6th March 2009 at 00:00

Northern Ireland Grammar test boycott urged

The irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) is calling on its members to refuse any involvement with entrance exams set by breakaway grammar schools.

Forty grammars are ignoring the non-academic admissions criteria laid down by the education minister in favour of either an English and maths-based common entrance assessment or a verbal reasoning test.

The exams would rely on primary teachers to coach pupils for the exams and secondary teachers to supervise, set and mark papers. Teachers must teach the curriculum but are under no legal obligation to prepare for tests set by individual schools.

"There are no educational arguments for the retention of it," said Mary Hughes, INTO's northern chair. "You could, perhaps, put forward an economic argument, a political argument, a social argument, but you can't put forward an educational argument, and teachers are educationalists."

The union's opposition to the tests is likely to anger parents who want their children to sit exams and go on to study at grammar schools.

Concern has been voiced that the decision may put pupils from wealthy backgrounds at an advantage because their parents can afford to pay for out-of-school tuition.

INTO is the largest union in Catholic maintained schools in Northern Ireland.

Wirral Gloves off for champ's poetry talk

When a merseyside school invited a celebrity to talk about poetry last week, Stephen Fry or Roger McGough might have been the obvious choice.

Instead, pupils at Kingsmead School in Wirral were visited by former world middleweight boxing champion Chris Eubank (pictured).

Perhaps as well known for his eccentric dress sense, his monocle and his lisp as his feats in the ring, the former boxer gave a lecture on poetry and listened to children's poems.

Head Jonathan Perry said Mr Eubank was the "perfect guest" and was encouraging towards all the pupils at the school.

"He spoke to the students about his life, how he had a tough upbringing, and that it was when he began boxing that his interest in poetry started," Mr Perry said.

"His training was very intense when he was fighting, but when he had gaps in his daily routine he would read poetry to relax."

Pupils wrote poems about courage - from sitting exams to going into battle - which Mr Eubank read and commented on.

The champion boxer is the latest in a line of celebrities to visit the independent school to give lectures. They include 1992 Olympic champion cyclist Chris Boardman and a former pupil of Kingsmead who was successful on the BBC2 show Dragons' Den, who gave a talk on being an entrepreneur.

Wales Heads hit out at red tape burden

More than 50 official documents will be sent to headteachers in Wales this term, including 23 information papers and 10 consultations.

Heads have called for the growing burden of educational red tape to be pared back. Some school leaders said excessive form-filling and bureaucracy was making them depressed.

Four years ago, an Assembly government-appointed panel was commissioned to tackle heads' complaints about document overload.

But Neil Foden, head of Friars School in Bangor, blamed the "welter of initiatives, guidance and information requests" for creating extra workload.

Cheryl Weldon, head of Coedffranc Primary near Neath, said heads found the paperwork "depressing and demoralising".

"We are swimming against the tide," she said.

A spokeswoman for the School Workload Advisory Panel confirmed that members still regularly received complaints about excessive workload.

She said the panel would do all it could to help to reduce it.

The Assembly government said it was important that schools were kept up to date with information and guidance.

Wiltshire Council acts on academies ultimatum

Plans are being made to open two new academies in deprived areas of Salisbury as council bosses warn that the Government may close National Challenge schools unless they become academies.

The proposal, which the council hopes would attract Pounds 85 million of government funding, would mean the closure of four schools.

One academy would replace Salisbury High Foundation School in Bemerton Heath. The other would be a CofE and Catholic secondary to replace three smaller schools in Laverstock.

Plans to convert Salisbury High, into an academy began when it was designated a National Challenge school. It could be relocated nearby and a new primary built on the site.

The council says it would be difficult to offer the new diplomas if reform does not take place.

Officers hope to attract a grant from the Building Schools for the Future programme, but they do not expect cash to come through until 2016.

Carolyn Godfrey, director of children's services, said: "The buildings at all four of the Salisbury schools are not fit for purpose and have significant maintenance issues.

"If we do not explore (plans for) these two further academies in Salisbury, it will be impossible to see standards rise in the area and it is likely that schools not out of the National Challenge by 2011 will be closed by the Government."

The Wellington Academy, Salisbury's first, is currently being developed.

Scotland Call for religious and moral teaching

Children will become "alienated and lacking in identity" if religious and moral education does not play a more central role in schools north of the border, according to a new report from Scotland's Christian denominations.

A Christian Vision for Education in Scottish Schools asks, if children are not introduced to religion and philosophical enquiry at home, "where else will they be challenged to consider the great questions about the origins of life and human destiny?" Society has "come adrift from many of the traditional points of anchorage", such as family, church, community and political affiliation, the document states. "Consequently, we are less able to identify, claim and explore commonly held or shared values," it says. "In a milieu of ambiguity and relativism, this lack of rootedness makes it difficult for people - especially young people - to make and find meaning in their lives, leaving them feeling alienated and lacking in identity."

It voices concern that anyone linking religion and education is tarred as "dangerous and fundamentalist", and states: "Secular voices are vociferous in their demands for a religion-free state education. Some even suggest that education should be values-free."

Staffordshire Row over asbestos closure delay

A staffordshire primary has been closed after workmen found asbestos in the building, exposing pupils to dangerous fibres.

Pupils and staff at Glenthorne Primary School were put at risk after workers disturbed insulation.

The work was carried out on February 13, but the school was not closed until 10 days later. Letters were sent to parents the day before the school closed.

Asbestos fibres are tiny and can remain trapped in the lungs, often leading to asbestosis.

Staffordshire Council is carrying out health and safety checks on the building, and councillors are demanding to know why it took so long to notify parents.

While the situation is investigated, Glenthorne's 178 pupils will be educated at nearby primaries. As yet, no date has been set for the school to reopen.

Matthew Gould, Glenthorne's head, said: "We know there will be some practical difficulties for some parents, but we will do whatever we can to try and work around them."

Asbestos was often used in building materials until it was found to be dangerous in the mid-1980s. It can still be found in most buildings built before 2000 (pictured).

Lincolnshire 'Harem' head found guilty by GTC

A primary head who referred to female staff members as a "harem" and nicknamed a governor "posh pants" has been found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct by the General Teaching Council.

Malcolm Beresford used the phrases while he was headteacher of Willoughton Primary near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, a GTC panel said.

He referred to another member of staff as "lover" and called a member of the governing body "vindaloo", the council said.

Mr Beresford was also found to have spent a Pounds 3,000 grant without proper authorisation and paid staff overtime for hours they had not worked. He also left lessons without making sure there was cover, the panel said.

He was cleared of a number of other allegations. Mr Beresford, who has now left the school, told the teaching council that in hindsight he would have done things differently.

"The whole case has been quite devastating personally, professionally and emotionally," he said.

A decision on Mr Beresford's punishment will be taken later in the year.

Slough MP in stand-off with Muslim school

A feud has broken out between Fiona MacTaggart, Slough's MP, and the town's first Muslim state school.

The dispute began when Ms MacTaggart sent a letter to all Slough schools requesting a visit.

Iqra Slough Islamic primary school, which opened in September 2008, told the Labour politician that a formal visit would be allowed only if she agreed to retract previous criticisms she had made about the school.

Ms MacTaggart, a former primary teacher, wrote a letter in 2006 stating that the school's promoters were "unfit" to run the school, although the Government later awarded them Pounds 8 million.

The Labour MP spoke about the issue at the House of Commons last week and issued an invitation to school leaders to visit Westminster.

Zafar Ali, chair of governors, said: "Ms MacTaggart's claim is unsubstantiated and without evidence.

"We have not asked for an apology as that's too emotive. Instead, we asked for her to retract the statement.

"It is outrageous that she has taken this dispute from two years ago into the public domain. However, we are happy to meet, resolve, and go to the House of Commons."

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