The week

23rd October 2009 at 01:00

Alarm over pupils "bunking off" school was sparked by figures showing a rise in unauthorised absence. But how many of the extra truants were really with their parents? Nearly all the increase occurred among primary pupils, with the numbers apparently truanting each day rising by about 3,000 to 22,000. Of these, some 3,000 were recorded as on an unauthorised holiday with their parents - although the real figure is likely to have been higher. A further 2,000 were just late, with some possibly only recorded because of electronic registers.

The real causes of absence could be worth an investigation by England's new children's commissioner - if the Government lets her. Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, announced he was appointing former teacher Maggie Atkinson to the post. This outraged Barry Sheerman, chair of the Commons schools select committee, which had expressed concern about her independence. Mr Sheerman then branded Balls "a bully" on the radio. The spat gained its own Twitter tag: #ballsvsbarry.

Mr Sheerman was so caught up in the row that, when he appeared at the official launch of the Cambridge Primary Review report, he admitted he had not read it properly. The Huddersfield MP was not the only politician who missed some of the detail in the report. Michael Gove, Conservative schools spokesman, gave it a warmer welcome than his Labour counterparts, but criticised its "proposals to raise the age of compulsory schooling" in The Guardian. This may have frustrated the inquiry's leader, Professor Robin Alexander, who has been explaining the difference between starting school and starting the formal primary phase all week.

Another person who may not have read the review report closely was Sunday Times columnist Minette Marrin. Primary education was in trouble, she suggested, because teachers were trained in outdated orthodoxy and wanted to neglect phonics and the 3Rs (the review said the opposite). "What's wrong with the Alexander report, for all its right-minded ideals, is that its proposals depend on trusting teachers," she said. "The truth is that teachers here and now cannot as a group be trusted."

However, this week's best put-down to school staff was from a Daily Mail reader. In response to a story about the trend for teachers to wear headsets during lessons to protect their voices, Alex, from Birmingham, wrote: "It will be roller skates next to save their poor little feet." Brilliant idea.

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