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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


• 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


• 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
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.


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

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.

Ban packed lunches, says Katie Price’s ex Alex Reid

Ban packed lunches, says Katie Price’s ex Alex Reid

BBC |April 25, 2012

Reality TV star and former cage fighter Alex Reid has called for a ban on school packed lunches in a speech in Parliament.

Mr Reid, ex-husband of celebrity Katie Price, said he wanted supermarkets, banks and big business to fund free, healthy school meals for all children.

He said pupils were eating chocolate and crisps which were“affecting their ability to concentrate in lessons”.

Mr Reid was speaking to the All-Party Group on School Food.

Mr Reid and Ms Price, the writer, TV reality show star and model also known as Jordan, divorced last month and he is now engaged to former Big Brother contestant Chantelle Houghton.

He won Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother in 2010.

‘Compulsory’Mr Reid told MPs about plans to raise £1 billion by offering companies promotional opportunities, including direct marketing to parents, in return for investment in a scheme called Let’s Do Lunch.

He said his proposal would remove the financial burden of providing school meals from the taxpayer.

“The important thing is the Let’s Do Lunch marketing would help companies investing in the scheme to generate more revenues,” he said.

“I want to make healthy school meals available to all kids.

“We will essentially make them compulsory and ban packed lunches.”

In 2010, the government shelved a scheme devised under Labour to widen entitlement to free meals to 500,000 more low income families.

Labour MP and shadow education minister Sharon Hodgson, who is a member of the all-party group, said there were fears that more children could lose entitlement to free lunches under the forthcoming Universal Credit system.

“We now have to look at other ways of achieving those ambitions. The project that Alex is working on could go some way towards that,” she told the Sunderland Echo this week.

Private school pupil numbers rise

Private school pupil numbers rise

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

Harrow school's Vaughan library

Harrow school’s Vaughan library. Former school head now ISC chairman, Barnaby Lenon says the figures show that finding fees remains a priority for large number of parents. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Pupil numbers at private schools have risen for the first time since the credit crunch, a survey has revealed. The figures show a north-south divide, with a 1.2% rise in London and the south-east masking a decline in the rest of the UK.

There were falls of 1.6% in the north of England and 1.9% in Wales, according to data gathered by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) from more than 1,200 UK private schools. Overall, the rise in the south-east contributed to a 0.1% national increase in private school pupil numbers to nearly 505,000 children.

An increased proportion of children at fee-paying schools are non-British, the survey finds, up 5.8% to more than 26,000. There has been a sharp increase in Russian pupils, from around 800 five years ago to more than 1,700 this year.

School fees rose by 4.5% last year, the survey shows. The average termly fee is now £3,903 at day schools and£8,780 at boarding schools. Around a third of pupils receive help with their fees.

Independent schools have consistently grown in size over the past 25 years, with the average school a third larger than in 1985, the survey finds. They have also become more diverse.

There is a slightly higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils in private schools than in state schools.

Just over a quarter of pupils in private schools are from ethnic minorities. When boarding schools are excluded, this proportion rises to 28.5%. The latest figures for state schools in England show 24.5% of pupils are from ethnic minorities.

The government has urged private schools to back the academies programme, under which state schools become independent of local authorities and are funded directly from Whitehall.

However, relatively few have responded to this call. Currently 19 schools sponsor academies while 14 are co-sponsors.

The survey reveals that fewer than 1,000 private schools had partnerships with state schools, including sporting ties, and links involving music and drama.

Among private school pupils going to university, 2.8% chose to leave the UK.

Some 27% of schools reported an increase in the number of pupils going to overseas universities, while only 8% reported a decrease. The US was the most popular destination, attracting 45% of ISC pupils who went to overseas universities, the next most popular was Hong Kong, attracting 12%.

The survey detects a slight shift away from single-sex education: 13% of the schools that were boys-only and 9% of the schools that were girls-only in 2007 had become co-educational by 2012.

The ISC chairman, Barnaby Lenon, a former head of Harrow school, said in a statement: “At a time of recession, when very many parents are struggling financially, it is clear that finding fees for their children’s education remains a priority for very large numbers.”

Rupert Murdoch reveals meetings with Michael Gove over free schools

Rupert Murdoch reveals meetings with Michael Gove over free schools

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

Michael Gove

Rupert Murdoch revealed at the Leveson inquiry that Michael Gove met with News Corporation and News International executives over establishing a free school. Photograph: Rex Features

News International expressed an interest in applying to set up a free school, after plans to establish an academy in east London fell through, according to Rupert Murdoch’s witness statement to the Leveson inquiry.

The statement, published online on Wednesday, also reveals details of several meetings Murdoch and other News International and News Corporation executives had with Michael Gove, the education secretary and former Times journalist, to discuss this project and other education issues.

Murdoch disclosed that in May last year. a representative of News International exchanged emails with two members of staff at the Department for Education, asking about whether the Sun and Times publisher might apply to set up a free school and what the deadline would be. Previously, the company had expressed an interest in helping to finance an academy school.

Free schoolswere a key part of the 2010 Conservative election manifesto, allowing parents, teachers and charities to set up their own “big society” schools. The first 24 opened last September.

According to the statement, Murdoch said: “I understand that the [free school] idea was not progressed any further. I believe that we had planned to discuss Nl’s interest in supporting a school with Mr Gove at a breakfast meeting in May 2011 but do not recall if we reached that topic.”

James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, then News International chairman and chief executive, respectively, and James Harding, editor of The Times, were also at this breakfast meeting last May. The statement says the meeting was “devoted to education reform”.

The relevant email exchanges between the department and NI have not been published.

In the statement, Murdoch praises Gove’s “distinguished record”as a senior Times journalist and said that their recent interactions had focused on education reform.

He reveals that Gove and former Labour schools minister Lord Adonis attended his home for dinner last January with Joel Klein, the lawyer who ran New York’s public schools system before joining News Corp.

Gove also had dinner at Murdoch’s house in June last year, along with Klein, where there were discussions “on multiple subjects, including education,” the statement says. A list of all the contacts between Murdoch and Gove has been published by the government.

Giving more detail of NI’s interest in a school in England, Murdoch said that the company “showed an interest in supporting the running costs” of a new academy in Newham, east London.

The statement said that NI representatives attended various meetings with the London Development Agency, with local authorities, and with the DfE, in July, October and November 2010. A visit to the potential site of the academy, attended by Boris Johnson and Gove, took place on 30 November 2010.

Murdoch’s statement says: “Nl’s objective was to create a lasting legacy in east London, through an academy school with a focus on media and technology. The project also required government funding; lack of government funding was the reason the project fell through in January 2011.”

The statement says that the topic may have been raised when Murdoch had dinner with Gove in January 2011.

In his statement, Murdoch reiterated his view that today’s classroom is “the last holdout from the digital revolution”.

He said: “The future belongs to those nations that best develop their human capital. I fear that the United States and the United Kingdom are lagging behind in this effort.”

Klein, a former White House counsel to president Bill Clinton, was hired to lead an education division that would “help to spark technological change”, according to the statement. The new division’s first action was to acquire Wireless Generation, an educational technology firm. Klein addressed a conference on free schools during his visit to the UK in January 2011.

The focus of the classroom technology business has been exclusively in the US, the statement says. “Accordingly, to date there has been no exploration or development of such interests in the UK.”

The DfE said that three contacts between NI and Gove in 2010 were “arranged by the department and related to the official business of the department”. These were a dinner with Murdoch, Brooks and Gove on 17 June 2010, a discussion between Klein, Gove and others in September the same year and the academy site visit in November.

In response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the department said: “Due to the nature of these meetings (two meals and one site visit), we did not produce a formal record of the meetings, and following a search of the department’s paper and email records, I can confirm that the department does not hold records of any notes produced during or after the meetings.”

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