Often I find that little bits and pieces of education news crop up that are worth mentioning – though perhaps one not quite major enough to write an entire article about it.  For certain subjects, we find that there are little updates that we could mention – possibly there is a little progress in the world of university staff pay – but to simply go over the same argument again and again would be a waste for the reader.

So, after trying desperately to find a way of keeping you all up to date on the various happenings in the world of education, we at Superprof came up with the idea of a weekly round-up – basically a newspaper for our blog!  We’ll let you know about the best and the worst of the week and what’s going on.

This week has seen a fair few interesting things pop up, from a new-look GCSE and A-Level plan, to free school meals for infants, to a painful student debt truth.

So, what did we spot that was noteworthy this week?

Birmingham Schools Controversy has another plot twist

Many media outlets up and down the county have been following the news of the alleged plot to take over schools in the Birmingham area by Islamic groups – apparently with the aim of establishing schools with fundamental Islamic principals and teachings.  Some people went as far as to call it extremist, but I’ll reserve judgement until we discover the full facts of the case, especially as everything is being denied by the Trust involved.

However, a very interesting twist developed in the case, with a former teacher of the school coming out and saying that attempts were made to take over the school he worked at back in 1993 – 21 years ago.  The teacher, Michael White, reported his concerns to the Local Education Authority (LEA) at the time but for some reason they did not choose to investigate the matter any further.

The school in question – Park View School – was placed under special measures by Ofsted back in 1993 and the board of governors was immediately shaken up.  Within months, girls were increasingly covering their hair (as per Islamic teaching) and other signs of a more Islamic approach were noticed.

Mr White challenged the board’s decision to remove sex education classes from the curriculum and to remove teachings about non-Islamic faiths in religious education classes… He even wrote to prospective teachers encouraging them to question these decisions.  The result?  He was dismissed in 2003.

The leader of the trust in charge of Park View – Mr Tahir Alam – has flatly denied the accusations made by Mr White and says there is no truth in what is being claimed.

I suspect the only way we’re going to find out what is really going on is through the inspections that the current LEA is undertaking at the request of the Department for Education. Either way, the presence of an accusation from over two decades ago shows a scary lack of action at the time.

Are schools really ready for the ‘Free Meals for Infants’ plan?

Last month I wrote about the interesting government plan to offer free school meals for children in Reception and Years 1 and 2.  It’s certainly a bold move by Nick Clegg to make sure that kids are given a healthy hot meal each day.  It’s going to save parents a lot of money apparently, but it might cost them in the meantime…

It’s become clear now that there is an awful lot of work to do – evaluations are ongoing but presently there are more than 2,700 schools so far on the books that need improvements to their catering facilities so that they can fulfil its legal requirement.  This represents 1/3 of the schools which have already been tested – and the government has only assessed half of the 16,800 state primary schools in the country.  Expect this figure to rise greatly.

The Department for Education has promised support and funding to schools to make sure this happens but I do worry that this is going to be rather expensive – indeed, the budget is currently £150m for the changes.  The changes required range from a new microwave or dishwasher to an entirely new refit – it’ll be interesting to see if we keep to that budget when surrounded by red tape and the like.

It all seemed a great idea at the time, but now the little catches are coming in.  Is it going to stick to budget?  Are we actually going to see it rolled out in time in September?  Only time will tell.

Sutton Trust comes out with some depressing student loan realities

Get this: under the current tuition fee regime here in the UK, the average undergraduate will leave university saddled with £44,000 of debt.  Thanks to above-inflation interest rates that accrue whilst you’re still studying, an extra 5 years before it’s written off (now 30 years) and, of course, the £9,000 tuition fee, nearly 45% of graduates will pay back more than they ever actually borrowed.  It’s a disgraceful case of the government cashing in on education – only the very richest who can afford to pay their way without a loan are going to be free from this trap.

Under the old system, the Sutton Trust estimated that 32% of graduates would have at least some of their fees written off.  Under the new system, it’ll be 73%.  And it won’t be a small amount either – the research suggests that the average amount written off will be £30,000.  Shocking.

And the worst bit?  A person borrowing an average amount of money, graduating and getting a job as, say, a teacher, earning a reasonable amount of money… Under the old system they’d have £25,000 of debt and will have paid it off by the time they are about 40.

The new system?  It’ll be £42,000 for that teacher to repay.  They’ll still be repaying into their 50s and will still then have £25,000 of it written off.

It’s clear now, the system has failed.  This entire joke has gone on too long now.  For me it’s the final straw in realising that this government is now taxing us on our success.  This is nothing more than a graduate tax.

Hope for the future?

Perhaps something might come of education after all.  Yesterday the world’s educational leaders and policy-makers arrived in Paris for the Princeton-Fung Global Forum.  Lead by Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, the challenge of improving the higher education system will be discussed for the next three days.

Also present was a man called David Remmick, the editor of The New Yorker.  On the opening evening he moderated a discussion simply entitled ‘Knowledge for What?  Have Universities Lost Sight of their Purpose?’

Oh, how I wish I was there to contribute to that particular debate.

On the bright side, the leaders are sitting down and talking.  It’s a first step – let it bring about more….




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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.