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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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    School uniforms are redundant, says Martin Bland, while Fiona Schenk has been rethinking the issue in the light of her children’s experience in the German education system

    Having attended a very traditional Catholic girls’ grammar school which prided itself on strict adherence to its uniform regulations, I was always a believer in uniform as a great leveller – we all had to wear the stupid A-line skirts. My children attend co-educational secondary-level school in Germany, where there are no school uniforms. The only recommendation regarding what is acceptable or not in terms of clothing, is that schoolchildren should not wear tops that show their midriffs in the summer, or any displays of racist/Nazi symbolism.

    This results in a colourful mix of individual styles, creativity and a relaxed atmosphere within the school. The teachers do not have to spend valuable time ensuring that children adhere to strict uniform rules, and the children are not being judged on their choices of clothing. This is a relief when a 15-year-old decides to have pink hair, or wants to wear flip-flops on a hot day. Instead the schools judge academic achievement, engagement in various clubs and societies, and contribution to the school life and the wider community.  

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    Freelancers explain where to draw the line on unpaid projects

    Amber Massie-Blomfield wasn’t expecting to become a hero simply for turning down work. But when the 32-year-old, who is based in Brighton, was approached by the Department for Work and Pensions and asked to take part in a campaign to empower young women in the workplace – for no pay – she had to speak up.

    “They obviously didn’t recognise the irony,” she says. Blomfield was told that the DWP couldn’t pay contributors, but that the work, which included writing a blog, helping make a video and sharing her professional advice, would probably only take a few hours.

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    Pupils at school in Leeds told hiding spoon in underwear will trigger airport metal detectors

    Pupils who fear they may be taken abroad and forced to marry against their will this summer have been encouraged to try to alert the authorities by putting a spoon in their underwear to trigger metal airport detectors.

    Students at the Co-operative academy in Harehills in Leeds have all been given their own metal spoon as part of a programme designed to raise awareness about “honour”-based abuse and forced marriage.

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    Amanda Spielman says school leaders must resist pressure on issues such as the headscarf

    The head of Ofsted has again stepped into the debate over the wearing of the hijab by primary school pupils, accusing minority groups with a “sense of religious or cultural entitlement” of attempting to exert an outsize influence on school policy.

    In a speech on Monday evening, Amanda Spielman urged school leaders to resist pressure on issues such as what children should wear or what is taught to pupils.

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    With schools getting rid of weaker pupils to look good in league tables, it’s time to accept market ideology is a failure in education

    Several years ago I was approached by a desperate parent whose son had been removed from one of England’s most sought-after private schools. It would take a short essay to recount the saga, which involved devious behaviour by the school, an anguished family and a system of government regulation so light touch as to be almost invisible.

    The story was never written. Ultimately the family did not want to be identified, nor did other parents whose children had suffered a similar fate at the same school.

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    Aydin Önaç and school bursar set up firm to own trademarks, with governors unaware they would own the company

    The headteacher and bursar of the grammar school at the centre of a row about kicking out sixth-formers set up a private company to own the school’s trademarks without notifying the school’s governors they would be its owners.

    Aydin Önaç and Alan Wooley set up the business earlier this year, filed three applications to hold trademarks related to St Olave’s school and were registered as its sole shareholders.

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    Headteacher of grammar which excluded students who failed to get three Bs at AS-level is suspended pending inquiry

    The headteacher of a leading grammar school that was found to be systematically forcing out A-level students if their grades were not good enough has been suspended pending an investigation by the local authority.

    The new chair of governors at St Olave’s grammar school in Orpington, south-east London, confirmed on Thursday that Aydin Önaç had been suspended from all his responsibilities “without prejudice” while the inquiry was under way.

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    Aydin Önaç quits St Olave’s school in Orpington, where Guardian found policy of culling pupils who were falling below A grades

    The headteacher of a top grammar school has resigned following weeks of controversy after a Guardian investigation revealed the school’s policy of forcing out pupils who were deemed unlikely to achieve the highest A-level grades.

    Aydin Önaç, the headteacher of St Olave’s grammar school in Orpington, south-east London, until his suspension last month, has announced his resignation, the school told parents and staff on Friday.

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    Thank you for Tom McCarthy’s superb piece (Does Theresa May really know what citizenship means?, Review, 21 January). I do hope it has been read by the prime minister and fellow politicians of all parties.

    Since Mrs May attended a grammar school, as I did in Scotland (where they are called academies), around the same time, she surely had opportunities for some classical education. I was lucky to be taught Latin, French and German at school and could have requested Greek as well as Russian. This while specialising in music, which I continued to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and later in Florence.

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    The government’s decision to ban the alternative to GCSEs was as political as the earlier move to include them

    Few things illustrate the madness of our education policy better than the saga of the IGCSE, the exam of preference of the private schools, the new political football of the schools world.

    The “I” in IGCSE stands for international, which means this particular exam is not directly related to any national curriculum and attracts a degree of independence, which may make it attractive after the turbulence of recent years.

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    Office for Students wants help for those who may be at a disadvantage because of background

    The new higher education watchdog, the Office for Students (OfS), is urging universities to pay more attention to socio-economic and school background, rather than just A-level grades, when deciding to award a place to a student.

    It wants institutions to be more ambitious on what are known as “contextual admissions”, offering places to students who have the potential to study at the highest level, but may be at a disadvantage because of background and school.

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    After a career in elite schools, Barnaby Lenon has written a book on vocational education, called Other People’s Children. Why?

    If you were a publisher wanting a book about what happens to those who fall in the bottom 50% academically, you probably wouldn’t choose a 64-year-old former headmaster of Harrow to write it. Nor perhaps would you choose the title Other People’s Children, with the implication that the offspring of book readers are bound to be high achievers. Nevertheless, Barnaby Lenon – who, apart from a term at Holland Park comprehensive in London, spent his entire teaching career in top private schools such as Eton and Highgate (north London) before becoming head at Harrow in 1999 – found a publisher for just such a book, published this summer.

    “It was quite presumptuous of me to write this book,” he confesses at the London offices of the Independent Schools Council, a lobbying organisation for the fee-charging sector, which he has chaired since he left Harrow in 2011. “It was a subject of which I knew very little,” he admits. “I’ve spent my life working with pupils who do A-levels and go to university.” He started researching it, he says, because he was then on the board of Ofqual, the exams regulator, which was switching its attention from GCSE and A-level reform to vocational qualifications. “It was difficult to find a simple guide to vocational education. So I thought: I’ll write one.”

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    A groundbreaking new project at Birkbeck funds foundation years for asylum seekers – with life-changing results

    When Janahan Sivanathan arrived in London aged 17, fleeing Sri Lanka because of his family’s involvement in the Tamil Tigers, he lived in a car garage for two years. Discovered by the authorities after a suicide attempt, he spent the following years in home office limbo, desperately trying to secure refugee status. Eight years later, he’s studying to become a lawyer and hoping to help asylum seekers facing similar plights – and he didn’t need refugee status to do it.

    Sivanathan’s story is stark, but not unusual. Asylum seekers can often end up stuck in limbo for years as they attempt to navigate the complicated system for proving refugee status legitimacy.

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    The higher education minister says there is a ‘culture of censorship’ at UK universities. Is there a problem, or is it a fuss about nothing?

    Universities visited by the higher education minister, Sam Gyimah, have denied that his recent comments about a “culture of censorship” could refer to them. Gyimah said: “At one institution when I turned up to speak to students they read the safe‑space policy and it took 20 minutes.”

    Yet all eight universities he had visited said this was not the case, according to the website Research Professional. A spokeswoman for the Department for Education explained: “I don’t believe he means someone actually read the policy out at one of the meetings, he means a student said it to him anecdotally.”

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    A poetry anthology by immigrant schoolchildren in Oxford are full of heart and resolve

    This is the work of pupils at Oxford Spires academy, written over the nine years the poet Kate Clanchy has been writer in residence there. The school is a comprehensive in what she describes as “the poverty-stricken east of the sprawling, industrial, undreamy conurbation of Oxford, well out of sight of the famous spires”. There is a mix of different nationalities in the classroom – Lithuanian, Korean, Syrian, Brazilian, Tanzanian, Afghan, Polish. But what is even more extraordinary is that this is a school where poetry is encouraged as though it were a sport. Clanchy has set out to stifle any notion that “poetry belongs only to the privileged”. In this school, the invitation is to express what might not be expressed elsewhere – poetry is a place, if never quite a home.

    The question of home and the various countries these writers (aged between 11 and 19) have left behind, often in traumatic circumstances, dominates. The book may have “England” in its title, but what is striking is how – aside from an unflattering snapshot or two of Oxford’s Cowley Road, where what stands out for 17-year-old Asima Qayyum is its ethnic mix (“aka the Road of Nationalities”) – England seldom comes into focus. It is the lost countries that are more vivid. And where you might expect exotic variety (writing styles themselves range from simple to sophisticated, with a handful of translations from Arabic), what is most moving is the sense that exile has a collective voice, a shared tone. Stoicism, sadness, resolve – this writing is hard won. There is an inwardness and, at the same time, the poems invoke one another. And they are not depressing, even when the subject matter distresses. On the contrary, they shine.

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    The Star Trek actor disagrees with the award being renamed because of her racist views on Native Americans, but these kinds of actions are needed

    ‘Did you hear,” William Shatner tweeted last week, “about the Laura Ingalls Wilder award being renamed over negative lines on the indigenous people of America? Laura changed the lines in the 50s. I find it disturbing that some take modern opinion and obliterate the past. Isn’t progress … learning from our mistakes?”

    In a series of escalating exchanges, Shatner shared his disgust over a recent decision made by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), to change the name of its Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s Literature Legacy award. Its unanimous vote to change the name is a significant moment in children’s literature: Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie books are loved and revered in the US, so the decision didn’t come lightly.

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    Teaching unions say the government’s accountability measures reduce children to tears

    The schools minister, Nick Gibb, has rejected accusations that the government’s school accountability measures place undue stress on children, as the results for this year’s national tests showed improved performances in English and maths.

    Teaching unions in England have argued that the pressure resulting from standard assessment tasks (Sats) has seen children reduced to tears or suffering panic attacks among 10- and 11-year-olds in their final year of primary school.

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    Report critical of St Olave’s, where pupils unlikely to get top grades were forced out

    An independent inquiry into a top grammar school, which was revealed by a Guardian investigation to be forcing out pupils who were unlikely to get top grades at A-level, has delivered a damning report accusing the school of illegally treating its students as “collateral damage” in the pursuit of its own interests.

    The 150-page report into events last summer at St Olave’s, a selective boys school in Orpington, south-east London, called for a root and branch makeover at the school after a council investigation exposed multiple cases of maladministration and scenes of distressed pupils contemplating suicide after being pushed out of the school midway through the sixth form.

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    Highly critical report says DfE has not learned lessons from high-profile failures

    A rush to set up academies is leaving hundreds of schools ignored by inspectors amid mounting costs for the taxpayer, parliament’s spending watchdog has found.

    The public accounts committee has concluded that escalating problems in the sector have left civil servants scrambling to change how they examine prospective academies’ financial viability and sponsors’ ability.

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    Proposed body would monitor universities to ensure that allegations of malpractice are properly investigated

    A national watchdog that has the power to punish British universities for failing to tackle research misconduct is needed to ensure that sloppy practices and outright fraud are caught and dealt with fast, MPs say.

    The new body would rule on whether universities have properly investigated allegations of malpractice and have the authority to recommend research funds be withdrawn or even reclaimed when it finds that inquiries into alleged wrongdoing have fallen short.

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