Relief for some but not mums

9th February 2001 at 00:00
As the teachers' pay rise row rumbles on, two reports dominated the week's news. Mike Tomlinson's first annual chief inspector's report as Chris Woodhead's successor was eagerly awaited, and anticipated, in the press. His less strident tone was a welcome relief for many in the beleaguered - and shrinking - profession.

The MPs on the education select committee put the cat among the higher education pigeons by recommending a revolution in university admissions and a further expansion in access to tertiary education. But will exam boards agree to bring A-levels forward to the spring? And will dons willingly sacrifice their summer vacations to process the results in time for the new academic year? Or will the MPs' report be quietly consigned to the discard pile of bright ideas - right in principle but too awkward in practice - along with the four or five-term school year?

Curiously, the committee omitted to mention Laura Spence, the comprehensive school student whose rejection by Oxford University last year led to the inquiry. Chancellor Gordon Brown, who led the charge of Oxford elitism, also escaped criticism.

Teacher shortages are, of course, still with us, but Birmingham has come up with a way of coping: "cyber teachers". High-tech video-conference equipment will allow more than one class to be taught at a time. However, the council emphasised that none ofthe city's schools was operating on a reduced working week.

To the delight of the right-wing papers, research suggested that mothers who return to work before their children are five can damage their education. For every year that a mother works before her child starts school, the prospects of gaining at least one A-level fall by as much as 9 per cent, says John Ermisch, professor of economics at Essex University's institute of social and economic research.

Middle-class families need not worry as the negative impact mainly affects the poor, but it might cause the Government to think again on encouraging women to rush back to work. The professor said: "If you are only pushing women into jobs at McDonald's then you may not be doing anybody any good, particularly the kids."

Tragically, there is one child's name that still haunts us: Damilola Taylor. His mother, Gloria, gave a long, moving interview to the Sunday Mirror in which she criticises his school for allegedly failing to take bullying seriously. She and her husband, Richard, are considering taking legal action for negligence. Ironically, the paper also reported that David Blunkett is planning to recruit an army of young volunteers to help restore the values of good citizenship. Pop stars are backing the campaign to sign up thousands of teenagers for projects, including anti-bullying schemes.

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