Cheerio Tony, hello Gordon - and Dolly

27th December 2007 at 00:00
Reporter David Marley and cartoonist Morten Morland look back at the events of the year in which we got a new PM and a 10-year plan.

After years of plotting his premiership, Gordon Brown relied on his school motto for his first sound bite. "I will try my utmost," he quoted as he prepared to cross the threshold of No 10. With summer floods ruining schools within weeks of his arrival, he needed to.

In a year of big changes, things have barely quietened down since. Ed Balls, his right-hand man at the Treasury, was put in charge of schools in a new department; Britain's education took a hammering in international league tables; and a grand vision for the future of education was published.

Luckily for those feeling the strain, Dolly Parton flew in this month to shoulder some of the responsibility. Her 'imagination library' was launched in Rotherham to improve reading with free books for the under-fives.

On the outside, Mr Brown appears grumpy and dour. But on the inside, he has a passion. The good news for teachers is that, on at least three occasions, he has told us that it is for education.

Mr Brown's "passion" is not quite as catchy as Tony Blair's mantra of 'education, education, education'. But the visits the former premier made to schools as part of his farewell tour in the spring already seem a distant memory.

Following Mr Blair out the door was the Department for Education and Skills. In its place came the two new departments: Children, Schools and Families and Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Published at the end of the year, the 10-year Children's Plan contained an exhausting range of proposals designed to help involve parents and improve teaching.

In addition to marking at the weekends, teachers will also be expected to study. All new teachers will complete MAs in education.

A Unicef report at the beginning of the year said children in the UK were the most unhappy in any industrialised country. Other studies indicated that the ranking of British pupils had plummeted for reading, maths and science.

Early reports from the Primary Review - the largest study of its kind in the UK for 40 years - suggested children were growing up in a celebrity-obsessed and perilous society. A series of violent murders of young people added to those concerns. Among those was the shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Liverpool. Fazakerley High School, where Rhys was to start in September and where his brother is a pupil, used his death as an opportunity to speak to students about gun and gang culture.

Following the successful TES Time to Care campaign, ministers launched a new Children and Young Persons Bill to help the 60,000 children in care in England.

The legislation calls for schools to give looked-after children a specific teacher responsible for their needs and will give them a pound;2,000 bursary if they reach university.

The Government also cam un dder attack over its testing regime. It was lambasted by teaching unions, authors, governors' associations and the General Teaching Council.

This week Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said the tests were like a Swiss army knife, trying to serve too many purposes and that they narrowed the curriculum.

League tables appear to be here to stay. But ministers did announce a review of the primary curriculum and began pilots of new tests for key stages 2 and 3 which allow pupils to sit them when their teachers believe they are ready. One of the biggest announcements of the year was the move to raise the compulsory age for education and training to 18. Cue alarm among some teachers, who feared they would be stuck with their worst-behaved pupils for longer, but the small print suggested FE colleges and employers would bear the brunt.

The Government also announced a decision to introduce diplomas in academic subjects, which will complement the vocational diplomas starting next year.

Mr Balls said he expected the courses would "emerge as the jewel" of the British education system, although they will be left to battle it out over A-levels, BTecs and the international baccalaureate.

Alan Johnson, Mr Ball's predecessor as education secretary, found his smooth-talking skills had deserted him when he warned in March that diplomas risked being seen as second best.

Concerns about exam standards led Mr Balls to split up the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and set up a new independent watchdog to guard against grade inflation and dumbing-down.

Mr Balls also showed a touch of scepticism about Blair's academies by ordering a review of the semi-independent schools and imposing rules making them teach the national curriculum in core subjects.

And private schools decided it was time they got in on the act. William Hulme's Grammar School in Manchester, and Belvedere School in Liverpool, became the first independent schools to join the state sector as academies in September.

Although private schools claim no ulterior motive, their support for the state sector coincided with guidance by the Charities Commission saying they will have to help poor children to hold on to their charity status and tax-breaks.


pound;46.4m - Cost of Britain's most expensive new school, the Thomas Deacon Academy in Peterborough, which opened in September.

70,000 - Pupils in England who started term in September without a permanent headteacher

pound;40,000 - The Golden Hello offered to Aydin Onac as head of Fortismere School in north London.

150 - Schools planning to close their extended services because of financial problems

115 - Private Muslim schools that could get state funding if they win backing from their communities.

30 - Percentage of pupils that Gordon Brown says each school must ensure get five good GCSEs including English and maths within five years.

1 - Number of schools that opened this year under the Building Schools for the Future programme.


Primary schools. Reports from Professor Robin Alexander's Primary Review revealed they are increasingly regarded as a "haven" from the modern world. They provide children with a break from lives increasingly dominated by family breakdown and materialism.

An unnamed director at Edexcel, the exam board, who earned pound;450,000 last year - easily the highest salary of anyone in the education world.

Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning. The drive to put children in better control of their feelings was expanded to more schools, and hailed as the solution to everything from antisocial behaviour to poor academic performance.


David Willets. The shadow education spokesman (above) innocently mentioned a policy which David Cameron, the Tory leader, had been promoting very publicly for a year. But right-wing columnists and dozier Tory MPs seemed surprised that the party did not intend to expand grammar schools, and Willets was duly relegated to shadow minister for innovation and skills.

Key stage tests. The debate over testing reached boiling point this year. The Government started a pilot scheme allowing teachers to decide when pupils are ready to be assessed, which could replace Sats by 2009.

The "school for scandal". An unnamed comprehensive in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, which made repeated appearances in the tabloids. Three male teachers were separately convicted of seducing five girl pupils. Two of the teachers were jailed and another is to be sentenced in the new year.

Irena Barker


A report says "unwitting but systematic racial discrimination"exists in schools


The TES reveals that most children are starting school at four


Lord Dearing's review on increasing children learning languages is published


The pressure of tests is putting some teachers off reading pupils stories


Tony Blair bids farewell to schools and to Downing Street


When it comes to education, the new PM Gordon Brown means business


Research shows girls outperforming boys across the board in exams


Youth gun crime dominates the news after the shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones


Reports call for teachers to listen to pupil voice


Ed Balls launches a new series of diplomas in academic subjects.


Gordon Brown gives his first major speech on education


The UK drops dramatically in world leagues for reading, maths and science.

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