Raised in the UK but 'blocked' from going to university


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An 18-year-old who has lived in the UK since she was four has told BBC 5 live Daily that she had been denied a chance to attend university because she is classed as an international student.

Agnes Harding from Dagenham was offered places at several universities this summer but she is now unable to continue her studies, as she can’t get a loan and would have to pay the same fees as someone living overseas.

She now wants to be an astronaut and dreams of going into space one day.

The charity Just for Kids Law says up to 600 people are in a similar position.

The Department for Education say anyone considering going to university can apply to the Home Office with a view to settling their status in the UK. They say all visa applications are considered on their individual merits.”


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Mind the Gap


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Michael Wilshaw quote: "People of Manchester and Liverpool and the north of England are not being treated fairly...their children have less of a chance of educational success than children south of the Wash."

The claim: Sir Michael Wilshaw, England’s chief inspector of schools, says there is a noticeable north-south divide when it comes to the rate at which schools are improving, giving children in the North poorer chances of educational success.

Reality Check verdict: There is evidence that the children in the North of England have less chance of educational success than children in the South of England at secondary level, but it is difficult to point to a single reason for this. There is a link between deprivation and poorer school results, but the most deprived areas of London have experienced dramatic improvements in schools in the past 20 years.

The north-south divide in education was a central theme in Ofsted’s annual report for the second year in a row.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw said that in northern England “children have less of a chance of educational success than children south of the Wash”.

Delivering the report, he said the gap between the North and Midlands and the South was widening and now stood at 12 percentage points – in the North and Midlands, 72% of secondary schools were rated good or outstanding compared with 84% in the South.

This means there are 135,000 more secondary school children being taught in under-performing schools in the northern England and the Midlands than in the South.

According to Ofsted, there are more than twice as many secondary schools judged inadequate in the North and Midlands (98 schools or 6%) compared with 44 in the South and East (3%).

Sir Michael also said that of the 10 worst performing local authority areas, seven were in the North or Midlands and pupils in these regions were less likely to achieve the highest grades at GCSE.

The seven in the North and Midlands were:

  • Blackpool
  • Bradford
  • Doncaster
  • Knowsley
  • Liverpool
  • Northumberland
  • Stoke-on-Trent

The three in the South were:

  • Swindon
  • South Gloucestershire
  • Isle of Wight

The government says the proportion of good schools is increasing in every region.

It has certainly increased overall – the proportion of schools judged to be good or outstanding has increased by 12 percentage points since 2011.

But improvement is not happening at the same rate across the country, as is clear from the widening gap between the North and the South.

The Ofsted report says that in some parts of the North and Midlands, improvement over the past five years has “stagnated”.

“In 2011, the North West was one of the stronger regions, but the proportion of pupils in good and outstanding schools is now just over three percentage points higher than five years ago,” it says.

“This means there are only just over 3,000 more pupils in good and outstanding secondary schools in the region compared to an increase of over 90,000 pupils in London in the same period.”

Some of this difference will be down to a declining pupil population, but according to Ofsted this does not account for it entirely.

Wide discrepancies

A report from think tank the IPPR in 2015 found there was a north-south gap in GCSE attainment, in terms of the number of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs including English and maths.

On average, 55% of pupils in the North and Midlands achieved five good GCSEs compared with 59% in the South and East this year.

It’s not as simple as just a north-south divide though – there are wide discrepancies in educational achievement across the country.

Coastal communities and more isolated areas of the country, whether in the North or South, have been flagged as areas of concern because of the poor educational achievement of their pupils in the past. And within regions, or even smaller local areas, there can be big differences.

For example, you can look at numbers of pupils getting the English Baccalaureate or EBacc – a performance measure for schools based on how many pupils get good grades in core “traditional” subjects such as English, maths, sciences, history and geography.

In outer London, 32% of pupils achieved the EBacc, compared with 22% in Yorkshire and the Humber.

On a more local level, Leeds had the lowest proportion of young people achieving the EBacc at just 4%, compared with 52%, the highest in the country, in Richmond Park.

But if you look to Bournemouth, you can see that in the Bournemouth West constituency, like in Leeds, 4% of pupils achieved the EBacc, while on the other side of town in Bournemouth East, it was nine times higher at 36%.

Primary schools in the North and the South, however, have similar proportions of good and outstanding schools.

It is hard to say why this gap at secondary level in particular exists.

There is a well-documented link between deprivation and doing worse in school.

But London, home to some of the most deprived areas in the country and once also home to some of the worst schools, has experienced a dramatic turnaround in the quality of its schools.

Some have suggested it could be, in part, due to the positive effects of immigration, but the general consensus is there is no one single reason.

Rather, a general and collective focus on raising standards from the early years onwards has led to gradual improvements over time.


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Schools asbestos claims hit £10m


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At least 12,600 schools in England have some asbestos in them

Councils in England have paid out at least £10m in compensation to people who developed illnesses because of asbestos in school buildings.

Figures obtained by BBC News show that in the past decade 32 councils have settled claims from former teachers, school staff or pupils.

The National Union of Teachers says up to 300 adults die each year because of exposure to asbestos while at school.

The government says it is investing £23bn to improve school buildings.

But campaigners warn that the presence of asbestos in schools continues to put pupils lives at risk.

“My mum Sue was a teacher for 30 years and her life was cut short because of this horrible material,” Lucie Stephens said.

“As she was dying she was really angry and concerned about the 900 children that she’d taught during her career. If my mum has been exposed to this deadly substance, how many of those children will have been exposed?”

Media captionLucie Stephens is petitioning the government to remove asbestos from schools

Using the Freedom of Information Act, BBC Yorkshire has obtained figures from 135 councils in England, that show there are at least 12,600 council-run schools where asbestos is known to be present.

The number of actual schools that contain asbestos is likely to be higher as many have become academies and so are not included in the figures.

It is widely accepted that any school building built before the year 2000 is likely to contain some form of asbestos.

In the last five years local authorities have also recorded 99 instances of significant asbestos disturbances, where people have been put in danger because of potential exposure to the substance.

What is Asbestos?

Image copyright
US Geological Survey

Image caption

2 million microscopic asbestos fibres could fit on a pin head

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was commonly used as a building material because of its fireproof and insulating characteristics.

A complete ban on the use of the material was introduced in the UK in 1999.

If left undisturbed the material poses no risk to human beings.

However, if someone breathes in asbestos fibres, it can cause serious illnesses such as asbestosis and a type of lung cancer called mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma kills around 5,000 people each year. By the time it is diagnosed it is almost always fatal.

Source: Health and Safety Executive

Dennis Law, from Sheffield, lost his wife Susan who died at the age of 64 from mesothelioma.

“The end of her life was horrific, she had ulcers and red blotches all over her body.

“For 20 years my wife was a teaching assistant and a dinner lady, and she shouldn’t have died because of where she worked”.

Image copyright
Dennis Law

Image caption

Dennis Law lost his wife Susan to mesothelioma. He wants asbestos removed from every school in the country

The BBC’s investigation also discovered there is no uniform approach to monitoring the presence of asbestos in schools in England.

Of those that responded, 13 councils said they held no information about which schools in their area contained the hazardous material.

Ten councils also refused to disclose information about the number of asbestos cases it had settled; meaning it is likely that more than £10m has been paid out in compensation to victims.

“This is a ticking time bomb because very few teachers and parents know that there is asbestos in schools. The very least we should do is make sure that this information is available to them,” said Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the Asbestos in Schools group.

Speaking to the BBC last month Education Secretary Justine Greening said a recent government review had provided schools with the latest advice in how to keep pupils and staff safe.

“In the overwhelming number of cases we do remove asbestos from schools, but in some cases our experts are telling us its better to leave the material in place. What our review had done though is given us a clear blueprint for how we tackle this issue going forward and that is what we are focussed on doing,” Ms Greening said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education added: “The health and safety of children and staff in our schools is vital – that’s why we are investing £23bn in school buildings by 2021.

“This will help ensure asbestos is managed safely and that the amount in school buildings continues to reduce over time.”

Additional reporting by Nicola Hudson, Nicola Rees and Ruth Green.


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Smart money


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“So now I’ve graduated, how do I pay off all my student debts?”

It’s tough being a student these days. Debt levels are reaching crisis proportions in many developed countries, the World Bank says.

And in many developing countries, aspiring students can’t get finance at all.

In the US, where private funding is the norm, $1.3 trillion (£1tn) in education loans is outstanding. In the UK, the government-backed student debt burden is nearly £90bn.

And trying to find the best way to finance your university or postgraduate education can be a confusing business.

“I remember feeling overwhelmed by some competitor lenders,” says Alex Kubo, 28, an MBA [Master of Business Administration] candidate at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

Luckily for him, he came across one of a new breed of lenders harnessing data analytics to make better loan decisions and cut costs.

Online lender CommonBond offered him a fixed interest rate that beat the other lenders he tried. How was it able to do this?

Image copyright
Alex Kubo

Image caption

Even MBA students like Alex Kubo can find it hard getting the best loan

“Examples of the data we take into consideration are an applicant’s free cash flow, earning potential, credit history, education, location, and many more data points,” CommonBond chief marketing officer Phil DeGisi tells the BBC.

This data is fed into a proprietary algorithm, which assesses the applicant’s viability for a loan, he says. An application can take just two minutes to complete and the average student will save $14,500, says Mr DeGisi.

“This enables us to create an interest rate that is lower than that of the Federal Government Grad Plus loan (6.31%) and more representative of the borrower’s risk and potential.”

In the US, MBA students can typically accumulate anywhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in debt and expenses over two years, so finding the best loan deal is crucial and “one of the biggest challenges facing this generation”, says Mr DeGisi.

Better deal

Rival student finance firm SoFi adopts a similar technique to CommonBond, but comes at it from a different angle, assisting students who have already taken out loans to refinance.

Its co-founders saw a gap in the market when they noticed their peers at Stanford Business School were paying high interest rates in spite of being relatively low-risk borrowers.

“The tech that powers SoFi is essentially the combination of our online interface with our proprietary underwriting model,” says Catesby Perrin, the firm’s vice president of business development.

Image copyright
Thinkstock

Image caption

Most students now have to take out loans to fund university education

“Our model looks at free cash flow, education and profession as well as history of financial responsibility, providing a more accurate picture of their financial wellbeing than, for example, a credit score would,” says Mr Perrin.

SoFi, which has made nearly 200,000 loans so far, says it saves borrowers an average of $17,000 over the life of the loan. And its risk assessments are so accurate that the default rate – the percentage of students failing to keep up repayments – is one of the lowest in the industry.

The firm has now moved beyond student loan refinancing to offer other products, too, such as a mortgage tailored to former students that enables them to roll their student debts into the home loan.

Debt burden

And there is evidence that student loan debt is holding people back.

Research by UK charity Central YMCA found money worries to be the biggest cause of stress among people, with students being particularly affected.

“The idea of the ‘skint student’ isn’t just a stereotype,” says Rosi Prescott, the charity’s chief executive. “It’s the reality for thousands of our students up and down the country who have to scrimp and save just to ensure they can afford to stay in university semester to semester.”

The International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank that offers investment and asset management services, says student lending in many developed countries is in crisis, and that emerging markets need to come up with new ways to fund learners.

Image copyright
Thinkstock

Image caption

Is student debt stopping young people from achieving their goals?

In Africa, for example, only 8% of people have a higher education degree, and banks and microfinance institutions devote less than 1% of their portfolios to student loans.

Yet few government loan programmes can keep pace with demand.

“Existing loan products are structured with prohibitive terms that make them difficult to repay,” says Jennifer White, founder and chief executive of Student Finance Africa, a loan company.

“They have short repayment periods and collateral requirements. Even students who do access higher education frequently drop out due to financial constraints.”

Her company has designed its own credit scoring algorithm to tackle this, helping make informed lending decisions on clients who may not have a credit history. So it looks at alternative data, such as mobile money transaction history and academic performance.

“Our loan structure also requires borrowers to make minimal interest payments during school in order to continue qualifying for loans as they progress through their studies,” Ms White says.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Anger over university tuition fees has led to student protests in South Africa

“Thus their history of payments will also be used to inform our credit scoring model.”

This approach has never been tried before in Africa and has met with a positive response, she says.

The company is launching its programme in Kenya in three schools, and will begin official lending early next year.

Ms White is confident of reaching 15,000 students over the next five years.

“Tech is an enabler,” she says. “Advancements in fintech (financial technology) – particularly around alternative data and credit scoring – are enabling us to break down traditional barriers to finance and lend to a group that was once considered far too risky to lend to.”

Follow Technology of Business editor Matthew Wall on Twitter

Click here for more Technology of Business features


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Asbestos in schools: Petition to protect children from deadly material


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The daughter of a teacher who died after being exposed to asbestos at school, is warning parents of the risk to their children.

Lucie Stephens’ mum Sue died of mesothelomia, a type of cancer caused by exposure to the deadly material, and now she is calling on the government to proactively remove it from all schools.

Ms Stephens wants parents to understand the risk of asbestos exposure their children face at school.


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Booster bother


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Parents have been left confused over changes to rules on children’s car seats

New rules on child car seats are set to come into force after March next year and have left many parents confused about what they need to use.

Changes are being made to the weight and height at which a child will be allowed to use a backless booster seats. However, parents will not need to replace car seats they have already bought because they can continue to use them.

What is changing?

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Thinkstock

Image caption

The United Nations approved the changes to rules on backless child car seats

From next year, changes are being made on the rules regarding backless booster seats.

Currently, parents can use these types of seats for children who weigh 15kg (2st 3lbs) and above – typically aged three and over.

The new rules will mean only children weighing over 22kg (3st 4lbs) who are also over 125cm (4ft 4ins) tall can use the seats.

The United Nations, which sets the safety standards for car seats, has approved the change which must now be implemented by the EU.

The government said the earliest the new rules will come in is March 2017 and they will affect the whole of the UK.

Why bring in the new rules?

Many child car seat experts say they are unsuitable for small children as the child is not held as securely in the seat, the adult seatbelt is not guided across their body in the best way and they offer little protection if a car is involved in a side-on crash.

What if you have already bought one?

Do not worry. The changes will only apply to new backless seats and not ones already on the market that meet current safety standards.

Parents can continue to use their current model after the rule change and will not need to buy a new one.

It will be down to manufacturers of new seats to ensure they meet the revised safety standards and are labelled correctly.

What is the current law?

Image copyright
Thinkstock

Image caption

A high back car seat can be used for children who weigh 15kg and above

Children must use a child car seat until they are 12 years old or 135cm (4.4ft) tall, whichever comes first.

There are typically three types of children’s car seats:

  • Rear-facing seats
  • Forward-facing seats which contain a harness or impact cushion
  • Booster seats which can have either a high back or can be backless

Only EU-approved child car seats can be used in the UK – which have a label showing a capital “E” in a circle.

Parents should typically choose a car seat based on their child’s height or weight.

A driver can be fined up to £500 if a child under 14 does not wear a seat belt or child restraint. Anyone 14 and over not wearing a seat belt must pay the fine themselves.

There are exceptions. For example, children can travel without a child car seat in a taxi or minicab if there is a fixed partition between the front and rear seats.

Which seat should you have?

Image copyright
Thinkstock

Image caption

Rear facing car seats are used by babies and very small children

Many parents think they can judge which car seat they need to buy based on their child’s age but it should only be used as guidance.

Car seats are typically categorised according to height and weight.

Height-based car seats, known as “i-Size” seats, must be rear-facing until the child is over 15 months old.

For weight-based car seats, the type depends on how heavy a child is.

  • 0kg to 9kg (1st 4lbs) – A lie-flat baby carrier, a rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness.
  • 0kg to 13kg (2st) – A rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness
  • 9kg (1st 4lbs) to 18kg (2st 8lbs) – A rear or forward-facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield
  • 15kg (2st 3lbs) to 36kg (5st 6lbs) – A rear or forward-facing child seat, such as a high-backed booster seat or booster cushion, using a seat belt, harness or safety shield

A more detailed list is available through childcarseats.org.uk


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Faith school push will not 'help results'


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Image caption

Faith schools often require evidence of regular religious practice

Plans to allow new faith schools to increase the share of pupils they take on religious grounds in England will not improve standards, a report says.

The Education Policy Institute research also finds the move is unlikely to boost social mobility.

The proposal is part of a range of measures, including opening new grammar schools, aimed at boosting the number of places in high performing schools.

The government said faith schools were some of the best and most popular.

The Department for Education’s plans to allow new faith schools to recruit more than half of their pupils on religious grounds are based on the assumption that children do better in these schools.

They appeared in the Green Paper, Schools that Work for Everyone, which sets out plans to allow successful schools to expand.

‘Poorest pupils’

At the moment new faith schools, set up as free schools, can only recruit 50% of pupils on the basis of faith.

But existing faith schools have no limits on the percentage of pupils they can recruit on religious grounds, although Church of England schools admit quotas of non-religious pupils.

The more oversubscribed a school is, the more likely it is to have higher numbers of pupils admitted on religious grounds.

This can mean families of pupils are required to attend church, synagogues or mosques on a weekly basis.

The report finds that while pupils in primary and secondary faith schools, including disadvantaged ones, do get better results, this does not take account of the inherently bright nature of these pupils.

Analysis in the report, which looked at the results of pupils at all schools in England, found faith schools took a lower proportion of the poorest pupils.

It also found such schools have a higher proportion of children with high prior attainment – those scoring highly in assessments and tests in the early years of school.

The report said that once this high prior attainment was taken into account, faith schools performed little or no better than non-faith schools at primary level.

At secondary level, pupils recorded small average gains of just one-seventh of a grade higher in each of eight GCSE subjects.

‘Less representative’

The report said: “We found that at both primary and secondary level, faith schools tend to admit fewer pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, fewer pupils with special educational needs and more pupils with high prior attainment than the national average.

“In terms of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, faith schools were less representative of their local area than average at both primary and secondary level.”

It argued that faith schools were on average slightly more socially selective than high-performing schools, but at secondary level much less socially selective than grammar schools.

It concluded that: “While encouraging more faith schools to open may help the government to meet its requirements to provide sufficient school places, the proposed policy is unlikely to yield school places that are of a significantly higher quality than that offered by non-faith schools.”

But the Department for Education said it wanted to open up good schools to all children, irrespective of background.

“Faith schools are a vital part of this – they are among the best schools in the country and places are in high demand.

“That’s why we want to remove the ineffective faith cap to establish even more good schools, while introducing new measures to improve inclusivity and diversity.”

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Accord Coalition, which opposes religious selection in schools, said: “Opening new faith schools that can religiously select pupils will undermine community cohesion, harm the life chances of children from deprived backgrounds and not raise overall standards.”


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National Teaching Service dropped, government confirms


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Secondary classroom

Image caption

Under the scheme, outstanding teachers would work in deprived areas for up to three years

A scheme to recruit good teachers to work in deprived areas has been dropped, the government has confirmed.

The National Teaching Service was announced by England’s then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, in 2015.

The plan was for 1,500 outstanding teachers and leaders to be deployed by 2020 “to the schools that need them most”, with a pilot in the North West.

But following the pilot “we can confirm that we will not be progressing”, said a Department for Education spokesman.

Teacher shortages

The original plan was to send “the country’s best teachers and leaders to underperforming schools that struggle to attract and retain the professionals they need”, according to a speech made by Mrs Morgan to the Policy Exchange think-tank in November 2015.

The initiative was part of a government plan “to give every child an excellent education”.

“Too many places are lagging behind, meaning young people in these areas are not being given a fair shot,” said the government at the time.

NTS staff would work with schools for a period of up to three years in a bid to drive up standards.

An initial pilot was launched to enlist up to 100 teachers and leaders to work in primary and secondary schools in the North West from September 2016.

But according to the Times Education Supplement, just 54 teachers were recruited after only 116 applied.

The government says the pilot was launched “to test the concept of how a National Teaching Service could work”.

“We are pleased with the level of interest in the pilot and the calibre of the successful candidates,” said a Department for Education spokesman.

“However, following a review of the outcomes, we can confirm that we will not be progressing with the further rollout of the National Teaching Service

“We recognise that it is vitally important that schools, particularly in challenging areas, can recruit and retain excellent teachers, and we are determined to continue to support them to do this.

“We will use the lessons learnt from the pilot to secure a better understanding of to support schools in the future, and will set out future plans in due course.”

‘Damning’

On Thursday, Ofsted’s annual report highlighted serious problems in recruiting teachers and school leaders, particularly in northern England, where, it said, heads were reporting an “auction” for teachers.

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said Ofsted’s verdict on the government’s teacher recruitment record was “damning”.

“We now learn that they’ve are scrapping the much lauded National Teaching Service after just a year,” she said.

“Last week, we learnt that the Tories have missed their recruitment target for the fifth year in row.

“And last year, the highest number of teachers left the profession in a decade.”

“The chronic teacher shortage continues to threaten standards under the Tories, and they are completely failing to take this crisis seriously.”


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Playing safe


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Child filling in their workbook

Image caption

A new scheme teaches children about mental health through fun games and workbooks

The mental health of children is a rising area of concern and one which schools are trying to combat. Emma Jane Kirby reports from south London about a scheme that involves teaching primary schoolchildren about mental health through fun games and workbooks.

The children are half out of their chairs, hands straining in the air, knees jiggling with excitement as they beg to be picked.

The smiling lady at the front of the class repeats her question.

“Can I see your thoughts? Can I smell them or touch them?” she asks.

Managing moods

Dr Anna Redfern is clearly a gifted communicator as well as a clinical psychologist. It is not everyone who can persuade a class of eight- and nine-year-olds to talk about their innermost feelings in front of each other.

Yet here are the children of Class 4S at the Oliver Goldsmith Primary School, Peckham, south-east London, openly admitting that they have days when they feel down or angry or just very sad.

“No-one can see our thoughts,” says a little girl confidently. “And that’s why we need to talk about them.”

Dr Redfern and her colleague Dr Debbie Plant are delivering a new programme called Cues-Ed, funded by the South London and Maudsley Trust.

The programme teaches children to recognise the signs when things aren’t right, and some behavioural techniques to help them manage low mood.

“We all have feelings,” says Dr Redfern.

“And we will all have difficulties in our lives which will make us feel and think things that are very challenging.

“And rather than being fearful about talking about these things, we want children to have the language that allows them to get the right help and to say, ‘Actually this is how I am feeling, these are the things I am thinking and I need some extra support.'”

Image caption

For one exercise, children separate helpful and unhelpful thoughts written on pieces of paper

In today’s lesson the children are looking at the difference between helpful and unhelpful thoughts.

Specially designed cartoon characters help the children relate to how different situations might make them feel – all the children sympathise when one of the cartoon characters is feeling left out and imagines that his friends are laughing at him.

‘We should be worried’

The whole programme is carefully couched in fun and child-friendly terms. Adult words such as “depression” are never used.

“Do you ever have one of those really bad days when everything seems to be against you,” asks Dr Redfern with a big smile. “Like when you go downstairs for breakfast and there are no more Coco Pops, there’s only Weetabix?”

The class groans in horror, and the children start chatting to each other about their own bad days.

According to the Association of School and College Leaders, 65% of head teachers say they struggle to get mental health services for pupils.

Over three-quarters of teachers surveyed said they had seen an increase in self-harm or suicidal thoughts among students.

Yet, at the moment, Cues-Ed is available only in south London and generally has to be funded by the participating schools themselves. A package of classes costs £3,950.

As she helps a child with his workbook, Dr Plant, whose team leads the project, says it is vital that children get mental health education early and all together.

She would like to see the programme rolled out nationwide.

“I think we should be worried about young people’s mental health,” she tells me.

“The last time the government took statistics it showed one in every 10 children suffered a mental health difficulty – that’s three in every class.”

‘Believe in yourself’

We watch her colleague calming a little boy who’s got himself worked up because he doesn’t think he can do the writing exercise he’s been tasked with.

The child next to him offers some positive advice.

“If you’re upset, you could try meditation or breathing deeply,” she says. “And you should believe in yourself.”

Dr Plant smiles as we watch them, happy to see last week’s lesson on positive thinking has sunk in.

“You know, we worked in adolescent mental health for so long,” she says “And we thought we were doing so well. But the young people said to us, ‘Why didn’t you teach us all of this when we were seven, eight and nine? That would have really made a difference.'”

Image caption

The children fish for helpful and unhelpful thoughts on pieces of paper blown around the classroom

The children are extremely excited now as they’re handed fishing nets and told to catch little pieces of coloured paper on which are written helpful and unhelpful thoughts and which are being blown across the classroom.

The class teacher, Sophia Campbell-Whitfield, selects a little boy to pass round the class with a bin. I ask him what he’s doing.

“Putting all the unhelpful thoughts in the bin,” he says, “because they’re rubbish.”

‘Big changes’

There is no doubt the children are all engaged in the lesson, but does it make any practical difference to their behaviour? Mrs Campbell-Whitfield nods emphatically.

“Definitely,” she says. “This class had a lot of issues last year – but now with the Cues-Ed programme, I have seen some big changes.

“I see children use strategies to calm themselves, whereas before they would have stormed off… and they now have a proper conversation with each other about behaviour and sometimes they even say, ‘Come on now, did you catch that thought?'”

One nine-year-old boy appears emotionally very fluent as he tells me how he gets very angry and sad when he is told off at school.

But he remembers what he has been taught in Cues-Ed about trying to dispel his low mood and unhelpful thoughts by doing something he finds fun and likes doing.

I ask him what that is in his case, and he doesn’t hesitate.

“I like to enjoy my lunch.”


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Art history A-level saved at last minute


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The new syllabus will include work ‘by men and women of all colours and creeds’

Campaigners for art history A-level say they are “absolutely thrilled” by a late decision to save the subject, which was set to be discontinued.

Exam board Pearson has confirmed plans to develop a new history of art A-level for teaching from next September.

October’s decision by the AQA board to drop the subject provoked an outcry from experts who argued “society had never required its insights more”.

“It’s amazing – just about in the nick of time,” said teacher Sarah Phillips.

Ms Phillips, from state sixth form Godalming College, developed the new syllabus with AQA and added: “Now we need to get the message out to Year 11 students as soon as possible.”

‘Global specification’

Subject to approval by Ofqual, Ms Phillips says she expects Pearson to build on her work which has been made available to the Department for Education by AQA.

“It is a global specification. Students won’t just study the work of dead white men,” she said. “They will have the opportunity to study Islamic architecture and work by men and women of all colours and creeds. The support has been overwhelming,” she added.

In October, top experts signed an open letter to AQA condemning the decision not to offer the A-level to new students after this year.

AQA was the last board to offer the subject and the decision represented “a vital loss for students”, they argued.

At the time AQA said the change “was not about money or whether history of art deserves a place in the curriculum”, but said that it feared the new qualification was so wide-ranging that accurate marking would be impossible.

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Katrina Campbell

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AQA feared the massive range of the new syllabus would make accurate marking difficult

Pearson, which also announced plans to take on AS and A-levels in statistics, also dropped by AQA, said awarding organisations, government and schools should work together in the interests of students to secure the future of important qualifications.

“The response from the public, from teachers and from young people shows many people have a real passion for these subjects. We’re happy to help make sure they remain available,” said the company’s president, Rod Bristow.

The move was welcomed by leading academics and museum directors as well as by Turner Prize winners Anish Kapoor, Cornelia Parker and Jeremy Deller.

Mr Kapoor said it was “a huge relief” while Mr Deller called it “a good day for art and culture” and added: “Art history is the study of power, politics, identity and humanity, it makes perfect sense to keep the exam.”

Ms Parker said she had studied art history “as a working-class girl, receiving free school dinners… It has hugely enriched my life”.


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Ofsted boss: Brexit vote linked to poor school performance


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The Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, says the Government must make it a priority to improve the performance of failing schools in the north of England and the Midlands.

He says the issue is fuelling the sense of a divided nation.

Sir Michael says the failure to provide a good education may have contributed to the alienation and frustration expressed by some parents during the EU referendum.


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School performance link to Brexit vote, says Ofsted boss


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Manchester skyline

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Sir Michael says schools in northern cities such as Manchester need to improve

The failure to improve schools in some parts of England has contributed to the feeling of being ignored revealed in the Brexit vote, the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw has said.

The Ofsted boss said while standards were rising overall, the number of poorly performing schools in the north and the East Midlands would continue to fuel the sense of a divided nation.

He said the situation was very serious.

Sir Michael publishes his final annual report as chief inspector on Thursday.

In an interview with the BBC in Manchester, he said the economic future of the north of England relied on addressing the poor performance of some schools.

Sir Michael said the European Union referendum result had revealed a wider malaise, with communities feeling their needs were being ignored.

He said parents in Manchester, Liverpool and many towns in the North of England had less of a chance of seeing their children get a good job or go on to university than those in London.

“The situation is very, very serious. If you look at Manchester, the city we’re in, nearly one in three schools [is] not good. In Liverpool, half are good. If you look at satellite towns, things are worse.

“It’s feeding into a sense that the people of Liverpool, Manchester and the North are not being treated fairly – that their children have less of a chance of educational success than people south of the Wash.

“And that’s feeding into a wider malaise that I sense with the Brexit vote, that actually this wasn’t just about leaving Europe, it’s about ‘our needs being neglected, our children are not getting as good a deal as elsewhere’.

“Parents want to see their children doing well; they want to see them going off to university; they want to see them getting a good job.

“Well, they have less of a chance of that in this city, in Liverpool and elsewhere, and that feeds into this sense of discontent in the North and in the Midlands.”

Sir Michael said addressing education must be a government priority.

He said: “If we have an educated workforce in the North, then that will feed into the wider economy in the North and the North will do well. It’s not doing well at the moment.”

‘More teachers’

The Ofsted annual report, published on Thursday morning, will highlight that overall standards are rising, with 1.8 million more pupils in good or outstanding maintained schools in 2016 than in 2010.

During this period, the curriculum and assessment regime has become more rigorous, it will say.

Other improvements include the fact that children on free schools meals are gaining ground on their peers in national primary tests.

But the report will also say that, to become truly world class, England needs:

  • high standards in education in every part the country
  • more teachers and leaders in those parts of the country where they are most needed
  • technical education that is on a par with academic education and that equips young people to be competitive in a post-Brexit world

It will also highlight the poor quality of education in the more geographically and economically isolated parts of the country, including coastal areas.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said good and outstanding schools now made up 89% of all schools inspected in England.

He added: “But we know there is more to do, and that’s precisely why we have set out plans to make more good school places available, to more parents, in more parts of the country – including scrapping the ban on new grammar school places, and harnessing the resources and expertise of universities, independent and faith schools.”

Sir Michael retires as head of Ofsted at the end of the year. He will be succeeded by Amanda Spielman, who currently chairs exams regulator Ofqual.


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Tax credit benefit removals criticised by MPs


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PA

A “cut first, think later” attitude plunged tax credit claimants into humiliating hardship and debt, a group of MPs has said.

HM Revenue and Customs and contractor Concentrix were criticised by the Work and Pensions Committee for decision-making “stacked against claimants”.

The committee found that 90% of moves to remove benefits were overturned on first appeal.

HMRC said tax credit error and fraud checks would remain in-house in future.

The committee condemned HMRC and Concentrix for “gross failure of customer service”.

It said vulnerable people were left in humiliating hardship while Concentrix and HMRC targeted “strike rates” of benefits being removed.

In many cases people lost benefits for months and were forced to borrow money and use food banks to survive, said the MPs.

‘Sorry episode’

Committee chairman Frank Field said: “The committee was horrified to learn of the ‘cut first, think later’ approach that was deployed by Concentrix.

“Our horror was compounded by the company’s – and HMRC’s – apparent celebration of its ‘strike rate’ in cutting families’ tax credits.

“The damage caused to families’ living standards by this ‘strike rate’ is still being felt by my constituents needing to rely on food banks while their claims are reinstated.

“Although the committee welcomes HMRC’s decision to bring in-house its tax credit compliance functions, we are clear that this will not automatically deliver a better service.

“Nor are those families driven into debt going to be rescued from the plight into which this sorry episode plunged them.”

HMRC contracted Concentrix in May 2014 to check for possible fraud and error in tax credit claims. The contract was terminated in November 2016.

The committee said HMRC was negotiating a new contract with Concentrix as late as 8 September.


Paul’s story: ‘Stress levels through the roof’

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Paul Eite

Image caption

Paul Eite had his tax credits stopped for seven weeks

As a single parent of two young boys, tax credits of more than £100 a week were vital to the household budget of Paul Eite.

But in August this year Paul, 39, of Hayling Island, Hampshire, was left desperate when the payments were stopped for seven weeks by HM Revenue and Customs’ contractor Concentrix.

After £50 worth of phone calls lasting 11 hours, Paul’s tax credits were reinstated on appeal.

During those seven weeks, says Paul, stress levels “went through the roof”.

“It really does affect you. You’re constantly saying ‘when’s the next money coming in’. It was shocking,” he recalls.

“You’re panicking about your financial situation. You scrimp and save – you learn how to make a really good meal with beans and toast.”


An HMRC spokesman said: “We apologise to all those who were let down by our contractor.

“We took swift and decisive action to end the contract early and took back all outstanding cases which are all now resolved.

“We have made it clear that tax credit error and fraud checks, which play a key role in making sure that people get what they are entitled to, will in future remain in-house.”

A Concentrix spokesman said: “We welcomed the opportunity to engage with the Work and Pensions Select Committee it its inquiry.

“This was a hugely complex contract and programme, and as the committee has highlighted, a number of challenges and issues emerged at the outset.

“We welcome any further investigations into the contract, including the National Audit Office investigation, to ensure all lessons can be learned.”


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More than 250,000 are homeless in England – Shelter


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PA

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Rough sleepers are only one section of people who are counted as homeless

More than a quarter of a million people are homeless in England, an analysis of the latest official figures suggests.

Researchers from charity Shelter used data from four sets of official 2016 statistics to compile what it describes as a “conservative” total.

The figures show homelessness hotspots outside London, with high rates in Birmingham, Brighton and Luton.

The government says it does not recognise the figures, but is investing more than £500m on homelessness.

For the very first time, Shelter has totted up the official statistics from four different forms of recorded homelessness.

These were:

  • national government statistics on rough sleepers
  • statistics on those in temporary accommodation
  • the number of people housed in hostels
  • the number of people waiting to be housed by social services departments (obtained through Freedom of Information requests).

The charity insists the overall figure, 254,514, released to mark 50 years since its founding, is a “robust lower-end estimate”.

It has been adjusted down to account for any possible overlap and no estimates have been added in where information was not available.

Charity chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Shelter’s founding shone a light on hidden homelessness in the 1960s slums.

“But while those troubled times have faded into memory, 50 years on a modern-day housing crisis is tightening its grip on our country.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will face the trauma of waking up homeless this Christmas.

“Decades in the making, this is the tragic result of a nation struggling under the weight of sky-high rents, a lack of affordable homes and cuts to welfare support.”

The analysis shows homelessness is at its highest rates in central London, with as many as one in 25 without a home in Westminster and one in 27 with nowhere to live in Newham.

But there are also many hotspots of severe homelessness stretching way beyond the capital, including:

  • Luton – one in 63 homeless
  • Brighton – one in 69
  • Birmingham – one in 119
  • Coventry – one in 204
  • Manchester – one in 266

One of the charity’s founders, Des Wilson, now in his 70s, said he hoped the country would respond to Shelter’s urgent rallying call “with the same combination of anger and compassion with which it supported our work all those years ago”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said homelessness was down on the 2003 figures and added: “However, we know that one person without a home is one too many.

“That is why the government is investing over £500m during the course of this parliament to tackle homelessness.

“This includes protecting £315m for local authority homelessness prevention funding and £149m for central government funding.”

‘Widening gap’

Martin Tett, the housing spokesman for the Local Government Association Housing, said councils were doing everything they could within existing resources to prevent and tackle the problem.

But he said that funding pressures, the lack of affordable housing, and rents that are rising above incomes were leaving many councils struggling to cope with rising homelessness across all areas of the country.

He said: “Finding emergency housing for homeless people, particularly young or vulnerable people or those with families, is increasingly difficult for councils.

“Councils need powers and funding to address the widening gap between incomes and rents, resume their historic role as a major builder of new affordable homes and join up all local services – such as health, justice and skills.

“This is the only way to deliver our ambition to end homelessness.”


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Muslim families sending children to Catholic schools


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Muslim families in Catholic schoolsImage copyright
Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

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Changes in local populations have seen thousands of Muslim pupils attending Catholic schools

More than 26,000 Muslim pupils are enrolled in Catholic schools in England and Wales.

For the first time an annual census of Catholic schools has collected information on the number of pupils from other religions.

The biggest group of non-Catholic pupils are from other Christian denominations – but almost a tenth are from Muslim families.

The government has plans to encourage more Catholic free schools to open.

This analysis shows that, overall, nearly a third of the more than 850,000 pupils within the Catholic school system are not Catholic – a total of almost 290,000.

Changing populations

This can reflect local demographic changes and migration – with Catholic schools serving areas with a declining number of Catholic families.

The Muslim pupils are the biggest non-Christian group, apart from the 63,000 who are from non-religious families.

Image copyright
iStock

Image caption

Muslim families can opt out of Christian events, but they choose to participate, says head

Finnuala Nelis, head of St Patrick’s Catholic Voluntary Academy in Sheffield, is in charge of a school where about half the pupils are not Catholics.

She says there have been changes in the local population – and that the school is now popular with parents who choose a Catholic school, even though they are not Catholics.

This includes Christians from a number of African churches and also Muslim pupils.

She says there are Muslim pupils who regularly attend their local mosques, but who will go to Catholic religious services at school.

Talking to parents

Muslim parents are able to withdraw their children from religious celebrations at the school, says Mrs Nelis, but they want their children to participate.

“It’s not an uncomfortable zone” to talk about these subjects with children or parents, she says.

Image caption

There are relatively few Muslim state schools, in proportion to the Muslim population

Muslim parents are also able to take their children out of school on Muslim festivals, such as Eid.

She says that non-Catholic parents choose the school because of the ethos and “value system”, as well as Catholic schools’ reputation for a “good standard of education”.

The government wants to change the rules for free schools to encourage more Catholic ones to open.

At present, free schools run by faith groups can only allocate half of their places on grounds of religion – a limit that the government has announced it will remove.

The government argues that Catholic schools combine ethnic diversity with high standards. In Catholic primary schools, 37% of pupils are from ethnic minorities, higher than the national average.

But opponents have warned that expanding faith schools will encourage social segregation.

The appeal of Catholic schools to Muslim families might also reflect the fact that there are relatively few Muslim schools in state system.

Among more than 6,800 faith schools in the state school system, only 28 are Muslim, with two more in the pipeline.

Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, said Catholic schools were “beacons of diversity and integration up and down the country”.

“Often, parents of different faiths and none value the distinctive and unapologetically Catholic ethos of the Church’s schools.”


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Christmas card printing firm Schoolcardshop ceases trading


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Children's Christmas card designsImage copyright
Schoolcardshop

 

A company that converts schoolchildren’s artwork into Christmas cards has gone out of business.

A statement on Schoolcardshop’s website said that its parent company, digital and personalised print supplier Dynamic Colour, was no longer trading.

The Edinburgh-based firm added that further details would be available on the site “in due course”.

Some parents have expressed their upset on Twitter, and are worried they may not get their money back.

Schoolcardshop allows families to create and personalise cards, and schools retain a proportion of the money spent by families on the products.

No-one was available for comment at Dynamic Colour on Wednesday evening.

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Schoolcardshop
Image caption

Schoolcardshop announced on its website that its parent company had stopped trading

Some families expressed concern about the company ceasing trading in the run-up to Christmas.

One parent told the BBC: “My daughter’s school was one of those that had signed up with this company to produce cards drawn by its pupils.

“We’ve already paid £12 for two packs that we won’t now be receiving. Have been told we’ll get our money back. I remain to be convinced.”

Recent posts from the company’s social media accounts mention the launch of an online store, while another tweet from the company’s account on 11 November says what “a busy week” its team had.

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EPA
Image caption

A recent post on the company’s Facebook page said: “We’re very excited about launching our online store”

 

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Parents have commented underneath Schoolcardshop’s tweet with questions about whether the business has stopped trading


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Indian pupils invent their own lessons


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Pratham

Image caption

The project is testing the impact of tablet computers in 400 rural villages in India

Something is happening in Bhaumau – a rural village in India’s populous state of Uttar Pradesh where parents spend most of their time working in agriculture and as day labourers.

Children, with no guidance from adults, are forming learning groups and with nothing more than a tablet computer preloaded with educational videos, stories and games, they are learning English and conducting science experiments.

In the first three months of playing with the tablets there has been, according to the project’s monitoring data, an 11% increase in pupils’ core academic skills such as reading in children’s mother tongue, reading and speaking in English, and science.

Maybe even more important, children are figuring out how to navigate the digital world to find out answers to their questions and are more confident about speaking up.

This is a radically different approach to using technology to advance learning.

Quality gap

As with many rural villages in India, most children in Bhaumau go to school but learn relatively little.

India has made major progress in the last decade in enrolling children but deep education inequalities persist, especially in the quality of education.

According to the 2014 Annual Status of Education Report, almost a third of rural children aged six to eight in India cannot even recognise letters yet.

The project in Bhaumau has challenged the idea that teaching is a one-way conversation, in which teachers have all the answers.

Image caption

Children have been encouraged to use the technology to make their own inventions

It also wants to change how technology is used.

In another nearby primary school, I saw pupils busy in the school’s computer lab trying to draw something with a software package and writing answers to questions in a paper workbook such as “Describe what the tab key does.”

For children who will enter the labour market a full decade from now, it was hard to see the value.

Self-teaching

Will keyboards even exist by the time these children are ready to take on their first job? How will their time in the computer lab prepare them to understand and create information in an increasingly digital world?

The tablet programme in Bhaumau, a village without internet connectivity, stands in sharp contrast to the standard educational practice.

Technology is used as a tool for young people, at their own pace and driven by their own interests, to explore how to get information, answer questions, create content, work with others and while at it have some fun.

Increased ability in reading and other core academic subjects is a by-product, not the central focus of the programme.

If you go for a late afternoon walk through the village you will encounter educational wonders.

Around one dusty lane was a group of three boys, notebooks in hand, huddled together watching a video on the human skeleton.

Body of knowledge

They said they were learning about the 206 bones in the human body, a subject not yet covered in the school they went to in the mornings.

But discussing human anatomy was not their priority. They wanted to conduct an interview, in English, and record it with the tablet’s video function.


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The boys popped up, quickly organising themselves for the task with one boy asking in clear English “How are you?”, “Where do you live?”, “What is your birthday?”

In another part of the village, a group of three girls and two boys were watching a video of a play.

A few houses away, a third group of children sat with a tablet and one boy was excitedly tinkering with a handmade fan and flashlight.

Cardboard, tape, wires and something taken from the inside of a mobile phone make up his creation.

He fiddled with wires before it got going and proudly displayed it, explaining that he learned how to make one part of it from a video in the tablet computer, but the rest he just invented himself.

Testing ideas

This programme, titled the Hybrid Learning Program, is the brainchild of Madhav Chavan and Rukmini Banerji, the duo who have been for the last two decades at the forefront of Pratham, one of India’s largest non-profit organisations working in the education sector.

The project uses 3,000 tablets without internet connection, through funding provided by Indus Towers and the Vodafone Foundation. Reaching over 26,000 children in 400 villages across Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra, it employs 80 field staff.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

The computer project took place in a rural village in Uttar Pradesh

“We wanted to see what would happen,” says Mr Chavan, who explains that Bhaumau is one of 400 villages where the NGO has dropped off the preloaded tablets.

Long dedicated to improving reading for elementary school students – including pioneering ways to effectively measure rural children’s learning outcomes – Pratham staff are expanding their sights.

Closing the gap in essential academic skills is only one piece of what marginalised children need. To really leapfrog forward, they need the opportunities to develop a much broader set of skills.

Hacking the password

For this programme, they chose villages with a reasonable number of pupils who could read.

They preloaded a wide range of locally relevant content onto the tablets, and only asked for village members to do two things – have children who will organise themselves into groups of five, and have an adult responsible for charging the tablet computers every night.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Creative powers: A performer getting ready for telling traditional story in Uttar Pradesh last month

“We made some mistakes in the beginning”, says Mr Chavan.

For one thing, the Pratham team was worried that children would use the tablets for playing and having fun rather than focusing on the preloaded educational content.

Therefore, when they first dropped the tablets off, each one had a password that when entered only provided access to the Pratham content.

The Pratham team soon discovered that playing and having fun was exactly the point.

The children quickly found a way to hack the system and bypass the passwords and in no time at all over 50% of all the tablets no longer were password protected.

‘Learning to learn’

Children were doing a wide range of things. They were very interested in Pratham’s educational content and they were also busy making their own – videos, songs, downloads perhaps from visitors’ phones or computers via file sharing.

“We have learned many things,” says Neha Sharma, the programme’s field co-ordinator and the voice on many videos. The most important is to help children develop “learning how to learn” skills.

Digital fluency and academic mastery are important benefits, but secondary to the ability to learn new things, use strategies to tackle a new problem, seek help, find solutions.

Students are so conditioned to have teachers give them the answer that, she says, it is a fundamental shift for them to approach learning in this new way.

The hardest part of implementing the programme has, according to her, been training Pratham staff not to give children the answers or fix problems, but to let children figure things out on their own. A mindset shift not only for the children but also the adults.

Children are, of course, naturally curious, creative and social and when given the tools to unleash these abilities can go far. Perhaps this is what true educational leapfrogging looks like.


Rebecca Winthrop, is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, and a member of the board of directors of the Fuller Project for International Reporting.


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Downwardly mobile?


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Britain has “a social mobility problem”, according to a report by a government commission. BBC News spoke to three young adults who have different views about whether they have struggled to make a better life for themselves.

‘Treadmill families’ going nowhere, says social mobility report

“I feel like I’ve gone backwards” – Lucy Rayner, 28, Farnborough

Mum Lucy says she had a “very middle class background” but struggled to find a job even though she had a first-class degree in media and cultural studies.

She now works in marketing, but says: “It’s a bit of a struggle really, because if you work more hours you get less government support with things like childcare, and I spend almost everything I earn in a month on rent, which is about £1,000 a month.

“You try to cope with it and make the best of it, but it’s quite frustrating. You have this model of how your life is supposed to be if you come from a certain background, but you feel like you are constantly trying to meet it. There’s a lot of pressure.”

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Lucy Rayner

Lucy says she thinks the one thing that would make the biggest difference to her social mobility would be having the chance to own her own home.

“I hoped to be able to afford my own home, but it’s just not possible where I am now,” she said.

“People might say it’s all down to how hard you try, but I had a child very young and still supported myself at university and gained a degree.

“I have a reasonable job and I can’t do any more than what I am doing.”

“Many lack integrity, drive and ambition” – Nick Trafford, 30, London

“There’s a lot of emphasis on the idea that poverty means you do worse at school, but I think it’s down to the individual,” says Nick, who grew up in Grimsby.

“I went to an underperforming comprehensive in a town with minimal growth. But I worked hard, got the A-levels I needed and went to university, entirely funded by a student loan.

“I wouldn’t say at any instance that I was more privileged than anyone else or was given more opportunities than anyone else that wasn’t a result of my own doing and hard work,” he says.

Image copyright
Nick Trafford

Now a scientist with a PhD, Nick thinks social mobility is down to inspiring young people to study hard at school – and this is something he says parents don’t always instil in their children.

But he adds: “It depends if you want it badly enough and if you’re prepared to work hard for it.”

“Most of the people at my university were from privileged backgrounds and their expenses were paid for by the bank of mum and dad – there were only a handful of people like me who had student loans, and I worked in a job at a bar to earn more money,” he adds.

However, Nick says he does understand that life chances are not always simply down to trying hard – for example, those who don’t have a happy home-life or in certain careers such as the creative arts where people may struggle to progress if they aren’t as “wealthy or well-connected” as others.

“I think the best thing the government could do to help people become more socially mobile is to inspire them in school,” Nick says.

“You still face stereotypes” – Cassie John-Charles, 26, West Drayton

“I had a good childhood, but I was a young mum and by the time I sat my last college exam at 18 years old, I was nine months pregnant,” says Cassie, who later graduated with a 2:1 in criminology from Middlesex University.

She found it hard to gain employment though, because her son was recently diagnosed with ADHD and is on the autism spectrum and she needs flexible employment that allows her to look after her him when needed.

Image copyright
Cassie John-Charles

“Even if I didn’t have my son, I would find it very difficult to get a job,” she says. “I had to do three years of voluntary work and then worked in retail on a five hour contract, and the childcare was more than what I earned.”

Cassie thinks a trial work placement scheme could have helped her employment prospects, and could be made attractive to employers by allowing them to offer lower salaries initially.

“I don’t want to stay at home, I would be bored out of my mind. You want to get the job, you have the qualifications, but employers keep saying you need more experience and how am I meant to get experience if I’m not given that chance?” she asks.

Although Cassie now works full-time in a pupil referral unit, she says she previously faced assumptions from strangers about whether she could improve her life chances.

“I have been told as a woman to stay at home, people thought that because I was a young mum that I couldn’t achieve anything, but I got a degree,” she says.

“I did at one point have to go on Jobseeker’s Allowance and I felt the people in the Job Centre looked down on me.

“That was until they realised I had a degree, and then their attitude towards me totally changed and they started being nice towards me.”

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Somme discovery


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Media captionSean Coughlan reports for Radio 4’s PM on the first-hand accounts of the Somme

“From that moment all my religion died, after that journey all my teaching and belief in God had left me – never to return.”

This was how Charles Bartram, a 23-year-old former colliery worker from Doncaster, described his experience of the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

It is one of more than 500 remarkable first-hand accounts of the World War One battle donated to the Imperial War Museum, the “vast majority” of which have never been seen before.

Anthony Richards, head of documents and sound at the museum, says it is “quite amazing” to have come across so much previously unseen material about a battle that ended 100 years ago this week.

Media captionGeorge Ward describes how his grandfather would not talk about his Somme experiences

What makes these testimonies “incredibly unusual” he says, is that they talk so candidly about killing in hand-to-hand fighting – and often the remorse felt afterwards.

“It’s very unusual for people from World War One to talk about the actual act of killing. It’s usually skirted around.”

It was an “uncomfortable” subject for returning soldiers, he says, and memoirs and letters tended to avoid it.

Image copyright
IWM

Image caption

There were more than one million casualties in the battle, which ran from July until November 1916

But these accounts have some graphic details.

John Kirkham of the Manchester Battalion described how he could not shake off the memory of striking a German soldier with a club with metal spikes.

“It sank deep into his forehead. In the scuffle, his helmet flew off, and I saw that he was a bald-headed old man. I have never forgotten that bald head, and I don’t suppose I ever will, poor devil.”

Image copyright
IWM/ Gordon McLeod

Image caption

Horses drag ammunition through the mud during the Somme offensive in November 1916

The accounts were gathered more than 40 years ago for a classic history of the Somme, written by Martin Middlebrook. But much of the material was never published and only this summer was given to the museum.

This might have been the only time that soldiers recorded their feelings.

“You ask me to tell you about things I saw, you will be the only person I have ever told this to. The reason, they would never believe me,” recorded Robert Payne of the Royal Garrison Artillery.

This soldier won the Military Medal, but his account includes stories of “self-inflicted wounds, several cases of madness” and a “poor chap” who threw down his gun and refused to move.

Image copyright
IWM

Image caption

This photograph of troops advancing on the Somme is now thought to have been staged behind the lines

There are other accounts of an officer with shellshock having to be physically restrained by his “burly batman”.

Despite the violence of the conflict, these stories are deeply humane and lacking in any self-glorification.



George Mayne, a 19-year-old Royal Fusilier describes a sense of “bewilderment” and feeling “woolly-headed” as he went over the top and charged across no man’s land.

When he stormed into the opposing trench he found a dying German soldier, calling for his mother and for water.

“I am glad to this day that I gave him a drink from my precious water,” he wrote.

Image copyright
George and Wendy Ward

Image caption

George Rudge had given a false age and had been only 17 when he fought at the Somme

There were moments of bleak humour too.

Tom Short, a 19-year-old with the London Rifle Brigade, had charged a trench spotted by aerial reconnaissance, to find that the “trench” was only two feet deep.

Horribly exposed, Tom faced a German bayonet charge and thought that it was all over.

“In a split second before the moment of connecting my stomach with a bayonet, at which I was nearly passed out in terror, a terrific shout of “halt” came from somewhere and knowing how disciplined the German soldier is, the bod coming at me slid flat on his back, his rifle shot straight up in the air and his legs shot between mine. It appears a German officer gave this order.”

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George Ward says his grandfather George Rudge never wanted to talk about the Somme

These were young men – and some were younger than they should have been.

George Rudge was only 17 at the Battle of the Somme and had given a false age when he enlisted.

“It seemed to me that everyone around me had been killed or wounded for I was the only one of my regiment I could see,” he wrote, describing the advance.

He recalled his feelings about shooting the enemy.

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George Ward

Image caption

George Rudge in later life: His family have been able to read his account of fighting on the Somme

“This was the first time I had killed anybody, as far as I know, and when things quieted I went and looked at a German I knew I had shot, and I remember thinking that he looked old enough to have a family and I felt very sorry.”

He was in no doubt “we were just meant to be sacrificed, as we ran into a wall of steel” and talks of advancing with a “chap who had the bottom of his jaw blown off and still kept going forward till he dropped”.

None of this was known to the soldier’s own family.

His grandson, George Ward, who lives in St Ives in Cambridgeshire, says they knew their grandfather had fought in World War One, but not that he had served on the first day of the Somme.

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Damon Cleary

Image caption

The accounts describe what it was like to go over the top at the Somme

“He was very private when it came to that,” said Mr Ward.

“All he said was: ‘I was in a battle… change the subject.’ He wouldn’t talk about it.”

“It was just too horrific to talk about. They just tried to forget it. But it was there in their mind all the time.”

Mr Ward says his grandfather’s health suffered after the war from being gassed and he also had a breakdown.

Looking for the first time at his grandfather’s account, he says “it’s very emotional”.

Image caption

Anthony Richards, in the Imperial War Museum’s recreated trench, says it is “amazing” to find so much original material about the Somme

It’s difficult not to be struck by the immense courage of these youngsters. Frank Graves describes the machine-guns and watching lines of men being “cut down like grass from a scythe”.

But there was compassion for those overcome by fear.

John Kirkham, who had had his arm shattered by a bullet and returned to his own lines, reported seeing “two unfortunate boys” who had been “terrified” and who he was convinced had been summarily shot for cowardice.

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PA

Image caption

Graves were lit up to mark this year’s centenary of the Somme

It was also physically and mentally exhausting.

Reginald Moore of the Northamptonshire Regiment, who had gone over the top at 07:30 and had been engaged in the battle all day, describes how it “caught up with me” when night fell.

“I started to shake and tremble and they had to put another fellow with me until I was calm again.

“That sir was 1 July, I was 18 years.”


Do you have any family memories of the Somme? The Imperial War Museum wants to find out more about some of these soldiers so they can add to their www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org archives. You can carry on the conversation at https://www.facebook.com/BBCFamilyNews

Anthony RIchards is author of In Their Own Words: Untold Stories of the First World War and The Somme: A Visual History.


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Cool for kids


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Can SmartGurlz encourage girls to learn coding through play?

It used to be that a simple doll or action figure would be a welcome surprise when we tore open our Christmas presents.

But now that today’s kids grow up in a world saturated with technology, do they expect their toys to be a bit cleverer too?

Famous toy retailer Hamleys certainly thinks so, predicting a bumper Christmas for interactive tech toys.

So what can we expect? Robots with minds of their own? Drones flying around bugging the whole family?

Reyne Rice, chief executive of ToyTrends, actually thinks it’s the simpler, educational tech toys that will be the real winners this Christmas.

“The interesting part is that the products and manufacturers that succeed use technology to enhance the play value of the products they bring to market,” she says.

For example, Danish company SmartGurlz wants to encourage girls to code.

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SmartGurlz

Image caption

Girls can programme the dolls’ Segway-style scooters via the SugarCoded app

Their fashion dolls ride around on Segway-style scooters called Siggy Robots that can be programmed via an app. Girls aged 6-12 can use the app to make the scooters spin around, zig-zag or zoom along in a straight line.

“I was looking for toys to inspire my daughter and help her gain confidence in maths and spatial reasoning,” says SmartGurlz founder and chief executive Sharmi Albrechtsen.

“Unlike her male cousin, who had hundreds of types of Legos, robots, helicopters, and drones to choose from, there was very little in the toy store that gave her messages outside of fashion, make-up, horses and princesses.”

Via the SmartGurlz SugarCoded app, girls learn how to code their Siggy Robots to carry out missions and adventures. They have to read maps and find imaginary items on the floor to help their characters complete their missions.

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Fisher Price

Image caption

Fisher Price’s Code-a-pillar aims to teach kids critical thinking and problem solving

Even younger kids can learn the basics of programming with a Fisher Price toy called Code-a-pillar, which Hamleys predicts will be a bestseller this Christmas.

Kids from three years upwards can arrange and rearrange the segments of the Code-a-pillar to make it move in different ways and directions. This teaches them problem solving, planning, sequencing and critical thinking, the toy maker says.

Google has also been getting in on the act, coming up with Project Bloks, an open hardware platform to help kids develop computational thinking.

It’s a collaboration with Paulo Blikstein, director of the transformative learning technologies lab at Stanford University, and Ideo, a design company.

By arranging the blocks in a certain sequence kids will be able to control a “microbot” and make it draw, turn and move. Ideo is currently testing a coding kit version of the system with children and schools, but don’t expect them to be in the shops just yet.

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Google

Image caption

Project Bloks’s “tangible programming” experiment aims to make coding fun for kids

Bethany Koby, founder of Technology Will Save Us, an organisation aimed at encouraging learning through inventive games, still thinks that the toy industry – worth about $25bn (£20bn) in the US and £3.2bn in the UK – has a long way to go when it comes to adapting to new technology.

“The toy industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world,” she says. “It shapes and moulds some of the most important early years of people’s lives through education, play and new experiences.

“It’s surprising to see that a lot of the toys we see today still don’t use technology in a very productive or creative way – toys should be able to prepare and empower kids, they should help to shape their futures.”

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Image caption

The V-Tech Kidizoom Smart Watch can take pictures and record videos, but is it educational?

One trend has been simply to reconfigure adult tech – smartphones and smartwatches – for kids.

“This is a ‘trickle-down’ effect – what’s new and innovative in the adult world is often introduced into the toy market within 12 to 18 months,” says Ms Rice.

“Kids want to role play and also use the same technologies that they see their role models, such as parents or celebrities, using.”

But even play with educational tech toys needs to be controlled, Ms Rice believes.

“Parents must be responsible and make sure children are playing with more traditional toys too,” she says.

“The traditional toys give children social awareness and help to build relationships – and we mustn’t forget that.”

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Frog Design

Image caption

Frog Design’s Yibu toy combines the physical and digital worlds

This is where toys like Yibu come in, bridging the gap between the real world and the digital world.

The game, developed by Dutch company Frog design, includes five wooden toys, which are embedded with sensors. By moving the toys around and placing them in different situations, kids learn how temperature, sound, light direction and rotation affect digital characters displayed on a tablet computer or smartphone.

The characters experience environmental challenges and can be helped on their journey depending on how the child uses the toys.

Even books are incorporating technology these days.

My Kingdom Books, for example, has taken pop-up books a step further using augmented reality (AR). The personalised story books feature characters that appear to come to life when viewed via the AR app on a smartphone or tablet.

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MyKingdomBooks

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Will the traditional pop-up book be replaced by augmented reality versions?

“Introducing augmented reality to a children’s book gives children the opportunity to engage with a modern-day pop-up book, encouraging imagination and creativity when the book springs to life in front of them,” claims Amile Samarakoon, founder of My Kingdom Books.

“By combining technology with traditional print we’re able to create content that can change as the child develops.”

So technology is undeniably infiltrating the toy world, but the jury is still out on the best ways it can be used to enhance learning through play.

Follow technology of Business editor Matthew Wall on Twitter

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Higher values


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Young people are trying to decide where they should apply to university

“Does it really matter which university you study at?”

This is the question that’s been chosen by the BBC News audience – and it is a very immediate concern for hundreds of thousands of families wrestling with university application forms.

Of course, on the idealistic side of things, what really matters is that someone is following a course that they really like and in a place that suits their needs.

But there are thornier worries about the cost of university and how much degrees are worth after graduation.

The evidence suggests that going to university remains a good investment. Organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have tracked whether the rising number of students will erode the benefits in the jobs market.

So far it seems that the graduates have kept their advantage. A changing jobs market has generated more opportunities for graduates and people who went to university are likely to be earning more and are less likely to be unemployed.


Why Sean wrote this:

We asked readers to send in their questions about university education.

The favourite which you selected was this question from Kirsty: “Does it really matter which university you study at?”

Kirsty has three daughters, one currently at university, another planning to go and a third looking to university in the future, so as she says “It’s a question we’re currently trying to answer.

“Some universities are going to charge higher fees, does this mean we can compare by price? But then will a degree in mathematics from a more expensive university be different in any way? Will future opportunities really depend on the university we choose?

“It seems the more we’ve tried to answer this question the more questions arise.”

Take a look at some of the other questions you’ve wanted us to answer


Women in particular are likely to benefit economically from being graduates, with a big advantage in earnings compared with women without degrees.

But the next question is whether all universities will deliver similar rewards.

There are all kinds of social rewards and intellectual pleasures of university life, which cannot be chopped up and counted.

But the financial rewards can be measured and they vary significantly between different universities.

Earning power

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, Cambridge University, Harvard University and the Institute of Education, UCL published research on graduate earnings in England earlier this year.

It analysed the incomes of 260,000 graduates and showed a very wide spectrum of likely earnings. At the top was a cluster of universities, headed by the London School of Economics, Oxford and Cambridge.

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Image caption

Medical students are likely to have higher earnings

In these three institutions, 10% of their male graduates had earnings above £100,000 a decade after leaving university. The LSE was the only place where 10% of female graduates were also in this top earning bracket.

There is an earnings pecking order – with about another 30 or so universities, not identified by name, where 10% of graduates are earning above £60,000.

And at the bottom, there are some more awkward figures. There are 23 universities where male graduates are likely to end up earning less than non-graduates – and there are nine universities where that is also the case for women.

But there is another important factor cutting across this – the differences between subjects.

Healthy income

Students taking courses such as medicine, economics, law and maths are likely to be earning much more than the average graduate.

And artists are really going to be struggling in their garrets, as graduates from creative arts courses are likely to be earning less than the average non-graduate.

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Image caption

Graduates from the LSE were among the highest earners

The combination of these two factors is going to decide the likely financial benefits – the university and choice of subject.

But researchers highlight some other questions muddying the waters.

Students do not enter university unshaped by what went before.

How much of higher earnings in later life might be linked to coming from high-income parents, rather than anything to do with higher education?

A key finding of the income research was that graduates from wealthy families ended up earning more than than those from poorer families, even if they studied the same course at the same university.

But there is no escaping the growing sense of stratification in the university sector and differences in status.

Status symbols

Belonging to the Russell Group has become a kind of self-conferred status symbol for its membership.

Although this might sound venerable, it has only existed since the mid-1990s and began life as a group of heads of universities with medical schools, who met at London’s Russell Hotel.

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Tuition fees are expected to rise again in England

But it has sharpened a sense of difference.

University rankings have also become very influential, further encouraging the idea of a hierarchy of quality.

Even if academics are sceptical about the reliability of such rankings, they will be scrutinised by students applying to university and it becomes almost self-fulfilling.

The appetite for such rankings also reflects the growing numbers of students going to university – and the need to distinguish between different types of degree.

University-blind admissions

Young people are now more likely to get a degree than they were to get five good O-levels in the early 1980s.

And where once it would have been a success to get into any university, it is now increasingly a question of which university.

But if this sounds like a growing polarisation, with top earnings and status clustering around a few elite institutions, there is something of a backlash from employers.

Image caption

Earnings can be very different according to the university

A succession of big graduate employers have moved towards hiring students in a way that masks which university and school they attended.

This might be presented as advancing the cause of social mobility – but it is also about the self-interest of companies.

Speaking privately, employers will say if they’re fighting for business in diverse, inner-city communities, they do not want to send in a line-up of Oxbridge clones.

But for teenagers struggling with application forms for university, how are they meant to choose between similar sounding institutions?

They might say that all degrees are equal, but some are more equal than others.

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Speaking up


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Pupils are encouraged to resolve problems among themselves

Two years after starting a pupil-led approach to resolving problems in and out of the classroom, a number of schools in Wales say they have seen improvements in behaviour and attendance.

The idea behind “restorative practice”, as the approach is known, is to encourage pupils to address any problems they have with each other, instead of going to the teachers.

Maerdy Community School in Rhondda Cynon Taf introduced restorative practice two years ago.

Harry Allan is the Year 5 teacher at Maerdy Community School.

He said: “The children are being asked to solve their problems amongst themselves. That has helped them become more respectful to each other.”

“They are seeing that their actions can affect others and not just themselves.”

A group of pupils in Maerdy Community School are trained to be peer mediators.

It is their job to deal with the minor problems on the school yard.

They do this by asking the children involved questions including: “What were you thinking?” and “How did it make you feel?”

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Children can take part in circle time to discuss how they are feeling

Georgia, a Year 5 pupil, is one of the trained peer mediators. She said: “Sometimes when pupils talk to the teachers, they get a bit shy.”

“They have done something wrong and they don’t want to admit it. But they will tell us the truth.”

As well as the peer mediator’s scheme, the school also run “circle time” sessions every week.

Children can use this time to talk about how they are feeling and what is worrying them.

Beth Bradbury is the complex needs teacher at Maerdy Community School.

She said: “We’ve got children here with emotional behaviour problems.”

“Since we introduced a restorative approach, we have seen an improvement in behaviour but we have also seen a rise in attendance.”

Another school that adopts a restorative approach is Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Eirwg, in Cardiff.

But instead of peer mediators, they have “friendly listeners”.

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Google

Image caption

Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bro Edern holds a restorative circle once a month

Iwan Davies is a teacher at Bro Eirwg. He said: “Children know there is always someone to turn to on the yard.

“With minor incidents, the friendly listeners know how to deal with it. But they also know to pass more serious issues on to the staff.”

The approach builds on trials of the scheme which were run in a number of south Wales secondary schools including Cardiff’s Fitzalan High and Monmouthshire’s Monmouth Comprehensive.

Those included trying to prevent exclusions and reduce the number of young people becoming “Neets” – not in employment, education or training once they leave compulsory schooling.

The Welsh Government now recommends the practice as a way to reduce pupil exclusions.

Councils in areas such as Swansea, Gwent, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Cardiff now all encourage their schools to adopt a restorative practice approach.

A secondary school in Cardiff, Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bro Edern, holds a restorative circle once a month.

The deputy head teacher, Iwan Williams said: “Quite a lot of information is coming out, which we as staff can then help the children with”.

“The children are also telling us that their relationships are becoming stronger, because they are listening to people they don’t normally have a conversation with.”

Jack Young is a year 10 student at Bro Edern. He said: “When we were coming up to our GCSE’s, we would talk about what was worrying us.

“From that, the teachers would find ways to help us succeed.”


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Moving tale


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US President-elect Donald Trump arriving with his son Barron and wife Melania at the New York HiltonImage copyright
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Melania Trump (right) has shocked America after it emerged she is postponing her move

The revelation that Melania and Barron Trump would not be joining Donald in the White House in January has raised eyebrows in some quarters, and garnered praise in others.

The president-elect has said Mrs Trump and Barron will move to Washington “very soon, after he’s finished with school”, but has not put an actual date on the move.

But transition spokesman Jason Miller’s insistence that the Trumps were “energised and excited about their new role serving the country” and it was simply concern about changing schools in the middle of the year did little to quell criticisms on social media.

“First Family resides in White House as a symbol of our country to us and and the world,” wrote one Twitter user, Pamela Benbow. “Melania Trump’s decision is appalling.”

Others joked it was Mrs Trump’s taste in interiors which had prompted the decision, while some began speculating about what the move said about the Trumps’ marriage.

  • What do you think? Join the conversation – find us on Facebook

However, the strength of feeling is somewhat unsurprising. There are only two other First Ladies in the history of the United States who have not made the White House their home during their husbands’ years as commander-in-chief: Martha Washington, because it had yet to be built, and Anna Harrison, because her husband died before she could take up residence.

But Mrs Trump’s decision has its supporters.

“Good, this is what most responsible parents do with a child Barron’s age,” one Twitter user noted.

However, it is not out of character for Mrs Trump, who has repeatedly stressed that Barron, 10, is her focus – staying at home during the campaign to care for him in Trump Towers.

But they are far from the only mother and child to move into the White House. So how have families coped before?

How did other First Families manage the move?

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AFP

Image caption

Chelsea Clinton, pictured with her parents on the White House lawn, would later remark her childhood was “normal” in many ways

William Seale, a White House Historical Association historian and author of The President’s House, said President Grover Cleveland’s wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland, only lived in the White House during social season.

The president bought a house during his first term, where Mrs Cleveland spent most of her time. The first lady referred to the first home as “Oak View” but it was more commonly known as “Red Top” because of its red roof.

But the young bride, who was age 21 when she married the 49-year-old president, was the only first lady to be married in the White House.

“The concern of children staying back to finish school – that’s more typical than not,” Mr Seale said.

“It seems not very unusual to me that she would want the child to finish this year of school. I don’t find it very surprising.”

Mr Seale noted that the children of President John Tyler, who became president after William Henry Harrison’s death, were not immediately moved to the White House.

James Madison’s wife, Dolley Madison, also sent her son from her first marriage, Payne Todd, away to school.

There have been two sets of school age children living in the White House in the past three decades: Chelsea Clinton, who was 12 at the time, and Malia and Sasha Obama, who were 10 and seven respectively.

They also had to move across the country when their fathers became president – but all three lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from the day of the inauguration.

In fact, the Obamas avoided the problem of the girls having to change school mid-term by moving to Washington early, allowing them to start a new school a few weeks before Dad was inaugurated in January 2009.

Read more: Why Obama may not go quietly

What is a First Lady expected to do?

Media captionWhat was Melania Trump like in Slovenia?

Mrs Trump has indicated Barron will be her top priority, with everything else coming second. Reading between the lines, it suggests she will not be taking on the full-time role predecessors like Mrs Obama have.

Officially, the role of the first lady is only ceremonial – she is supposed to be the White House’s hostess, organising and attending functions with or without their spouses.

In more recent times, they have also sought out causes to support and promote. Mrs Obama has used her time backing a number of initiatives and projects, including Let Girls Learn, that aims to help girls around the world go to school and stay in school.

The first lady occupies a very public role, according to Mr Seale.

“It gives a kind of personal side to the White House. It might even be considered vital to the public’s perception of the president,” he said. “[The president] is an administrator and a he is a symbol and I think the first lady’s role is very important to that symbol part.”

Lou Henry Hoover, wife to President Herbert Hoover, was the first president’s wife to really take on an active public role, Mr Seale said.

Her immediate successor, Eleanor Roosevelt, also served as a more visible first lady in her husband’s administration.

One notable first lady who was reluctant to step into the public role was Nancy Reagan, according to Mr Seale.

Mrs Reagan, who had a big influence on her husband’s presidency and would later become known for her anti-drug campaign, was at first only focused on being a supportive wife.

“Her big interest in the world was her husband,” Mr Seale said, adding that she was a very private person.

As to what Melania’s priorities will be there is only one hint – she is interested in tackling cyber-bullying.

Read more: Taking to the streets for women’s issues

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AP

Image caption

Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka (far right) has helped him during the campaign

Could someone else fill in?

It has happened in the past. However, not when the president’s wife has still been alive.

Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph took the role in 1801, while Angelica van Buren took up the duties of a first lady after marrying President Martin van Buren’s son in 1838. Both men had lost their wives almost 20 years earlier.

However, could Ivanka Trump – described as her father’s “proxy wife” by Vanity Fair during the election campaign – take up some of the responsibility from her step-mother?

There is more recent precedent, too. Chelsea performed some of her mother’s duties during the final days of her father’s presidency, while Mrs Clinton concentrated on her own political career.

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Hulton Archive

Image caption

Martha Jefferson Randolph acted as First Lady for her father, Thomas Jefferson

Can the White House be child-friendly?

The White House can be whatever the family makes it.

Chelsea was known to do her homework in the Oval Office from time to time, while she also hosted sleepovers for friends – which could mean they found themselves sitting with the President the next morning, as Bill Clinton always tried to have breakfast with his daughter.

Both Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama fit their duties as First Lady around their children, and both families asked for the press to respect their daughters’ privacy – requests which were, on the whole, respected.

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White House

Image caption

President Barack Obama has dinner with his daughters Malia (left) and Sasha (right) at the same time every night

The Obamas are also strict about putting time aside for the girls: family dinner takes place every night at 18:30. Mr Obama has said only a national emergency will stop him joining his family.

“The surprising truth is that being in the White House has made our family life more ‘normal’ than it’s ever been,” the President said in an interview with US magazine More earlier this year.

It is a response echoed by Chelsea about her own years.

She told the Huffington Post: “I was always deeply aware that I was living in history. But then I would have dinner with my parents at the kitchen table every night. There was so much about my life that also was normal.”


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Shouldn't lectures be obsolete by now?


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The lecture has survived despite claims that technology would make it redundant

Lectures remain by far the most common form of teaching in universities – right down to the way academics are called “lecturers”.

But many predicted that digital technology would have killed off the lecture by now.

Why would you want to sit through someone telling you something, when so much more information is available at your fingertips whenever you want it?

But when you look at some online courses, instead of revolutionising higher education, they have often simply transported the classic lecture format to an internet audience.

So why has the lecture refused to go away?

Attention deficit

It’s not because it’s particularly effective.

Research shows that students remember as little as 10% of their lectures just days afterwards.

A Harvard study in 2014 found that, on average, attendance at lectures falls from 79% at the start of term to 43% at the end.

Image caption

Brittany Bir runs a coding college in California which operates without teachers or lectures

And studies suggest other forms of teaching are much more effective in improving exam results and attendance.

Professor Dan Butin, founding dean of the school of education and social policy at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, says the lecture has survived because research, not teaching, determines the success of a university and its academics.

Research status

Academics are hired and promoted based on their research record, and research output plays a large role in universities’ rankings in global league tables.

So there is little incentive for academics to spend a lot of time rethinking the lecture.


More stories from the BBC’s Global education series looking at education from an international perspective, and how to get in touch.

You can join the debate at the BBC’s Family & Education News Facebook page.


“We put these brilliantly educated academics in charge of classrooms because of their tremendous research records, not because they have any idea how to teach,” says Prof Butin.

“But in fact, research and teaching are very different skills, and creating a good course is just as difficult as writing a good book.

“Academics put thousands of hours of work into their books and much less time into thinking about the effectiveness of their teaching style.”

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Image caption

If students can get information online is there still a need for lectures?

A leading campaigner against traditional lectures is Professor Carl Wieman, a winner of the Nobel Prize for physics.

He was converted more than a decade ago, when he was given a handheld electronic device for students to use in his lectures to indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a question.

At the end of the lecture, he asked a question to which he had given the solution. To his dismay, only one in 10 students remembered the answer.

Keeping it active

He realised that talking at students and expecting them to absorb knowledge was not helping them to learn.

So he replaced traditional lectures with “active learning”, where he sets out a problem at the beginning of a lecture, divides students into small groups, and walks between them to listen to and guide their discussions.

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Science Photo Library

Image caption

How effective is the lecture for delivering complex ideas?

It seems to work – a study by Professor Scott Freeman of the University of Washington found that students’ rate of failure was lower when they moved from lectures to active learning, and their exam results improved.

Following a campaign by Professor Wieman and other physicists, Stanford, MIT and the University of British Columbia have introduced active learning into their physics courses.

In fact, many universities have begun to experiment with such alternatives to the lecture.

New coding colleges in Paris and California have ditched the lecture in favour of peer-to-peer learning and project-based learning, in which students work together on real-world projects like building a website or a computer game.

Value for money

Charles Knight, a lecturer in project management at Edge Hill University in Lancashire in the UK, has replaced lectures with interactive sessions in which students use project management software used by consultancy firms to manage their work.

After seeing students’ grades improve, the university is considering incorporating some of his ideas into other courses.

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iStock

Image caption

Lecturers have experimented with different ways of sharing information

Another practical reason for the lecture’s durability is that it is a relatively cheap way of giving students contact time with an academic.

There are alternative approaches but they usually come at a higher cost. MIT spent $2.5m (£2m) on refitting two lecture halls to allow students to sit around small tables with screens showing animated simulations to help them visualise concepts.

Harvard used a $40m (£32m) donation to experiment with new forms of teaching, including active learning.

But as the cost of tuition increases, more questions are being asked about whether lectures give students value for their money.

Lecture here to stay

A Higher Education Policy Institute survey in 2014 showed a third of students in England considered their degree “poor” or “very poor” value for money.

Research from the US Department of Education found there is no difference between how effectively students learn from a lecture when it is delivered in a classroom or online.

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Getty Images

Image caption

A lecture in the Sorbonne in 1960. The basic lecture format has not changed that much.

With the rise of “massive open online courses” (Moocs) and digital technologies, universities are coming under more pressure to offer students a learning experience that is not freely available online.

Prof Butin hopes this will encourage more universities to adopt active, project-based, peer-to-peer, and community learning more widely.

But having worked with many universities on how to support lecturers to use more active learning strategies, he thinks this will be a slow and difficult process.

“Most universities may talk about the quality of their teaching, but such changes are much easier said than done,” he says.

“So for the foreseeable future, the lecture is here to stay.”

However doubts over lectures have a long history of their own – and lectures seemed to have been able to survive them.

In the 1920s, a student in Canada wrote that his logic professor was “terribly dry in lectures” so “everybody skipped his class and went swimming during his lecture time”.


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Girl Guides involve boys in battle against gender violence


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In Italy girl guides and boy scouts worked together on their campaign

Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 146 countries will enlist boys as part of a United Nations campaign against gender violence.

The UN’s 16 days of activism start on Friday and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) wants its 10 million members to take part, campaigning in their own schools and colleges.

Many girls “face violence and harassment on a daily basis”, according to Nicola Grinstead, chairwoman of the association.

“The severity of the issue is significant.

For girls at school, “the fear of violence will stop many of them from reaching their full potential”, said Ms Grinstead.

The WAGGGS, #16Ways in #16Days campaign includes:

  • in Rwanda girls and boys have formed anti-violence clubs in schools, hoping to educate male relatives about the issue
  • in Italy guides and scouts set up educational sessions for boys
  • and in Sri Lanka the guides are working with local government and in schools to get the message across.

The UN campaign will last from November 25 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women until December 10 UN Human Rights Day.

According to the UN, women across the world are subject to physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence, regardless of their income, age or education.

UN figures show:

  • about a third of women worldwide have experienced gender based violence
  • less than 40% of these sought help – and only 10% went to the police.

Ahead of the campaign, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development. It imposes large-scale costs on families, communities and economies. The world cannot afford to pay this price.”

A poll of more than 2,000 young people in 60 countries for WAGGGS suggests that more than half of girls are deterred them from studying or taking part in hobbies by the threat of sexual harassment.

And too often the perpetrators are fellow students or teachers, the figures suggest.

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WAGGGS

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Guides in Sri Lanka are working in schools to get the message across

In the UK, MPs have called for action to tackle sexual harassment and violence in England’s schools.

It followed a 2015 Radio 5 live Freedom of Information investigation which showed more than 5,500 alleged sex crimes in UK schools had been reported to police in the past three years

And Girlguiding UK has launched a petition calling for “urgent action to end this widespread and often hidden scandal” in England, Scotland and Wales.

The petition, from Girlguiding’s advocate panel of women aged 14-25, warned of daily sexual harassment of girls at school.


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Learning in the woods


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Over 1.7 million children in the US are homeschooled, but what that means depends on the families involved.

In Woodstock, New York, a homeschooling community is focused on helping children reconnect with nature.

Photographer Rachel Papo spent time with children there who have forgone traditional schooling.

Video by Colm O’Molloy


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'Shocking' figures show a third of children behind at five


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The government needs to do more to solve a shortage of nursery teachers says Save The Children

Almost a third of children in England are behind in their development when they start primary school, according to official figures for 2016.

And Department for Education statistics show pupils from poorer backgrounds are more likely to be lagging in their learning, literacy and numeracy levels.

The charity Save The Children called the figures “shocking”.

But the government said the figures showed “a continued rise in numbers meeting the expected standards”.

The Department for Education also pointed out that the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers was decreasing.

The DfE figures, published on Thursday, show 31% of under-fives were not achieving good levels of development in fields such as communication and language, maths and social skills – around 200,000 early-years children.

Attainment gap

The figures show only 52% of children eligible for free school meals reached the expected standard, compared with 70% of all other pupils and 67% of pupils overall.

And boys lag behind girls, with 62% of boys achieving good levels compared with 77% of girls.

Detail of the figures suggests the gap between the lowest 20% of children and the average for all children has narrowed by more than five percentage points in the past four years.

But Save The Children said too many children were being denied “a fair start in life”, urging the government to do more to address a severe shortfall in trained nursery teachers.

Only 654 people started training to teach early-years children this year – too few to address a shortage of 11,000 teachers for that age group, said chief executive Kevin Watkins.

“It’s shocking that in this day and age so many children in England, particularly the poorest, are at greater risk of falling behind by the time they reach school because of our chronic shortage of nursery teachers, a shortage that shows little signs of improving.

“Every year, hundreds of thousands of children without access to these teachers are starting reception struggling to speak full sentences, follow basic instructions and learn subjects like maths and sciences.”

Mr Watkins warned that children who are behind when starting school are “likely to stay behind throughout their lives, with huge implications for the rest of their schooling, their jobs and even their future relationships.

‘Wrong priorities’

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accused the government of “sneaking” out the statistics.

“The government have their priorities on education all wrong and are failing the least well off,” said Mr Farron.

“While they pour £240m into divisive grammar schools for a select few they are leaving hundreds of thousands of children behind.”

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There has been a ‘continued rise’ in the numbers meeting expected development standards

The DfE spokesman said: “We are clear that high quality early education is vital in giving all children the best chance to fulfil their potential…

“We are determined to go further to improve quality, which is why we are doing more than ever to help attract and retain the best staff and are investing a record £6bn per year in childcare by 2020.”


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Code breaker?


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Codebreakers

Image caption Not all computer scientists look like this. But it’s fine if you do

If you’re aged 16 to 19 and can answer the questions below, your country needs you… probably.

The National College of Cybersecurity is opening in 2018 for “gifted and talented” problem solvers.

The training centre will help build a “talent pool” for Britain’s future cyber-defences.

It’s being developed at Bletchley Park, in Buckinghamshire, the site of secret code-deciphering which helped the Allies win World War Two.

Bletchley Park

Image caption Bletchley is where the German Enigma and Lorenz codes, both considered unbreakable, were decoded during World War Two

Code is the language in which computer programs, apps and websites are written.

Anisah Osman Britton, 23, is the founder of 23 Code Street, a coding school for women.

“It’s a bit like maths,” she tells Newsbeat, “the basics are easy but it gets more complicated using the basics as building blocks.

“It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, but it’s also fun and accessible.”

Anisah put together five questions for you to test yourself…

G-block at Bletchley Park

Image caption This is G-block, where the National College of Cyber Education will be based at Bletchley Park

Find us on Instagram at BBCNewsbeat and follow us on Snapchat, search for bbc_newsbeat


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Welsh teenagers learn from South Korea school swap


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Tommy, Sarah and Ewan experienced school life in Gangnam, Seoul

Next week’s Pisa results will reveal how Wales’ education ranks among more than 70 countries, including top performers such as South Korea. But what does it take to have the best performing schools in the world?

Three Welsh teenagers swapped school life in Pembrokeshire for lessons in Gangnam, Seoul, to find out why the country’s students perform so well.

Every three years, 15-year-olds in all participating countries sit the same exams in maths, science and reading.

In the last results of 2012, Asian countries including South Korea came out on top in maths but Wales was 43rd – the worst results in the UK.

One obvious difference between the education systems is the long hours South Korean pupils put in.

It was an early start for 16-year-olds Sarah, Tommy and Ewan on their first day at school in Gangnam. Lessons start at 07:50.

The punishment for arriving late at the all-boys school Tommy and Ewan attended is to come in even earlier to clean the school corridors.

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Tommy gets a taste of mopping the floors in the school corridors

And there is a long day ahead because, while lessons finish at 16:20, this just marks the beginning of more study – sometimes until midnight.

Ewan’s host Young Chan took him to a five-hour self-study session at the local public library and they had to wait to get in as it was so busy.

He said: “I was amazed that there were so many people all in there at once and the fact they are all exquisitely silent.

“There was a kid in there about 10 years old which was surprising, but shows the work ethic Korean people have – it’s just impressive.”

Media captionPemrokeshire student struggles with ‘intense’ South Korean school hours

But studying for 14 to 16 hours is normal for Young Chan.

He said: “I found that if you review your school work that you’ve learned on that day, it really helps you a lot. The library where I study near my house is only open ’til 10 so if I study more and want to finish my work I just come back to school and stay here until 12.”

When they are not studying alone, most Korean students go to private night schools called hagwons.

Korean parents spend more on private education for their children than any other country in the world, but the government has now placed a 22:00 curfew on hagwons to try and control their influence.

Tommy went for a two-hour top-up English lesson with his host, Min Young Chan who said he did not know which school system was better.

“In Wales they get more active and you get more social time, I guess, and we study more. So if we find a middle ground where we can study and engage in those fun activities I think that would be the best.”

Media captionWelsh students experience South Korea’s hagwon night schools

He said the KSAT university entrance exam, offered only once a year, is seen as the make or break exam, not only when it comes to college admissions, but also a teenager’s entire future.

Do Yen Kim studied 16 hours a day for three years to get into Seoul University and said some of his friends had committed suicide because of the pressure.

“It was really difficult, especially as in Korea we have a lot of students who want to go to college, the competition’s really tough,” he said.

“I lost about two or three friends. One was extremely stressed by the studying and the other also committed suicide. They were about 15 or 16.”

South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the industrialised world and is the number one cause of death for those aged 10 to 30 years old.

Media captionSouth Korean students finish Welsh GCSE maths paper in 15 minutes

Former minister of education Ju Ho Lee said it was time to make changes to the South Korean school system.

“Those high test scores in Pisa mask very important problems in Korean education, for example, Korean students don’t have enough time to read, to do sports, to do music, and to spend that time freely because they are too much pressured to prepare for the exam.

“Even the Pisa test, when they ask Korean students whether they are happy in school, Korean students rate the lowest.

“It’s time for Korean parents to make changes to prepare our next generation for the 21st Century. Our children may need a different set of skills other than just high test scores – communication, collaboration and creativity, they should be nurtured.”

The government is making changes to the system and Jun Sung Jang, the principal at the boys school, has introduced a school sports day to tackle the problem of stressed out children.

He said: “This time never comes back, this is a beautiful time of our life, but they are squeezed under a big load of pressure. Their day is probably 06:00 til 00:00, with six hours’ sleep.”

Parents are free to observe teachers in lessons to judge the quality of teaching and will do whatever it takes to get them the best education.

Young Chan’s father works away from home all week to pay for his extra tuition. The family has also moved to a small apartment so they could be closer to a good school and a good hagwon, but they only see each other at weekends.

His father said: “From westerners’ perspective it’s a huge sacrifice, but in Korea separation from your family for the purpose of your child’s education is very common, so I can accept it.”

The Welsh students’ head teacher, David Haynes, would like to bring top maths teachers over from South Korea to fill the shortage in Wales.

“In the health service, we bring across doctors from other parts of the world and they contribute greatly to our society and the provision we receive,” he said.

“Specialists and highly-trained professionals coming from other parts of the world like South Korea could contribute greatly to our education system.”

Mr Haynes has already introduced some Korean-style changes at his school, reorganising the school day and bringing in parents to help raise standards.

Meanwhile in South Korea, mothers can be found praying for good exam results for their children in the Buddhist temples of Gangnam, and they also burn old text books to destroy any possible bad luck in the upcoming exams.

Sunday Times education editor Sian Griffiths, who took the Welsh students to South Korea for a documentary, said: “It’s this religious devotion to education that has helped transform South Korea’s fortunes.

“Sixty years ago, nearly 80% of the population here was illiterate, today South Korea is an economic giant. And they did all that through education.”

She said South Korea’s schools were changing, taking tips from the UK.

But she added: “We’re not taking what they already have here [in South Korea] which is a foundation of knowledge, which is the work ethic, which is ambition and aspiration for every child.

“My real fear is these countries are going to be accelerating away from us at an even faster rate than they already are.”

What did the trio learn from their experience?

Tommy: “They base their education on fact-based information and memory-based education, thus giving them an advantage in the Pisa testing and other global tests. However, British children are, I believe better prepared for further education and career choices as they understand their knowledge and can apply it.”

Sarah: “I understand that the education system in place in Korea is beneficial in the fact that good results are constantly being produced, but I couldn’t help but question what the effect of all this work and pressure was on the girls’ mental well-being.”

Ewan: “One thing I feel we could take from the system is that there is a lot respect for teaching staff in Korea and they have the same social status as we give to doctors, which allows them to get a lot more done and for kids to become brighter.”


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Singaporeans fight 'exam-shaming' by sharing scores and careers


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A teacher (L) guides children to read a story book during a lesson in Singapore on 25 May 2010.Image copyright
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There have been calls in Singapore to reduce stress on children in the city’s highly competitive education system

Singaporeans have been sharing their exam results and current careers, in an effort to fight stigma over “mediocre” scores.

The results of the high-stakes primary school leaving exam, which students sit aged 12, came out last week.

The test determines a child’s path in the competitive school system and has become a source of stress for many.

But a call for people to share stories to show how exams don’t need to decide your future has sparked an outpouring.

Over the weekend hundreds responded to Khairudin Aljunied, a local university professor who said the move would give young children “hope and motivation”.

“My PSLE score is 221. I am now an Associate Professor in a University,” he wrote. Athletes, teachers, engineers, entrepreneurs and a member of parliament all followed suit.

All 12-year-olds in Singapore’s school system must sit the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which gives an aggregate three-digit score across subjects. A score below 200 is widely considered poor.

But the city has also seen growing calls for a more relaxed educational environment.

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Facebook / Benjamin Kheng

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Mr Kheng shared a photo of himself as a child and described how his mother’s death two days before the exam affected him

One popular post was by singer Benjamin Kheng who shared how he went from the “worst kid in the worst class” in school to the frontman of a successful rock band.

“To every kid fearful of the road to school or back home, finding it hard to breathe, because of 3 stupid digits – the world loves you. You are deeply loved, and you are more than this,” he said.

It also prompted a government minister to acknowledge the issue of exam stress.

Social and family development minister Tan Chuan-jin said on his Facebook page: “I think we are on really shaky grounds if PSLE is the main determinant of our children having a happy childhood.”

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Facebook

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Those who shared their stories included a nuclear pharmacist…

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Facebook/Muhd Hilwan

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… the captain of Singapore’s Mount Everest team…

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Facebook/ Charlotte Tan

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… and a student nurse.

Changing attitudes

The trend is part of a growing movement over the years calling for less emphasis on academic achievements and less stress on children.

In October, a case where an 11-year-old boy jumped to his death from his high-rise flat allegedly because of exam and parental stress became a talking point in the city.

But changing attitudes remains an uphill task in a society where it is the norm for children to attend tuition classes after school, and where top exam scorers are feted, fronting advertising campaigns for health supplements.

The PSLE generates intense local press coverage with critics saying it contributes to an unhealthy pressure-cooker environment and those who defend it saying it is still the best way to test children’s academic aptitude.

The government has retained the PSLE but has sought to make the school system less rigid and competitive. In 2012, it abolished the long-standing tradition of releasing the names and results of PSLE top scorers to the public.

But this has not deterred some parents – on Thursday thousands logged on to a website called Kiasuparents.com to compare their children’s scores, causing the online portal to crash.

Kiasu, in the Hokkien language spoken widely in Singapore, means “afraid to lose”.


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Burnley primary school pupils in e-cigarettes exclusion warning


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Lowerhouse Primary School

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The letter was sent to parents of pupils at Lowerhouse Primary School, Burnley

A primary school head teacher has warned parents that children found with e-cigarettes face being excluded.

There has been a “worrying” increase in the number of pupils caught with the devices at Lowerhouse Junior School in Burnley, said principal Claire Holgate.

In a letter to parents, she said it was “incredibly concerning” nicotine products had been found.

The letter says e-cigarettes put “staff at risk” and alleges nicotine use has been linked to memory impairment.

It warns that pupils found with e-cigarettes “will be dealt with in line with the school’s behaviour policy”, which could lead to exclusion.

In a statement to the BBC, Mrs Holgate said: “A letter was sent to parents to reinforce the message about the possible dangers of using e-cigarettes.

“We also wanted to make parents aware that we’re doing what we can in school to discourage young people from smoking or vaping in any form, by providing some age-appropriate education to all our pupils about the potential dangers.”

When asked why the school believed that nicotine use had been linked to memory impairment, it said Mrs Holgate had taken her research from the American Lung Association’s website.

The association states that “nicotine use during adolescence and young adulthood has been associated with lasting cognitive and behavioral impairments, including effects on working memory and attention”, however, the section of the study it cites actually says smoking – not nicotine use or vaping – has been linked with these negative outcomes.

The school added that “there have been no incidents at school affecting staff”.

The school, in Liverpool Road, was rated as “good” by Ofsted on its last inspection in June 2014.

In January 2013 the primary – which caters for pupils aged 7-11 – had been branded “inadequate”.

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Children aged from 7-11 attend the school


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Free school meals plan will help more pupils, heads say


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School Food Plan

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Too many children from low-income families are missing out on free school meals, say heads

Head teachers are urging MPs to back a plan to ensure all children from poorer homes are automatically registered for free school meals.

Parents often fail to apply for the meals for older pupils, says the National Association of Head Teachers.

The NAHT wants MPs to add a clause on auto-registration to a bill being debated on Monday.

Ministers said they did not believe that the proposed amendment was necessary “at this stage”.

But NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said it would ensure “more children get the support they are entitled to”.

Until 2014 families had to apply for their children to have free school meals, which were open only to the most disadvantaged groups.

That year, the coalition government introduced universal free school meals for all children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

As all children were eligible, some low-income families stopped informing schools about their circumstances.

The knock-on effect was that once their children reached Year 3, they began to miss out, not only on free meals to which they were entitled, but on extra educational funding linked to being registered for the meals.


Who is eligible?

The Department for Education website says older children could be eligible for free school meals if their parents receive any of a range of benefits that includes:

  • income support
  • income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • child tax credit
  • working tax credit
  • universal credit.

But, according to the NAHT, some parents do not realise they need to apply for the free meals once their children reach Year 3 and the universal entitlement runs out.

Some may have poor literacy or English language skills, while others live in chaotic households and are unable to find the organisational focus to fill in the forms.

If adopted, an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill by four opposition MPs would automatically require councils to tell schools which of their pupils lived in low-income households and claimed benefits that indicated they should receive free meals.

Tony Draper, head of Water Hall Primary School in Bletchley near Milton Keynes, says registration rates for the meals there have dropped from 60% in 2014 to 28% this year.

“It’s way too low for this area. This is one of the most deprived estates in the country.”

Mr Draper argues that auto-registration would be a massive boost for families who are just about managing, a group the prime minister has said she wants to help.

He says some parents are too proud to admit they are on benefits.

“Auto-registration would take this issue away. It would be easy for the government to do.”

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Universal free school meals were introduced for infant children in 2014

The Pupil Premium, a sum of money paid to schools to enhance the education of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, also depends on pupils being registered for free school meals.

So if fewer parents apply for the meals, the school would get less Pupil Premium money and be less able to plan specialist help for children from low-income families, explained Mr Draper.

If adopted, the new clause “could deliver much-needed support and money for children and schools”, said Mr Hobby.

The union says it would be an easy change and would show the government’s “true commitment to social mobility”.

A government spokeswoman did not comment directly on the reasons why some parents failed to register their children for free school meals but said: “The Department for Education already has a tool to enable parents to check for eligibility for free school meals, so we don’t believe it’s necessary for this amendment to be added to the bill at this stage.”


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Senior MPs call for compulsory sex education


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The chairmen and women of five Commons select committees have written to Education Secretary Justine Greening, urging her to make sex education a statutory subject in England’s schools.

They are also calling for Personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) to be a compulsory subject.

Currently schools are not legally required to teach these subjects, but the majority do.

Ministers says schools do not need “additional central prescription”.

The Department for Education says it is “unnecessary to provide new standardised frameworks”, saying teachers are “best placed to understand the needs of their pupils”.

‘Serious thought’

The letter, sent to Ms Greening on Wednesday, comes after the government was criticised for its response to a report by the Women and Equalities Committee on sexual harassment in schools.

The committee had called for statutory action to tackle sexual harassment in schools and for sex and relationships education (SRE) to become statutory in schools.

But the government said the legal framework dealing with such issues was “strong”.

In an attempt to change the secretary of state’s view, the committee chairmen and women have written to her saying: “We regret that the government’s response to that report failed to seize the opportunity of announcing plans to introduce a statutory status for PSHE.

“We ask that you give serious thought to this proposal and the benefits that would arise from it.

“We also ask you to consider the consequences of failing to act; not only for the quality of education in England, but also for the lifelong consequences which can result from patchy or inadequate access to PSHE and SRE.”

The letter is signed by:

  • Neil Carmichael, who chairs the Education Select Committee
  • Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee
  • Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee
  • Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Committee
  • Iain Wright, who chairs the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee


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Are you smarter than a 10-year-old?


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GCSE pupils are making more spelling mistakes than their parents’ generations. That’s according to new research which shows the words that commonly stump some pupils are ‘too’, ‘off’, ‘said’, ‘myself’ and thought’.

We decided to test out the theory and invited 10-year-old Rhea into the Today programme studio to quiz the presenters on their spelling ability.


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Bad behaviour


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School gets tougher for everyone as the end of term draws nearer

It is late November, the summer holidays are ancient history, September resolutions about behaviour and homework are forgotten, everyone is tired, behaviour has slumped and detentions are hitting an end-of-term peak.

Detentions are a fixture of school life, but do they really improve behaviour?

Here are some of your stories.


Misbehaviour masterclass

“We used to rip up work and make it ‘snow’ out the window, ignore teachers and keep chatting, put tacks on their seats, use it as choir practice, paint our nails, cornrow hair,” says one former London comprehensive pupil, now a junior doctor.

Some pupils collect detentions like trophies.

“We were the outlaws, the desperadoes, members of a bad-but-fun gang, playing cat and mouse with authority,” says a former private school pupil.

Another, remembering detentions in the 1980s, says: “Collapsing of tables was a favourite for us.

“We had real ink pots and trestle tables, so all you had to do was kick the support on the table and the whole thing would collapse and then ink all over the floor.

“‘Oops, sorry, don’t know how that happened.'”

A former Hertfordshire comprehensive pupil, now in her 20s, says: “We had so many, it turned into our after school club.

“One of the teachers gave up in the end. And the next time we were in, she put a film on.

“I think it was Romeo and Juliet, the Leonardo [DiCaprio] one.

“If we weren’t in trouble, we would wait outside for the ones that were.

“One time I spent 100 minutes in a cupboard in the classroom with a friend.

“We weren’t meant to be there, but it was cold outside and it seemed like a fun thing to do whilst we were waiting.

“They weren’t a deterrent at all.”

What do you think? Join the conversation – find us on Facebook

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Image caption

Detentions can become an exercise in defiance


Forgetting to turn up

Many teachers say detentions should take place on the day of the offence, when pupils will understand better why they are being punished.

Same-day sanctions also improve pupils’ chances of remembering the detention at all.

In some schools, even if the original offence is small, such as wearing the wrong shoes, not turning up to detention can result in as much punishment as for someone who started a fight.

“Not a fair system,” says one recent school leaver from Hillingdon.


Image caption

Fighting is definitely bad behaviour, but forgetting a detention can get you into almost as much trouble

Confused parents

Schools in England do not need permission from parents to impose detentions, and in most cases they are not even required to inform them.

So the first they know is when their child is late home, and even then they might not find out why.

“Every other Monday over almost my entire 13th year, I told our parents I was at chess club, which worked well until they found out from talking to the parents of a fellow detainee who let the cat out of the bag,” says one former London pupil.

Another says: “My mum was too busy to even know I had it half the time.

“So I didn’t get into trouble at home.”


All for one

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Thinkstock

Image caption

You should have said it was chess club

Whole-class detentions are particularly controversial with better behaved class members.

“So all 30 of us had to stay behind for a couple of obnoxious people. This is so unfair. How does this help anyone?” asks one school-leaver.

“Surely, in an ideal world teachers should ask the class for their opinions on the problem and work with them to find a fair and creative solution. How hard can it be?”


Socially useful

Some schools make pupils on detention engage in socially useful activities such as litter picking the playground, which can be quite satisfying.

And detention can be a chance to get all your homework done in one go, rather than having it last all week.

But this approach can backfire too.

“One of the chores we were given to do sometimes in detention was to clean board-rubbers, which was basically a licence to get everything and everyone in sight covered in chalk dust,” says a former pupil from Cheshire.


Detention for teachers

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Thinkstock

Image caption

A pile of marking seems attractive by comparison

With lesson planning, marking and a dozen more extracurricular jobs at the end of the day, supervising an after-school detention is not fun for teachers.

“Deeply dull,” says one.

At some schools, pupils in detention must write an essay on “what action they did wrong and what choices they have in the future when in that position”.

This approach can “often work”, say some teachers, but others disagree

“I loathed the idea of making children write for a punishment and taking away their valuable time when they could be running around in the sun or staring at ants in the grass,” says one recent retiree, who never gave a detention in 36 years of teaching.

Even supporters of detention say it is futile without proper communication between pupil and teacher.

“It shouldn’t be about getting the kid to say sorry,” says one London teacher.

Basic conflict resolution techniques can help, she adds, “where both sides get to reflect on the situation from the other’s point of view”.

Pupils need to think about how their behaviour can make teaching very difficult, while teachers could consider whether, in their drive to deliver the curriculum, they might be overlooking pupils’ underlying learning difficulties, she says

But others fear that in today’s results-focused classrooms, “teachers too often lack the time and the skills” for this kind of approach.



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Nativity play charges lead to parents' 'verbal abuse'


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Wooden toys in a nativity scene

A primary school is charging parents £1 to watch their children in its nativity play, sparking outrage from parents.

St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Worcester is charging for tickets due to “tightening budgets”.

Head teacher Louise Bury said there had been “mixed feelings” in response to the charge, with some teachers suffering verbal abuse.

The money will be used to buy books and equipment, Mrs Bury said.

“Hardly breaking the bank” – parents react

The school, in Warndon, is charging for three performances by pupils in Key Stage One, Reception and nursery.

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In a letter to parents, Mrs Bury said: “I know that for some of you, paying to see your child perform doesn’t feel right.

“With ever tightening budgets and growing numbers, we saw this as an opportunity to be able to invest in some valuable reading and learning resources for Key Stage One and Early Years.”

‘Verbal abuse’

The resources would help improve children’s reading progress, particularly learning at home, she said.

Mrs Bury voiced concerns about the reaction of parents to the move.

She said in the letter: “I have been extremely concerned about the conduct of some parents towards my staff which in some cases I can only describe as verbal abuse.”

Mrs Bury added the “partnership” between the school and parents was very important and she would arrange to meet anyone to discuss any issues of concern.

Several people backed the school on the BBC Hereford and Worcester Facebook page.

Philip Bannister wrote: “Nothing wrong with it at all. Schools are struggling financially due to funding cuts and if this helps even just a little, it seems a sensible thing to do.”

Michael Leighton wrote: “Can’t believe parents moaning about paying a £1 then you see them queuing at the drive through at McDonald’s.”

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The school said it needed a ticketing system as its hall was not big enough to meet the demand


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Many teenagers 'neglected by uninterested parents'


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Tens of thousands of teenagers are being neglected in some way by parents who do not check up on them or offer enough support, a charity says.

The Children’s Society says as many as three pupils in every GCSE classroom in England could be experiencing neglect.

It says a lack of parental interest can lead teenagers to act more waywardly, by getting very drunk for example.

Teenagers need as much care as younger children, it says, adding that many parents do not see it that way.

The charity commissioned researchers from the University of York to investigate teenagers’ experience by surveying a representative group of 2,000 12- to 15-year-olds.

Teenagers are often viewed as more resilient than younger children, says the report, “but they still need dedicated care to meet their physical and emotional needs, to support their education and to keep them safe”.

“A lack of consistent attention to any, or all, of these aspects of parenting can constitute neglect,” it says.

The researchers said neglect of teenagers could include “parents failing to monitor their children’s activities outside the home, not making sure they get health care when they need it, not taking an interest in their education, or failing to provide the crucial emotional support teenagers need by helping them if they are facing problems or if they are upset”.

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‘Rarely caring’

The researchers asked if the teenagers’ parents and carers:

  • showed an interest in what they were doing at school
  • offered support if they had problems
  • took care of them if they were ill
  • monitored what they were doing when they were out of the house

A significant minority, some 15%, said they had experienced some form of neglect.

And one in 12 said they lacked emotional support, with their parents rarely or never encouraging them or helping with problems over the previous year.

The research suggested that those who were neglected like that were more likely to behave in ways that risked their health or future prospects.

Nearly half (46%) of teenagers who said they had experienced emotional neglect – with parents who rarely acted in a caring or supportive way towards them – said they had got very drunk recently.

They were more than twice as likely as those who did not experience neglect to have played truant from school and three times as likely to have smoked.

Teenagers who had experienced this neglect were also significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives and pessimistic about their futures.

‘Tension’

These neglected teenagers also tended to report doubts about their competence, having little faith that anyone cares about them.

These feelings became more severe if more than one of these types of neglect had been experienced over the same period.

Children who reported frequent support from their parents were more likely to have better levels of wellbeing.

However, the research also suggested there was a difficult balance to be struck between showing concern and care and intruding in teenagers’ new-found freedom.

“So maybe it is not surprising that the 14-15-year-olds in our survey said they were less happy when parents were frequently asking about what they were doing away from home,” the report said.

The charity says although bringing up teenagers is seen by most as a challenge, there is little support available for parents who struggle.

Its senior researcher, Phil Raws, said: “There is a tension between the need for parents to supervise and monitor their children and the need of teenagers to have independence.

“It is certainly the case that the desire of young people to have freedom and choice in their lives can conflict with the need for parents to keep their young people safe.

“We plan to explore these issues in more detail in future, but it is certainly the case that, to negotiate these challenges, parents and teenagers have to communicate well and build trust over time.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “All children, whatever their age, must feel safe and supported at home.

“We are strengthening the child protection system to make sure children who are at risk are identified early and get the help they need – this includes support to help parents to better care for their children, where necessary.”


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Ministers criticised over school sexual harassment response


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Ministers are facing criticism for rejecting calls for statutory action to tackle sexual harassment in schools.

In September, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee called for legislation requiring all schools in England to develop a “whole school approach” to tackling the issue.

The Department for Education published a formal response on Tuesday.

It said the legal framework dealing with issues of equality, safeguarding, curriculum and behaviour was “strong”.

While it acknowledged that more could be done to clarify how it applied to sexual violence and harassment, it indicated that it did not support legislation.

“Instead, we propose a holistic school-based approach, which will support schools to tackle this issue,” it said.

“We will do this through three new areas of work: supporting schools to produce their own new codes of practice, building our evidence base, and setting up an advisory group.”

The Women and Equalities Committee had also called in its report for sex and relationships education (SRE) to become a statutory subject in schools.

On this, the DfE noted the existing guidance had last been updated in 2000 and the case for action was “actively under review, with particular consideration to improving quality and accessibility”.

‘Urgent response’

Conservative former cabinet minister Maria Miller, who chairs the committee, said: “The scale of the problem of sexual harassment in schools demands a robust and urgent response from those who take responsibility for our children’s safety when they are at school.

“Schools are responsible for fostering the best environment for young people to learn; fear of sexual harassment, or worse, should not be part of that.

“We will continue to scrutinise action in this area and work with others to hold those responsible to account for any failure to ensure that all our children are safe and can thrive at school.

“In particular the government needs to prioritise action to ensure sex and relationship education reflects the realities of the 21st Century rather than the pre-smartphone age, when guidance was last updated.”

In its report, the committee said:

  • 29% of 16- to 18-year-old girls had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school
  • 71% of pupils regularly heard girls referred to as “slag” or “slut”

Shadow women and equalities secretary Sarah Champion said the government needed to ensure there was up-to-date, statutory, age-appropriate relationships and sex education in England’s schools.

“The government must bring in legislation to ensure every school takes action to prevent and respond effectively to sexual harassment and sexual violence,” she said.

“The findings of the committee demonstrate that the government’s failure to do so is putting children and teenagers in the way of physical and psychological harm.”

The DfE’s response drew criticism from the Girlguiding association.

Its advocate panel issued a statement saying: “We are among the girls and young women across the country who have been severely let down by the government’s response today.

“We feel the government has missed a crucial opportunity to make schools safer for all young people, by not going far enough in their action to tackle this issue.”

The NSPCC children’s charity said the government’s response to the committee fell short of the “robust action plan” it had hoped for.

“We know through calls to Childline that sexual harassment, and even abuse, in schools is something that many pupils up and down the country suffer on a daily basis,” the charity said in a statement.

“We also know it can be prevented when pupils, parents, and schools are given enough support and education.”

Lisa Hallgarten, co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said: “We believe the case for statutory SRE has been made very powerfully over a number of years and is settled.

“There is abundant evidence that good quality SRE helps protect children and young people and can positively impact on sexual behaviour; and that current delivery of SRE is patchy and often inadequate to meet the needs of children and young people.”


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'Teachers worried my self-harm was contagious'


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Emma has bipolar disorder and first became ill when she was 14, when she began to self harm and even attempt suicide.

She describes how she felt isolated when her friends were judgemental towards her, while her teachers would not take her back to school because they were worried about “contagion”.

Now, three years since she felt better, Emma tells The World At One she is “definitely on top of everything” and able to deal with “ups and downs”.

If you are feeling emotionally distressed and would like details of organisations which offer advice and support, go online to bbc.co.uk/actionline or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information 0800 066 066.


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Singapore tops global education rankings


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Singapore has the best results at primary and secondary school in international tests

Singapore has the highest-achieving primary and secondary pupils in international education tests in maths and science.

But primary school pupils in Northern Ireland were ranked sixth at maths, the highest of any in Europe.

England’s performance has not advanced since tests four years ago.

The top places in these rankings are dominated by East Asian countries, such as South Korea and Japan, which are pulling away from their competitors.

These international rankings – Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) – are published every four years, based on tests taken by more than 600,000 students, aged nine to 10 and 13 to 14 in 57 countries.

International competition has been a major focus for changes to England’s school system – and researchers say the “most surprising feature of England’s 2015 results is how little they’ve changed since 2011”.

“The period between 2011 and 2015, under Michael Gove, saw major changes to school structures, the curriculum, teacher training, and assessment, and so one might have expected to see some impact from these changes,” said Ben Durbin at the National Foundation for Educational Research.

Secondary maths top 10

  1. Singapore
  2. South Korea
  3. Taiwan
  4. Hong Kong
  5. Japan
  6. Russia
  7. Kazakhstan
  8. Canada
  9. Ireland
  10. United States
  11. England

England is above average – and ahead of many European countries – but it has not made any significant progress in rankings, despite the ambitions of ministers that overhauling the school system would tackle “stagnating” performance.

In these latest international TIMSS tests, England has fallen down in maths by one place at both primary, from ninth to 10th, and secondary level, 10th to 11th.

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AP

Image caption

Parents earlier this month in South Korea, praying for their children taking exams

When these same tests were taken in 2007, it was England that was sixth in primary maths, the place now occupied by Northern Ireland.

In science, England’s primary pupils remain in 15th place, but have risen from ninth to eighth place at secondary level.

Primary maths top 10

  1. Singapore
  2. Hong Kong
  3. South Korea
  4. Taiwan
  5. Japan
  6. Northern Ireland
  7. Russia
  8. Norway
  9. Ireland
  10. England

England’s School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said the results showed pupils in England were more “engaged and confident” than many international rivals.

“The new more demanding primary maths curriculum began to be taught in schools from September 2014, and we expect future TIMSS surveys to reflect further progress,” said Mr Gibb.

But Labour’s Angela Rayner said the results had been achieved despite “constant chopping and changing to exams, school structures and the curriculum”.

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that staff shortages of specialist teachers in maths and science was keeping England out of the “premier division” of international education.

Northern Ireland has performed very strongly at primary maths, maintaining the same position as four years ago, and is the first in the following group behind the top Asian countries.

It puts Northern Irish youngsters ahead of countries such as Finland and Norway, which are usually high achievers.

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Image caption

Northern Ireland excelled at maths at primary level

Scotland and Wales did not participate in these tests.

The results, for tests taken in 2015, show a group of high-achieving Asian countries stretching their lead, compared with the last round of tests.

For both primary and secondary levels and in maths and science, all the top places are taken by Asian countries, headed by Singapore.

Despite Singapore’s international success in tests, there have been concerns about young people feeling under too much pressure.

The Ministry of Education in Singapore has produced an advert with a message that education is more than about getting high grades.

Secondary science top 10

  1. Singapore
  2. Japan
  3. Taiwan
  4. South Korea
  5. Slovenia
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Russia
  8. England
  9. Kazakhstan
  10. Ireland

Finland, often used as a model for school improvement, has declined in these rankings.

The tests are run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement in the Netherlands and Boston College in the US.

Ina Mullis, executive director of the TIMSS tests, said the overall findings showed a “lot of good news” about schools – with test scores rising and more children saying that school is a safe environment.

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iStock

Image caption

The tests in science and maths were taken by more than 600,000 young people

Prof Mullis said that the success of Asian countries reflected the “coherence” of their approach and a “culture steeped in education”.

“The rest of the world has their work cut out,” she said, as countries such as Singapore and South Korea stretched even further ahead.

Primary science top 10

  1. Singapore
  2. South Korea
  3. Japan
  4. Russia
  5. Hong Kong
  6. Taiwan
  7. Finland
  8. Kazakhstan
  9. Poland
  10. United States

The most important common factor to success was the quality and status of teaching, said TIMSS director Michael Martin.

And Singapore’s achievement reflected that it had made education a priority.

Another director of the testing project, Dr Dirk Hastedt, said in South Korea there were stories of roads being closed so as not to disturb students taking exams.

“Education has a huge value in these countries,” said Dr Hastedt.

Looking at the long-term trends, over 20 years of tests, he said that class sizes were getting smaller – and in countries such as South Korea by a very significant amount.

But he said that there was no apparent link between class sizes and level of achievement.

“The key is the teacher,” he said.


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Card game ditches 'Trump' name as 'brand disaster'


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Not trumps: The eco-friendly card game is going to ditch “trump” from its name

An educational card game is going to change its name because of negative associations with the US President-elect, Donald Trump.

The game – Eco Action Trumps – has been produced by a UK-based environmental games company.

“It is a branding disaster for us, so we are dumping our brand name,” said Paula Owen, of Eco Action Games.

The company said children now assumed the game was connected to the president-elect.

After the new president is inaugurated in January, Eco Action Trumps will be renamed as Eco Action Toppers.

But another popular card game – Top Trumps – has put a message on Twitter saying it is not changing its name.

‘Branding crisis’

“The awful irony of a positive, educational, eco-themed game bearing that man’s name became just too much for us to bear – he simply had to go,” said Dr Owen, cofounder of the maker of Eco Action Trumps.

“Working in schools since the election result, we have been struck by how much children know about Trump and what he stands for.

“It is becoming impossible to get our eco messages across using our card game any more as the kids now think it is about the president-elect.”

The card game, promoting environmental awareness, has been available for five years, and 50,000 packs have been sold.

But Mr Trump’s growing political prominence has created a “bit of a branding crisis”, with the connection with the future resident of the White House described as “toxic”.

Eco Action Games says it is going to rename the game and will give away any unsold stock of the “Trump” versions.

But the maker of the Top Trumps card game has commented on Twitter that there is no plan for a change in its branding.

“We won’t be changing our brand name,” says a message on Twitter from Top Trumps.

The card game’s Twitter account describes itself as the “world’s number 1 educational card game. Not affiliated with any political figure including the President-elect”.

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Ben Carter's Tommee Tippee cup search 'incredible' success


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Marc Carter

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A Twitter appeal to find a little blue cup for Ben Carter has had 12,000 retweets

A dad’s desperate search to replace his autistic son’s beloved “little blue cup” has ended – after the manufacturer stepped in to make a lifetime’s supply.

Marc Carter’s plea to find a replacement sippy cup for son Ben was retweeted more than 12,000 times.

The 14-year-old has only drunk from the double-handled vessels, which are no longer produced, since the age of two.

Tommee Tippee said it will produce 500 cups after it searched factories worldwide and found the original mould.

‘Huge surprise’

The firm’s attention was drawn to the family’s plight when Mr Carter launched the Twitter appeal to find a replacement.

More on a dad’s desperate search for a cup, and other stories

His original plea prompted offers of help from as far away as Australia.

Mr Carter, 42, said the response from well-wishers had been “incredible” and it was a “huge surprise” to be contacted by the manufacturer.

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Marc Carter

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Marc Carter has been overwhelmed by the response to his appeal

Mr Carter said: “For me it’s massive. Some people think I’m exaggerating but without it he doesn’t drink so personally I’m very relieved.”

Tommee Tippee will send the cups on demand for free to the Carter family.

Mr Carter said: “I would not be happier if I won the lottery. We’ve moved down to the middle of nowhere and don’t want much.

“Just knowing he has got these cups gives us peace of mind.”

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Marc Carter

Image caption

Tommee Tippee will send the cups to Ben on demand

Northumberland-based Tommee Tippee does not normally keep the moulds but had been searching factories around the world in the hope of finding the original plans.

A spokesman said: “We are delighted to confirm that we are able to start production on a run of the original cup.

“This will ensure that Ben has a lifetime supply and that his family won’t ever have to worry about finding another cup for Ben.”

Mr Carter, from Devon, told the BBC his son has had his current blue cup for three years, but it is now falling apart and may only last a few more weeks.

He said: “This tiny blue cup dictates our life.”

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Marc has had responses from as far away as Australia

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Marc Carter

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Ben refuses to drink from any other vessel



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Nativity pay


Children in their school nativity outfits

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Should the traditional nativity play now help pay for school books?

A primary school’s decision to charge parents to see their children’s nativity play amid “tightening budgets” has sparked anger among some. But is it wrong to put a price on the often long-cherished Christmas play, or is it simply a sign of modern times?

The reaction of some parents to news they would have to pay £1 to watch their children’s nativity plays shocked the head teacher at Worcester’s St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School.

“I have been extremely concerned about the conduct of some parents towards my staff which in some cases I can only describe as verbal abuse,” school head Louise Bury wrote to parents.

Mrs Bury said charging for nativity play tickets for the first time would help the school invest in “some valuable reading and learning resources”.

She added: “I know that for some of you, paying to see your child perform doesn’t feel right.”

‘Horrendous guilt’

Amanda, a mother who paid £6 for four tickets to attend her daughter’s first school play in west Nottinghamshire, believes such costs are an example of the huge financial pressure schools are putting on families.

“I am annoyed at paying the fee but the guilt of not being there is horrendous,” she said.

Image caption

St Josephs Catholic Primary School in Worcester is among many schools which have begun charging for Christmas play tickets

Amanda said she had been asked for money or donations “about 10 times” since her daughter started school in September, including “paying a fortune” for costumes for different dress-up days.

“Most of the correspondence from the school is about asking for money or donations, not about how she is getting on,” she said.

Amanda, who also has a baby, said she and her ex-partner worked full-time and did not have time to make costumes.

A reindeer costume for the Christmas play cost her nearly £19 with postage and packing and another “flimsy” supermarket costume previously cost about £15.

“The Christmas play is during school hours so it is not that anyone is working extra hours,” she said.

The 26-year-old believes the situation had changed “massively” since she was a child and pressure on parents had greatly increased.

“My mum was saying it was free tickets then and costumes were provided by the school,” she said.

“There’s people who are not working and I really don’t know how they are managing,” she said. “It is hard for us and we are making ends meet.”

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.

Image caption

St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School told parents charging for the nativity play was an “opportunity” to invest in valuable resources

Dozens of parents contacted the BBC in response to the story about St Joseph’s in Worcester to say their schools had long charged for their Christmas productions.

One mother, who has a daughter at a school in Hampton, west London, said a “lot of parents had been grumbling in the playground this afternoon” after receiving letters that the Christmas school play would cost £1 to watch.

“There’s been a lot of requests for small amounts of money from school recently, which I know many of the parents have found challenging,” she said, adding some may not go to the play as result.

However, many parents were supportive.

Simon Ryland, who has a daughter at St Joseph’s, said he had been happy to support the school which was a “great place to learn”.

“Quite frankly I would have given them more if they would have asked,” he said.

Meanwhile, another mother emailed to say her child’s school in Durham was charging £3.50 a ticket.

“I don’t mind paying as the money raised is either spent on new costumes stage props or for the kids’ Xmas party,” she said.

Shelly Smith told BBC News the story was “ridiculous”.

“It’s a pound a ticket helping towards things to help children,” she said. “You don’t have to pay it – you just don’t go.”

Image copyright
Richard Lewisohn/Thinkstock

Image caption

Some parents say they also feel pressured into buying expensive costumes

With news earlier this month that almost 1,000 local authority schools and more than 100 academy trusts in England are in debt, it looks likely that head teachers will continue to search for funds from new sources.

However, Mark Thyne, who is on a Parent Teachers’ Association (PTA) at a London school, believes the decision to charge for tickets was misguided.

“I think this is more about naivety rather than nativity,” he said. “We do regular fundraising throughout the year so that the school can provide more than just the basics.

“The school should never have charged for tickets and instead have asked for donations instead. Parents should feel they are being supported by their school instead of being fleeced.”

‘Historic unfairness’

Malcom Trobe, the interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools had seen their funding effectively cut over the past four years. However, at the same time, they had to spend more on salaries, teacher’s national insurance and pension contributions.

Image caption

Parents say watching nativity plays in the 1970s and 1980s was a simpler experience

Mr Trobe said some heads had even been looking at cutting school hours, while others had cut “enrichment projects” and some extracurricular activities, such as trips.

He said the cuts meant schools were looking for ways to fund “essential curriculum” activities.

“It’s quite common for schools to charge for concerts and plays but when this first comes into a school people realise the difficulty it is facing”.

In response to Mr Trobe’s comments, the Department for Education said it wanted schools to have access to resources so “every pupil, regardless of background or ability, can reach their full potential”.

“The schools budget has been protected and in 2016-17 will total over £40bn, the highest ever on record,” a spokeswoman said.

“The government’s fairer funding proposals will ensure that areas with the highest need attract the most funding and end the historic unfairness in the system.”

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Thousands of children ‘missing’ from education

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More than 30,000 children were missing from schools in England and Wales for substantial periods of time in the 2014-15 academic year, local education authority figures show.

Of these, almost 4,000 children could not be traced by the authorities.

The National Children’s Bureau said some may be at “serious risk” of abuse and exploitation, including forced marriage, FGM and radicalisation.

The Department for Education said it had issued “new guidance” to schools.

Ofsted has previously raised concerns that some missing children could be hidden away in unregistered, illegal schools.

‘Vulnerable children’

The figures, obtained by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, show that 33,262 school-aged children were recorded as missing from education in the academic year ending in July 2015. They were collated from a Freedom of Information request to 90 local education authorities in England and Wales.

Children were recorded as “missing from education” if they were of compulsory school age, and the authorities were unable to trace them – typically for four weeks or more, or two to three days in the case of vulnerable children.

More than 10% of these children – 3,897 – could not be traced by local authorities.

Manchester recorded the highest figure – 1,243 children were missing from education, including 810 children whose whereabouts were unknown in July 2015.

In Bradford 985 school-aged children were missing – the authority was unable to trace 321 of them after “extensive enquires”.

In some cases, children were recorded as missing because they had moved out of the area, or gone abroad, and their parent or guardian had failed to tell the school. However, in most cases where a child had been traced, local authorities could not give a reason why they had disappeared.


Zainab’s story

“When I was 15, my dad thrust a picture of my cousin towards me and said, ‘This is who you’re going to marry’.

“I didn’t know what to say, I was scared. The only thing I could think to do was run away from home, but my brother found me.”

Zainab – not her real name – says that from then on, she was, in effect, a prisoner in her own home.

“I was pulled out of school, I wasn’t able to finish my GCSEs. The school did send two letters home to my dad. But he just chose to completely ignore them.

“And then we moved house, and the school didn’t know. I was completely off the radar.”

After seven months of being locked inside, Zainab managed to call a charity from her brother’s phone.


The National Children’s Bureau believes there are a number of “very serious risks” with children going missing.

Enver Solomon from the charity said: “Some councils do a fantastic job, but unfortunately some councils don’t do a good enough job by any stretch of the imagination.

“There shouldn’t be one child in the country who isn’t in school and can’t be tracked, because of the potential risks.

‘We know [of some] horrendous cases, of sexual exploitation. We also know about the correlation between missing children and the possibility that they may be involved in forced marriage, and of course, issues relating to young people’s involvement in extremist activity.”

 

Image caption

Enver Solomon says there have been “horrendous cases” involving children who have gone missing from school

The charity – as well as other child protection agencies – said the figures were likely to underestimate the scale of the problem.

Children can easily disappear from education without being reported, it said, because families may tell a plausible story to the school – like they are home-schooling or going abroad.

In response to the figures, a spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘We have issued new guidance to local authorities and schools making clear that they have a duty to establish the identities of children who are not registered at a school or receiving a suitable education.

“Where children are being put at risk, local authorities and the police have clear powers to take action.”

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.

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Young women ‘shut out of jobs market’ by lack of support

Glynn in officeImage copyright
Young Women’s Trust

 

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Going to the Job Centre is “disheartening”, according to Young Women’s Trust trainee Glynn, aged 26

Glynn, now 26, got pregnant at 16, and left school with very poor GCSEs.

It was a struggle to get work with a small baby in tow, and a bricklaying apprenticeship ended after three months, due to workplace bullying.

Glynn’s story is typical of more than a quarter of a million young women who need more support to find work, according to the Young Women’s Trust.

Being shut out of the workforce leads to isolation and depression for too many young women, says YWT in a report.

The latest official figures show 285,000 young women are currently classed as economically inactive (not working and not looking for work), and are also not in employment, education or training.

That is 82,000 more than the figure for young men.

Of these young women, almost a third would take jobs if they could and 86% want to work in the future, suggests the study.

But they face obstacles, such as unaffordable childcare and an expectation among some families that good mothers should stay at home with their children.

And for other young women who are not mothers, caring responsibilities for younger siblings or sick relatives can make paid work impossible.

Many of these young women struggle financially and too often develop mental health problems, the researchers found.

“There appears to be a vicious spiral, where a lack of appropriate employment opportunities leads to isolation and stress which leads to anxiety and depression, and which in turn make it harder to engage in work,” says the report.

Dr Carole Easton, the trust’s chief executive, said: “Young women are telling us they want to work but too often they are shut out of the jobs market by a lack of networks and support and a lack of convenient childcare.

“While the government focuses on reducing its unemployment figures, hundreds of thousands of women who are not included in the numbers are being forgotten.”

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Thinkstock

Image caption

Lack of affordable childcare can be a problem for would-be women workers

The report calls for:

  • greater access to affordable childcare
  • one-to-one support to prepare young women for the workplace
  • better mental health provision
  • better careers guidance
  • and a new government minister for young people.

Glynn, from London, is now a trainee on a Young Women’s Trust scheme.

Her son is now nine and she says his father’s family have helped a lot with childcare – but she has sometimes struggled to hold down low-skilled jobs and often avoided signing on because “it’s such a disheartening experience when you are in there.

“You need to be able to sell yourself as the best candidate for the job but it’s hard to do this because the lack of support takes its toll on how you feel about work.”

A government spokesman said: “There are more women in work than ever before – up by well over a million since 2010 with fewer than 5% of all young women unemployed and not in full-time education.

“And we’re doing more than ever to support families with the cost of childcare by investing a record £6bn per year by the end of this Parliament, giving working parents up to 30 hours of childcare a week for three- and four-year-olds.”

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Are you a young woman who feels shut out of the workplace? You can share your experience by emailing [email protected].

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:

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New nursing apprentice role announced

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Aspiring nurses can soon enrol on a new on-the-job apprenticeship role, the government says.

From September 2017, up to 1,000 NHS staff will be able to take up the training without having to go down the conventional university route to get a nursing degree.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says it complements the nursing associate role announced a year ago.

Both initiatives aim to offer flexible routes into nursing in England.

They might also give students an affordable way to train, since ministers plan to scrap student bursaries for nurses in September 2017.

Student nurses at university are currently entitled to bursaries of £4,500 to £5,500 if they live in London – on top of a grant of £1,000 each year during their course.

The course fees are also covered.

But the government has proposed scrapping these and introducing university fees to bring health staff in line with other students.

The NHS will still provide some financial support towards expenses such as travel costs for placements.

Learn while you earn

Trainees on the apprenticeship scheme will typically be funded by the trust they work for and can join the course at different stages, depending on their qualifications and experience, and stay in work while learning.

Similarly, nursing associates get their training paid for while remaining in work.

At the end of the training – which will usually take five years – a nurse apprentice will have a nursing degree, whereas a qualified nursing associate would still need more training to become a registered nurse.

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Trainees on the apprenticeship scheme will typically be funded by the trust they work for

The Royal College of Nursing said it was great news that there would be more training places and opportunities for staff, but it would be important to ensure any new courses fulfilled educational needs.

Its chief executive, Janet Davies, said: “Nursing has progressed over many years, we must be careful to learn from the lessons of the past when student nurses were often seen as nursing on the cheap.

“We must be careful we do not create a two-tier system which reduces equality of opportunity.

“We need to attract people of all ages and from diverse backgrounds into the profession.”

Mr Hunt said: “Nurses are the lifeblood of our NHS, but the routes to a nursing degree currently shut out some of the most caring, compassionate staff in our country.

“Not everyone wants to take time off to study full time at university, so by creating hundreds of new apprentice nurses, we can help healthcare assistants and others reach their potential as a fully trained nurse.”

Chief nursing officer Prof Jane Cummings said: “The nursing degree apprenticeship offers a new, exciting route into nursing that is open to more people whether they are working within the NHS already or would like to pursue a career in nursing.”

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New Weight loss Program Allows Dieters to Lose in 21 Days What They Would Normally Need 2 to 3 Months to Lose!

One of the biggest roadblocks to successful weight loss is the time it typically takes to lose weight.

Losing weight can be a slow process, and due to human nature, when dieters don’t see immediate results they can get discouraged, which often leads them to either stop trying to lose weight altogether or to start jumping from program to program — never giving any diet the time it needs to work.

Nutritionist/personal trainer Brian Flatt recognized this problem and created a new diet program that allows users to lose 12-23 pounds in just 21 days. The program is called The 3 Week Diet.

“Now dieters can see their progress almost immediately, so instead of growing discouraged, they become encouraged, and they devote even more energy to their diet,” said Flatt, who is also the owner of R.E.V. Fitness in Southern California. “Nothing promotes success like success.”

Flatt said the reason his program works so much faster than other weight loss programs is because of its focus on breaking down harmful triglycerides.

Flatt explained that when we eat, the fat we consume is broken down into fatty acids. These fatty acids are very small and they’re able to travel in and out of cell walls to make themselves available as energy for the body. But, when those fatty acids can’t be used and we get ready to eat our next meal, the remaining fatty acids are stored away in our fat cells.

This is where the problem begins. Those fatty acids that are being stored away combine with two other fatty acids and a glycerol molecule to create what’s known as a triglyceride.

Triglycerides are very big, and because of their size aren’t able to exit the fat cells like those free-flowing fatty acids can. As a result, triglycerides become stubborn body fat that is so incredibly difficult to get rid of.

“But here’s the thing,” Flatt said. “Those triglycerides can be targeted, and they can be broken back down into those fatty acids that can be burned by the body for energy. In fact, when we break down those triglycerides, it’s kind of like dumping rocket fuel into your vehicle’s gas tank. Those broken down triglycerides flood the body with a great source of energy that it actually loves to burn.”

Flatt designed The 3 Week Diet to not only break down existing triglycerides, but to prevent the body from forming new ones.

His program does much more to help dieters lose as much weight as possible.

  • It corrects bad weight loss information that dieters receive on other plans.
  • It also provides dieters with a simple, easy-to-follow weight loss plan. Studies have shown that difficult plans which include counting calories or extensive exercise programs simply don’t work because people don’t stay on them.

The end result — dieters are able to lose more weight in three weeks than they would in two to three months on another diet program.

To learn much more about The 3 Week Diet, click here.

New Diet Taps into Revolutionary Concept to Help Dieters Lose 12-23 Pounds in Just 21 Days!

3 Week Diet Reviews

NEW YORK, NY / October 6, 2016 – Dieters frustrated with typical diets that either don’t work or that produce minimal weight loss now have another choice — a revolutionary program that guarantees weight loss of 12-23 pounds in just three weeks.

The program, which is being called “The 3 Week Diet,” was developed by Brian Flatt, an experienced nutritionist and personal trainer from Southern California. He says he created the program as a solution “to all of those ‘mainstream’ diet programs which are time-consuming, inefficient and just plain ineffective.”

“After reading well over 500 medical studies, dozens of diet books and reviewing hundreds of diet systems, programs, gadgets, pills and potions, I have put together what I feel is the ultimate rapid weight loss diet system,” Flatt said. “This program is the result of more than a decade of research and more than two and a half years of real-world tweaking and testing.”

One big difference between this program and other diets is its focus on cellular inflammation, Flatt indicated.

According to Flatt, cellular inflammation is the real cause of weight gain, yet most diets ignore that fact.

“If we take control of cellular inflammation, we can effectively increase our ability to lose weight, burn fat, increase metabolism and keep body fat from ever coming back,” Flatt said.

His 3 Week Diet also:

  • Focuses on correcting the bad information dieters receive
  • Avoids counting calories or the “eat less – exercise more” mantra that the medical community has been pushing for decades
  • Gives dieters an easy to follow, step-by-step plan of action
  • Produces quick results so dieters don’t get discouraged and continue jumping from diet plan to diet plan

“Most of the diet plans out there approach weight loss with a slow and sensible approach,” Flatt said. “Yes, it’s true that if you eat certain foods and work out really hard for an hour or so every day, you will lose weight. The problem, however, is that the weight comes off way too slowly because these types of diet plans don’t attack the stubborn, stored body fat.”

Flatt designed his program to provide dieters with essential nutrients that the body needs for good health and proper functioning, while eliminating all those nutrients that slow — and even stop — a person from burning fat.

The program not only gives dieters a step-by-step blueprint to lose weight, but also utilizes supplements that help dieters recruit body fat to be burned for fuel, maintain lean body mass, and increase their metabolism.

To learn more about the 3 Week Diet, please visit (3 Week Diet).

ABOUT THE 3 WEEK DIET

The 3 Week Diet focuses on three main components to help dieters lose unwanted weight: diet, exercise and mindset. Dieters learn what to eat, when to eat and how to eat to lose weight. They also get supplement and exercise tips to speed up their weight loss even more. Finally, they develop the mindset, or willpower, to lose weight and keep it off. The 3 Week Diet was developed by health and nutrition coach and personal trainer Brian Flatt. Brian is the owner of R.E.V. Fitness, a personal training facility based in Southern California.