Ministers warned that a "shocking" number of schools were violating admissions codes, some by denying places to children whose parents refused to give donations for supposedly free state education, Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, said that a review had uncovered unlawful admissions practices in a significant minority of schools, some of which were "asking parents to commit to making financial contributions as a condition of admission". The Government refused to identify the schools, discovered in a study of three random authorities, but outlined changes to the admissions code to prevent such practices. Page 4
Young people could be made to take part in "coming of age" ceremonies in which they swear allegiance oaths to the Queen or the UK, under proposals submitted to the Prime Minister. The report by Lord Goldsmith, former attorney general, made a range of suggestions for improving citizenship, including making it compulsory for primary schools and giving pupils "citizenship porfolios" of relevant work. Teachers' union leaders said the oaths were an American idea with no place in British schools. Page 16
A teachers' union said it would call for the abolition of homework in primary schools. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers will debate a motion at its annual conference in Torquay next week proposing that homework be scrapped for younger children and cut back in secondaries. Mary Bousted, the union's general secretary, said: "A lot of homework is a waste of time". Page 12
Independent schools may have to increase fees for wealthier pupils to subsidise places for those from poorer backgrounds. The Charity Commission published draft guidance for fee-charging schools suggesting ways to maintain their charitable status, which provide them with collective tax breaks around pound;100 million. Other suggestions include independent schools pressing philanthropists and authorities for money to subsidise more bursaries and scholarships. Page 11
Chancellor Alistair Darling announced an extra pound;200m in his budget to eradicate low-performing secondaries by 2011, a year earlier than the original target. The aim is that no schools will have fewer than 30 per cent of pupils gaining five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. Mr Darling said: "By 2011, we will ensure that every school is an improving school meeting the standards we have set." The budget also contained funding for training science teachers to improve their lessons. Page 4
Teachers are increasingly having to act as surrogate parents, said John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, at the association's annual conference. He said thousands of pupils arrived at school lacking basic social skills.
"For some children, schools have had to take the place of the institutions that used to set the boundaries of acceptable behaviour - that was fundamentally the family and the church," he said. Pages 3 and 22.