They said ..

27th December 2007 at 00:00
2007's biggest education myths were debunked here, writes Michael Shaw.

We say ...

Every week, The TES has been on the look-out for a comment by a politician, official or newspaper which has either been misleading about schools or just plain wrong. And every week there has been plenty to choose from.

Here is a selection of the some of the most oft-repeated education myths of the year.

1. Churchill has been dropped from the history curriculum.

The myth emerged in July and has frequently been repeated by the tabloids and the Conservative Party. It started because the war-time British prime minister was not mentioned in a new key stage 3 programme of study published for history.

But the programme of study was never intended as a comprehensive list: Hitler and Roosevelt were not mentioned explicitly either. However, the programme does say that schools should teach about the Second World War.

Sensible teachers realised that it would be tricky to teach the subject without mentioning the three world leaders. Churchill continues to be on a list of eight people who are recommended to be taught as part of the Second World War at key stage 3.

2. One in five children cannot read a word.

This popular misconception was spread by politicians, newspapers and documentary-makers. It was based on the fact that 80 per cent of 11-year-olds reached level 4, the expected level, in English tests in the summer.

But missing the target did not make all the remaining pupils illiterate - 93 per cent of the year group gained level 3 in reading. While not ideal, this meant they could "read a range of texts fluently and accurately" and that they "read independently, using strategies appropriately to establish meaning".

3. The Holocaust is not taught at all in case it offends Muslims.

This gained international currency after it was reported on the television channel Fox news and websites in the United States. They claimed that "school boards" in the UK had removed the Holocaust from the curriculum because of fears it might offend Muslims.

The story originated from a Historical Association report commissioned by the-then Department for Education and Skills. It gave the example of a history department at a single school in an unnamed northern city that "recently avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils".

However, there was no suggestion that, even in that one extreme instance, the school had dropped lessons on the Holocaust altogether. It remains a compulsory part of the curriculum for all 11 to 14-year-olds.

4. 800,000 pupils are receiving a poor education in low-scoring schools.

Andrew Adonis, the schools minister, accused 800 state secondary schools of wasting their pupils' talents because fewer than 30 per cent of them gained five A-star to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. Lord Adonis said the reason was that they often "lacked leadership and vision".

But The TES found that half the schools had been praised by Ofsted for their good or outstanding leadership. Newspaper claims that 800,000 pupils in these schools were receiving a poor education were also wide of the mark - the total number of pupils in them was only 685,688, and the vast majority of the schools were rated satisfactory or better by inspectors.

5. Pupils across England are banned from putting their hands up.

Several newspapers claimed a government report had suggested a ban on hands going up in the classroom. But the report, which looked at ways to improve support for "invisible children", did not mention pupils' hands at all.

The approach was merely mentioned in an accompanying press release as an example of a tried-and-tested technique which teachers have used for decades to draw out less confident pupils. As the year draws to a close, there is no sign of a national ban on teachers letting pupils raise their hands in class.

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