‘Scandal’ as poorer pupils lag behind

AN INCOMING Labour government would make tackling the “double disadvantage” faced by pupils from deprived backgrounds who are more likely to go to poor schools a top priority, according to shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg.

Speaking at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference he warned that it was a “national scandal” that poorer pupils are lagging up to a year behind their richer classmates in their schooling,

He said: “I know there are inequalities in our health system, but if poorer patients were left to linger on waiting lists for an extra year there would be a huge outcry. But too often in education we accept inequality – condemning certain children to mediocrity because we assume that they cannot achieve success.”

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He also highlighted dealing with homophobic bullying and raising the status of the teaching profession as key issues.

His speech came as an ATL survey announced yesterday revealed that an increasing workload, long hours and inspections are damaging teachers’ health. The poll found that a quarter of those questioned said their current job had led to them taking sick leave from work, while two in five had visited the doctor.

One further-education tutor in South Yorkshire told the survey: “I suffered a nervous breakdown due to pressures within work and was off for six months. Unfortunately the workload pressure and the over-critical atmosphere has not altered. All staff are jumpy and waiting for the next put-down.”

The conference also heard yesterday that violent computer games are making children more aggressive and luring youngsters into a fantasy world. Pupils as young as four are acting out graphic scenes of violence in the playground after playing inappropriate games, Alison Sherratt, ATL’s junior vice-president said.

The second day of the ATL’s conference in Manchester was taking place as leading figures in the education sector reacted to Michael Gove’s plans to hand control of A-levels to universities.

The Education Secretary intends to give universities, particularly the most elite institutions, a far greater role in designing A-levels amid concerns that it fails to prepare students for degree study.

In a letter to the exams regulator Ofqual Mr Gove said he did not envisage the Government playing a part in developing A-levels in the future.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said: “I fear that some of Mr Gove’s concerns are based on an unrealistic expectation of what an examination can accomplish. Academic achievement is not synonymous with employability skills, and a good education must provide both.

“I have doubts over whether universities are better-placed than awarding bodies to undertake the highly-complex task of setting examinations for many thousands of 18-year-olds, or indeed would wish to do so.”

Peter B Hamilton, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference academic policy committee, said: “Mr Gove is right to want university input into the much-needed review of A-levels but it would be most unwise to give universities total control.”