Week in perspective;The week in Education;Briefing;News and opinion

26th November 1999 at 00:00
This week... A solid set of league tables. Teenage drug abuse. Those Cambridge college blues.

LEAGUE TABLES were all the rage this week.

The good news for the Government was the continued upward trend in exam results. The numbers of children leaving all schools with no qualifications fell by 3,000 to 35,000. And the average points scores of pupils taking GCSEs, A-levels, and national vocational qualifications all increased.

Estelle Morris, schools minister, was quick to praise the success of specialist schools in this year's GCSE tables. Their performance improved at almost twice the rate this year as that of other schools.

She capitalised on the news by announcing that a further 43 schools will be given specialist status next year. The aim is to make a quarter of secondaries specialist by 2003. Each will receive up to pound;500,000 from the Government over the next three years.

However, pupils in England and Wales still let down the UK league, according to research by academics at Edinburgh University. They found that, while 80 per cent of Scottish 16-year-olds stay in education, just over two thirds of English and Welsh young people do so.

The National Association of Head Teachers published its own funding league tables. In the spirit of sharing information with parents, they were happy to reveal a funding gap per pupil of more than pound;1,000 between different education authorities. Whether ministers will be pleased is another matter.

The Government will also be concerned about international comparisons of drug abuse published this week.

Research by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, shows that Britain has the biggest juvenile drug problem in the European Union. Up to 40 per cent of 15- and 16-year-olds have tried cannabis and a fifth solvents. Use of amphetamines and ecstasy by young adults is six times the EU average.

Another set of tables make uncomfortable reading for some Cambridge colleges. A leaked internal report showed that even the richest do not produce good results in all subjects.

Despite this, the Government is still keen more pupils should consider going to Cambridge, or indeed any other university. Tony Blair announced new summer schools at universities, including Oxbridge, to encourage inner-city children into higher education. Ministers are worried that bright kids from poor backgrounds are being put off universities because of their elitist image.

Five thousand pupils will be given the chance to spend a week at universities where they can meet tutors and examine course options. The project is part of the pound;350m Excellence in Cities initiative - designed to raise urban achievement.

Research from the National Union of Students suggests that many of those who take the plunge will end up working long hours for low pay to fund their studies. Many students are working more than 20 hours a week to make ends meet. The average rate of pay is just pound;4.37 an hour.

The Conservatives' had their own policy launch this week but it was overshadowed by the Jeffrey Archer affair.

Their "common-sense revolution in education" included plans for new "free schools" where heads and governors would have sole responsibility for staff, pay and the curriculum and the chance for parents to set up their own schools with taxpayers' cash. They also called for more league tables - this time for seven-year-olds.

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