320 the year before. This is an decrease of 5.6 per cent since 1998, compared to a national drop of 10.7 per cent over the same period.

Oxfordshire says it will invest more in work to prevent teenagers getting pregnant, there will be more work with boys, and every college in the area will now have to offer sexual health services for 16 to 18-year-olds.

Six "hotspot" schools in Oxford and Banbury will get "enhanced" support for sex and relationships education and peer mentoring schemes for young people.

The area's Teenage Pregnancy Partnership board will no longer continue as it is; instead, the Children's Trust will appoint a "reducing teenage pregnancy champion". km.

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