School leaders criticised national tests and league tables at Britain's biggest gathering of heads. Many delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference heckled Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, when she insisted parents wanted the information. The conference also heard accusations that parents were using schools as a dumping ground for their children. Mick Brookes, general secretary, said a small minority of parents expected schools to take over childcare for up to 10 hours a day. Page 14
More than 40,000 pupils missed nearly half their education during the autumn term last year as truancy rates rose. Figures showed almost 60,000 primary and secondary pupils were absent without permission every day.
The Government blamed winter bugs for keeping thousands of children at home as overall absence, including sickness and holidays, rose significantly among primary pupils. But there was a slight fall of 0.01 percentage points in overall absence in secondaries.
The chief executive of England's General Teaching Council (GTC) suggested many teachers were incompetent and should be retrained in other schools. Keith Bartley told The Times that urgent action was needed to improve the performance of teachers who have "more bad days than good". But critics said it was unfair to expect schools to take on teachers who had failed elsewhere. Since 2001, only 46 teachers have been judged incompetent by the GTC. Page 12
Incompetent teachers were also targeted by the Institute for Public Policy Research. It published a report saying poor teaching caused thousands of pupils to underachieve in exams, and called for psychometric tests to assess candidate's aptitude for the job. Page 12
More than 1,000 children under the age of six were suspended from school last year because of persistent discipline problems, figures showed. Among the offences committed by four- and five-year-olds were swearing, fighting, racism and even sexual misconduct. More than 70 pupils between the ages of five and 11 were suspended for drug or alcohol-related incidents. Some 48,000 primary pupils were suspended last year, with bad behaviour beginning from reception.
Plans to produce a national songbook for primaries were abandoned after experts failed to agree which songs to include. The book was intended to be a short, definitive collection of the songs every 11-year-old should know. But it was deemed "culturally imperialist". Instead a national song-bank website has been created, where up to 600 song recordings and lyrics from Britain and abroad will be uploaded.