A Week in Education

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Tony Blair should be thankful he does not have to sit an A-level in exams reform. If the nation's newspaper pundits were doing the grading, the Prime Minister would not be scoring A*. He announced plans for a new A* grade for A-level and gave his backing to the International Baccalaureate, pledging to fund courses in the qualification across England.

The proposals came under fire from the Express and the Telegraph, as an admission that A-levels had been dumbed down. On the left, Michael White in the Guardian quoted a think-tank suggesting the system risked fragmenting.

Meanwhile, in Wales, education minister Jane Davidson was forced on the defensive by claims that the PM's IB proposals had undermined the Welsh bac. Ms Davidson insisted her flagship qualification was leading the way, and caters for a wider range of abilities - as well as vocational courses - than the elitist IB.

She was also under pressure over class sizes, as new statistics revealed rising numbers of infant and junior pupils in groups of more than 30.

Around 1,573 infants (1.7 per cent) were in oversized classes - although the figures drop to 128 when permitted exceptions are excluded. Back in 1999, 285 classes had more than 30 pupils, compared with 50 this year.

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru claimed the army was targeting schools in the poorest areas for recruits. Assembly member Leanne Wood called for a ban on such recruitment, saying young people should not be exposed to "armed forces propaganda".

But a Ministry of Defence spokesman said school visits were by invitation only, and were to raise awareness of possible careers.

Finally, Jamie Oliver has not been Mr Blair's favourite person, after serving up some unpalatable truths on school dinners. But the celebrity chef was quoted approving of plans by Walgrave primary, Northampton, to dish out pupils' meals in the local pub. The school lacks its own canteen.

they said...

"We have reduced the number of schools where only a quarter of pupils get less than five GCSEs from 600 to 60 - literal decimation."

(Alan Johnson, education secretary) we say...

Is Mr Johnson the first politician ever to play down, so dramatically, the scale of his party's successes?

Apart from the grammatical mistake in the above quote - it should be "fewer than five GCSEs" - this contains a more serious, unintentionally self-deprecating howler.

Decimation is widely used as a synonym for devastation. But technically it means to reduce by a 10th. So, if Labour had truly "decimated" the number of such schools, the number would only have reduced by a 10th, meaning there would still be 540 in this position. The true number is 60, decimation 22 times. Literally.

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