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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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    Education secretary Michael Gove has written a letter to an old teacher, expressing regret for his behaviour at school. We asked some writers who they would apologise to and why

    Brien McMahon High School, Norwalk, Connecticut

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    The media is full of stories about the amazing properties of smart drugs. But you could be putting your brain at risk, warns David Cox

    One in five students have taken the study drug modafinil
    Smart drugs: would you try them?

    Modafinil has emerged as the crown prince of smart drugs, that seductive group of pharmaceutical friends that promise enhanced memory, motivation, and an unrelenting ability to focus, all for hours at a time.

    In the absence of long-term data, the media, particularly the student media, has tended to be relaxed about potential side-effects. The Oxford Tab, for example, simply shrugs: Who cares?

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    If you were ever bored enough in a maths class to turn a number on your calculator into a word you may have only been scraping the surface. There is much more to this art than meets the eye

    I own a Casio fx-85gt plus. It can perform 260 functions in less than a second, it can tell me when I've got a recurring decimal and it has a slide-on protective cover so that the buttons don't get pressed when it's in my bag. And even if the buttons do get pressed, I've got two-way power – solar and battery – so I'm sorted.

    But as soon as I bought it I was disappointed. If I happened to be bored in a maths class, typed out 0.1134, turned my calculator upside down and slid it across to a friend I wouldn't get so much as a smile. The numbers look too much like normal typeface. 

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    • Manual provides ‘dos and don’ts’ for how to smear the strikes
    • Top of the list: ‘teacher strikes hurt kids and low-income families’

    A nationwide network of rightwing thinktanks is launching a PR counteroffensive against the teachers’ strikes that are sweeping the country, circulating a “messaging guide” for anti-union activists that portrays the walkouts as harmful to low-income parents and their children.

    The new rightwing strategy to discredit the strikes that have erupted in protest against cuts in education funding and poor teacher pay is contained in a three-page document obtained by the Guardian. Titled “How to talk about teacher strikes”, it provides a “dos and don’ts” manual for how to smear the strikers.

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    The winners of the BBC Young Musician competition unite in a plea for all primary school children to be given free music lessons

    This year, the BBC is celebrating 40 years of its Young Musician competition. All of us past winners take great pride in its legacy, which is a part of the musical heritage of this country. We are grateful to the teachers and schools that allowed us the chance to be a part of it.

    However, despite some brilliant schemes, we are all deeply concerned that instrumental music learning is being left to decay in many British schools to the point that it could seriously damage the future of music here and jeopardise British music’s hard won worldwide reputation.

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    The quality of teaching will suffer if we keep losing experienced educators who help younger teachers like me to develop our practice

    There is a teacher at my school who is adored by students and staff. He’s a dedicated and efficient educator with years of experience who once taught some of our pupils’ parents. The school benefits from his expertise daily, from the way he handles tricky content to how he manages difficult behaviour. In many ways, he is irreplaceable.

    Related: Cutting workload isn't enough to stop teachers leaving schools

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    An idle tweet elicited tales of scary spacemen and clumsy vicars. Share your stories of classroom chaos

    I have a very clear childhood memory. I am sitting on the carpet in my primary school’s library, listening to a man tell vivid stories about an amazing faraway place, with pictures projected on the wall. I’m about six or seven. The faraway place is Swaziland. And the man is, as far as I recall, the Prince of Swaziland.

    As an adult, I’m genuinely curious about how a member of Swaziland’s royal family came to be giving a talk in Walthamstow in the 1970s. This curiosity caused me to idly ask what I thought was a fairly bland question on Twitter: “Who were the weirdest people ever to visit you in school to give a talk?” The volume of replies caught me by surprise. Someone described it as“a priceless thread of 1970s/80s British dysfunction”.

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    Trip to New Zealand for schools’ bosses and refurbishments detailed in leaked report

    A trust that runs four primary schools spent thousands of pounds on overseas trips for its leaders, more than £1,000 on two hotel rooms for two nights and almost £10,000 on Facebook adverts for a free school that has not yet been set up, according to allegations in a draft investigation seen by the Observer.

    In a case that will raise further questions about the financial management of academies, an inquiry into Silver Birch Academy Trust claims it spent £6,117 on a fact-finding trip to China and New Zealand for its chief executive Patricia Davies, a former headteacher of the year, and her deputy. The draft investigation states that the trust allegedly spent £99,000 refurbishing a former caretaker’s house, later to be rented out to a member of staff. It claimed £10,000 of work had been done without quotes having been obtained, while no rent had been paid.

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    Protests ‘will dwarf action over tuition fees’ as May and Corbyn face mounting pressure

    Student organisations representing almost a million young people studying at UK universities and colleges are today joining forces to demand a referendum on any final Brexit deal, amid growing fears that leaving the EU will have a disastrous effect on their future prospects.

    Predicting a young people’s revolt over the coming months, student unions – representing 980,000 students at 60 of the country’s leading universities and colleges – are writing to MPs in their areas this weekend, calling on them to back a “people’s vote” before a final Brexit deal can be implemented.

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    A nationwide campaign for a vote on the final deal is being organised on campuses

    It is exam season at the University of Kent and students are longing for the academic year to be over. Many are flitting between revision and the exam halls on their 1960s campus. Others are sprawled on the lawns, poring over laptops and books, with Canterbury cathedral visible in the distance.

    These are anxious times for this generation of students. Many fear that, however well they may do academically, life after university will be much more difficult for them than it was for their parents. They worry about the burden of debt after graduation, house prices that seem impossibly high and beyond their reach, and fierce competition for decent jobs.

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    From videos in Japanese to news in German, language blogger Lindsay Dow recommends her favourite podcasts to keep you motivated and inspired while improving your skills

    I became a language addict way back in the early noughties thanks to Shakira. Since then I’ve gone on to pursue a degree in French and Spanish with the Open University, and I’ve also studied Mandarin, Italian, German and various other languages along the way. With formal studying never quite being enough, I’m always looking for other methods to engage my language learning brain, podcasts being one of them. Here’s a few of my favourites:

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    Shouting at your kids can damage their brains, as well as hurting their ears, according to US child psychiatrists. Ouch, says Anne Karpf

    I thought I was impervious to those "research shows . . ." scare stories, but this one got to me. Shouting at children, according to a recent study by psychiatrists at a hospital affiliated to Harvard Medical School, can significantly and permanently alter the structure of their brains. It was only inordinate self-restraint - of the kind I never display towards my kids - that stopped me marching them straight off for a brain scan.

    Ours is a Sturm und Drang household, with shouting matches, screaming fits, and temper tantrums - and that's just the parents. The neighbours have been warned, even the kids have been warned. At two, my first-born could do a passable imitation of me yelling (and she did, to all-comers). And one of her sibling's early sentences was: "You're a lovely Mummy, but a shouty one."

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    A headteacher says pupil behaviour is better and bullying is down since he barred mobiles in his school. So should others follow suit? Teachers argue for and against

    "You'll have someone's eye out with that" used to be the refrain of teachers in my day. In malevolent hands, a pencil, a rubber, even a piece of paper could become a lethal weapon in class, and that's before we got on to compasses and Bunsen burners.

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    Your daughter’s homework isn’t being marked. Your son’s been put in detention for no real reason. What’s the best course of action? A teacher writes …

    One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was from a friend in the restaurant business. If I were planning to complain about any part of my meal or service, he said, I should wait until I had eaten all I was going to eat that night. He illustrated this warning with examples of what can happen to food prepared for awkward customers, and so I’ve followed this advice ever since. It’s a good principle: don’t complain to people on whom you’re relying – unless there’s no way they can wipe your steak on their bum or drop a bogey in your soup.

    As with restaurants, so with schools. The difference with schools is that you’re likely to be stuck with them for a lot longer than one meal. So think carefully before putting on your Mr Angry face and marching into the school for a spot of ranting.

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    Readers respond to the news that grammar schools in England are to get a £50m expansion fund

    The government’s decision to expand the provision of grammar schools (Report, 11 May) is consistent with the underlying trend in Britain’s society since the 1970s. British education is not intended to prepare children for life: it is structured to exclude those who don’t really understand what is required of them. The intention is not to reduce inequality, but to reward the existence of inequality. Our economy continues to discard individuals and groups that fail to generate a sustainable personal income. Benefit payments are being withdrawn to encourage people to work more effectively or, alternatively, to reduce their standard of living to match their work contribution.

    Two thousand years ago, to quell discontent, the Roman emperor, August, decreed that the recipients of the free monthly dole of grain would increase to one fifth of the population. The Tories are currently implementing cuts in free grain, free education and free healthcare. Brexit will mean a cut in benefits. The conclusion will not be pretty.
    Martin London
    Henllan, Denbighshire 

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    John Williams and Chris Youle call for services to be restored to maintain wellbeing

    The Universities UK report Minding Our Future highlights what those of us who work with students have known for many years (Call for urgent action to improve mental health services for students, 11 May). Mental health services are not integrated, and they do not always follow the person if he or she relocates, assuming that services are available for younger people and that they are able to access them. 

    Governments of all political persuasion express their commitment to reform, and their deep regret and sorrow when life is lost, or serious harm occurs. Such expressions are of little if any comfort to those in need of support and services. Nor do they provide any strength to families and friends who lose loved ones. At what point did we decide that support for vulnerable young people was not a priority? When did we decide that the politics of austerity and outsourcing were more important than their lives and wellbeing?

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    As the BBC crowns the Young Musician 2018, previous winners say no primary-aged child should miss out on playing music

    When three musical prodigies take the stage on Sunday night to battle for the prestigious title of BBC Young Musician, the virtuosity on display will leave viewers in no doubt about the musical potential possessed by some of Britain’s schoolchildren.

    For all the brilliance that will be on display in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, however, there are growing concerns among those who previously claimed the crown that a lack of musical provision in schools could deprive some children from ever realising their talent – or discovering a lifelong love of music.

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    Overwork and lack of support are driving teachers across England out of the profession much faster than they can be replaced. But schools facing cuts and rising costs can see no way of improving matters for their staff

    It was a toxic routine: plan lessons until 1am, wake up at 5am in a sweat, vomit, go to work, teach. “I lost a stone and a half in two months,” Dan Lintell said. “I was having heart palpitations and panic attacks. My body was totally exhausted. I couldn’t go on.” He had barely completed his first half-term as a newly qualified teacher.

    The start of the school year in September had been filled with optimism. After a successful 20-year career as a design engineer, Lintell decided he wanted to become a teacher. This made him what the government called a “high-calibre career changer”, who would revitalise schools and bring experience from the “real world” into the classroom – in his case, teaching physics at a comprehensive in Leicestershire.

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    Damian Hinds’s plan to give £50m to expand the selective system smacks of Tory desperation

    It’s a mystery. In what are undeniably challenging times for schools, education secretary Damian Hinds last week had headteachers eating out of his hand with a major speech addressing concerns about school inspections, funding and workload.

    Barely seven days later, any political capital gained was squandered at a stroke with the news that, at a time of near-bankruptcy for some schools, £50m would be set aside for grammar school expansion.

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    It would be unwise to assume Trump’s US regime will back idea but other rich countries should

    All things considered, the United Nations could have chosen a better week to launch an initiative designed to raise $10bn to invest in global education. That this is not exactly a golden age for multilateralism was underlined last week when Donald Trump decided that the US was going to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal despite strong lobbying from Germany, France and the UK. Trump has his own way of doing things and for the most part that involves unravelling the legacy of his predecessor.

    Related: Iran deal: Trump breaks with European allies over 'horrible, one-sided' nuclear agreement

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