In case you were away...

6th September 1996 at 01:00
The usual hardy perennials have flourished this summer: A-level and GCSE pass rates rose again to cries of "shock, horror, standards are dropping" from traditionalists; the Education and Employment Secretary promised to do something about it, but claimed the results, together with an increase in the numbers of students gaining vocational qualifications, as "a hat-trick of success" for the Government.

Predictably, with Parliament and politicians using the long summer recess to get away from it all, August was a quiet month for most other education news. The burning issue of school standards, however, remained in the headlines, with an international study commissioned by the Office for Standards in Education urging teachers to adopt the methods of Pacific Rim countries.

Meanwhile, OFSTED made its own contribution to the silly season when it announced that Group 4, best known for escaping prisoners, had won the Pounds 14 million contract to supervise the inspection of more than 16,000 nurseries and playgroups. The company said it was "determined to get it right first time". A silly season story, maybe, but nevertheless true.

Below The TES sets out a brief digest of the main summer news events that readers may have missed.

July 19: A survey by the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations reveals that low morale among its members is widespread because of rising class sizes and teacher shortages. It also finds widespread evidence of crumbling school buildings, and estimates that parents are being "blackmailed" into paying Pounds 1.2 million for their children's schooling. In the same week, Gillian Shephard is warned by parents and local authorities that an extra Pounds 1 billion is needed for schools next year.

July 26: British children spend less time doing physical education than children in any other European country or in the United States, research by the European Union of Physical Education shows. The news coincides with the launch of the Prime Minister's plans for sports colleges and a Pounds 100 million national academy of sport.

Meanwhile, a study for OFSTED argues that British teachers could close the widening performance gap in maths between their pupils and those of other countries by using the methods of emerging Eastern economies. British teachers try to do too much and end up achieving less, because of over-complex teaching methods and lack of clear goals, say the report's authors, Professor David Reynolds and Shaun Farrell. The report, Worlds Apart?, praises methods in Pacific Rim countries. They use mixed-ability teaching in the early years and whole-class teaching later, with frequest tests and repeated years for those who fail to reach appropriate standards.

August 2: Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley launches Setting the Scene: the arts and young people, the arts equivalent of Sport: raising the game. It says that all schools should have a policy for the arts and a governor responsible for implementing it.

August 9: A School Teachers' Review Body survey finds that classroom teachers are working up to two hours a week longer and spending more time in front of their classes.

August 16: A-level pass rates rise by 1.8 per cent, prompting complaints from traditionalists that new modular courses have made the exam easier. Despite a record entry overall, fewer sat physics and chemistry, reviving worries about a shortage of scientists.

August 23:GCSE pass rates also notch up another record, with the average pass rate in the three top grades rising to 53.6 per cent.

A youth survey shows that soaring numbers of schoolchildren are dabbling in drugs, and that cigarettes and alcohol have become a regular feature of the lives of 15 and 16-year-olds.

August 30: The Education Secretary greets the 79 per cent pass rate for candidates in advanced vocational qualifications (GNVQs) as "a results hat-trick", following record A-level and GCSE results. But critics accuse ministers and exam boards of manipulating the results by excluding 50,000 students from their calculations. Researchers attack the lack of figures on drop-outs and on students who have taken more than two years to complete a course.

History teachers call for tougher exams in geography because they believe that this year's 5 per cent fall in numbers taking GCSE history is the result of pupils seeing geography as a safer bet.

A group of dinner ladies win more than Pounds 1 million in a sex discrimination claim. Cleveland council cut their wages to fend off bids from commercial companies under compulsory competitive tendering - but not those of male colleagues.

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