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Sector news, 3-7 October 2011

Super-elite universities leaving the rest behind The Guardian, 6 October 2011

A league table of the world’s top 200 universities includes fewer from Britain than last year, and researchers believe it also shows the gap between the UK’s best universities and the rest is getting wider. The Guardian reported than in a table published by Times Higher Education, Oxford is Britain’s top institution in fourth place, two places above last year, and Cambridge is sixth. There are 12 UK universities in the top 100, compared with 14 last year. The THE said this showed there was a “widening gap in the UK between a super-elite and the rest of Britain's leading institutions", and warned the UK might not be able to keep its international reputation for universities unless state funding grew. The average spending on higher education for Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries is 1.5%, but in the UK it fell from 1.3% to 1.2% last year.

Modern languages in schools are 'close to extinction' The Guardian, 6 October 2011

A leading educationalist has warned that modern languages are becoming a minority interest in British schools. Anthony Seldon, headteacher of Wellington College and Tony Blair’s biographer, told a conference convened by the Schools Network at the University of Warwick, that learning French, German or Spanish was becoming similar to learning Latin or Greek. The number of pupils taking French or German GCSE has more than halved in the past 16 years. Seldon said the government wanted schools to solve the situation, schools told exam boards the subjects were too difficult and exam boards said the government should sort it out. Education secretary Michael Gove has recently said children should start to learn a foreign language from the age of five.

Conservative conference: Willetts urges youngsters to take up apprenticeships The Guardian, 4 October 2011

Minister for universities and science David Willetts has criticised young people who do not take up apprenticeships, saying they are opportunities that could lead to a well-paid job. He told the Conservative conference that 100,000 apprenticeships had been set up by the coalition in its first year, and there were now as many places available for apprenticeships as for university. But in some places there was a lack of take up; he cited an area within three miles of Tottenham where there were 3,100 vacancies at the time of the August riots.

Headteacher expresses alarm over racial segregation in London schools The Guardian, 2 October 2011

A private school head teacher has warned that schools in London are “sleepwalking” into segregation, with classrooms in some areas teaching almost exclusively black or Asian pupils. David Levin, vice chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 250 public schools and leading private schools, told its annual conference in St Andrews that his school, City of London, collaborated with Stepney Green school in east London, where 97% of the pupils were of Bangladeshi heritage. Levin, who grew up under apartheid in South Africa, added “if you know people who are different to you, you don’t fear them.”

England's school curriculum review sparks debate The Guardian, 3 October 2011

England’s national curriculum is being reviewed, to produce a plan for the “core knowledge” millions of five-16 year olds must be taught from September 2013. But it seems there are divisions among experts over the controversial proposals to change the school curriculum and the way pupils are assessed. The plan was that the review, the fifth since the curriculum was established in 1988 under the previous Conservative government, would define only core knowledge and concepts expected of pupils, after criticism that it has too much content. However there has been a delay in the planned pre-release of the curriculum for English, maths, science and PE as experts and ministers work out the details. It seems there are disagreements over plans to scrap the system of national curriculum levels which mark how children progress through their learning.

Universities should work together, not compete The Guardian, 3 October 2011

Peter Scott, Professor of Higher Education studies at the Institute of Education, looks at what he describes as the darker side of competition between universities to be in the top 10. He says it undermines the solidarity of higher education which he thinks can be a source of strength not weakness, and allows politicians to divide and rule. Professor Scott says if it continues everyone will lose out.

Sceptics scorn SFA's claims of 'red tape' cuts TES, 7 October 2011

The Skills Funding Agency’s (SFA) survey of colleges and training providers about its performance as a funding body and regular has thrown up some criticism. More than 260 FE providers responded, and were scornful about claims the agency has cut the burden of bureaucracy. Nearly 60% said there had been little progress in reducing red tape in the first year, and more than 50% said they are not given the information they need to make business decisions. However 64% said the agency is effective overall in its role, and the single budget for all adult provision was widely seen as an improvement.

Heads under league table pressure TES, 7 October 2011

A letter that has emerged during a dispute over a pupil being asked to leave a sixth-form five months before her A levels reveals that a head admitted official targets are leading schools to “remove” students who could harm their league table positions because they are at risk of failing. The TES has seen the letter by Jim Parker, head of Manshead School in Caddington, Bedfordshire, which implied he may remove pupils who “may have succeeded”, saying in doubtful situations schools are “encouraged by the need to show that performance targets are met”. He also says he knows of schools where students are asked to leave if they may have passed, but not at their target grade. Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Brian Lightman said the demand of league tables mean no one should be surprised.

Technical schools turn their backs on NVQs TES, 7 October 2011

The NVQ, created to provide practical training to prepare students for their chosen occupations, has not been approved to be taught in university technical colleges (UTCs). The new 14-19 schools designed to specialise in technical learning will teach GCSE and A levels, plus BTECs, diplomas and extended project qualifications. Peter Mitchell, chief executive of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust which promotes the UTC scheme said UTVs had to offer a broad education offering scope for progression in different areas, and they were not like being at work, with NVQs never designed for schools.