A builder, a whistleblower and a Chief Inspector

It has been a busy week for education correspondents. From Professor Smith's outspoken criticism of the Government's new science diplomas, to news that Ed Ball's 'National Challenge' scheme is nothing more than empty words, the Government Departments responsible for education have been much in the news. Here is a round up of the good, bad and ugly.

Education policy attack sparks row over standards (Telegraph, 13 February 2009)

Last week Professor Smith - the senior civil servant in charge of science teaching in England - told a public audience that the Government's new science diplomas were 'schizophrenic' , trying to achieving conflicting aims. He went on to assert that in core subjects there was a serious shortage of teachers anyway, and that adding further curriculum burdens was unwise. It was an unequivocal condemnation of Government policy; a condemnation which (no doubt after some strong words from his political masters) he has since apologised for. What he is exactly apologising for his unclear (he has not disavowed what he previously said, only that he regretted saying it) but either way his first statement has encouraged educationalists from all sectors to step up and voice their concern about education policy. Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, who is
carrying out an on-going review of school physics, said: "It is great that
someone in his position has finally spoken out.

Cash plan to rescue schools 'is a sham' (Guardian, 16 February 2009) 

Last year, in a bluster of bravado and press releases, Ed Balls (Secretary of State at the DCSF) named and shamed over 600 'failing' schools, and threatened closure if results were not turned around. To enable the improvement over £400 million was promised to these 'National Challenge' schools.

However the head teachers of these schools have now come out in protest at the relatively small sums made available so far. They claim the amounts 'paled in comparison with the damage triggered by the National Challenge campaign.' Some have received just over £5,000, with the average award being £87,000. 

An education policy of smoke and mirrors (Telegraph, 13 February 2009)

Martin Stephens, Headmaster at St Pauls, gives a damning critique of Labour's education policy.

New fears over dumbing down of key exams (Observer, 15 February 2009)

"In a candid and startling admission, the organisation set up by the
government to maintain exam standards has admitted it is unsure about
how to prevent A-level and GCSE exams becoming easier..."

In minutes from a board meeting between Ofqual (exams regulator) and the Qualification and Curriculim Authority, the head of Ofqual expressed concern over the move to new 'modular' GCSE's and A-Levels. There is concern that as pupils will be able to retake the modules throughout the year, grades will be inflated.

There is a conspiracy to deny our children the vital lesson of failure (Sunday Times, 15 February 2009)

Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of Schools, outlines the deplorable (Government sponsored) push away from competitive, challenging education towards 'no-one can fail' learning.

University applications rise by 8% as recession bites (Times, 16 February 2009)

The number of people applying for university has increased by an average of 8% in recent months, compared to this time last year. The recession and increasing unemployment is seen as the main cause for this jump. But in what would be good news in other circumstances, concern has been voiced in all quarters about the cap imposed by central Government on the number of available places. Moreover the poor handling of university funding by the Department for Innovation, University and Skills is likely to lead to serious squeezes on University budgets.

Bonuses for staff on over-budget school rebuilding programme (Times, 16 February 2009)

As the British economy begun its painful descent last year, Gordon Brown rebutted claims that he had failed to save in the good years with the proud boast that Labour had 'fixed the roofs of schools and hospitals' while the sun shone. Schools have seen comendable investment towards improving their buildings, but it has emerged recently that the body set up to run the Building Schools for the Future Programme is not only running serious delays and cost over-runs, but it is also planning on rewarding this failure with serious bonuses.

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