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Tragic exam tales and bad language

The usual crop of exam stories took a modern twist with the sad tale of the public schoolboy who failed a GCSE because his mother rang his mobile phone to find out how he'd got on; but he hadn't completed the paper. Exam board chiefs claim he breached an anti-cheating ban on bringing phones into the exam hall. The poor lad simply forgot it was in his pocket. His mum was mortified. You don't know whether to laugh or cry.

But exam pressure got to Helen Quick, head of Wyndham primary in Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in a more tragic fashion. She quit her job after admitting correcting mistakes in pupils' test papers in a desperate attempt to meet targets.

Now it's the turn of secondary heads to come under pressure: by 2004, 75 per cent of 14-year-olds will be expected to achieve level 5 in English, maths and Information Communication Technology, and 70 per cent in science. Unrealistic, claim the unions, what about the teacher shortages?

The standards brigade got support from an unexpected quarter: the new Children's Laureate, Anne Fine, laid into publishers for sloppy editing and settling for uninspired writing. "Highly hyped, second-rate books could kill young people's love of reading. Some books read like uncorrected proofs."

The award-winning author whose books include Madame Doubtfire, which inspired the Robin Williams film, said grammatical errors were a reflection of a drop in standards.

"You find punctuation that's awry, grammar that's awry, timings that don't follow, literals that shouldn't be there and punctuation that doesn't help so that you have to read a sentence twice."

Another language story caused much mirth among commentators: the "lessons in swearing". The personal, social and health education module, introduced to teach children about growing up, explores the use of swearwords in class to stop them using bad language. "Absolutely disgusting," said one parent whose child is at Callington Community College in Cornwall where Phil Gibson is running the course.

Mr Gibson defended the classes by saying a lot of swearwords are used without any thought, and many are homophobic, racist and offensive to women. Twelve-year-old girls have the dubious honour of having a bigger vocabulary of foul language than boys; but that's because they go out with older boys, he said.

Bring back the cane! It could be on the cards. An alliance of almost 50, mainly Christian schools, has been granted a judicial review of the act which brought independent schools into line with the state sector where beatings were outlawed in 1987.

The head of the 200-pupil Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, said the action was intended to "prick the conscience of the nation; the ending of corporal punishment was partly to blame for a widespread moral decline." No doubt that a good thrashing did him no harm.

Diane Spencer

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