A week in education
If you are a glass half-full person, the latest GCSE results should have been cause for cheer. The proportion of pupils getting five A* to C grades has shot up over the past three years from 56.8 per cent to 64.6 per cent. The numbers hitting that target and getting good grades in English and maths have also risen, reaching 49.7 per cent this summer. Or you could take the glass half-empty view of all the daily papers. Even the Guardian's headline was: "More than half leave school without five good GCSEs".
The UK Teaching Awards held its 10th anniversary ceremony, attracting celebrities including Jeremy Irons and Dr Who writer Russell T Davies. But the teacher who gained the most publicity was Natalie Richards, winner of the outstanding newcomer prize. Though this may have been less to do with her fantastic work, teaching drama at Bishop Gore School in Swansea, and more because she was a former roadie for Catatonia. Page 10
The Sunday Express published a disastrous report on education in England, claiming that "30 gimmicky projects" had never got off the ground, wasting Pounds 250 million. Curiously, it only mentioned a handful of these cancelled schemes and some of them appear to be, erm, still running. Among the projects supposedly "consigned to the dustbin" was free nursery schooling for disadvantaged two-year-olds. Baffled officials said, nope, they were still planning to offer 20,000 free nursery places, starting in 32 areas over the next year, then double the scale of the scheme by 2010.
Ministers unveiled plans to review sex and drugs education. But their thunder was stolen by the Scouts, who various columnists claimed were planning to issue condoms as standard and force six-year-olds to learn about intercourse. Of course, the Scout's guidance said no such thing, mostly consisting of sensible advice for pack leaders in case a teenager asked them a tricky question or appeared to be abused. Anne Widdecombe harrumphed in the Express that the scheme would "teach sex", failing to note the guidance's clear advice: "If asked, you should encourage young people to resist pressure to have early sex." Advice Miss Widdecombe would no doubt support.
Attendance figures suggested that fewer secondary pupils had played truant, but that unauthorised absences by primary pupils had risen, chiefly because of families taking children on holidays in term time. Fewer schools gave permission for the breaks last year, but bargain-hunting parents had arranged them anyway. Indeed, headteachers were bracing themselves for further absences yesterday, when gaggles of pre- pubescent girls were expected to disappear around lunchtime. The reason? The unhelpful decision by cinemas to begin screening High School Musical 3 at midday on a Thursday.