Education news roundup

From a teacher who’s leaving the classroom to become the deputy prime minister of an African nation, to tobacco firms targeting their next generation of smokers by sponsoring primary schools, we review offbeat – and more serious – education stories in our monthly news roundup. Join us and have your say.

Voluntary summer schools

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced a £50m project to provide summer schools, offering a fortnight of catch-up lessons in basic skills such as literacy, for 100,000 disadvantaged pupils in England.

The plans, announced at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference, have met with mixed reactions from education groups. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has warned that coalition education policies are widening and not closing inequalities, reports BBC News.

Je suis désolé – I can’t speak French!

British schoolchildren are far less likely to learn multiple foreign languages than those in any other EU member state, an international study has revealed, says the Daily Mail.

Pupils from countries including Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia are all more likely to learn additional languages, unlike those in the UK. In fact, Britain has apparently slipped so far in the last decade that it has dropped from being middle of the table that lists the number of languages learned in each country – to joint bottom.

Calls for creationism ban

Sir David Attenborough has joined 30 scientists and campaign groups, including the British Science Association, in calling for creationism to be banned from the school science curriculum. They want evolution to be taught more widely in schools and say that creationism and “intelligent design” should be banned outright, says the Daily Telegraph.

Most schools in England teach evolution, but the piece reveals the views of creationists, who believe God built the world in six days in line with the story of Genesis, have become steadily more popular in recent years.

Tobacco firms sponsor primary schools

Antismoking campaigners have voiced concern that more than 100 primary schools in China are now sponsored by tobacco companies, saying companies are on the hunt for the next generation of smokers.

Slogans in the playgrounds and by the school gates of such schools are reported to include “Talent comes from hard work – Tobacco helps you become talented,” in foot-high gilt letters, says the Daily Telegraph.

Anti-smoking campaigners have described the sponsorship deals as “sickening” and “shocking”. Meanwhile, a survey of 12,000 schoolchildren by Peking University has found that almost a third of boys between 13 and 15 have tried smoking and that the average age Chinese smokers have their first cigarette is ten.

The Doctor

A group of Hampshire school pupils has written a spin-off episode of popular BBC programme Doctor Who, which will now be shown on BBC Three, reports BBC News.

Pupils at Oakley Junior School in Basingstoke entered the three-minute episode, Death is the Only Answer, in a BBC competition.

The creative pupils were invited to travel to studios in Cardiff to watch filming and met Doctor Who actor Matt Smith. He is quoted as saying: “It was so clever we were all just bowled over, it was a brilliant script.”

Free for all

The government’s new free schools must be open to all children and not just a “privileged few”, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has proclaimed – reports the Guardian.

In a speech, thought to have been delivered to reassure sceptics that the policy will improve social mobility, Clegg said they would be acceptable only if they reduce social segregation rather than entrenching inequalities of opportunity.

He called on Education Secretary, Michael Gove to ensure that the second wave of free schools, to be announced soon, are in poorer neighbourhoods or areas with a shortage of school places.

Fifth of pupils learn ‘nothing’

Twenty percent of secondary school pupils are learning ‘nothing’ and the brightest pupils are not being sufficiently stretched by the curriculum or examinations system, Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, has warned.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph, the former headmaster of Harrow School says that the chronic underachievement of the bottom 20 % of pupils is now the “biggest problem” faced by the country and that top pupils from Hong Kong are two years ahead of their British peers in maths.

And finally….

A lesson in politics

A teacher shocked and stunned his north London school colleagues when he quit to take up a new role – as the deputy Prime Minister of Somalia, reports The Telegraph.

Mohamed Ibrahim had been a learning support teacher for two years, at the Newman Catholic College in Brent. Instead of returning for the new term, he contacted his headteacher to say he had to return to his native Somalia to take up a senior role in the Western-backed transitional government.

The 64-year-old, who until recently was helping prepare British teenagers for their GCSEs and A levels, is now operating as the African country’s deputy PM and minister for foreign affairs.


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