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Latest education news, comment and analysis on schools, colleges, universities, further and higher education and teaching from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice
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Karen Dawisha obituary

Fri, 20/04/2018 - 20:38
Author and academic whose book Putin’s Kleptocracy exposed how the Russian president rose to power

Karen Dawisha, who has died aged 68 of cancer, was an outstanding and original scholar of Russia who argued that Vladimir Putin had turned his country into a corrupt authoritarian state run by a group of KGB cronies.

Her 2014 book, Putin’s Kleptocracy – Who Owns Russia?, is a definitive account of how Russia’s president and his friends grabbed and consolidated power. Along the way they became among the richest people on the planet, and the beneficiaries of what Dawisha called “a kleptocratic tribute system”.

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Imogen Stubbs laments 'awful treadmill' of UK education system

Fri, 20/04/2018 - 17:50

The actor attacks the obsession with grades and attainment as she prepares to star in education drama The Be All and End All

Star of stage and screen Imogen Stubbs has launched a withering attack on the education system in England, describing it as “this awful treadmill” and a “big con” in which teachers, parents and pupils obsess about exams and grades at the expense of the sheer joy of learning.

Stubbs is about to star in a play that examines the lengths to which parents will go to ensure their child’s educational success. The Be All and End All is the second in a trilogy of plays called Education, Education, Education – which echoes Tony Blair’s three declared priorities when he came into power, and was written by Stubbs’s partner, Jonathan Guy Lewis. The first, called A Level Playing Field, looked at the pressures teenagers are under to get good grades.

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Blackface is free speech but anti-Bush tweet is not at California university

Fri, 20/04/2018 - 12:00

State school system accused of ‘glaring hypocrisy’ after initially saying Barbara Bush criticism ‘beyond free speech’ but racist frat stunt is protected

When a white student at California State University was caught this month wearing blackface, administrators had a clear message: it was racist, but “protected by free speech”.

Days later, when a professor tweeted that the late Barbara Bush was a “racist”, the university’s tone was different: the faculty member would be investigated for her remarks, which, a campus president said, went “beyond free speech”.

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For academics on insecure contracts, it's hard to not feel undervalued | Anonymous academic

Fri, 20/04/2018 - 09:30

In my first lecturing job, I ignored the low pay and focused on my students. But I never even got a word of thanks


I took on hourly paid teaching in the English department of a university in the months after finishing my PhD. I did so not primarily for the money – I was paid less than £500 a month – but as part of my commitment to professional development. Yet, like so many others, I was made to feel worthless and disposable by academic staff in management positions.

Although I was only paid for one hour’s preparation time per seminar, I put my all into teaching. I loved seeing my students improve. In their end-of-module feedback, one student described me as “the most engaging and encouraging tutor” they’d had. I achieved “outstanding” satisfaction scores in excess of 95%.

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Let's silence the creative writing course snobs

Fri, 20/04/2018 - 09:00

These days, it is normal for authors to go to writing workshops – or teach them. So why does the idea they produce derivative writers persist?

What makes a writer? How do you become one? When I was younger, even asking those questions seemed to disqualify me: a writer isn’t something one becomes, I thought, a writer just is. Despite writing, rewriting and reading all through my 20s, I was no closer to completing, let alone publishing, a novel. I realised I would need help if I was going to succeed, and I applied to several creative writing MAs.

This was, depending on who you ask, either a decision that condemned my writing to being forever derivative and tired, or, an important step on the path towards the publication of my first book. The debate about the value of a degree in creative writing has been done, one might think, to death – good writing depends on an innate facility that cannot be taught, versus good writing depends on devoted time, support, and elements of craft that can be studied – yet it continues to rage. This week, a much-lauded debut novel was criticised in a review by an author for its “MA creative writing-speak” and “oh so tediously writing workshop description”. For some, “writing workshop” is shorthand for bad. But why?

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Robert Halfon’s views on education cause concern | Letters

Thu, 19/04/2018 - 20:17
Readers respond to an interview with the chair of the education select committee

Robert Halfon’s quaint notion that vocational training should pass the “dinner-party test” is an indicator of how shallow his supposed blue-collar Conservatism is (‘The Tory party should change its name to the Workers’ party. I am 100% serious’, 17 April). How many people bringing children up in poverty are going to dinner parties where they would be looked down on because their child is an apprentice? His concern seems to lie with middle-class children in degree apprenticeships for lucrative, skilled jobs such as coding. The concerns of working-class parents and students are far more pragmatic, and many of them arise from the past eight years of Tory government: reduced access to free school meals, dwindling school budgets, the discriminatory and repressive use of Prevent in education, and higher tuition fees.

Nor do working-class students want access to university education only on the proviso that they study highly employable subjects like engineering, while their middle-class peers can afford to study medieval history. Subjects like classics and ancient history might be seen as a luxury by some, but it has served Mr Halfon’s colleagues Michael Fallon and Boris Johnson well in their careers. A society serious about democratic representation and equality of opportunity must offer working-class students the option of pursuing the same path to government.

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Prue Leith joins project pushing for better school meals

Thu, 19/04/2018 - 19:06

Chefs in Schools charity aims to recruit from top restaurants

Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith has joined leading restaurateurs Thomasina Miers and Yotam Ottolenghi to help launch a charity that hopes to recruit leading chefs to work in school kitchens.

The aim is not just to improve the quality of school food - which remains patchy despite chef Jamie Oliver’s best efforts - but to teach pupils some fast-disappearing cookery skills to help protect their future health. One in five children leave primary school obese, with those in deprived areas three times more likely to be obese than their wealthier peers.

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UK MPs announce cross-party inquiry into school funding

Thu, 19/04/2018 - 17:17

Plan suggests MPs are unhappy with way issue has slipped down Downing Street’s agenda

MPs are in danger of starting a turf war with the Department for Education, after the education select committee announced a wide-ranging inquiry into funding for schools and colleges in England.

Announcing the inquiry, the committee’s chair, the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, said he wanted the the inquiry to promote an ambitious “10-year vision for education investment” supported by the public.

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Going private would give Oxford and Cambridge what they want: impunity | Jim Dickinson

Thu, 19/04/2018 - 14:34
The new universities regulator has rattled the elites, who would probably rather operate above the law

Over the years, I’ve come to know and almost love the hardy perennial higher education news stories: students so broke they’re turning to sex work, student political correctness gone mad (these days reframed as an avalanche of snowflakes), and the prospect of Oxford and Cambridge going private.

In the latest iteration of the latter story, the crossbench peer Lord Butler, a former master of University College, Oxford, argues that the government should view the idea of Oxford and Cambridge going private with sympathy. It comes amid a likely long-term fees freeze and concerns about the powers of the controversial new universities regulator, the Office for Students. After all, why should England’s oldest and most elite universities be subject to what they see as onerous regulation, and a tuition fee cap of £9,250?

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The world of work is changing. We need more adult education, not less

Thu, 19/04/2018 - 09:30

The Open University crisis exemplifies the UK’s failure to support adult learning. It’s time to seek inspiration elsewhere

The current crisis at the Open University illustrates how public support for adult learning has gone so badly wrong in the UK. For nearly half a century, the OU has served a unique role in British educational life, complementing face-to-face learning in place-based institutions with distance education. While the 2012 tuition fees rise increased budgets for most universities, they have been disastrous for the OU, Birkbeck and others serving part-time mature students.

But the crisis in adult higher education participation is not limited to specialist institutions. Step by step, opportunities for adults to learn have been eroded. First, the 100-year tradition of university extra-mural departments aimed at adults closed one by one. Second, state funding for mature students to study at the same level or below their highest qualification went out of the window. Meanwhile, widening participation strategies were concentrated more and more on school leavers. Then the fees rise devastated mature and part-time study, especially at sub-degree level. And once the student number cap was lifted, most universities opted for the easily administered full-time young entrant over the less tidy part-time adult.

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Teachers in UK report growing 'vocabulary deficiency'

Thu, 19/04/2018 - 02:00

Problem exists throughout primary and secondary school, leading to lower self-esteem and negative behaviour

Teachers are encountering increasing numbers of children with stunted vocabularies – haunting many pupils from primary to secondary school – and they fear “vocabulary deficiency” will hold them back educationally and socially.

In response some schools said they had adopted approaches such as highlighting pupils’ use of informal words such as “innit” and encouraging them to improve and widen their use of language.

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Ministers under fire as student loan interest hits 6.3%

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 21:08

Use of RPI figure condemned as students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland face rise

Ministers are facing renewed criticism over university funding after an increase in student loan borrowing costs using a “flawed” measure of inflation. The interest rate on loans for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will rise by up to 6.3% from September, up from the current 6.1% for anyone who started studying after 2012.

The change is a consequence of the increase in the retail price index (RPI) for last month to 3.3% from 3.1% in March a year ago. The government links the interest rate on student loans to the RPI reading for March each year, plus 3%.

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Inclusion in education works. We must respect it | Letters

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 19:53
Readers respond to John Harris’s article about schools being forced to abandon pupils with special needs

It was my great privilege to lead an inclusive secondary modern school in the selective nightmare that is Lincolnshire (Forcing schools to abandon inclusion leaves us all poorer, 16 April). We actively welcomed those with complex social and emotional needs, and our school community benefited enormously. Clive (not his real name) had Asperger’s. Everyone got to know him. Everyone recognised his difference.

By educating all about Asperger’s, it was possible for Clive to be himself and be accepted. We learned more from him about the autistic spectrum than any course any of us attended. He blazed a trail so that staff and students could welcome those with the other alphabet soup of conditions that demand inclusion but are so often met with intolerance and exclusion.

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British girl wins gold medal in international maths competition

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 19:18

Emily Beatty from King Edward VII school in Sheffield came joint-first among 200 teenagers


A 17-year-old Briton has won a gold medal in an international mathematics competition, becoming the first UK entrant to achieve full marks.

Emily Beatty, who attends King Edward VII school in Sheffield, came joint-first among nearly 200 teenagers who took part. She was one of only five competitors to get a perfect score of 42 out of 42.

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The teachers of Idlib on the impossible struggle to educate their students

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 19:05
In a city under siege, schoolchildren take public exams in cellars to escape the shelling, and classes are conducted by WhatsApp. Their teachers describe what it’s like to run a school in a war zone

Abdulkafi Alhamdo is an English teacher in Syria. He loves Coleridge and Shakespeare and is currently teaching his students Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In 2016, he was evacuated from Syria’s very own heart of darkness – Aleppo – where he taught traumatised school children in cellars and bombed-out buildings throughout the siege, even as they starved. Now he lives and works in the rebel-held north-west province of Idlib, where he and fellow teachers are struggling with few resources and little support to educate the next generation, those who will shape the future of Syria.

Idlib, the largest province in Syria to remain outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has seen a steady increase in violence in recent months with bombing raids by Russian and Syrian jets and the arrival of refugees fleeing from other war-ravaged zones, which – according to Alhamdo – makes the ongoing work of Syria’s teachers all the more vital. “We want education to continue because we don’t want these young children or students to think of guns,” he says. “Without schools, they would carry guns but, because of their attendance at school, they are students.”

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'Intensive but fun': all you need to know about studying architecture

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 18:08

The course involves long hours and a huge workload, but it can be hugely rewarding and can give you the skills for a range of careers

Doing an architecture degree can be hugely rewarding. But it is also among the most challenging – with long hours, a huge workload and focus on detail – so it’s vital to understand what you’re letting yourself in for. Here we answer students’ commonly asked questions.

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Is it time to get rid of head girls and boys?

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 15:06

A headteacher in Guernsey has abolished the posts, replacing them with a leadership team. But without gender balance and a wider variety of roles, discrimination is always likely

Head boys and girls sound like a Harry Potter creation, but most secondary schools in Britain have some version of the role.

Twenty years ago, when I was selected as head girl at Fairfield High in Widnes, a mini scandal broke when the head announced it would be decided by a pupil vote instead of senior leaders. Teachers worried that this would lead to distracting campaigns. But they forgot we were teenagers, and therefore lazy. Mostly, I won because no one else wanted to spend their evenings showing potential new parents around.

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Test anxiety can be debilitating. But schools can help students manage it

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 12:38

Helping students understand the nature of anxiety makes all the difference to how well they are able to cope in stressful situations

Related: Government unveils controversial plans for testing four-year-olds

In a 2015 interview with the Guardian, author Matt Haig made an interesting observation: anxiety makes you curious and curiosity leads to understanding. It’s unusual to hear people speak about the positive aspects of negative emotions. After all, anxiety can be debilitating and can significantly reduce wellbeing. In schools, it’s common to see students experiencing test anxiety.

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#Metoo in China: fledgling movement in universities fights censorship

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 04:43

Former classmates of Gao Yan say she was raped by a professor and the assault led to her suicide

Peking University, China’s top academic institution, admitted this month that 20 years ago a professor had been involved in “inappropriate student-teacher relations” with a female student. Former classmates of that student, Gao Yan, a star pupil studying Chinese literature, say she was raped and that the assault pushed her to commit suicide less than a year later.

The university said in a statement on 6 April that at the time they concluded the professor, Shen Yang, had “handled the situation very imprudently” and he was given an administrative warning and demerit in the summer of 1998, about four months after Gao’s suicide. Shen has denied the allegations by Gao’s classmates, calling them “total nonsense”.

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A right to tuition fees compensation | Letters

Τρίτη, 17/04/2018 - 20:35
There is no question that universities owe students fair compensation, says Shimon Goldwater. Plus a university lecturer praises student solidarity, and Robert Ross laments the marketisation of higher education

Students who feel their universities are not taking their complaints about lost teaching time seriously (Letters, 16 April) have tried signing petitions, writing letters and speaking to the media. The universities have stood firm in refusing to pay a penny in compensation.

No other service provider would get away with charging for 25 weeks of a service and cutting that to 22 with no price reduction. There is no question that universities owe students fair compensation. Because of the huge numbers of students affected, universities could have to pay out millions of pounds. This is why petitions have proven ineffective. Universities might act when a petition calls for a lecturer to be sacked or for a change in investment policy. But they are much less likely to respond to a petition for them to pay out millions to students.

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