Week in perspective

17th November 2000 at 00:00
This week...comphrehensive's perfect score. Remembrance forgotten. Alarm at 14-year odl pub regulars

EDUCATION, education, education, Tony Blair's rallying call, also provides a good analogy for the coverage of the issue in the national news media.

As far as most journalists and commentators are concerned, there are just three education stories a year: the great A-level results controversy, the great GCSE results controversy, and the great league-tables controversy.

We're in the thick of the third - or the secondary schools part of it, at least.

The Government's decision to reward schools which have taken in excluded pupils, at the expense of schools which excluded them, was greeted with dismay by unions worried about discipline.

And interest in the progress of Thomas Telford school - the first comprehensive where every pupil got five good GCSE passes - has challenged some cherished national stereotypes about what really happens in state schools, though it is hardly your typical neighbourhood secondary.

The publication of selected questions from the new "world class tests" for bright nine and 13 year-olds also fuelled the great testing debate.

John Dunford of the Secondary Heads Association observed that they were "a further example of the Government's obsession with testing at the expense of true education."

And as anxious parents - - exhorted to enter their children for the tests if they thought they were able enough - surreptitiously attempted to work out the identity of the missing numbers at each end of the sequence ..., 0.9, 0.8, 0.6, 0.2, ...* (aimed at nine-year-olds), a survey revealed that British adults just aren't very good at maths.

Half of those surveyed by Mori were unable to calculate two hours' overime pay, whilst one in five couldn't check the change from a fiver. But at least they know what Remembrance Sunday commemorates, unlike the children polled by the Sunday Express.

As if tests, tests and tests were not enough pressure on childhood, researchers are suggesting that careers advice should begin in primary school. Children have ruled out many careers by the age of 11, according to the Southampton University team. Their views are formed by experiences (such as doctor's visits), books and television. Law is now sexy, thanks to Ally McBeal, whilst ER and Casualty are breeding wannabe doctors and ambulancemen. "Nurses were perceived in a more negative way as mere helpers who worked for doctors," says Professor Nick Foskett.

Primary school teachers, he says, should be trained to help children build up a realistic idea of the world of work.

Primary teachers will also be at the forefront of a pound;450m Government campaign to help under-11s avoid a spiral of classroom disruption, educational failure, leading to juvenile crime and unemployment. The "Children's Fund" will plug the gap between Sure Start for the under-fives and Connexions, to help teenagers stay on in education.

Meanwhile, the president of the Girls' School Association - the organisation of independent girls' schools - worried about the squeeze on childhood.

Lynda Warrington's concern, though, was not exam pressure, but social pressure on teenagers to engage in adult pastimes. "I can't be the only one to be horrified that it has become the norm for 14 and 15-year-olds to spend their free time drinking in pubs," she said. Her solution? Get parents to use the pressure of schoolwork as an excuse ro curb their daughters' social activity.

*Answer: 0.95 and - 0.6

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