A Week in Education

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
The prime minister gave his first major speech on education, threatening to shut schools where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils gained five A-star to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths.

Gordon Brown urged local authorities to ensure there were no failing schools by 2012, either by closing them, turning them into academies or bringing in private support. He also announced a new focus on recruiting "the brightest and best" to teaching.

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England's education system was criticised by a 16-year-old Polish boy who said he had returned to his native country because his lessons at a school in North Tyneside were not challenging enough.

Aleksander Kucharski said he was an average student in Poland but was treated like a genius at St Thomas More High in North Shields. He told a Polish newspaper: "The boys were childish, didn't read papers and weren't interested in anything, and the girls only talked about shopping and what they were going to do on Friday night."

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Ministers performed a U-turn on plans to claw back 5 per cent of schools' budget surpluses.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said teachers had raised "reasonable concerns" over the move, which had been intended to free up pound;1.7 billion in unspent reserves. He said the Department for Children, Schools and Families would continue to monitor surpluses closely.

The move was welcomed by headteachers, but criticised by the NASUWT teachers' union, which has complained of schools squirrelling away money that should be spent on pupils.

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Children will not develop the skills they need as adults if they are not allowed to take calculated risks, according to a report for the Royal Society for the Arts.

The society held a conference to discuss the negative impact that excessive concern with health and safety is having on young people. The event coincided with the publication of a book by a former Government adviser, which states that schools are too quick to label minor fallings-out as bullying and that children should learn to fix disagreements on their own.

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Critics of our risk-averse society were given more ammunition by Bedonwell Primary in Bexley, south-east London. The Mail on Sunday reported that the school had written to parents of 6-year-olds saying they should not wear football boots to a football training course because of health and safety risks. Catherine Turner, one of the pupil's mothers, criticised the school for wrapping children in cotton wool.

But she also said she was shocked to find the children were using a leather football, suggesting that "a sponge ball would have been more appropriate".

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