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Virtual Learning Resource Centre

Education industry - September 2007

Four out of ten primary pupils could not read, write or add up properly by the time they left primary school this summer. Boys at primary schools say they would behave better and work harder if there were more male teachers.

The House of Commons education select committee is questioning the value of the Government’s £45bn programme to replace or refurbish all 3,400 secondary schools in England by 2020. Secondary school exam results show that boys are closing the gender gap in national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds in English, maths and science. Pupils capable of obtaining only a C grade at A-level two decades ago could expect to be awarded an A grade today: in maths the rise was greater, 3.5 grades. The Charity Commission is to judge annually whether private (independent) schools are doing enough for the poor to qualify for tax breaks worth £100m a year. Average day fees for a private education now amount to one-third of average salaries.

The director-general of the CBI has called on the Government to offer £1,000-a-year "golden carrots" to students to encourage more to study the science, technology, engineering and maths subjects that are becoming increasingly important to the economy. Because A-levels do not single out the brightest candidates, students are being forced to take extra exams to get into leading universities. A £400m a year boost to the grants system should mean that students from poorer families who are planning to go to university this year could be almost £3,000 a year better off if they defer their entry until 2008. A Polish university is to set up a satellite branch at a high school in West London to allow Poles to continue their studies in the UK.

Primary

Four out of ten pupils could not read, write or add up properly by the time they left primary school this summer. Although the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching Level 4 at Key Stage 2 improved for all subjects with the exception of writing, only 60% of primary school pupils met the expected level in all subjects. Lord Adonis, the schools minister, says that from September further measures will be introduced to accelerate the pace of learning. More money will be spent on classroom assistants, one-to-one tuition, intensive reading and maths catch-up programmes and on better training for teachers.

According to research by the Training and Development Agency for Schools, boys at primary schools say they would behave better and work harder if there were more male teachers. Some 51% of boys aged 8 to 11 would pay more attention and 47% would try harder for a man. The agency says that having more men in the class provides more role models, a particular concern in inner city schools. Men make up 16% of primary school teachers compared with 44% of all secondary school teachers and account for one-third of primary head teachers.

Secondary

The House of Commons education select committee is questioning the value of the Government’s £45bn programme to replace or refurbish all 3,400 secondary schools in England by 2020. MPs suggest that some of the cash might be better directed to making buildings more environmentally sustainable by reducing carbon emissions or boosting pre-school learning. They also say an increase in university research budgets should be considered.

Secondary school exam results show that boys are closing the gender gap in national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds in English, maths and science. Although the percentage of 14-year olds achieving at least Level 5 in some subjects fell, boys cut the gap in reading by two percentage points and in writing and science by one. Since 1997 the gap between the sexes in English at Level 5+ has narrowed from 19 percentage points to 13. However, the results also show that there were 99 secondary schools last year where more than half of all pupils made no progress or went backwards in core subjects between the ages of 11 and 14.

According to a study of exam standards by Robert Coe, an academic at Durham University, pupils capable of obtaining only a C grade at A-level two decades ago could expect to be awarded an A grade today. In maths the rise was greater, 3.5 grades between 1988 and 2006. Last year, the overall proportion of As rose to 24.1% of all exams taken, double the figure in 1990. The proportion rose above 25% this year. While Coe has not identified why grades have risen so steeply, he suggests that the most important factor might be changes to the exams themselves. From next year it will be more difficult to win top grades with the introduction of an A* above the present top mark. Meanwhile, the number of independent secondary schools rejecting the A-level and offering the International Baccalaureate diploma will double from 50 to 100 in September.

The Charity Commission is to judge annually whether private (independent) schools are doing enough for the poor to qualify for tax breaks worth £100m a year. Its chairwoman, Dame Suzi Leather, has suggested that the threshold to qualify schools for charity status should be raised every year to ensure that they provide the maximum possible public benefit. Under the terms of the new Charities Act, which comes into force next year, charities that charge high fees must prove that they are of "public benefit" to justify their tax breaks. Dame Suzi believes that many of the larger private schools with sizeable charitable endowments would welcome the chance to do more for social inclusion.

Average day fees for a private education now amount to one-third of average salaries, says Halifax Financial Services. Fees have risen by 41% – 23% in real terms – since 2002 and are no longer affordable for key public sector workers. But despite average day fees of £9,627 a year, 37,500 more pupils attend private schools in Britain than five years ago. Only 7% of pupils in England are privately educated, but they achieve more than half the A grades in A-level French, German, Spanish and all other modern foreign languages. They also win 46% of A grades at A-level chemistry, 44% in physics and 54% in further maths.

Tertiary

Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, has called on the Government to offer £1,000-a-year "golden carrots" to students to encourage more to study the science, technology, engineering and maths subjects that are becoming increasingly important to the economy. The CBI estimates that Britain will need 2.4m newly qualified staff with such degrees. Lambert cautioned that "a pared-back science curriculum, a lack of specialist teachers and patchy classroom lab facilities" undermined the study of science.

Because A-levels do not single out the brightest candidates, students are being forced to take extra exams to get into leading universities. Sixth formers applying for medicine and law are being asked to sit American-style aptitude tests. Last year, almost one in six students applying to universities such as Oxford and Cambridge from independent schools had to sit additional tests to secure a place.

A £400m a year boost to the grants system should mean that students from poorer families who are planning to go to university this year could be almost £3,000 a year better off if they defer their entry until 2008. From October 2008, students who come from homes where the total income is less than £25,000 will receive a full grant of £2,825. Students from families whose annual income is less than £60,000 will receive partial, means-tested grants worth up to £2,010. Around 250,000 students should be better off, but those starting this year will miss out, even in their second and third years. The changes should bring the number of students receiving grants to two-thirds of the intake.

A Polish university is to set up a satellite branch at a high school in West London to allow Poles to continue their studies in the UK. WSHE University is preparing to move more than a dozen academics from Lodz to teach students at weekends for undergraduate and masters courses from October. The initiative comes amid reports that one-third of Poland’s 300 private universities face closure in the next few years, as young Poles increasingly opt to work and study abroad. Last year, 1,555 Polish students were accepted at British universities, a 50% rise on 2005. With registration fees of £120 and monthly fees of £150, the part-time BA course fees are cheaper than almost any of the English universities. There are online options for those outside London and plans to open other bases within months.

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