A Week in Education

12th January 2007 at 00:00
THERE IS fury in the education world. News that Ruth Kelly, the former education secretary, has chosen to send her son to a private school provoked plenty of it.

The papers said that it was coming from disgruntled Labour backbenchers, but it is a safe bet that Alan Johnson, Ms Kelly's successor, was experiencing his own fair share. A day that should have been dominated by his announcement of plans to reform national tests was over taken by the revelation that another Labour MP had chosen to show support for the state sector by opting out of it.

Ms Kelly reportedly rejected six state schools in her local borough of Tower Hamlets that can help children with dyslexia to send her son to a pound;15,000 a year prep school in Hertfordshire.

But following an increasingly well-worn path by Labour MPs, does not appear to have done terminal damage to Ms Kelly's career. Her son's special needs have saved her from criticism from some quarters. Mischievously, David Cameron, whose own son has special needs and attends a state school, backed Ms Kelly's right to go private.

Mr Johnson, having finally made his voice heard, meanwhile, announced the possible scrapping of tests for 11 and 14 year olds. But any celebrations among teachers were soon muted by the news that the replacement was even more of the same. Under the proposals, children will sit a series of tests when they are ready for them. It will support the Government's personalised learning agenda, Mr Johnson said.

But not everyone is convinced by the need to tailor education to individual needs. The Rt Rev James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool raised concerns that the focus on personalisation was asking too much of teachers.

We are "placing on them all the responsibility and blame for our children's nurture", he said.

By the end of the week, Mr Johnson had wrested back the spotlight by publishing the admissions code. It suggested that schools allocate places in a lottery to stop the middle-classes dominating the best secondaries.

Whether cabinet members will be happy to accept the luck of the draw remains to be seen.

Angela Neustatter, page 35

they said...

Pupils are being fingerprinted because of the threat of terrorism (Daily Star) we say...

No, children are being finger-printed so they can take out library books.

The sudden popularity of finger scanners has been astonishing, with more than 3,000 UK schools now using them in their canteens and libraries. But it is difficult to believe, as the Daily Star claims, that "the idea is to prepare children for a future dominated by terrorism" and that they are a "terror test for 5-year-olds".

Chris Bridge, head of Huntingdon primary in York, said, pessimistically, that the systems might prepare pupils for future biometric security measures.

The prime reason schools are introducing them is not because they are conspiring to create an Orwellian surveillance state; it is to make teachers' lives easier when Ryan in Year 3 forgets his dinner money and library card for the umpteenth time.

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