A week in education

30th January 2009 at 00:00

Few things are more menacing than an irate school caretaker with a black belt in taekwondo. Adrian Gent, 55, was teaching an adult evening class in the martial art at Moulton Primary when he heard noises coming from the roof.

The Daily Telegraph reported that he went to investigate, barefoot and wearing his white kit and caught two youths who had been tearing lead piping from the roof, Mr Gent struck a martial arts pose and growled: "You can deal with me or the police - the choice is yours."

The thieves sensibly chose the latter. "They obviously didn't fancy it," Mr Gent said. "It must have been a hell of a shock for them, when you think about it."

Charterhouse became the latest high-profile school to ditch A-levels, saying it would now teach the international baccalaureate and the Cambridge pre-U. Reverend John Witheridge, its head, said government interference had "destroyed the A-level as an exam for bright sixth-formers". The Sunday Express agreed, calling A-levels a dumbed-down "also-ran qualification". Many teachers might agree. Curious, though, that surveys of university admission tutors suggest they still believe A-levels develop in-depth subject expertise better than the IB.

Figures showed 10 schools in England have no pupils who speak English as a first language - news met with horror by some MPs and anti-immigration groups. The Daily Mail reported fears that the schools would foster "sectarianism" and damage integration. Yet that is not what Ofsted found last year when it visited one of the schools, St Hilda's C of E Primary in Oldham. Inspectors rated it outstanding, and said it had been "a central factor in preparing pupils for life in the multi-faith and multicultural Britain beyond their immediate community".

Primary teachers are failing to bring in synthetic phonics because they "lack commitment" to it, according to London's Evening Standard. It reported comments from a letter to Ed Balls by Sir Jim Rose, who carried out the Government's review of literacy teaching.

The letter said some schools should be teaching reading better, but actually mentioned no widespread reluctance about phonics. In fact, it says "more schools are teaching reading well" and teachers are now using phonics because they appreciate the principles behind it, rather than out of "reluctant compliance with central demands".

So where did the "lack commitment" bit come from? Ah, a line about how experiences from other countries shows that teachers' enthusiasm for central government initiatives generally tends to wane.

Common sense award of the week goes to Lord Sutherland, who led the inquiry into last year's key stage test fiasco. Giving evidence to MPs, he asked why ministers had not thought of Googling the US firm ETS, which messed up the marking, as they might have noticed press reports on its mistakes in the United States. "I don't know companies that don't do that kind of probing, whether it's by telephone or Googling," he said.

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