Week in perspective

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
This week...Blunkett threat to failing schools...Teachers eye new career...Sport in decline.

TARGETS AND polls dominated the news, as Education Secretary David Blunkett announced that secondaries that consistently fail will be closed.

Local education authorities will be asked to intervene in schools which fail to enable at least 15 per cent of their pupils to get five A* to C grades at GCSE. Schools would be given two years to improve results or face closure. They would then be re-opened under the Government's Fresh Start scheme.

Ministers also want all secondaries to ensure that at least a fifth of their children achieve five good GCSEs by 2004, rising to a quarter by 2006.

Seventy schools would currently be in danger of closure under the new rules, while more than 500 will need to improve pupils' results by 2006. New "super-heads" will be appointed to help groups of schools meet the targets.

Local education authorities, which will be expected to employ the "super-heads", attacked Mr Blunkett for playing down poverty as a cause of low achievement. A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: "Schools work hard to overcome pupils' disadvantage ... Teachers must be supported not publicly humiliated."

Increased pressure on teachers may be counter-productive, if the findings of a GuardianICM poll is to be believed. The poll found that more than half of teachers in England expect to quit the classroom in the next 10 years because of overwork, stress and bureaucracy. Union leaders warned of a looming crisis unless the Government acted to reduce workloads.

Parents, who were also polled by the paper, were overwhelmingly happy with their children's schools and beleved standards were rising - backing up the findings of the TES millennium poll published in January.

However, while teachers in England may be at their wit's end, spare a thought for those in America. The US was soul-searching once again after a six-year old girl was shot dead in class by a fellow pupil. It is believed that the six-year-old boy bought a gun to school with him after an argument with the girl the day before. It was the seventh serious shooting in American schools in two years.

Back in the UK, David Blunkett appeared to give heads more leeway to exclude disruptive pupils when he promised to support those who expel violent children. The Government has set schools tough targets to reduce the number of pupils they exclude but Mr Blunkett acknowledged that, "disruptive pupils should certainly not remain in the classroom".

It seems they are unlikely to be found on a playing field either. A survey of physical education by Sport England, which awards lottery grants, showed a sharp fall in the amount of time pupils spend on PE.

Overall, the number of pupils spending two or more hours of lessons a week doing sport fell from almost a half to a third between 1994 and 1999. Almost one in five now spends less than an hour doing PE. The drop was greatest in primary schools, the majority of whom have no specialist PE staff. Critics claimed the findings made a mockery of the Government's plans to create a "sporting nation".

The Government also faced criticism over its efforts to create a lifelong learning society from the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead this week. In his annual lecture, he warned ministers against the "moral authoritarianism" of forcing adults to study.


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