Rosemary MacDonald obituary

The Guardian Unlimited - Sun, 19/06/2016 - 17:35

My mother, Rosemary MacDonald, who has died aged 78, left school at 14 but went on to become a passionate advocate of education in all its forms. Just before her 50th birthday, she graduated from Edinburgh University, and became a university administrator.

Born and brought up in Romford, Essex, by her staunchly Conservative and working-class parents, Lilian (nee Andrews) and Alexander Adams, a policeman, Rosemary grew up accepting an unequal society and her position in it.

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A beginner's guide to planning and managing school budgets

The Guardian Unlimited - Sun, 19/06/2016 - 08:00

Whether you’re a qualified accountant or barely able to find the slot in a piggy bank, here’s our guide to budgeting, value for money and accountability

At some point, every teacher will be responsible for part of their school’s finances – from handling petty cash for a trip to explaining why you’ve overspent the departmental budget for a second term running.

But, if you aspire to join your school’s senior leadership team (SLT), you’re likely to be asked to take on an even greater role in monitoring school finances. We’ve put together a beginner’s guide to budgeting, getting value for money, and explaining financial accountability.

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How understanding the brain affects learning potential

The Guardian Unlimited - Sun, 19/06/2016 - 06:00

Does knowing whether the brain changes or is static have an impact on student success?

Parents of GCSE and A-level students taking their exams this month will know how important encouragement is. But they might be surprised to learn that how we understand the brain can affect academic success.

Psychology professor Carol Dweck gave two groups of schoolchildren a whole-day tutorial on the brain. She told the first group that parts of the brain are determined within days of conception, no new nerve cells are produced in adulthood, and the anatomy of the human brain is similar to a rat’s. With the other group she focused on how the brain is always changing and remodelling itself, and how every experience affects connections in the brain.

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In Morocco’s Atlas mountains, Berber girls find the way out of rural poverty: an education

The Guardian Unlimited - Sun, 19/06/2016 - 00:05

The remoteness of many villages meant that secondary school was not an option

Deep in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains, in the hamlet of Tazalt, two girls are doing their laundry in stream water. Inside one of the small reddish-brown stone houses, Malika Boumessoud, 38, is serving sweet mint tea and looking at a photo of herself while shaking her head at how old she looks.

In the next room, where five of her six children all sleep on two single mattresses on the floor, Boumessoud’s daughter Zahra, 19, is preparing to leave this classic scene of rural Moroccan life. She is a participant in a bold new experiment that could transform the lives of the girls and young women in the region: unlike the vast majority of her peers, Zahra is being granted an education.

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On Earth, this was a grim week ... your mission offers hope, Tim Peake

The Guardian Unlimited - Sun, 19/06/2016 - 00:05
The British astronaut will have an enormous impact on science and technology in the UK, and his project could influence the future of humanity

Welcome home, Tim! It’s a sentiment that will be shared by most scientists and engineers – whether or not they are involved in space research. You will no doubt feel a bit rough for the next few days, but you’ll recover. Whether your life will be normal again after travelling 125 million kilometres and witnessing so many of Earth’s glories from space is a different matter. I am certainly jealous of the experiences you have had and have waved at you several times as the bright dot of the International Space Station moved across the night sky.

In the UK the impact of your mission – especially on schoolchildren – is likely to be enormous. A million pupils have been involved in carrying out experiments connected with your adventure and it will be important to see if this enthusiasm is translated into a long-term interest in science and technology in secondary schools and universities – something this country sorely needs. If such a surge takes place, you could certainly argue that the cost to the UK of this venture will be justified on these grounds alone.

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How physical exercise makes your brain work better

The Guardian Unlimited - Sat, 18/06/2016 - 09:00

Research shows different activities have quite specific mental effects – here’s how moving your body could sharpen your ideas

The brain is often described as being “like a muscle”. It’s a comparison that props up the brain training industry and keeps school children hunched over desks. We judge literacy and numeracy exercises as more beneficial for your brain than running, playing and learning on the move.

But the brain-as-muscle analogy doesn’t quite work. To build up your biceps you can’t avoid flexing them. When it comes to your brain, an oblique approach can be surprisingly effective. In particular, working your body’s muscles can actually benefit your grey matter.

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Clive James: ‘The English language is under siege from tone-deaf activists’

The Guardian Unlimited - Sat, 18/06/2016 - 08:00

Anybody who says ‘IMHO’ is no more humble than Saddam Hussein and Imelda Marcos dancing the tango

In Australia there is some outfit going by the name of the Productivity Commission that calls books “cultural externalities”. Speaking as someone who, when well, writes cultural externalities for a living, I think it might be more efficient, from the productivity angle, if we could go on calling them books. But I admit that this is merely my opinion, not settled science. If I were advancing this opinion in the form of a tweet or comment, I could insert the acronym IMO, so proving that the standard dead white male language of Jane Austen is now being assailed not only by expansive phrases from institutions that wish to sound more important, but also by piddling abbreviations from individuals who wish to sound pressed for time.

Admittedly, some of those individuals wish to sound humble, too, and might even be so; but saying IMO is a counterproductive way of conveying that impression, because we already assume that your opinion is only your opinion. And saying IMHO is an even more counterproductive way of conveying it, because nobody who says “in my humble opinion” is any more humble than Saddam Hussein and Imelda Marcos dancing the tango.

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Secret Teacher: parents, your 'treats' ruined our school trip

The Guardian Unlimited - Sat, 18/06/2016 - 07:00

I can’t imagine many parents at home would load up their child with gadgets and sweets to take to bed. So why do it to us?

I suffered a sense of humour failure at 3.15am on day four of our recent residential trip. I expect to be up at all hours when taking 60 primary school children on a week-long outing – especially when many of them haven’t left home before. I expect to be sleep-deprived, in loco-parentis 24/7, dealing with everything from homesickness and travel sickness to shampoo leaks and lost underwear.

In fact, some of my fondest teacher memories come from residential-trip disasters. Like when Daniel mistook his shower gel for suncream and lathered up on the beach, when Ava brought five outfits for the disco but none for rock-climbing and had to do every activity in a glittery dress, or when we discovered Jess was a terrible sleepwalker. It’s all part of the adventure.

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Multi-academy trusts and the road to privatisation | Letters

The Guardian Unlimited - Thu, 16/06/2016 - 19:02

Sometimes the most chilling news is tucked away on back pages. Warwick Mansell’s always illuminating diary (14 June) reveals that the “powerful but shady” regional school commissioners see it as their “responsibility to ensure that the government’s goal is achieved”. And the goal? “England’s system to be all-academy in six years”. So much for the U-turn. Turn back a page and read Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (Less free market, more freeloaders) on a “deformed capitalism, barely worthy of the name”. Then look back at last Sunday’s Observer (12 June) and the equally chilling special investigation on the not-for-profit Bright Tribe multi-academy trust, which has apparently made the venture capitalist Mike Dwan a multimillionaire. The activities of the “charlatans in pinstripes” milking public funds aren’t restricted to the retail sector. Unison’s national officer responsible for local government is quoted as saying of a response from the National Audit Office, whose job it is to regulate potential profit-making in the academy system: “I have read a lot of correspondence from regulators over the years. And this one screams: ‘We really don’t like what we see’.” Permission to scream with them! We must support your 96 correspondents who wrote opposing the drive to multi-academy trusts (Letters, 10 June). This is as major a privatisation scandal as that facing the NHS.
John Airs
Liverpool

• Puzzled why David Carter (schools commissioner) and Michael Wilshaw (Ofsted) have taken so long to “come clean” about the “failing” academy scandal (Report, 16 June). These two powerful positions and the organisations they represent are supposed to be independent of political control or bias. Yet we have Ofsted supporting the government’s “pro-academy” policy by pushing arbitrarily designated “failing” schools in to academy status – while also incidentally awarding a plethora of academies and alliances “outstanding” status. And Carter has told the Commons select committee that 119 academies have been brokered as “a last resort”. What is going on? We now know that a teacher can be fast-tracked into a school in 12 weeks, which makes a mockery of “professional pedagogical training”, and apparently the schools themselves have become the objects of “empire-building”. What have these two political appointees been doing to allow this disgraceful state of affairs to further erode an already crumbling education system?
Professor Bill Boyle
Tarporley, Cheshire

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Government throws out student loans petition

The Guardian Unlimited - Thu, 16/06/2016 - 18:23

Student who started the petition says he is disappointed the government ignored responses made during the consultation process

A petition opposing a retrospective rise in the cost of student loans that obtained 120,000 signatures in just a few days has been rejected by the government.

Campaigner Alex True, who began the petition while doing his finals at Durham University, said he was “disappointed and disheartened” at the government’s response.

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A-level subject choice is strongly influenced by genes, scientists say

The Guardian Unlimited - Thu, 16/06/2016 - 14:00

Up to 80% of subject choice could be down to genetic influence, making the argument for a more personalised approach to education, say scientists

Students choices when it comes to A-level subjects could largely be down to genetics, a new study suggests.

Scientists say that up to 80% of students’ choices of A-level subjects is down to genetic influence with environmental factors such as home life, accounting for 23% of the choice at most.

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Chinese university puts CCTV in dormitories to encourage 'good study habits'

The Guardian Unlimited - Thu, 16/06/2016 - 09:57

Every area of 73-hectare campus, including dormitories, is monitored at Wuchang University of Technology

A university in central China has reportedly been using surveillance cameras to monitor virtually every inch of its 73-hectare (181-acre) campus, including its classrooms and dormitories.

The Wuchang University of Technology in the city of Wuhan reportedly introduced the technology last year, paying 6 million yuan (about £645,000) in order to keep closer tabs on its 12,500 undergraduates.

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Few multi-academy trusts good enough to improve schools, says Wilshaw

The Guardian Unlimited - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 17:36

Outgoing chief inspector of schools tells MPs: ‘There are a lot of mediocre trusts out there’

Only a handful of multi-academy trusts are up to the job of improving England’s schools, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has told MPs, before accusing the Department for Education of being too slow to intervene in struggling schools.

Speaking to the education select committee, the outgoing chief inspector of schools criticised the government’s flagship school improvement programme, which involves multi-academy trusts (Mats) taking over schools formerly maintained by local authorities.

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Shirley Hearn obituary

The Guardian Unlimited - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 16:51

In 1950, during a banned May Day workers’ march, a heavily pregnant young woman climbed out of a police van, declaring she was about to give birth and should go to the hospital, not the police station. My mother, Shirley Hearn, who has died aged 89, was no stranger to protest.

All through her life, whether politically aligned or not, she had something to say about the state of the world. A socialist and feminist, with a green heart and a keen sense of justice, she interested herself in education, believing this to be key to creating a better world.

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Independence, empowerment and the environment: school trips are more than jollies

The Guardian Unlimited - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 16:28

School trips are a unique chance to educate students about green issues while teaching a host of curriculum subjects and life skills

Under the shadow of a colossal Buddhist monastery, nestled deep in a mountain valley in India’s remote Ladakh region, a row of greenhouses grows fresh fruit and vegetables. They are a lifeline for the villagers during the harsh winter months when heavy snow cuts off the area from the outside world, but they were not put there by a charity or non-governmental organisation (NGO). They were built by a group of 30 teenagers from Devon.

The 16- to 18-year-olds from Exeter school travelled to the country with maths teacher Will Daws in 2013. During the 29-day expedition, organised by the School Travel Consultancy, the students lived with families in the village and worked with local builders to clear the site and construct the greenhouses. Malnutrition is a common problem among children and pregnant women in the village, so the ability to grow fresh produce all year round has made a huge difference.

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John Singh obituary

The Guardian Unlimited - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 16:07

My friend and former colleague John Singh, who has died aged 79, was one of the youngest teachers to be appointed as Her Majesty’s Inspector of schools (HMI), at the age of 34, and was the first of minority ethnic descent. During his 25 years’ service for the inspectorate, he used his influence to improve the experience of pupils from minority backgrounds.

In the 1960s, the education system emphasised the assimilation of minorities and the teaching of English to immigrants to “help them fit in”. John held the view that while competence in English was vital, the country would have to broaden all notions of what it meant to be British to adapt to an increasingly diverse population.

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Children with disabilities need more educational support, not mockery | Lola Okolosie

The Guardian Unlimited - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 15:30
Apparently progressive legislation is being undercut by slashed budgets, pitting councils against parents – and opening up a market for opportunistic lawyers

“Crikey, had a great ‘win’ last week which sent some parents into a storm! It is always a great win when the other side thinks they won!” So went a tweet from the law firm Baker Small that would cause enough anger and consternation to make this most flippant of messages national news.

Related: What would Brexit mean for the NHS, social care and disabled people? | Denis Campbell, David Brindle and Patrick Butler

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Nepali grandfather of eight goes back to school

The Guardian Unlimited - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 14:51

Durga Kami was unable to finish his studies as a child because of poverty. Now the 68-year-old widower puts on his uniform and studies six days a week

Nepalese grandfather Durga Kami brushes his bushy white beard, puts on his school uniform and, with the aid of his walking stick, trudges for over an hour to class for another day of learning.

Poverty prevented Kami from finishing his studies as a child and achieving his goal of becoming a teacher. Now 68, the father of six and grandfather of eight goes to school six days a week, to complete his studies and escape a lonely home life following the death of his wife.

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The proposed reforms to UK research are needlessly drastic. Here's why | Martin Rees

The Guardian Unlimited - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 13:25

The government wants to overhaul the UK’s research system. But a persuasive case for change has not been made. We should shelve the Nurse review proposals

As we saw in debates on the Queen’s Speech, parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s higher education and research bill is likely to focus on student fees, the quality of university teaching, and the role and degree-giving powers of private providers. But as the bill approaches its second reading, and particularly when it reaches the House of Lords, it will be important that the proposed upheaval in the bodies that fund research receives equal scrutiny.

The continued success and vitality of UK research depends on the dual support funding system, which combines grants from the research councils with block funding allocated to universities on the basis of periodic assessment. For this system to operate, some kind of research excellence framework, or REF, is a necessary evil.

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Eddie Izzard: 'My vision would make the entire world work'

The Guardian Unlimited - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 11:30

He’s on a mission to enlist students in the campaign for Europe. Is Eddie Izzard the champion Remainers need to beat Brexit?

“I may look confusing, but I have a clear message,” says Eddie Izzard to an audience of around 200 people at Staffordshire University’s Leek Road assembly hall. The 54 year-old comedian and actor struts the stage in a pair of black stilettos, a “Stand up for Europe” T-shirt, and a shocking pink beret with matching lipstick. It’s Izzard’s chosen uniform for a whistle-stop tour of universities, on which he is imploring students across the UK to vote “remain” in this month’s referendum. The crowd gives a generous laugh. He’s on a roll today.

“It’s not a rosy, dreamy vision of Europe that I have; I am a realist,” he goes on. “I think I can prove that to you by saying, look at me.” Izzard came out as transgender 31 years ago and these days is as likely to be wearing a frock as a shirt and tie. “I thought, people in the UK will be OK about this. And generally, they have been,” he says. “We gradually move forwards, not backwards. That above all is my argument for remaining in Europe: is this not the story of humanity?”

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