A Week in Education

17th October 2008 at 01:00

Cheers erupted from secondary schools across England as key stage 3 tests were scrapped. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, told the Commons that the national tests, introduced in 1993, had become "less and less relevant" and would be replaced by more frequent classroom assessments by teachers, based on a scorecard system used in New York. Teachers' unions applauded the news and called for the Government to go further and drop tests for 11-year-olds too. Pages 10-11.

The decision to end the tests for 14-year-olds was also welcomed by the Conservatives, who hinted that it had been their idea all along. So who was it who told Parliament last week that they would definitely retain KS3 tests? Yes, that was Nick Gibb, the Tory's school spokesman. He told a debate on assessment that the tests were "important" and, if they were scrapped, there was a "danger ... some schools would be tempted to spend more years focusing on the GCSE figures".

The Conservatives were not the only ones making embarrassing climbdowns. The Department for Children, Schools and Families revealed that the numbers of pupils who had started the much-hyped 14-19 diplomas was 12,000. Not terrible for a brand new qualification, but significantly smaller than the department's previous estimates, which started at 50,000, then shrank to 38,000, then 20,000 and finally to the latest figure.

The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' conference faced the shock resignation of its latest chairman, the Reverend Tim Hastie-Smith. He had been criticised for giving a teacher a "second chance" by employing him at Dean Close School after the classics master was caught filming a pupil having sex on a school trip. Mr Hastie-Smith also abandoned his plans to switch to the state sector as head of Kettering academy, which is due to open in Northampton in September.

Private schools also grew more alarmed at the Charity Commission's plans to visit a sample of fee-charging schools. The Independent Schools Council stressed that it was not being critical of the commission when it raised concerns about the inspections. But Martin Stephen, master of St Paul's School in west London, was less restrained. In an article for The Sunday Telegraph he warned that, if any of the schools lost their charitable status, it would "mark the first victory of the educational Taliban".

Primary schools in the Ceredigion area of Wales took Marmite off their breakfast club menus because of its high salt content, giving newspapers an opportunity to attack the "nanny state" and giving the yeast extract product acres of publicity. Then satirical website The Daily Mash invented a spoof story about schools banning ketchup. But two days later - under the headline "Schools putting the squeeze on canteen ketchup" - the Daily Mail reported that this was really happening in the Vale of Glamorgan. What it neglected to mention was that the schools were replacing bottled tomato sauce with freshly made ketchup, a move that might cheer up Jamie Oliver.

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