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A Week in Education

It is not often that teachers' unions seem tickled pink by ministerial announcements. But Gordon Brown's pledge this week to increase funding to schools left the National Union of Teachers in raptures. "It's the best bit of news since Labour came to power," trilled Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary.

The Chancellor used his pre-Budget report on Wednesday to unveil an apparent cash bonanza, which he said would see schools receiving an extra pound;200 per pupil from April. He also announced there would be a pound;36 billion building programme, which would match private school capital investment by 2010.

Every five and 11-year-old would be given free books, and every six-year-old who was struggling with their reading would have access to a catch-up programme. "Great," said the NUT.

Jamie Oliver has not been the Government's favourite person, after serving up some unpalatable truths about school dinners. But the celebrity chef was quoted approving of a plan by Walgrave primary, Northampton, to dish out meals for its pupils in the local pub. The school had the idea because it lacks a canteen.

Schools might also have to come up with innovative approaches to another problem: cheating in the exam hall. A Government-backed study said one move might be to make pupils sit tests in metal-lined rooms so that their mobile phones are disabled. Thousands are apparently texting their friends for answers.

Des Smith, the retired headteacher who was arrested in the cash-for-honours probe, opened up to the Mail on Sunday and called for the Prime Minister to be arrested. Mr Smith, who claimed in January that rich donors could receive honours if they supported the academies scheme, said he had exaggerated his knowledge of the scheme to impress a young female undercover journalist. "What I did on that occasion was 'big myself up', to use a phrase schoolchildren use" he said. Perhaps wisely, the Mail on Sunday sent a male reporter to cover the story.

they said...

Pupils' reading skills are a national disaster

(Christine Gilbert, chief schools inspector)

we say...

Hyperbolic headlines aplenty were generated this week after Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, accepted the Evening Standard's invitation to say that reading standards were too low.

Was it a "national disaster" that 17 per cent of 11-year-olds failed to reach level 4 in reading in their key stage 2 English tests this year? Yes it was, she said, pointing out that, although standards were better than ever, too many pupils were still not reading properly.

One should never accept low standards from any child. But two points should be made. First, level 4 was originally defined as what the average pupil achieved. Numbers reaching this mark have been transformed since the 1990s.

Second, the most recent international study found England's 10-year-olds were the third best readers in the world.

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