A Week in Education

TEACHERS WHO may be tired of being blamed for society's ills will have found some relief this week, as parents found themselves in the spotlight.

"When parents fail, can our schools succeed?" was the Daily Express headline above a thoughtful piece about the difficulties many schools face in making up for educational deficiencies at home.

"Lone parents, work-busy couples, not to mention incompetent and feckless parents, are not the ideal springboard into education. Our schools are in a less and less strong position to compensate," wrote David Robson.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, was another to put the onus on families, telling the Times that parents, rather than schools, were central to improving children's literacy.

A lack of books at home appears not to have hindered the young Johnson, however. Having developed a love of literature at primary school, as a teenager he was sending detective stories to publishers, to no avail.

One whose school days were cast in a more controversial light was David Cameron, revealed to have been punished at school for smoking cannabis. The Tories' leader was "gated" for his misdemeanors.

It seems Mr Cameron's youthful indiscretion could give him street cred. A report by Unicef found that British children were the most unhappy in the world, despite them having the most sex, taking the most drugs and having a taste for alcohol.

Also in trouble this week was English and drama teacher Samantha Goldstone of Accrington's CofE St Christopher's high. She was being investigated over allegations that she was running an erotic, gothic vampire website.

Elsewhere, old news was doing the rounds. Gordon Brown's pledge that pupils will have to do at least four hours' sport a week was first announced years ago.

Last week's snow-induced closures of schools across England were greeted with icy sarcasm by some commentators. "What next: no school when it rains?" barked the Daily Telegraph's Simon Heffer.

Headline of the week goes to the Daily Mail for a report on the battle among tutorial colleges for pre-GCSE and A-level revision business:

"Crammer versus crammer".


Today's 11-year-old pupils are three years behind their 1976 counterparts (The News of the World)


This assertion is based on an excellent study led by Professor Michael Shayer of King's College, London, first reported by The TES a year ago. It compared 11-year-olds in 1976 and those between 2000 and 2004 who sat the same basic maths and science test, examining understanding of such concepts as volume, weight, density and displacement. In 1976, a third of boys and a quarter of girls scored highly, compared to 6 per cent of boys and 5 per cent of girls in 2004.

The findings are concerning. However, it would be misleading to conclude that 11-year-olds must be behind in all aspects of their education. The Trends in International Maths and Science Study showed maths skills of 10-year-olds improved more in England between 1995 and 2003 than in any of the other 15 countries taking part.

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