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Week in perspective

Christmas bonus hopes dashed...State pupils shun Oxbridge...Hypnosis to boost results

EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett this week suggested teachers might get their "threshold" performance pay awards by Christmas - only for his officials to reject that as far too early. The Department for Education and Employment indicated that it might be Easter before staff see the cash.

The pound;2,000 hike in salary had been delayed after a court ruled that ministers had not properly consulted the profession about the plans. However, a report by the School Teachers' Review Body, published today, gives them the go-ahead for performance pay. It is expected that teachers will not have to re-apply for the bonus but that those who are rejected will have a new right to appeal against the decision.

Teachers certainly deserve the extra money. A survey by the Professional Association of Teachers published this week found that almost half of them have been physically or verbally attacked at school in the past 12 months. The survey was published as it was revealed that a pupil at an infants' school in Nottinghamshire who was expelled for attacking a female teacher with scissors and a chair has been allowed to return to the classroom.

Alan Manasseh, of the association, called for teachers to be trained to defend themselves. Of the teachers attacked, 65 per cent said they had been physically assaulted. Two-thirds of assaults were carried out by pupils.

Only 47 per cent made a formal complaint against their assailant. Of these, only 55 per cent were satisfied with the outcome.

Secondary teachers also have to contend with rising class sizes. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, described the sitation as "absolutely critical". The number of secondary pupils in classes of 30 or more has increased from 245,400 in 1997 to 310,500 this year.

But there was also good news for secondaries this week. The Government announced an pound;82 million package of measures to boost literacy and numeracy for 11 to 14-year-olds. However, the carrot is accompanied by a stick. Twelve-year-olds will face tests to assess their progress after a year at secondary.

Funding for the Excellence in Cities scheme to raise standards in deprived areas will be increased from pound;120m this year to pound;300m in 20034. The expansion will allow seaside and rural areas to be included for the first time. Initially, 10 new areas and seven "smaller pockets" of deprivation will be included.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown may have inadvertently lowered the expectations of state school pupils. Both Oxford and Cambridge universities said applications from state-school pupils have fallen since the row over Laura Spence's rejection by Oxford.

Susan Stobbs, admissions director at Cambridge, warned that students were being put off because they didn't want to be used as a "political football".

"Oxford have announced their number of applications are down and we sense it is the same with us. That would be the first time for 12 years that it was down," she said.

Finally, Kirklees in West Yorkshire has come up with a novel way of trying to boost children's exam performance. It plans to teach children to hypnotise themselves in an attempt to help pupils relax before tests.

Despite this Government's willingness to think the unthinkable it seems hypnotism is a step too far. "This is not something the department recommends," a spokesperson said.

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