Schooldays rule your destiny long before first job interview, say MPs

Schooldays rule your destiny long before first job interview, say MPs

The Guardian World News |by Tracy McVeigh

Poorer children

MPs have highlighted that the disparity in educational and economic achievement between the wealthy and the underprivileged starts to widen at a young age. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Long before you apply for a job or university place, your prospects in life have all too often been set, claims a cross-party committee of MPs.

Britain is far behind the rest of the developed world in terms of social mobility and studies show that today’s 40-somethings have even less mobility then those who were born in the 1950s. Denmark, Canada, Australia and Germany all have better records.

In their interim report, Seven Truths About Social Mobility, to be published on Tuesday, the MPs say giving pre-school children essential skills is the key to breaking Britain’s class system.

Damian Hinds, the Conservative MP who chairs the parliamentary group on social mobility, said the poor performance of Britain internationally “harms both social justice and economic growth”. He added: “We must face up to difficult aspects of the challenge, and that includes the very earliest years.”

Going to a top university is the biggest driver of access to the country’s best careers and around a fifth of students offered a place at Oxbridge and other Russell Group universities are privately educated – against just 7% of the school population overall.

A third of those with three As or A*s at A-level went to private schools. The challenge, says the group, is attainment before school, when the gap between rich and poor starts to emerge. The gap in “school readiness”between the child from a wealthy family and one from a disadvantaged family is widely acknowledged and was a key driver behind the Sure Start centres now facing closure under the coalition’s programme of cuts.

“Good parenting and warm family relationships can make a crucial difference to a child’s future prospects,” said Liberal Democrat peer Claire Tyler. “We also know from recent research that a child’s emotional wellbeing, resilience and social skills matter and can affect a child’s ability to bounce back from adversity.”

Labour MP Hazel Blears, another member of the parliamentary group, said: “The fact is seven out of 10 people get their next job from someone they know. We need to ensure that young people from working-class backgrounds, whose parents don’t have the same exclusive networks as some in the City of London, are given the opportunities to achieve. This means ending unpaid internships and opening up opportunities as well as education and support.”

Secondary school pupils ‘not eating enough’

Secondary school pupils ‘not eating enough’

BBC |April 28, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
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Secondary school pupils are not eating enough at lunchtime according to a study by the body overseeing school food.

School Food Trust research suggests pupils get a quarter of the recommended daily intake from lunch, rather than the third that is advised.

A trust spokeswoman said it could be because pupils just chose a salad or a dessert rather than a full meal.

But there is evidence of significant improvements in school nutrition.

‘Fuel up’

The School Food Trust report said: “The secondary school environment is more complex than primary, and the style of food service makes it more challenging to ensure that pupils are making healthy choices whilst catering for their needs at lunchtime.”

The trust added in a statement: “The research shows that schools still need to do even more to encourage teenagers to fuel up well for their afternoon lessons.

“Despite huge improvements to what’s on the menu, teenagers are still not choosing food combinations that will give them enough energy and nutrients to stay alert all afternoon.”

It added that while the number of pupils eating fruit and vegetables every day had doubled since guidelines came into force, it still needed to go much further.

The report compared the eating habits of almost 12,000 pupils in 80 schools in England in 2011 with a smaller group of about 6,000 pupils in 2004.

‘Sweets and crisps’

It found significant improvements in the nutritional value of meals offered by secondary schools and healthier choices made by pupils.

For example, in 2004 43% of pupils had chips with their lunch compared to just 7% in 2011.

And almost all schools have ditched the sale of chocolate, sweets and crisps.

Nutritional guidelines for school food were introduced in 2005 after a campaign by the TV chef Jamie Oliver exposed how unhealthy food was in some places. These were then strengthened and full guidelines came into force in 2009.

Senior nutritionist, Jo Nicholas, who led the research for the trust said: “These findings show that even just 12 to 18 months after the final standards came into effect, as many secondary schools were getting to grips with the changes, the legislation was already making a significant impact – not just for what was on the menu but also for what teenagers were actually eating.

“Instead of ‘chips with everything’ we’re starting to see signs of ‘chips now and again’,” she added.

Exams watchdog plans A-level reforms to curb persistent grade inflation

Exams watchdog plans A-level reforms to curb persistent grade inflation

The Guardian World News |by Shiv Malik

Students sitting A-level exams

A-levels faces sweeping reforms to tackle claims that examiners have been giving students ‘the benefit of the doubt’, the exams watchdog warns. Photograph: Alamy

The head of the exams watchdog has signalled wide-ranging reforms to A-levels to tackle claims that examiners have been giving students “the benefit of the doubt”, leading to persistent grade inflation.

Glenys Stacey, chief executive of Ofqual, said the body would consult over the summer on proposals to scrap the modular AS structure, to make certain core subjects compulsory for all under-18s, and to introduce multiple choice questions to ensure students were being tested more widely on their knowledge.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Stacey blamed examiners for year-on-year grade inflation, which she said was“impossible to justify”.

“If you look at the history, we have seen persistent grade inflation for these key qualifications for at least a decade,” she said. “[It] is virtually impossible to justify and it has done more than anything, in my view, to undermine confidence in the value of those qualifications.

“One of the reasons why we see grade inflation, and it is a laudable reason, is that a lot of the time there are very small gains just by giving the benefit of the doubt. But the benefit of the doubt factor has an impact over time. We need to find ways to manage grade inflation.”

The remarks are in stark contrast to those made when she was appointed to the job last year by the education secretary, Michael Gove. In May 2011, she told the Times Higher Education supplement: “I don’t find ‘grade inflation’ to be a very helpful expression. ‘Inflation’ has a negative import, whereas in fact we may be seeing young people being taught well and working hard.”

Stacey told the Sunday Telegraph universities found the modular system flawed and unsatisfactory. “We have found that there is a strong and persistent view from universities that the modular approach to A-levels is not achieving what it needs to, that the parts don’t add up to the whole,” she said.

Stacey added that too much teaching time was being taken up with exam preparation and helping students to resit modules. “There are only so many school hours in a year. When time is spent preparing for modular exams, doing test papers, doing exams, doing resits, where is the time for teaching?

“It is not simply a question of ‘well, let’s propose we get rid of the January exams’, you do need to have regard to the structure of the two-part A-level. The answer may well be different subject by subject.”

Earlier this month, it emerged that Gove had written to Ofqual asking for the Russell group of universities to set A-level questions and “drive the system”. “I am increasingly concerned that current A-levels, though they have much to commend them, fall short of commanding the level of confidence we would want to see,” he wrote.

Ministers lift cap on number of top students universities can enrol

Ministers lift cap on number of top students universities can enrol

The Guardian World News

Cambridge University is still too often perceived as a place for the already privileged

Cambridge University will be able to enrol more bright students under government plans. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Universities face a fresh bidding war for students next year, after ministers unveiled plans aimed at allowing more bright youngsters to gain their first choice place.

Under reforms revealed on Friday, institutions will be able to recruit as many teenagers as they want with at least an A and two B grades at A-level in 2013.

It is likely to mean that universities are competing for around 120,000 students – one in three of the places available.

This year, institutions were allowed to recruit as many students as they wanted with two As and a B, around 85,000 people in total.

The expansion means it is expected that a further 35,000 youngsters will now join this pool of unrestricted students that institutions can recruit from.

The move comes despite pleas from university leaders, who have warned ministers against moving too fast with the scheme.

The universities minister, David Willetts, said: “A third of all students will now be free of number controls. This is what our university reforms are all about – putting choice and power in the hands of students.

“We are rolling back the controls on places at individual universities that have been a barrier to competition. Students will gain as universities attract them by offering a high-quality academic experience.”

The plans are likely to benefit the country’s top universities, which will be able to expand the numbers of bright students they take.

But other institutions are likely to miss out, if bright undergraduates choose to go to their more prestigious rivals.

Ministers also announced that an extra 5,000 places would be handed to universities and colleges that kept their fees low next year.

These places, known as “core and margin” places, are awarded to institutions that set fees at £7,500 or less.

Some 20,000 core and margin places were awarded this year.

The offer of these places was widely seen as an attempt by ministers to keep fees low after it began to emerge that many universities and colleges would charge at, or close to, the maximum £9,000 from this autumn.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “It seems very premature for the government to extend its AAB policy when we have yet to see the impact of it. This looks like the triumph of ideology over evidence-based policy-making.”

The announcement comes weeks after official figures showed that more than a quarter of universities could see at least a 10%drop in student numbers as a result of government reforms.

Many of those set to be hardest hit by the government’s overhaul of student places are newer institutions that plan to charge more than £7,500 from this autumn.

In total, around three in four universities are likely to have an overall drop in numbers, according to data published by the Higher EducationFunding Council for England.

Statistics published by the council show that 34 institutions (26%) are estimated to have a 10% or greater drop in student numbers this year compared with last year, and in some cases it could be over 12%.

The falls are likely to be caused in part by the government’s core and margin scheme, and the cap on AAB students being lifted this year.

Can Jamie Oliver’s school meals revolution survive the Michael Gove recipe?

Can Jamie Oliver’s school meals revolution survive the Michael Gove recipe?

The Guardian World News

Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver said: ‘I just wish Mr Gove and the government would wake up and support these positive results by reinstating the perfectly good, cash-neutral, nutritional standards they’ve callously stripped away.’ Photograph: Peter Dench

Pupils are ditching chips, hamburgers and sweets for soup, sandwiches and fruit juice at lunchtime in the wake of the school food revolution begun by Jamie Oliver, a new study reveals. But the chef warned that this “huge progress” was at risk from the government’s “short-sighted and dangerous” decision to exempt academies and free schools from the rules that have compelled other schools to improve the food they offer to students.

The report by the Children’s Food Trust (CFT) shows the proportion of teenagers having chips at lunchtime has dropped from 43% to just 7% between 2004 and 2011, while those consuming starchy foods cooked in fat or oil, such as garlic bread or yorkshire pudding, is down from 50% to 17%. The number of schools offering pizza every day has fallen from 66% to 50%.

At the same time the number of pupils eating sandwiches has risen from 13% to 29%. Those having vegetables and salad has doubled, albeit only to 12%, while 98% of schools now have both foods on their menu four or five days a week – up from 60%. Two-thirds fewer pupils now opt for sweet treats such as cakes and biscuits.

And today’s average school lunch is more nutritious than in 2004, containing a third less salt, sugar, total fat and saturated fat, and 50% more vitamin A.

Oliver hailed the “really important research” as proof of the dramatic changes since his series. “This research shows that kids in secondary schools are smart when it comes to food choices – we knew that, but also it shows the huge progress that schools have been making across the country,” the chef told the Guardian.

He also renewed his attack on the education secretary,Michael Gove, for not insisting that academies must serve the same healthy fare as maintained schools. The rapid growth in academies – just overhalf of England’s 3,261 secondaries are or aim to become one – has sparked fears among doctors, campaigners and caterers that fewer pupils will be sure to receive healthy food.

“I just wish Mr Gove and the government would wake up and support these positive results by reinstating the perfectly good, cash-neutral, nutritional standards they’ve callously stripped away, that were there to protect our children.

“As more and more schools get academy status, it’s more vital than ever that the law is changed immediately to bring academies in line with the nutritional standards for maintained schools. To simply trust busy, financially strapped headteachers to make school food a priority is short-sighted and dangerous,” Oliver said.

Judy Hargadon, the CFT’s chief executive, said: “This report debunks the myth that children don’t like healthy food. There were cynics who said pupils wouldn’t eat school food after the standards came in. But children are perfectly happy to do so. We’re seeing a significant change in their eating habits. We’ve gone quite a long way on the school food journey but there’s still a way to go.”

But the cafeteria-style service offered at lunchtime by many secondary schools, in which pupils can choose whatever they like, makes it harder to ensure they eat a balanced meal, said Hargadon. She wants more secondaries to do the same as primaries and offer pupils a main course and a dessert, albeit still with some choice of dish. And schools that have moved their lunch-hour back to 1pm or 1.30pm should rethink, she added, as that meant many pupils ate a lot at the morning break and were no longer hungry by the time they were offered nutritious food at lunchtime.

The CFT was set up in 2005 by the then Labour government as theSchool Food Trust to overhaul meals after the Jamie’s School Dinners series on Channel 4 exposed how unhealthy many of them were.

Embarrassed by the “Turkey Twizzlers” row, Labour brought in minimum nutritional standards for school meals in England from 2008, and stopped schools selling confectionery and canned drinks.

However, packed lunches – more pupils still bring one in than eat school food – remain a problem, separate CFT research found. Some 69% contain “non-permitted foods” schools can no longer offer, such as crisps; 37% include a fizzy drink, and 26% confectionery, cakes or biscuits. But three times as many pupils having a packed lunch eat fruit (34%) than do those who have a school lunch (11%).

The fact that healthy school meals are now the rule rather than the exception “will go a long way to helping stem the obesity crisis we are facing”, said Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which represents children’s doctors. But other measures are needed, too, such as compulsory cooking lessons for pupils and limits on the number of fast-food outlets allowed to open near schools, he added.

The Queen Katherine school in Kendal, Cumbria, revamped its menus soon after Oliver’s series was broadcast. Alex Stewart, a 17-year-old pupil, recalls the switch from chips, hamburgers and crisps to healthier food from his first year in 2005. “They now serve things like lasagne, shepherd’s pie and even sausage, mash and beans, and jacket potatoes, baguettes and sandwiches are available every day, as is fruit, yogurt and fruit-flavoured rather than sugary drinks,” he said. “It’s opened people’s minds.”

Pupils now eat a wider variety of foods and a healthier, more balanced diet, he said. “One or two still want a burger and chips, and some sixth-formers still buy hot sausages or chicken bites from a nearby supermarket, but most actually like the food.” At breaktime the school’s 1,420 pupils can buy crumpets, cheese on toast or coffee from its tuckshops, which used to sell sweets and crisps.

Lynda Mitchell, national chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association, said everyone who had implemented the new system had helped overcome “huge challenges” including “the initial resistance of teenagers to healthier eating”.After an initial fall in uptake nationally, three year-on-year rises mean 44.1% of primary pupils and 37.6% of secondary ones now have a school dinner (take-up across all schools was 44.9% in 2004). Ministers should see the CFT’s study as evidence that “we are turning the corner in secondary schools and that mandatory nutritional standards are beginning to pay off”, Mitchell added.

The Department for Education welcomed what a spokesman called “a lasting culture change in attitudes” since Oliver’s exposé.“Heads know that failing to invest in good, nutritious food is a false economy and parents won’t tolerate reconstituted turkey being put back on the menu.”

He rejected Oliver’s fears about academies. “The tough nutrition standards remain in place in maintained schools and set a clear benchmark for the rest. Catering is outstanding in many of the longest established academies. We see no reason that they will all not be serving high-quality food to pupils that meet the standards,” he added.

On the menu in 2004

Main courses

• Turkey Twizzlers

• Sausages and chips

• Hot dog and chips

• Sausage roll and chips

• Hamburger and chips

• Battered fish and chips

• Pizza with ham, cheese and tomato

Desserts

• Selection of tray bakes eg chocolate rice crispies, flapjacks

• Iced buns

On the menu in 2011

Main courses

• Mediterranean braised lamb with couscous

• Roasted vegetable stack

• Cauliflower cheese bake

• Mushroom stroganoff

• Pork and apple casserole and mashed potatoes

• Quorn burger with chilli jam

• Country-style vegetable tart

Desserts

• Yoghurt

• Fresh fruit

Source: Local Authority Caterers Association

School term-time holidays: ‘Most parents take them’

School term-time holidays: ‘Most parents take them’

BBC |April 26, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News education reporter
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More than half of parents (55%) in England admit having taken a child on holiday during term time, a poll suggests.

And more than a quarter of the 2,000 polled plan to take their children out of school for a holiday this year.

The prospect of fines was unlikely to put them off, they said.

The survey by LV travel insurance found cost and difficulties getting time off work during peak times were the main reasons behind this.

The Department for Education (DfE) said schools were expected to take a “tough line” on requests to miss lessons.

One in five (20%) parents said they had sought their school’s permission for a term-time holiday and been refused.

One in eight (12%) admitted having lied in order take their children out of school for a holiday.

The most common excuses included pretending their child was sick (35%), visiting sick relatives (20%), a family wedding (18%) and a trip for educational purposes (16%).

More than half (57%) of those surveyed said they took their children out of school for a holiday because it was cheaper, with a third (32%) saying they could not afford a break during the school holidays.

A quarter (26%) said that they, or their partner, could not get time off work during school holidays.

Just under half (43%) said they would take their child out of class for a week, while 30% said their holiday would be shorter than this.

Fines

The survey, conducted by ICM, showed 43% of parents believed the cost of a fine was outweighed by the savings made by booking an off-peak holiday.

Issuing fines is one of the last resorts for schools to deal with absence problems, including parents who take their child on holiday during term time without permission from the school.

A parent issued with a fine has 28 days to pay £50 – if they fail, it is doubled.

If the fine is not paid after 42 days, the school or local authority has to withdraw the penalty notice, with the only further option being for local authorities to prosecute parents for the offence.

More than 32,600 penalty notices for school absence were issued to parents last year, and more than 127,000 have been issued since the scheme was introduced in 2004.

However, about half went unpaid or were withdrawn.

‘Not surprising’

Selwyn Fernandes, managing director of LV travel insurance, said: “The difference in price for taking a trip during the school holidays and during term time is huge.”

He said it was “not surprising” that many parents were willing to risk a fine “when they can save 10 times that by holidaying outside of the peak season”.

But the government’s “behaviour tsar”, Charlie Taylor, has called for a clampdown on term-time holidays.

A DfE spokeswoman said schools were expected to take a “tough line” on requests to miss lessons, as a few days off could leave youngsters struggling to catch up.

“It’s down to individual schools to consider requests for holiday absence during term time,” she said.

“Each request can only be judged on a case-by-case basis, but it is entirely at the head teacher’s discretion, and is not a parental right.”

Teacher numbers fall by 10,000 in a year in England

Teacher numbers fall by 10,000 in a year in England

BBC |April 25, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News
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The number of teachers in England’s state school system fell by 10,000 in the year to November, new figures show.

Government data on the school workforce shows teacher numbers have dropped for the first time in years.

Ministers say three quarters of the reduction is among teachers employed directly by local councils – for example as tutors or schools advisors.

The head teachers’ body ASCL says budget pressure means heads are making difficult decisions to cut staff.

The drop of 10,000 is 2% of the full-time equivalent teaching posts in England’s schools.

Teacher numbers had been growing steadily in recent years, increasing by 32,000 (7.9%) between spring 2000 and November 2011.

The total number working in England’s state school system is now 438,000 – a fall of 10,000 from 2010, a workforce survey taken in November shows.

Meanwhile, numbers of teaching assistants in schools have almost trebled since 2000, rising to 219,800 in November 2011.

Academy expansion

A government spokesman said most of the reduction in teacher numbers was due to the loss of teachers from council posts and this was related to more schools becoming academies.

When schools become academies they are generally less closely linked to local authorities and may choose to “buy in” or provide for themselves services previously organised by local councils.

Under the expanding academy programme, schools are funded directly by central government and are given extra money which would have previously have been spent on their behalf by councils.

Among other things, councils would have spent the cash on tutors for sick or excluded pupils, or on “super teachers” who might help to train or advise teachers in schools.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said head teachers were feeling pressure on their budgets and were having to make difficult decisions.

“This [fall in teacher numbers] will be mostly explained by a fall in school budgets,” he told BBC News.

“In recent years, there has been more funding to bring people in for intervention work, but heads now have to reduce that.

“We are picking up from a lot of school leaders that they have to reduce staff. It is obviously worrying.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “The main reason for the drop in teacher numbers is because local authorities do not need to directly employ as many teachers, because more schools are becoming academies.

“Schools though are free to organise themselves as they see fit- they are best placed to make these decisions without undue or unnecessary influence from government. Head teachers are best placed to use their professional judgement to decide the most appropriate staffing structure for their school, including what role support staff play.”

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, said the census showed the “huge loss in teaching expertise and local authority support” that was occurring as a result of the government’s “disastrous cuts agenda”.

“Centrally employed teaching staff are very important to many aspects of teaching and learning from music lessons to SEN support,” she said.

Head teachers’ pay

The government’s data also shows there are about 700 state school leaders earning more than £100,000 a year in England. About 200 of those earn more than £110,000 a year.

The average salary of a school leader in England’s state schools is £55,500, according to the survey, which was carried out in November.

And 1,600 school leaders earned less than £40,000 last year; they were mostly in primary or nursery schools.

On average, a classroom teacher earned £34,400 a year.

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