A Week in Education
Up to three million American teachers voted in the US presidential elections, many getting days off in districts where schools were used as polling stations. But few British school staff were directly involved, with the exception of a small group of ex-pat teachers who used absentee votes to back Barack Obama or John McCain, and a teacher from a private school in Surrey who spent half-term canvassing in Pennsylvania. So we can skip this momentous event.
Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, announced a bit of extra cash for areas with underperforming secondary modern schools. They can now get Pounds 1 million, rather than the normal Pounds 750,000, if they set up special trusts. Explaining this plan, Mr Balls said that pupils in secondary moderns "frequently have a perception of having failed the 11-plus, and it is especially important, therefore, to provide excellent role models and to raise aspirations". The Daily Telegraph interpreted this as "Grammar schools turn children into failures, says Balls".
The Daily Mail reported that "one in five pupils thinks the Sun orbits the Earth". Really? An examiners' report by Edexcel, published a few months ago, indeed noted that 20 per cent of pupils made that unfortunate error in the GCSE science multiple-choice paper. But the Daily Mail neglected to mention a crucial fact: the question was only posed to those on the foundation tier, the third of pupils who struggled most at science. So the error was actually made by around one in 15 pupils sitting the exam. And there were 70,000 or so others who did not take it because they were studying for the more challenging individual sciences GCSEs.
Another great Daily Mail wheeze was to get readers to try out science questions from 2008 and 1963 for themselves to see if the exams were "really getting easier". It published multiple-choice questions from combined science GCSEs alongside ... written-answer questions from separate O-levels in chemistry and biology. Very scientific.
Continuing the let's-point-and-laugh-at-kids theme, many papers were rubbed up the wrong way by a scheme in Lambeth, south London, which they reported was giving "hoodies" and "tearaways" foot massages at school. Whether schools should invite in healers and reflexologists is a worthy subject for debate. But the children getting the treatments were not necessarily the malevolent menaces described. The firm involved pointed out that the pupils' problems included bereavement and sexual, emotional, mental and physical abuse, while "some have witnessed and experienced horrific events within their country of origin". But, hey, it's easier to follow the Daily Mirror's example and describe them as "toerags".
So children today are stupid and unruly. Why not call them lardy, too? Ah, a headline in The Independent did: "Children too fat to fit school chairs". This was apparently based on a report by the British Educational Suppliers Association, which noted that pupils were suffering from back pain because school furniture was too small for them. But Ray Barker, the association's director, was a mite baffled. "Many of the papers picked up on an obesity issue, but there is no reference to obesity at all in the report," he said. "We didn't actually measure children's weight - we measured their height and the length of their arms and legs, which is what really matters when sitting in a chair."