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Week in perspective;Briefing;The week in Education

MINISTERS did little to spread Christmas cheer among teachers this week as they introduced yet more testing and warned of another low pay settlement.

Spelling tests for primary children were announced after Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools, reported on the progress of the Government's literacy strategy. Mr Woodhead identified

continuing weaknesses in writing and spelling, especially among boys, within an overall improvement in standards.

The tests for 8-11 year olds will be introduced first in the poorest performing 2,000 primaries and extended to all schools next year. Eleven-year-olds will be expected to spell word such as "aeronaut" and "xenophobia".

Although the test will be administered by individual schools, the news was greeted with contempt by David Hart, leader of the National Association of Headteachers. He accused ministers of "interventionitis" and said that schools already tested pupils' spelling as part of the national curriculum.

The pressure schools are under to meet Government exam and discipline targets was underlined by the case of Firfield school in Newcastle, which was accused of fiddling its truancy figures. The fresh start school has admitted removing "five or six" persistent truants from its rolls by persuading their parents to educate them at home.

Teachers' morale will be further undermined by a letter from David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, to the School Teachers' Review Body. He admitted that a number of councils will struggle to afford to fund a pay rise above the rate of inflation. With some councils getting only 3 per cent extra for education next year and inflation currently at only 1.2 per cent any significant increase will have to be phased, he said.

Although a tough pay settlement is likely to harden union opposition to the Government's plans for performance-

related pay, ministers will be hoping that teachers wanting rewards for their efforts in raising standards will see PRP as an opportunity to boost their pay packets.

Working conditions should improve though - with pound;1 billion being made available to continue the programme of capital repairs.

A further pound;30 million has been made available to improve access for disabled children after the Government confirmed that it will extend disability discrimination legislation to cover schools and colleges.

Education was excluded from the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. But in response to a report by the Disability Rights Task Force - which also covers transport, housing and health - a bill will be introduced to close the loop-hole.

Schools will no longer be able to exclude disabled children from trips or prevent diabetic pupils from eating in class. Where necessary they will have to install wheelchair ramps, handrails in staircases, and induction loops for children with impaired hearing.

But while ministers may be on the disability lobby's Christmas card list, officials at the University and Colleges Admissions Service are almost as annoyed as teachers. After two years of consultation with the Government and other interested organisations, they have decided to change the A-level points system which is used by some universities as a basis for admissions - reducing the "value" of an A grade.

Mr Blunkett has attacked the proposals, claiming that they would undermine the efforts of high achievers. But he may not win the battle. The points system is owned and operated by UCAS and it seems determined to stick to its guns.

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