Week in perspective

5th May 2000 at 01:00
THE Easter union conferences came to a close this week, but for ministers there was a sting in the tail.

They now face the prospect of a teachers' strike after delegates in Llandudno at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers get-together, voted in favour of striking to protect their summer holiday.

Some councils have already looked at switching to a five-term year - cutting the summer break from six to four weeks with longer holidays in the spring and autumn. And the Local Government Association - with ministers' tacit support - is due to report in the summer on the benefits of reorganising the school year.

Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, said the change was "all about parents wanting teachers to look after their kids during the summer holidays".

However, despite the threat of industrial action, Education Secretary David Blunkett, got a better reception on his appearance in Wales than his deputy, Estelle Morris, received from the National Union of Teachers last week.

As reported in The TES last week, Mr Blunkett announced more "sin bins" for disruptive pupils. He urged schools to adopt "zero tolerance" on bad language and to instil the "old-fashioned values of politeness and respect" to stop cheeky children turning into thugs.

Mr Blunkett also promised more protection for teachers accused of child abuse by pupils. In response to a tearful appeal from Jayne Jones, a Wrexham teacher whose family endured "nine months of hell" after her husband was the victim of false allegations by a child, he said he was considering ensuring accused teachers remained anonymous while accusations are investigated.

However, the difficultyof pleasing all sides on issues of child protection was highlighted this week, when Tory education spokesman James Clappison attacked the Government for failing to carry out checks on volunteer "mentors" for pupils. Mr Clappison is campaigning to ensure that all adults working with children are properly vetted and is concerned that mentoring could give paedophiles a way into schools.

The Government also came under attack from John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, over plans to make maths A-levels harder. The move came after Nick Tate, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, admitted that there had been a slide in the standard of maths papers during the Nineties.

Dr Tate, who is leaving the QCA to become head of Winchester, promised a new A-level syllabus in September including more algebra, trigonometry and geometry. "Easier" elements such as statistics will be dropped. In future, students will be expected to learn more than 40 complex formulae by heart, calculator use will be restricted and testing will be extended by two hours.

But Mr Dunford said that the changes will discourage pupils from taking maths and fewer will study the subject at university. "It seems crazy to make maths harder when there's a crisis in schools because we can't recruit enough maths teachers," he said.

Heads are also less than enthusiastic about the Millennium Dome, a survey this week revealed. A Sunday Times survey of 40 heads who had visited the Dome found that two-thirds were disappointed. Despite the fact that the Dome encourages free school visits, most heads thought it was superficial or tedious, with minimal educational value.

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