Primary staff get the best news

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Did you miss all the action while you lazed around during the long school break or were you, in fact, right in the thick of it? Four teachers who chose to spend their holidays doing wildly different activities share their unusual stories

So what did you miss while you lazed away the school summer holiday on beaches or sat in darkened rooms preparing lesson plans? Well, apart from the usual rows over exams (results up, so standards must be down, scandal over marking) there was quite a bit of good news for teachers. And primary teachers in particular.

A survey by the School Teachers' Review Body suggested the number of hours primary staff worked dropped significantly last year as a result of reforms designed to stop teachers carrying out admin tasks. Primary teachers now work more than an hour-and-a-half less each week, and nearly three hours less if they are heads.

The findings of the snapshot survey in secondary schools were less cheerful -teachers saw only a slight reduction in their working weeks while hours worked by heads and assistants rose.

This year's A-level pass-rates improved, yet again, to 96 per cent, prompting the usual rows over standards and perennial newspaper photographs of excited teenage girls in strappy tops.

In Wales there was a variation on the theme, with the first results for the Welsh baccalaureate. Bac students helped double the number of A-grade passes at St Cyres school, in the Vale of Glamorgan, but nationally drop-out rates on the pilot scheme were high.

Of the 670 pupils expected to take the advanced diploma when it started two years ago, just over a third actually collected the award this summer.

GCSEs, meanwhile, were hit by a new marking scandal as The TES revealed that unqualified staff at Edexcel, one of Britain's biggest exam boards, were marking papers with as little as 20 minutes' training.

Modern-language teachers had other reasons to worry. GCSE figures indicated a continuing slump in the numbers of pupils studying French and German after 14, while Welsh second-language entries collapsed by a fifth. A harder new course specification was blamed by teachers.

There were depressing statistics from the Health and Safety Executive, showing that violent attacks on teachers rose by a third last year, with twice as many school staff needing to go to hospital or be resuscitated after being punched and kicked by their students.

And a TES Cymru survey uncovered a pound;785 million backlog of essential repairs needed to school buildings - no surprise to the teachers working in temporary classrooms or whose pupils have to go outside to use the toilet.

Children's commissioner Peter Clarke said the state of schools was "shameful".

But UCAC, the Welsh-medium teachers' union, warned that LEAs could use shoddy buildings as an excuse for shutting down small but viable village schools.

As more LEAs tackle surplus places generated by falling pupil numbers, there were claims that as many as 700 jobs could go in Cardiff alone.

The NASUWT was officially recognised as the largest teacher union in Wales -although the NUT, now relegated to second place, blamed itself for not updating its membership figures.

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