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A Week in Education

THE TORY party and its on-off relationship with grammar schools continued to dominate the headlines and comment pages.

David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, must have been surprised by the fallout from a speech he gave more than a week ago. All he had done was repeat the party's decision not to expand grammar schools - a plan that David Cameron, the party leader, had stated on several occasions over the past year and a half.

Yet horrified Tories claimed they had been caught out by a "sudden U-turn"

and threatened to defect to the UK Independence Party.

While the Conservatives dealt with in-house unrest, others had more pressing issues.

For Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, it was maintaining his lead in the Labour deputy leadership race.

And for Sir William Stewart, chairman of the Health Protection Agency, it was getting to the bottom of the health dangers of wireless networks in schools.

He called for a review into the potential risks of wi-fi after the BBC's Panorama reported that emissions from the networks could be three times those from a mobile phone mast.

But scientists criticised the programme for being a "scare story" and "grossly unscientific", pointing out that measurements had been made at different distances.

Meanwhile, at St George's secondary in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, Norman Hoare, the headteacher, revealed he had come up with a novel solution for dealing with high demand for places.

He hired a private detective to spy on parents he believed were lying about their addresses to obtain places at the school, which is three times oversubscribed.

He also authorised stake-outs at parents' homes to verify their address details.

But his scheme's success rate has not been high: so far, two families have been caught out in spot checks, but one successfully appealed.

Parents taking desperate measures to secure a school place may want to check the length of their children's fingers to see what sort of specialist schools they should attend. Academics at Bath university claimed that children whose ring fingers were as long as their index were more likely to favour mathematical tasks. Those with shorter ring fingers were more adept at reading and writing.

Children exposed to more testosterone in the womb, they said, would have brains better developed for maths, while those exposed to oestrogen would better develop verbal parts of the brain.

they said...

'We will ensure heads are not overruled (as they are today) for excluding disruptive pupils'

David Cameron, Conservative leader we say...

On the face of it, this is a seductive idea that should attract many teachers. Why should pesky independent appeals panels, which might be out of touch with classroom life, be allowed to shove misbehaving pupils back into schools?

But the reality is more complicated. Many heads recognise that the potential costs and legal risks faced by schools would be even greater if they excluded pupils without giving them a right to appeal. In a litigious age, the likelihood of cases going to court, or even to Brussels, would increase.

It is also rarer than teachers think - and politicians suggest - for appeals panels to overrule heads. Last year, it happened in only 1 per cent of cases.

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