The Week

29th May 2009 at 01:00

Half-term arrived, a bank holiday approached, another MP had his creative accounting splashed across The Daily Telegraph, and the policy wonks of the Department for Children, Schools and Families rested their feet on their desks muttering something about popping to the canteen for some doughnuts. Yup, it's fair to say it's been a quiet week in the world of education.

It's just when everything is this hushed that one can rely on the hardy perennials to make an appearance in the national press. And, courtesy of the Tories, that's just what happened when, on Bank Holiday Monday, they decided to reveal figures showing that the number of teenagers taking GCSE history has dropped by, erm ... 4 per cent. The headlines in the mid-market tabloids don't really bear repeating: Churchill must be turning in his grave ... blah ... they'll never learn about Agincourt ... blah blah blah ...

However, what the good Lord taketh away from traditionalists with one hand he giveth back with the other. The very same weekend that history was pronounced dead in Britain's comprehensives, The Guardian reported that there has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of kids learning Latin. Picture the scene: children word-perfect in Virgil, but with zero knowledge of the pivotal position of the Roman Empire as the foundation of modern Europe. They must have been spluttering in public school common rooms up and down the country.

Talking of public schools, the Sutton Trust issued a report on Tuesday that - shock horror - concluded poor kids who make it to "elite schools" on scholarships sometimes feel "like they don't fit in". This is, of course, sad and not to be scoffed at. But is it a surprise? And does it demand coverage in the national press?

One thing (other than elevenses) likely to have been playing on the minds of education mandarins this week was the future of their boss. Speculation hit the Sunday papers that Gordon Brown was planning a post-election reshuffle that would see Ed Balls replace Lord Mandelson in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Meanwhile, Mandy is supposedly eyeing up the Foreign Office. It doesn't take a massive leap of the imagination to see the current incumbent - one David Miliband - ending up back in the department where he was respected schools minister in the early Naughties. Talk about musical chairs, eh?

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