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A Week in Education

Expansion of the chartered teacher programme is one of the best ways to improve the quality of teaching, states the Council of Economic Advisers in its second annual report. The council, established in 2007 by First Minister Alex Salmond, is sceptical that increasing salaries - without clear targets for teachers - and reducing class sizes can improve standards. It advocates prizes for the top-performing schools and students, and suggests that pupils at secondary school be allowed to take university courses.

Pressure on the Scottish Government over its class sizes policy has not subsided after former Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop was replaced by Michael Russell. There was a brouhaha in Parliament after Labour leader Iain Gray "disclosed" a July 2007 memo from senior civil servant Donald Henderson, making clear that class-size limits of 18 in P1-3 could not be delivered "in the lifetime of a parliament" (as first revealed in The TESS in February 2008). The First Minister has now asked former presiding officers at the Parliament, Lord Steel and George Reid, to investigate whether he misled MSPs on the issues.

Mr Russell was defeated in his first debate as Education Secretary, hours after taking up his post. MSPs backed a Liberal Democrat motion by 57 votes to 50. It accused ministers of presiding over "a series of failures" in education, including class sizes and teacher numbers.

An average of 43,000 pupils (6.7 per cent) was absent from schools each day in 2008-09, down from 45,000 (7 per cent) in 2007-08. Scotland's chief statistician, Rob Wishart, also reported that attendance was 93.3 per cent, almost unchanged from the previous year. Far more pupils had 100 per cent attendance: up to 47,400 from 35,000. Pupils from the most deprived areas were, on average, absent for 14 days more than those in the most affluent areas. A new Government booklet tells parents of their responsibilities in getting children to school.

School closures are being considered in Shetland for the fourth time in a decade. Among those facing the axe are the two-pupil secondary department at Skerries School, on the tiny archipelago of Out Skerries, and the 25- pupil Baltasound Secondary, on the most northerly island of Unst. The plans could also mean the end of S1-4 junior highs.

Aberdeenshire child-protection services have been given one evaluation of "very good" and five of "good" in an HMIE report. Strengths included providing help at an early stage and the trusting relationships between staff and families. However, frontline staff and families need to be more involved in reviewing services' effectiveness.

Parents from Broomhill and St Albert's primaries have dropped their legal challenge to Glasgow City Council over transfers of heads from schools which were closed last session. They claimed the authority failed to consult them in accordance with the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act of 2006. The council's argument, that employment law took precedence, was upheld in court. Jonathan Findlay, executive member for education, said: "It is unfortunate a minority of parents were not prepared to give the new heads a chance."

We apologise to Jenny Campbell of lifetimeswork for publishing the wrong photograph to accompany her comment piece last week.

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