Week in perspective

POLITICIANS, academics and journalists continued to trade blows this week, as the battle of Laura's brain intensified.

While Ms Spence prepared to sit her A-levels, a report revealed that 11 of the 13 top universities appear to discriminate against pupils from state schools.

More than 1,000 students from the poorest 50 per cent of the population do not win places at top universities - including Oxford and Cambridge - to which their grades entitle them, according to the published by the Sutton Trust, an education charity set up by philanthropist Peter Lampl.

It advocates scholastic aptitude tests, used in America to identify pupils with potential from underprivileged backgrounds, as well as summer schools and talent scouts to ensure top universities admit bright state sector pupils.

The report was seized upon by ministers as evidence that their attack on university elitism was justified. Chancellor Gordon Brown, who started the class war last week, himself came under fire when it emerged that of the five candidates accepted by Magdalen college to study medicine two were from state schools and all had exam grades as good as Ms Spence.

On his return from paternity leave, the Prime Minister tried to defuse the row. "Let's hear no more rubbish about class war as if we had to choose between caricatures of Little Lord Fauntelroy or Karl Marx," Mr Blair said. "Gordon Brown and I believe passionately in extending opportunity for all. But neither of us will have any truck with old fashioned egalitarianism that levels down."

The Tories attacked Labour for pursuing the "politics of envy" and said they would create more grammar schools to help state pupils into university.

Mr Hague said a Tory Government would give headteachers power to exclude pupils and impose whatever regimes they wished. Excluded pupils would be taught in special out-of-school progress centres which would be set up using existing education funding.

Meanwhile, as The TES reports exclusively this week, heads of schools in areas where the local authority is failing could "opt out" of council control. Labour scrapped grant maintained status last year, but ex-GM foundation schools get more freedom from LEAs than community school counterparts.

It was a good week for head-teachers. While Mr Hague promised freedom and power, the leader of their largest union predicted a big pay increase. Closing the union's annual conference, David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said "superheads" with six-figure salaries could be in place by January.

He said he expected ministers to advertise for the posts shortly which would involve running between three and five secondary schools - including those judged to be failing. Mr Hart said that some people might laugh at salaries in excess of pound;100,000 but that some schools were no laughing matter.

Superheads may also be expected to manage American teachers who could arrive in Britain as part of a joint initiative to tackle failing schools. As well as teacher exchanges, Britain and the US are set to share best practice and research in a bid to tackle rising violence and falling standards in inner city schools.

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