Week in perspective

8th September 2000 at 01:00
IT may be the start of a new school year but some things haven't changed. Chris Woodhead, chief inspector, celebrated schools' return this week by launching a stinging attack on exam standards. And schools are once again facing a shortage of teachers.

Mr Woodhead angered teaching unions by calling for an inquiry into "grade inflation", to find out whether standards have fallen since GCSEs were introduced in 1988. He argued that only a minority of young people should take A-levels and that the exams should be made harder.

"We musn't ignore this, we musn't sweep it under the carpet. There is a danger that we get ourselves to a point where it is impossible to speak out because everybody wants to believe that things are getting better," he said.

Rising pass rates were called into question by research showing that 40 per cent of pupils made no progress between the ages of 11 and 14, Mr Woodhead claimed.

However, Professor David Hargreaves, the new head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, dismissed Mr Woodhead's comments. He said: "That is flawed. For many young people real life dawns as they start their GCSE courses. They realise they have to work hard and their teachers make them work hard."

But sometimes, hard work and good grades are not enough. A Gateshead schoolgirl who passed 13 GCSEs at grade A-C has been told that she is not good enough to go to her school's sixth form. The school's decision not to offer Amy Dale a place sparked a row over whether league tables are encouraging heads to ditch diligent but less talented pupils in favour of high-flyers.

Thousands of Scottish students are still waitingto discover their fate after the marking mix-up. An opinion poll published this week, shows that only one in five people believes that the

Scottish exam results are accurate and reliable.

One person who got the result she wanted, is head Marjorie Evans. She was cleared of slapping a pupil on appeal. However she and her school in mid-Wales remain the subject of an investigation into fresh allegations that pupils have been mistreated.

Teaching unions immediately demanded more protection for their members against allegations from pupils.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: "There is a very strong case for not suspending teachers until there has been a conviction because so many of these cases are based on malicious allegations which are totally false."

Conservative leader, William Hague was also in the dock. He denied that he wanted to privatise universities, despite announcing that he would "de-nationalise" them if he became Prime Minister.

Mr Hague said a future Conservative government would provide a pound;1 billion endowment for a typical top university from sales of radio wavelengths and

privatisation. The interest on the funds would replace government grants.

Universities would also be given more freedom on student admissions and staff salaries.

Meanwhile, Labour was on the back foot as further evidence of the growing shortage of teachers was published. A TES survey found that there are more than 4,000 teacher vacancies in schools. Research for the National Union of Teachers and the Institute of Education also highlighted the recruitment crisis.


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