A week in education

5th September 2008 at 01:00

The new term began. Not just any term, but the start of what had been dubbed a "meltdown year". Although that may have been a bit of an exaggeration, teachers faced some of the biggest curriculum changes for two decades, covering early years, key stage 3, GCSEs and A-levels, as well as the introduction of 14-19 diplomas. John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Guardian: "It's too much at once."

On top of those pressures, teachers faced harsh words from Christine Gilbert, head of Ofsted. She said she agreed with heads who felt it was too "difficult to sack weak teachers". In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, she professed to have little patience with schools that argued poor results were down to poor year groups. She also urged parents to challenge schools more. "We have to be fiercer," she said, as if Ofsted were regarded as pussycats.

Ministers announced catch-up tuition for primary school children falling behind in maths and English. This would have been more exciting had all the schemes not been announced several times before. Still, there was a bit of extra detail about the funding and location of the pilots. And the Government got the headline it wanted in the Daily Mail: "Struggling pupils to get one-to-one lessons".

A drugs expert warned that pupils were becoming increasingly addicted to the caffeine in high-energy drinks. Bob Tait, of Drugs Education UK, told a Royal College of Nursing conference that consuming too many of these drinks could leave children suffering chest pains, headaches, restlessness or sleeplessness. He urged school nurses to be on the lookout for pupils exhibiting such symptoms - or "child junkies", as the Daily Telegraph called them.

A schoolwear supplier announced that sales of its blazers had increased by 200 per cent in the past six months, leading The Observer to proclaim that traditional uniforms were "back in vogue". But parents have also been rushing to buy the new school uniform range from Marks and Spencer, which the Daily Telegraph described as "bling-bling and yobbish" because it features hooded tops and girls' trousers with diamante charms. "They are dressing for school, not to be extras in music videos," one parent said.

Delivering messages to wealthy parents via their chauffeur is one of the challenges private schools face, The Times reported. Jane Reddick, a form teacher in an Edinburgh prep, said she could often only contact the parents' PA. "I've ended up asking the chauffeur to tell the nanny to remind the parents that their son needs his violin the next day," she said. But the best excuse for failing to collect a child after school was recalled by Isabella Grierson, a reception teacher at a pre-prep in the Midlands: "I remember one titled lady saying that she couldn't possibly collect her son on time because her tiara fitting was running late."

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