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Soaring state schools and the society we want to live in | Letters

Mon, 08/02/2016 - 19:22

I am surprised that the Guardian is giving headline coverage to the views of an Eton-educated hereditary peer on the merits of state education versus the independent sector (Soaring state schools threaten private sector, 6 February). It may well be that state schools have improved massively against Ofsted’s criteria – but who is questioning Ofsted’s view of what make a good school? Are our schools turning out democratic citizens able to make a positive contribution to creating a fairer and more sustainable world or are they just excelling at getting kids through exams and on to a life on the economic treadmill?

For some inspiring examples of where education could be heading in the 21st century we only need to look north of the border to Scotland’s curriculum for excellence or west to the reforms in Wales and Ireland. By comparison, the Westminster government is certainly lagging behind in its vision for education. Parents have been sold the targets and testing agenda hook, line and sinker and it really is time to have a more wide-ranging debate about what education is for, what makes a good school and what role does education play in creating the kind of society we want to live in.

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How to teach ... Valentine’s Day

Mon, 08/02/2016 - 15:00

From exploring the medieval roots of the celebration to love-laced language exercises – our lesson resources will help teachers turn Cupid into a learning opportunity

Yes, yes, we know that Valentine’s Day is rubbish. Any magic the annual love-in has is rooted in its power to turn vast piles of cash into glitter, red satin and heart-shaped paraphernalia. And yet when a school in Weston-super-Mare tried to ban Valentine’s Day cards, there was uproar. You need to face up to it: Valentine’s Day is probably going to happen in your school. So how can you ensure that Cupid’s arrows aren’t too much of a pain?

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'Now is the time to step up': students urge others to register and vote

Mon, 08/02/2016 - 11:35

Following news that changes to the electoral register will disenfranchise thousands of students, young people urge their peers to fight back

Students are warning their peers that they are in danger of losing their votes because of changes the government has made to how voters are registered. An estimated 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register since the government introduced changes to the system – and students are at the biggest risk of being disenfranchised.

Under the new system, individual electoral registration (IER), universities cannot block register students in halls of residence. “The transition has resulted in a significant fall in the number of people on the electoral register in areas with a university,” says Gloria De Piero, the shadow minister for electoral registration.

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Karin Slaughter: Libraries saved me, now they need rescuing

Mon, 08/02/2016 - 09:30

Books provide access to a better way of life, and for many, libraries are the only way they can get to them. That is why I am campaigning to save them and you should, too

My father and his eight siblings grew up in the kind of poverty that Americans don’t like to talk about unless a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina strikes, and then the conversation only lasts as long as the news cycle. His family squatted in shacks. The children scavenged for food. They put cardboard over empty windowpanes so the cold wouldn’t kill them.

Books did not exist here. When you grow up starving, you cannot point with pride to a book you’ve just spent six hours reading. Picking cotton, sewing flour bags into clothes — those were the skills my father grew up appreciating.

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Spot checks on pupils cause alarm

Mon, 08/02/2016 - 08:00

Jeremy Hunt suggests parents make rash decisions

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Cameron wants diversity in universities? Sort out the school syllabus first

Mon, 08/02/2016 - 07:00

The move away from creative subjects in schools makes a mockery of the prime minister’s plans to get more disadvantaged pupils into higher education

There were shades of the Laura Spence affair in David Cameron’s recent swipes about diversity at the University of Oxford. Back then, Gordon Brown’s intervention in the case of a state school pupil with 5 As rejected by Oxford ushered in a golden era of government policy to widen participation in higher education. No such luck this time. Government policy has started to reverse access to parts of the sector – almost certainly by mistake.

Related: Let's stop being defensive about the value of arts degrees

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Media studies: why does the subject get such a bad press?

Mon, 08/02/2016 - 07:00

The 10th most popular course at A-level is having a revamp, with supporters hoping it will shake off its ‘soft option’ image

‘Last summer there was a moment when there were concerns that media studies might be deleted,” says David Buckingham, an expert on children and technology and professor at Loughborough University, who spent much of last year fighting for the subject’s future in English schools.

The moment passed: new specifications for media and film studies qualifications were published last week. But will the updated content, combined with our media-saturated lives, swing more support behind media education for 14 to 18-year-olds, and reverse a decline that has seen numbers taking media GCSE fall from a high of almost 70,000 in 2008 to 50,000 in 2014, while the number of students training to be media teachers on the only specialist PGCE is just 13?

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Anti-terror laws risk 'chilling effect' on academic debate – Oxford college head

Sun, 07/02/2016 - 15:48

Ken Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, warns government Prevent strategy may stifle free speech and university research

The government’s anti-terrorism laws aimed at universities risk having a “chilling effect” on academic debate and a “deadening impact” on research, according to a former director of public prosecutions.

Ken Macdonald, warden of Wadham College, Oxford, said while it was fair to ask universities to curb attempts to radicalise or recruit students, the government’s anti-radicalisation strategy, Prevent, could be abused to stifle otherwise legal debate.

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Christian college professor to step down after saying Muslims worship same god

Sun, 07/02/2016 - 14:38

Tenured political science professor Larycia Hawkins to ‘part ways’ with Wheaton College following a confidential agreement, says joint statement

A professor at an evangelical university near Chicago who got into trouble after saying Muslims and Christians worship the same god will leave the school, according to a joint statement released by Wheaton College on Saturday night.

Related: Christian college moves to fire professor who said Muslims worship same god

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Four scientific ways teachers can cope with stress

Sun, 07/02/2016 - 08:00

From basic mediation exercises to learning to say ‘no’, there are many simple changes teachers can make to improve their physical and mental health

The pressures of teaching can be difficult to manage and it can sometimes feel like you have no time to switch off. So if you ended last year feeling overwhelmed and anxious then the start of the new year is a good time to make some changes.

But learning to cope better with stress does not happen overnight and takes some effort on your part. Here is a list of some simple, scientifically-proven practices to help you unwind and improve your mental health.

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The murder of my friend Giulio Regeni in Egypt was an attack on academic freedom | Neil Pyper

Sat, 06/02/2016 - 10:00
Students or anyone else conducting research in dangerous places should be better protected by their university – and their government

The body of Giulio Regeni was discovered in a ditch in Cairo on 2 February, showing evidence of torture and of a slow, horrific death. Giulio was studying for a PhD at the University of Cambridge, and was carrying out research on the formation of independent trade unions in post-Mubarak Egypt. There is little doubt that his work would have been extremely important in his field, and he had a career ahead of him as an important scholar of the region.

Giulio, originally from Fiumicello in north-east Italy, had a strong international background and outlook. As a teenager, he won a scholarship that allowed him to spend two formative years studying at the United World College in New Mexico. He was especially passionate about Egypt. Before beginning his doctoral research, he spent time in Cairo working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido). At the age of 28, he stood out with his big hopes and dreams, and he was committed to pursuing a career that would allow him to make an impact on the world, which is a poorer place for his passing.

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Campus security: 'We heard a scream and saw him running up the road naked'

Sat, 06/02/2016 - 07:00

Universities face a constant battle to keep students safe – from bike thieves, burglars and heavy breathers

“At 5pm we get the switchboard,” said the man inducting me on to the night shift. If I’d heard right, his name was Trifle. “Anyone can phone up, so you’ve got to keep it polite. Lecturers, press, overseas placement students wanting to know their exam time…”

There was a light on the desk. “There you go,” said Trifle. “Your first call.”

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Secret teacher: we're not to blame for poor social mobility

Sat, 06/02/2016 - 07:00

It’s easy for government to say teachers fail to inspire children raised in poverty – it’s cheaper than fixing the awful conditions they experience outside the school gates

It was Sunday evening and I felt a failure. I know what you’re thinking – “not another whinging teacher!” – but hear me out. It wasn’t the pile of unmarked books in the hallway, or the data left un-analysed because I had watched The Voice instead. It was because of “Cake Monday”.

Cake Monday is a well-meaning initiative that was established to give us some joy at the end of a day’s work. Each week we take it in turns to bake, and meet in the staffroom before our evening meetings to scoff a slice of Victoria sponge or Mr Mason’s (mum’s) cheesecake. It’s a lovely idea – until it is your turn.

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'Massively' improved state schools threaten private sector

Fri, 05/02/2016 - 19:47

Better behaviour and results are attracting families who can afford private school fees, says Good Schools Guide editor

State schools have improved “massively”, according to the founder of the Good Schools Guide, who says their growing popularity with parents is threatening to drive weaker private schools out of business.

Ralph Lucas, editor-in-chief of the guide regarded as the bible for middle-class school choice, said that as results and behaviour improved even those families who could afford private school fees were increasingly choosing the state sector.

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Cameron’s college and the right balance on admissions | Letters

Fri, 05/02/2016 - 17:59

Your singling out of Brasenose College shows the dangers of selectively manipulating college data (Prime minister’s Oxford college admits fewest state school applicants, 4 February). A different set of statistics, used in a recent Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report, shows Brasenose accepts a high proportion of state school applicants. Your selective use of college data obscures the fact that across the university, a majority of successful offers go to state-educated applicants. More importantly Oxford’s system of reallocating pooled candidates means that an applicant’s chance of getting a place at any Oxford college is broadly consistent no matter which college they apply to.

You also cite the fact that 7% of school students are from the independent schools, ignoring the Sutton Trust’s point that 33% of students getting three A grades or better are from this sector. You are missing the point that while Oxford is committed to both effective outreach and fair selection, it must work against a background of disparities in attainment. You also talk of the “much-feared” Oxford interview. We have worked hard in recent years to break down the myths and stereotypes surrounding the interview. By reinforcing such stereotypes, your article is doing more to deter bright potential applicants than any aspect of the application process itself.
Professor Sally Mapstone
Pro-vice-chancellor, Education, Oxford University

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How the circumflex became France's bête noire

Fri, 05/02/2016 - 17:49

A major drama has broken out in France after the local language police decreed one of their cute little accents to be largely redundant

Nom: Circumflex, or in French, circonflexe.

Quel âge a-t-il? Oh, it goes back thousands of years, to ancient Greece.

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Oxford college appoints Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Watson

Fri, 05/02/2016 - 15:34

Lady Margaret Hall announces star-studded list of visiting fellows, which also includes Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant

Benedict Cumberbatch’s newest role will see him treading the boards in front of university students, after he accepted an appointment as a visiting fellow at Oxford.

Cumberbatch – whose last stage role was as Hamlet at the Barbican in London – will be joined by fellow actor Emma Watson and the Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant among the 11 visiting fellows at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

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Your stories of getting into university: the good, the bad and the ugly | Sarah Marsh

Fri, 05/02/2016 - 12:56

Oxbridge has been criticised for its complex and intimidating admissions process. Here our readers share their experiences of applying to university

Oxbridge has been in the news this week for its admissions process. First, Cambridge announced plans to bring back entrance exams (which some claim will be a barrier to the disadvantaged) and then The Sutton Trust criticised Oxbridge, saying getting in was a “complex and intimidating” endeavour.

While these institutions are very competitive – and arguably elitist – the university application process can be tough wherever you apply. We asked our readers for their admission stories – of nailing an interview or messing it up royally, and here’s what you told us: the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Quitting school and taking a family travel adventure: what Guardian readers say

Fri, 05/02/2016 - 12:33

The Meek family’s tale of swapping work and school for a year of UK adventures with their kids encouraged readers to share their own experiences – and opinions

We took a decision to sell up and move to Portugal in 1999 when our kids were three and five years old. We’d both been working hard and hadn’t spent as much time with our kids as we would have liked. Our first child had died at five months old. We chose to rent an apartment in Lisbon. Our kids were thrown in at the deep end in a Portuguese convent kindergarten. They were both speaking almost fluent Portuguese after about four-five months. It was a complete change in lifestyle, food, culture, language and climate that we experienced together – something that bonds us to this day. It was an adventure, exciting, enriching and something everyone should do if they have the guts and the wherewithal to do it.
tonyalex

Related: The rise of travelling families and world-schooling

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We can't lose public libraries – they're as crucial for students as ever

Fri, 05/02/2016 - 10:19

While public libraries may seem outdated to some in the age of Google search, they remain a vital place for poorer students to work in peace

The 6 February is National Libraries Day, instigated in 2012 by campaigners hoping to avoid further library closures, and to celebrate these temples of learning across the country.

Growing up, libraries played a huge part in helping me to establish myself as a poet. I discovered works by Anne Sexton and TS Eliot in a public library. I spent hours unpicking their lines and making my own interpretations. The library was a truly reflective space for me, away from school and away from home, where I began to form my own voice as a poet. There was the sense of excitement when finding something new on the same shelf a week later and taking it home at no expense. I absorbed a canon of books I could never have afforded to buy.

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