Week in perspective

31st March 2000 at 01:00
GRAMMAR SCHOOLS and Section 28 once again dominated the news - with victories for traditionalists on both issues.

Kent's selective schools are safe for another year after anti-grammar campaigners admitted defeat in their attempts to force a ballot. Despite research showing under-performance by the county's grammars, only 7,000

parents have signed a petition calling for a vote on their future - well short of the target of 46,000.

It leaves Trafford in Manchester and Sutton in Surrey as the only areas where parents may still force a ballot.

The admission by Kent campaigners was welcomed by the Conservative Party and grammar school supporters, many of whom had lobbied Parliament days earlier calling for the threat to selective education to be removed. But Becky Matthews of STEP (Stop the Eleven Plus), who organised the Kent petition, has vowed to try again next year.

The future of Section 28, which bans local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality, remains in doubt after the House of Lords rejected compromise legislation that would oblige teachers to promote marriage and other stable

relationships. Peers voted by a majority of 15 to support an amendment by Baroness Young which stressed the importance of heterosexual marriage. The Government has pledged to overturn the defeat in the Commons. But it cannot force peers to accept the compromise as the legislation was introduced in the Lords.

However, another defeat for the Government brought better news for liberals. The Department for Education and Employment withdrew its threat to close Summerhill - the private school where pupils can opt out of lessons.

There is no sign of the Government backing down on its plans to increase privae-sector involvement in state education, though. Haringey, north London, could become the latest council under pressure to privatise services after a damning inspection last autumn. Capita, the consultants brought in to advise on improvement, are expected to recommend widespread out-sourcing of services to schools minister Estelle Morris.

Private education companies were given a further boost by the news that Tory-run Surrey is to invite private contractors to take over France Hill school in Camberley. It is the first time the private sector has been invited to run an improving school.

But the other half of ministers' carrot-and-stick approach to raising standards was also evident this week. Hard on the heels of their plans to invite business to run city academies, they announced a further pound;60 million for urban schools. It is part of the extra pound;1 billion for education announced in last week's Budget.

The pound;60m - to be split between primary and secondary schools - will be paid through the Excellence in Cities programme. The programme will be expanded to include Tyne and Wear, Nottingham and Bristol. The scheme is intended to boost diversity and tackle under-achievement in urban areas.

And as The TES went to press, a pound;70m package to boost teacher recruitment was announced. It will fund salaries of pound;6,000 for post-graduate trainee teachers - rising to pound;10,000 for those in shortage subjects.

Meanwhile, teachers who believe the best way to improve standards at failing schools is to exclude difficult pupils will have had their views reinforced this week. A study by the Youth Justice Board found that nearly three-quarters of pupils expelled from school admitted offending in the previous year.


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