What they got up to in your holidays

8th September 2000 at 01:00
Diane Spencer looks back on the summer's educational news from girls beating boys to getting your job title wrong in Welsh.

SUMMER had scarcely begun when exams became news. A survey by the Professional Association of Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association found that pupils were suffering from stress as they have to endure at least 75 public exams during their school life.

In England and Wales, government figures showed that nearly 45,000 students took at least one GCSE early last year compared with 30,000 in 1996.

But north of the border, all hell broke loose when the Scottish Qualifications Authority's new computer system's glitches left 7,000 out of 147,000 Higher candidates with the wrong results.

Heads rolled: Ron Tuck, the chief executive, resigned immediately, followed by two more officials last week, and another was suspended. It was no joke for the younger pupils either, as nearly 4,000 candidates received incomplete or inaccurate Standard grade (GCSE-equivalent) results.

There was the usual media moan, controversially supported this year by chief inspector Chris Woodhead, over public exams getting easier as A-level results reached a record high for the 18th year in succession and the highest proportion of A* to C grades was awarded for GCSEs. But shock, horror: girls came top. For the first time, they got more As than boys and again outperformed boys at GCSE.

This led to a rash of articles about how to raise boys' achievements. Would single-sex classes be the answer? Was "laddish culture" to blame? Possibly, thought 18-year-old Christopher Hesse, an A-level student, "but it's mostly laziness". Education Secretary David Blunkett commissioned Cambridge University to investigate the value of single-sex teaching.

Successive surveys revealed a variety of statistics: schools in Dagenham Essex, have the highest levels of pollution in the country, said an Internet property company. Teachers work 60 per cent more time than contracts demand, despite government action to cut bureaucracy, said the School Teachers' Review Body. The TES found that the Government's flagship policy to revamp failing schools hasn't improved exam results, and that pay rates for supply teachers vary by up to pound;45 a day. The National Association of Head Teachers exposed the "lottery of funding" for schools and the bewildering array of special payments its members can claim - some of which are based on the height of trees.

In a landmark judgment concerning dyslexic students, the law lords decided that local authorities had a duty of care to pupils and could be sued if the failings of teachers and other professionals lead to youngsters getting a raw deal.

A proposed new law on corporate killing in the aftermath of disasters such as the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry in 1987 raised the spectre of schools and education authorities becoming liable for the deaths of pupils or staff.

Inhabitants of the Isles of Scilly were outraged by plans to reorganise the islands' five schools under one headteacher, while, further afield, leaders of the world's richest nations at the G8 summit in Japan endorsed the United Nations' commitment to universal primary education, and Australia's Labor party plans to set up David Blunkett's education action zones if elected later this year.

There were few laughs in the so-called silly season, but Susan Lewis, the chief inspector of schools for Wales, caused some mirth by getting her title wrong in Welsh in a letter about the inspectorate's Welsh language policy. And heads were warned of the latest danger to life and limb in their playgrounds and corridors: the micro-scooter.

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