The Week

10th April 2009 at 01:00

Just as teaching was looking like a good escape option for harassed bankers, headteachers were proclaimed the new fat-cats. Hank Roberts, the indefatigable teacher activist, blew the whistle by telling the Association of Teachers and Lecturers annual conference that a London school had been giving staff "city-style bonuses" totalling almost Pounds 1 million over seven years. BBC London news held an on-air debate to discuss the scandal. Though viewers were asked - without a trace of irony - "Should teachers be rewarded with public money?"

Much of the week's education news emerged from the ATL event in Liverpool, the curtain-raiser for the annual fortnight of teachers' union conferences. It was there that Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, announced that history and geography would stay part of the primary curriculum. Which was curious as Sir Jim Rose's curriculum proposals never suggested abolishing them. So what had changed? Just the title of one of the six subject areas - with "human, social and environmental understanding" now rebranded as the more parent and politician-friendly "historical, geographical and social understanding".

Grim cases of teachers being terrorised in their homes also emerged at the conference, with union members describing how staff had found their cars keyed and windows smashed, and had received threatening phone calls. And what training are teachers being given to deal with unruly behaviour? According to Wendy Hardy, a teacher from Derby, a 75-minute PowerPoint show.

Concerns grew over the last-minute sixth-form budget cuts facing schools and colleges. The Schools Secretary was forced to admit that thousands of students might be turned away from schools and colleges because of the funding gap, with some estimates exceeding Pounds 200 million. Headteachers even warned they might have to scrap the diplomas. The Government may now regret the millions it has spent putting up advertisements across the country saying that the new qualification is "Bringing learning to life".

Reports that 30 fee-charging schools had closed or merged in the past year sparked headlines that "a private school is shut every fortnight". Which is, sadly, likely to be true, and worrying for staff in at-risk independent schools. Would they be safer from closure in the state sector? Not necessarily. Over the previous seven years an average of more than seven state schools shut each fortnight.

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