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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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    Even your chief wallah has no proof it is value for money or improves failing schools

    I was riffling through some news reports on education the other day and came across something that must have shocked you to your core. Your permanent secretary at the Department for Education, Jonathan Slater, was up before the Commons public accounts committee. I can well imagine you were keen to know what was said, and even keener to know if your own permanent secretary was on-side with what you Tories have been doing in education for the past eight years.

    The Labour MP Gareth Snell asked your guy: “Is there any evidence that rescuing underperforming schools via forced academisation provides better value for money than a rescue package inside the local authority?”

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    A London prep school has spent tens of thousands on filters to combat pollution – but not all heads can pay for clean air

    It is a bright spring morning in west London. There’s a light wind, the sky is blue, studded with puffed white clouds, and the air seems – for the capital at least – clear and fresh. It is not. Overhead heavy traffic snakes along the raised carriageway of the A40 Westway while at ground level a stream of buses, cars and lorries passes by ceaselessly.

    Notting Hill Preparatory (NHP) school in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea is situated on a busy main road just a stone’s throw from the flyover. It may be one of the capital’s most fashionable private schools, but it is not immune from the blight of air pollution.

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    After one writer shared an inspirational reconnection, we’d like to hear from you about the teachers that made a difference

    American poet Robert Frost liked to think of himself not as a teacher but as an “awakener” – it’s an idea you might recognise if your teacher kindled an interest that would go on to shape your life. Teachers can stay with us long after our school days are over, through sage advice we continue to live by or simple anecdotes we like to tell.

    After writer Julia Reaside wrote to her old teacher recently, to let her know what a help she’d been, she received a heartfelt letter back.

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    The lingua franca of the ‘establishment’ is now only spoken by a tiny fraction of the population – although the RP tinges of my own accent often proved beneficial

    People often talk about the English language as if it is a thing to keep pretty – a petticoat that might be sullied by the spread of glottal stops, text-speak or slang. The latest to weigh in is the writer and critic Jonathan Meades, in a column mourning the decline of received pronunciation (RP). Meades argues that the accent – also known as the Queen’s English or BBC English – should be regarded as “a sort of glue, a force for uniting the country” and “celebrated as a tool of social mobility”.

    The term RP has murky origins, but it is regarded as the accent of those with power, influence, money and a fine education – and was adopted as a standard by the BBC in 1922. Today, it is used by 2% of the population.

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    How a commitment to widening access has led to a rise in admissions of state school pupils

    While many Oxford colleges struggle to admit a diverse range of undergraduates, Wadham College stands out as showing what can be done when a college’s leadership and governing body are committed to the cause of widening access.

    While some colleges such as Mansfield, Somerville, St John’s and Lady Margaret Hall have also developed innovative access schemes, Wadham’s commitment can be measured in the 68% of state school students it admits, compared with its neighbour, Trinity, admitting just 41%.

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    Figures show one in four of colleges failed to admit a single black British student each year between 2015 and 2017

    Oxford’s glacial progress in attracting students from diverse backgrounds has been revealed in figures showing that more than one in four of its colleges failed to admit a single black British student each year between 2015 and 2017.

    Several of the most prestigious colleges, including Balliol, University and Magdalen, each admitted two black British students as undergraduates during the three-year period.

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    Critics say UCL research calls into question government’s plans to expand selective state education

    Grammar school pupils gain no social or emotional advantages by age 14 over children who do not attend a selective school, a study suggests.

    The research by University College London (UCL) is the latest to call into question the government’s plans to expand selective state education, which have been fiercely opposed by educationalists and policymakers.

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    From 'apples and pears' to 'weep and wail', an A to Z of Cockney rhyming slang and the meanings behind the east end's most famous linguistic export

    Many of us know that "brown bread" is Cockney rhyming slang for dead, "china plate" for mate, and "bubble bath" for laugh. But how many know the meaning of the phrases? The historic native wit of this east end community (and its followers from around the world) often has an interesting logic to its phrases. Rather than simply a rhyming association, the slang reflects meaning in the expressions themselves. Here's a guide to the most commonly-used Cockney rhyming slang:

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    Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite. But has it produced an out-of-touch ruling class?

    Monday, 13 April 2015 was a typical day in modern British politics. An Oxford University graduate in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE), Ed Miliband, launched the Labour party’s general election manifesto. It was examined by the BBC’s political editor, Oxford PPE graduate Nick Robinson, by the BBC’s economics editor, Oxford PPE graduate Robert Peston, and by the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Oxford PPE graduate Paul Johnson. It was criticised by the prime minister, Oxford PPE graduate David Cameron. It was defended by the Labour shadow chancellor, Oxford PPE graduate Ed Balls.

    Elsewhere in the country, with the election three weeks away, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, Oxford PPE graduate Danny Alexander, was preparing to visit Kingston and Surbiton, a vulnerable London seat held by a fellow Lib Dem minister, Oxford PPE graduate Ed Davey. In Kent, one of Ukip’s two MPs, Oxford PPE graduate Mark Reckless, was campaigning in his constituency, Rochester and Strood. Comments on the day’s developments were being posted online by Michael Crick, Oxford PPE graduate and political correspondent of Channel 4 News.

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  • 08/24/17--01:30: Could you pass maths GCSE?
  • Try your hand at a selection of the kind of questions teenagers faced in this year’s GCSE mathematics exam

    They say that after leaving school people continue to have anxiety dreams about facing exams for the rest of their life. Now’s your chance to relive that horror, by tackling the type of questions set to test the mathematics knowledge of England and Wales’s 15- and 16-year-olds.

    Sadly, in order to make the questions work online, we are not able to present the most complicated ones – and we have got to give you multiple choice options for the answers. And unlike real students, you do not have to show your working. Although you can always post it in to us if you feel so inclined.

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    Oligarch who funded school of government says he gave to Trump inauguration and not election campaign, but Bo Rothstein says it counts as ‘irresponsible’ backing

    A leading political academic has resigned from his Oxford University post after he claimed that one of the university’s main patrons is also one of Donald Trump’s biggest financial backers.

    Bo Rothstein was a professor of government and public policy at the Blavatnik school of government, named after the Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik, who gave the university £75m to set up the school.

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    The health service has been through many changes since 1948 – as we hear from some of the people closest to it

    The health service’s 70th birthday offers the chance to recognise the work of its staff. In these times of unprecedented demand and financial pressure, healthcare workers are the lifeblood of the NHS, and their goodwill is often credited with keeping the service running.

    Those who use the NHS have also played a significant part in shaping it. Whereas in the past, the patient played a passive role in healthcare, they now have much more control over what happens, and are responsible for some aspects of their care.

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    As the service responds to changing demand and medical advances, more staff – and new careers – are being developed

    Seventy years ago the NHS launched with a workforce of around 144,000. Since then, the health service has grown to become the single biggest employer in the UK, with 1.7 million workers across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, making it the fifth-largest workforce in the world. It is probably the most diverse workforce in the UK – for instance, some 62,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals. It’s not unusual to be treated by a nurse from the Philippines or India or seen by a doctor from Egypt, Korea or even Russia.

    As the workforce demographic has changed there have also been huge advances in medicine. There has been a move towards more patient self-management in an integrated health and social care system, with more people looked after outside of hospital nearer home. At the same, time patient demand has soared, and it is anticipated that 190,000 more staff will be needed in England alone by 2027 if the current pressure on services continues apace.

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    If it doesn’t make more effort to admit young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the government should step in

    Oxford University’s vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, needs a tutorial on social mobility and what it means. “We provide a powerful engine of social mobility for all our students,” she wrote on Wednesday. Given that 82% of Oxford offers went to young people whose parents are in the top two social classes in 2015– way more than the 31% of the wider population made up by those classes – to say her statement stretches the bounds of plausibility is something of an understatement. What sort of social mobility is she talking about? The children of chief execs going on to become even better paid than their parents?

    The truth is that Oxford is not some rocket-booster for social mobility. It is an institution that replicates privilege. Between 2010 and 2015, just 6% of the students admitted by Oxford and Cambridge were in social classes 6 and 7 (with parents in semi-skilled and unskilled work), despite these classes constituting 25% of the population. In 2014, Oxbridge took twice as many young people from Eton as it did young people who had been eligible for free school meals. More than one in four Oxford colleges failed to take a single black student between 2015 and 2017 and more than 40% of its intake comes from private schools, despite the fact just 7% of children attend them.

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    Long delay between checks raises concerns that standards may have slipped at many ‘outstanding’ schools

    Doubts have been cast on the quality of some of the country’s most sought-after schools after it emerged that hundreds graded outstanding by Ofsted have not been inspected for more than a decade and their assessments may be out of date.

    A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed that more than 1,600 schools teaching tens of thousands of pupils had not been inspected for six years or more, and of those, almost 300 had not seen an Ofsted inspector for at least 10 years.

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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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    Ofqual data for 2017 exams in England shows 25% rise in number of penalties issued to students for trying to cheat

    The number of pupils penalised for cheating during GCSE and A-level exams rose sharply last year, mostly as a result of mobile phones being smuggled into exam halls.

    Official figures also show the number of teachers and school staff involved in exam malpractice more than doubled between 2016 and 2017.

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  • 05/24/18--10:17: Mary Patchett obituary
  • After a decade as a schoolteacher in Leeds and Hampshire, in 1976 my friend Mary Patchett enrolled as a postgraduate student in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, with a passion to bring about change. She became a vociferous campaigner for nuclear disarmament, active in CND and in ad hoc campaigns against nuclear weapons, and at Greenham Common women’s peace camp.

    Mary, who has died aged 91, continued her peace activism and political campaigning in the grassroots of the Green party and Friends of the Earth. She was a staunch advocate of the feminist movement. She supported displaced Vietnamese refugees and, in later years, asylum seekers and detainees at what became Haslar Immigration Removal Centre in Hampshire.

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    Readers respond to a report that showed one in four Oxford colleges failed to admit a single black British student each year between 2015 and 2017

    I’m a parent of two girls who attended Oxford University between 2009 and 2015. They are northern, from state schools and women of colour (white Irish mum, black African dad). I want to see an increase in the numbers of students from similar backgrounds at Oxford but the debate around this needs to be sensible and based on a true understanding of the issues (Oxford faces anger over failure to improve diversity among students, 23 May).

    First, students apply to colleges for a variety of reasons. My younger daughter studied English so she applied to a college with a good reputation for English. Oxford’s record on attracting students from her background should not be reduced to a number for each college but viewed as a whole – what is the overall intake? Once the numbers are up we can quibble over the distribution across colleges.

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    In this series Poppy Noor discusses an issue concerning how we can build happy, well-run communities. But what do you think? Send us your thoughts and responses

    I’m considering sending my son to a Steiner school. Normally, I’m minded towards doing things in the community, fixing what is broken, and otherwise getting involved to make things better, but when I consider my son’s interests – deliberately isolated from my own politics, projects and community – I conclude that our local state schools won’t serve him as well as a Steiner school that is about half an hour away from our house.

    I don’t feel I can undo the damage the government is doing to schools. The Steiner school fees are a proportion of income, so by definition we can afford it. The case to send him there is compelling, but I feel conflicted because I don’t generally approve of the idea of private education. It seems elitist and intentionally insulates children from those who can’t afford to go – and yet I recognise and value the fact that this school is insulated from the standards state schools have to abide by.

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