Anyone would think that the world of education and family life might, just occasionally, just slow down a bit.  For writers such as myself, a quiet few days allow us to sit down and ponder some of the finer points of education and the like.

It almost sounds like I need a sherry and a manifesto to pore over for a few hours.

However, we’re not even half way through the week and already my inbox is filled with a million stories about education and what’s going on.  I haven’t even had time to buy the sherry, let alone open it and pour myself a glass.  As for the manifesto?  That’s going to have to wait for a while, I fear.

This week has already brought up a few surprises for us, ranging from some troubling matters than just won’t go away, to new emerging issues that we’re all keen to catch up on… to even the laughable things that make me glad I currently live on the other side of the English Channel.

So, without further ado, here is the good, the bad and the truly strange from the last few days in the world of education.

Birmingham Schools Controversy (Part 3)

It almost seems like this will never go away, doesn’t it?  I have been utterly fascinated by this case – the far-right jumping up and down proclaiming it the bitter end of Great Britain, the legal experts left scratching their heads… and me in the middle utterly perplexed by everything we’re seeing.

This week things got a little more serious – the news appears to be a little darker than I first imagined.  The alleged plot by Islamist fundamentalists to take over several schools in Birmingham started off at just a few… and then expanded to ten… and now the figure has been revised to 25 of them.  Well, safe to say I don’t think we were expecting that.

It also came out that the investigation is now to be headed by Peter Clarke.  Name mean nothing to you?

For those of you who don’t know, Mr Clarke was the former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.  He also the National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism.

The Department for Education certainly has no fear when it comes to investigating such controversies.  In hiring a former commissioner, they’re making a very clear intention to sift through this evidence and take their time over this.  Anyone with that kind of experience is going to do a very thorough job – in his previous work remember there were probably lives at stake.

The idea of assigning a former Counter-terrorism officer to the case sets a dangerous precedent, however.  If there genuinely was a plot and there are people who are deeply involved in such a plot… what are they going to think about such a hire?  Does it display a hard-line attitude against their views?  Does it view their attempts as merely terrorism or a dangerous activity?  What will their reaction be?

Hold tight, this could get very interesting.

Teachers wade in on family life

Just when kids thought that school life was too involved in their family and home life, teachers suddenly became family mentors too.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) surveyed more than 1,300 staff about the effects that school life had on their pupils and families – somehow the ATL thought they were going to know the breakdown of the daily lives of all their students but hey, let’s roll with it.

More than half of the teachers surveyed said that they felt that families spend less time together than they did 20 years ago.  Is that really news?  With parents working long hours, the role of women in the family changing and the changes to the school day, I think anyone with a sense of family life could have pulled that one out of the hat.

The vast majority of those interviewed said that the main reason behind this was working parents – again, is this a surprise to me?  I mean, if I get home at 4pm and my parents don’t get home until 6-8pm (especially in the case of my Dad) then it’s only logical to say that working parents might have some part in this.

The troubling thing about this is that that teachers are issuing this as a warning.  Long school days, they say, causes different problems around socialisation and difficulty in schools.  The trouble is, because the parents are at work, if they had a shorter school day they’d spend even longer at home alone!

Somehow, I’m a little perplexed at what the ATL is trying to achieve with this – is it trying to cut down on the hours in schools (Teacher’s Unions: you don’t have to read that bit) or is it trying to get people to work less hours to have a more family-oriented life?  Either way, I can’t see both happening and neither are them are realistic suggestions.  We aren’t like the rest of Europe, with a family oriented life and cafe culture.  Many kids my age don’t even have two parents regularly in their lives, let alone a balanced approach to family living.  Even then, there’s a reason why we work such long hours: to pay the bills as a family.

Maybe they need to get with the times more.

Graduates: Keep smiling, it’ll be worth it.  I promise

Well, just when I thought the university system couldn’t be more of a mess… a long term study from the Complete University Guide has revealed something rather startling in the pay of graduates after they leave university and embark on their careers.

On average, the starting salary for graduates in professional posts, in real terms, has fallen by 11% to £21,702 – this is between 2007 and 2012.

One of the more painful drops was in medicine.  Once a ‘high-earner’s dream’, the starting salary in that period has fallen by 15%.This represents somewhat troubling news for our graduates, who work with incredibly high fees and a life of repaying off debts.  I mean, the average starting salary is now so low that it’s practically below the threshold for repaying the students loans, which stands currently at £21,000 per year.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, since the gap between those with a degree and those without one continues to expand if you’re in the right industry.  For those in construction, the pay gap rose from just over £4,000 to over £7,100 between 2007 and 2012.

Not wanting to put a damper on things at all… but overall, the average pay gap across all industries, when adjusted for inflation, actually fell a little – from £6,732 (2007) to £6,717 in (2012)

Worryingly, now it seems that, at least from a financial point of view, you are in danger of being paid less and your degree is being valued less in general.

Keep an eye on this.

Speaking of degrees… let’s dispel some of the ‘asian student’ myths for a second

Right, let’s get the stereotypes out the way… Asian students work hard, never leave their bedrooms, have pushy parents and come out with top marks.  Always.  Without fail.

Or do they?

The Guardian recently got to interview a Chinese student at Bath University called Yali Liu, who is studying Business Administration.  She talked extensively about the pressures of socialisation and going out to pubs and nightclubs – it’s not her thing but she feels inclined to in order to help adapt to English life.  It’s a rather interesting read, you can find it here.

Perhaps the most striking piece of news is that Chinese students over here don’t actually achieve as well as we do.  For all the talk of our party-going, heavy-boozing attitude, it does seem a little surprising to read that, whilst 68% of all students in the UK graduate with at least a 2:1 last year, only 42% of Chinese students managed to achieve that level, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA.)

Crikey.  That I wasn’t expecting.  It does challenge a few commonly-held beliefs in the UK about Asian students, mainly influenced through the media portrayal of students from areas like Shanghai.  But why is this the case?

Two possible reasons exist: Chinese students either can’t adapt so well to the change in education system or, and this is equally as likely, they have a different mentality.  Are they here purely for the education or are they here because of the pressures of the job market?

Either way, it certainly surprised me.  The article is well-worth a look, so check it out and maybe it’ll change your view on Chinese students!



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