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New age of the summer teacher

Did you miss all the action while you lazed around during the long school break or were you, in fact, right in the thick of it? Four teachers who chose to spend their holidays doing wildly different activities share their unusual stories

So what did you miss while you lazed away the summer holiday on beaches or sat in darkened rooms preparing lesson plans? Well, apart from the usual rows over exams (results up, therefore standards must be down, scandal over marking) there was quite a bit of good news for teachers.

A survey by the School Teachers' Review Body suggested that the number of hours primary staff worked dropped last year as a result of reforms designed to stop teachers carrying out administrative tasks. Primary teachers now work at least an hour-and-a-half less each week, and nearly three hours less if they are heads.

The findings in secondary schools were less cheerful, though, where teachers saw only a slight reduction in their working weeks while hours worked by heads and assistants rose.

For primaries there was also the promise of one-to-one Reading Recovery sessions for 4,000 pupils and a government pledge to look more seriously at phonics.

This year's A-level pass rates improved, yet again, to 96 per cent, prompting the usual rows over standards and the perennial newspaper photographs of excited teenage girls in strappy tops.

But Lord Adonis, education minister, said that schools should be proud of the results as they heralded "the new age of the teacher".

GCSEs, meanwhile, were hit by a new marking scandal as The TES revealed that unqualified staff at exam board Edexcel were marking papers with as little as 20 minutes' training.

The summer holiday kicked off with the Professional Association of Teachers' annual conference and the proposal to replace the word "fail" with "deferred success". After much ridicule and even hate mail from teachers as far away as Australia, the union voted against the motion.

There were depressing statistics from the Health and Safety Executive, which revealed that violent attacks on teachers rose by a third last year, with twice as many school staff needing to go to hospital or be resuscitated after being punched and kicked by students.

Modern language teachers had other reasons to be worried. Figures for GCSEs indicated a sharp slump in the numbers of pupils studying French and German after 14.

Meanwhile, there were reports that newly-qualified teachers were having difficulty finding jobs, with unions calling for England to follow Scotland and guarantee employment for trainees.

However, out-of-work NQTs may decide they have had a lucky escape. New teachers told The TES how their first prolonged exposure to the classroom had strange effects on them. Claire Harrington, who recently finished a PGCE, said: "It has got to the point where I have woken myself up telling imaginary children off. And I have told my boyfriend to go and wash his hands."

Teachers could not even get away from the classroom at the Edinburgh fringe festival where a comic drama, An Ofsted Inspector Calls, tried to emulate the success of last year's Ofsted! The Musical.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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