A Week in Education

23rd January 2009 at 00:00

"Children are so scared of gang violence in schools that many now wear bullet-proof vests for their protection." The Mirror was far from the only newspaper to hype up a report this week about teen gangs, creating the impression that pupils across Britain were donning Kevlar under their uniforms.

The report produced for the NASUWT teachers' union certainly contained some disturbing examples of gang activity. But most of the press coverage failed to stress how rare they were.

The researchers used newspaper reports to help pick just four tough urban schools - three of which were in areas with high levels of gang violence. They had wanted to examine some suburban and rural schools with gang problems, but were unable to find any.

And what was the impact of gangs on these schools' day-to-day life? At all four it was "minimal", and they were regarded as safe havens.

This was even true at the fourth school, an extreme case as staff estimated that one of its pupils, or former students, was shot every year.

It was there that an interviewee said that three pupils had worn bullet-proof vests, the comment which provoked all the headlines.

But the report noted scepticism about some of the pupils' claims. "Some young people boasted about wearing body armour, which in turn made staff question the seriousness of it," it said.

The Conservatives announced that one in seven pupils on the gifted and talented programme was not gaining the target number of GCSEs. This led The Daily Telegraph to report that the "Brightest state pupils fail to get good grades".

The glaring flaw with the Tories' expose was that academically intelligent pupils are just the "gifted" part of the scheme. The other half on the programme are "talented", which means that they excel at sport and music.

As yet, we do not assume that all of Britain's footballers and bass guitarists will be intellectual heavyweights.

Mixed reports emerged on the recesssion's impact on private schools. The Daily Telegraph reported that fee-charging schools were generally "unfazed by economics" as private education is normally a lagging indicator of a downturn.

In contrast, The Observer reported that Queen Ethelburga's College in Yorkshire was offering parents a voucher for a free term and a free uniform or laptop if they attended an open evening.

Asked why, the school's registrar Pat Jewitt said: "Do the words 'economic' and 'crisis' ring a bell?"

A classic health and safety tale appeared in The Daily Mail, which reported that music teachers were being "ordered to wear earmuffs".

The report on the health and safety executive's website (Sound Advice, Note 16) does indeed suggest that teachers and pupils could wear hearing protection - as a last resort.

More practical advice includes simply asking pupils to play a bit more quietly, not always choosing loud pieces of music, and avoiding standing directly "in the line of fire" of directional instruments.

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