24th April 2009 at 01:00
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Northern Ireland

Primary pupils face 2 tests at 11

Grammar schools in Northern Ireland are divided over which tests to use to select pupils, so primary children could have to sit two sets.

The Association for Quality Education, an alliance of parents, governors and teachers, has devised a common entrance exam that will be used by 33 grammar schools. Applicants will have to sit three English and maths tests in November and December.

The Catholic Heads Association has opted for two tests set by the National Foundation for Educational Research and 28 grammar schools, including some non-Catholic schools, will use these exams.

Dermot Mullen, chair of the association, said it would prefer to use interim tests originally commissioned by the education minister, but that "until such time as a secure, agreed and reliable means of transfer can be put in place, academic selection should continue, for the entire intake".

This year, the transfer tests will take place out of school time in designated centres rather than in primary schools.


Wirral opts out of holidays plan

Plans to standardise the school year across Merseyside from 2010-11 have suffered a setback after Wirral council decided not to take part.

Earlier this year, the Learn Together Partnership of council education departments across the region, including Halton, Sefton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Warrington and Wirral, agreed to a standard school year to make life easier for families who live, work and go to school in different areas.

The proposals include replacing the traditional Easter holiday with a spring break during the first two weeks of April. When Easter falls outside that period, the bank holidays would be observed.

Wirral council confirmed to The TES that it would not be taking part in any pilot until at least 2012. However, Liverpool is expected to trial the scheme from September, and the remaining council education bosses remained committed, despite the setback caused by Wirral's departure.


Science cuts limit experiments

The budget some school science departments have to get by on is "ridiculously low" at Pounds 1,000 a year and "just not sustainable", said Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser for Scotland.

The professor admitted candidly at the Edinburgh International Science Festival that pupils north of the border were not attracted by the subject. She found it "truly horrifying" that they would rather be celebrities than scientists.

Along with other eminent figures at the festival, including celebrity scientist Heinz Wolff, she believed practical work was essential to engage pupils. Yet, she said: "The budget many science teachers have to deliver a full course in science is ridiculously low. I was shocked when I found out a budget for a year might be Pounds 1,000; that's just not sustainable. What we want is the best teachers and the best resource."

Some schools do not have money for experimental work, agreed Paul Thomson, head of Jordanhill School in Glasgow. "There is a mismatch between aspiration and the resource the Government is able to direct," he said.


Wii fitness fun for families

Families in Nottingham are to be given Nintendo Wii sports equipment for 12 weeks as part of a drive to combat childhood obesity.

"Playing certain games can increase energy expenditure to the levels of taking a brisk walk," said Zoe Butcher, a sports science lecturer at Nottingham Trent University.

Researchers at the university are introducing games for the family, using parents as fitness role models.

The project will target children who are members of the city's Go4it group, a scheme for five to 13-year-olds who want to tackle obesity.


Rastas ready to spread the word

The Rastafari community in the West Midlands will hold a conference next month to help teachers nationally to include the faith in RE lessons.

A new religious studies GCSE including Rastafari has been aand at least one local standing advisory council on religious education - Birmingham - has also included the faith in its RE syllabus.

"Rastas are developing resources for schools rather than relying on other people to interpret Rasta for them," said Liz Millman, the event's organiser. "This event will give teachers access to that expertise."

The conference is at Birmingham University on May 18. For details email


Authorities dispute cash claims

The Welsh Local Government Association this week rejected research by a teachers' union that claimed local authorities in Wales spend an average 9.5 per cent less on schools than those in England.

The association contested findings on school funding disparities last year, which were disclosed at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Cardiff earlier this month.

The research also found that 14 of the 22 Welsh authorities had failed to spend the Assembly government's recommended amount on schools - amounting to almost Pounds 67 million.

In a statement, the association accepted some of the findings, including a Pounds 500 per pupil funding gap between England and Wales, but it said that in total the authorities had spent more than the Assembly government had allocated for schools, and that where there were funding differences between the authorities "there were legitimate local reasons".


Funds for extra Sats tuition

Cornwall County Council has allocated Pounds 1.14 million in 2009-10 to fund additional tuition for children who could make two levels of progress in their Sats by the end of Year 6.

Schools will get Pounds 348 per pupil to cover 10 hours' tuition and two hours of planning, as well as Pounds 20 per pupil for administration as part of the Government's Making Good Progress pilot scheme. The fund will also cover evaluating the impact of the extra tuition.

Cornwall has been given a Pounds 150,000 grant to be spent on its National Challenge schools - Poltair, Redruth, Camborne Science and Community College and Fowey Community College. It has also been awarded a Pounds 744,507 government grant to manage the cost of providing healthier school dinners.


Hawk dives at playtime pupils

Secondary pupils in Hampshire have recently come under attack - from a bird of prey.

The red-shouldered hawk was spotted at Oaklands School in Waterlooville one afternoon. The next morning it terrified teenagers when it swooped down on them.

Matthew Quinn, the head, said: "We thought it would fly off, but in the morning it dive-bombed a couple of the students." A parent who has falconry experience was asked to catch the hawk, enticing it with a dead chick.

Hester Phillips, of the RSPB, said the bird was not naturally resident in Hampshire. There was no reason why it would have posed a danger, she said, as its priority would have been survival. It may have chosen the school grounds as its territory because it was a safe spot where it could find food.

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