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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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    Crowdfunding appeal launched to challenge cuts to special needs and disabilities budgets

    Parents are initiating legal action against the government over multimillion-pound cuts to special needs funding in England, amid warnings of “a national crisis” affecting thousands of children with disabilities across the country.

    Two families from East Sussex and North Yorkshire with children with special educational needs are the latest to launch a crowdfunding appeal to bring a legal challenge to cuts.

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    Evidence shows that privileged families will stop at nothing to prevent their children being overtaken

    Britain is stuck. Too many of us are destined to end up in the same positions occupied by our parents– particularly if we sit on the lowest or highest rungs of life’s economic ladder. Generations growing up today face a bleak future: falling real wages, shrinking opportunities and greater income divides. The dream of just doing better, let alone climbing the social ladder, is dying.

    Our privately educated elites are remarkably persistent. Today as many as 50% of leading people across a range of professions – from politics, media and law, to film, the arts, music and elite sports – attended private schools, despite comprising only 7% of the population. These startling statistics have been sustained for at least half a century. The problem is that the schools are only accessible to a minority able to afford their fees. They are a glue fixing the top of British society in place.

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    Iraqi academics are desperate for access to modern approaches to learning and teaching. Here’s where the UK can step in

    Four decades of wars, sanctions, dictatorship, invasion and instability have seen Iraq slide into a 21st-century dystopia. Once the “cradle of civilisation”, it now lurches between chaos and catastrophe. Most recently, citizens in the south have been railing against state failures in sometimes violent protests. If provision of basic services such as potable water and electricity is unreliable, what hope is there for higher education?

    A number of Iraqi academics, students and professionals say they urgently need modernised materials and methods for learning and teaching. Equally, many Iraqi academics worry about political interference in the sector, regarding it as a further barrier to development. This is because services such as public higher education are administered by government and subject to the unpopular muhasasa, or patronage system, which is susceptible to corruption and thus limits capacity for reform.

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    Vice-chancellors call for firms who offer essay-writing services to be made illegal, BBC reports

    More than 40 university chiefs are reported to have written to the education secretary calling for a ban on so-called “essay mills”.

    The vice-chancellors have called for companies who offer essay-writing services to be made illegal amid fears they are undermining the integrity of degree courses.

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    Primary school literacy check has been criticised by teachers for including nonsense words

    White boys from disadvantaged family backgrounds are significantly underachieving even at the earliest stage of their education, results of this year’s phonics screening check for six-year-olds have revealed.

    When results are broken down by ethnic group, gender and free school meal (FSM) eligibility, white boys on FSM are the lowest attaining group, with only six out of 10 pupils (62%) meeting the required standard.

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    Drinking is no longer a social duty, as young people swap the bar for the gym – and change corporate culture

    The kids were plastered, cheerfully and unashamedly; the kind of giggly, rolling drunk where you’re holding each other up in the street, alternating between bursting into horribly off-key song and exaggeratedly shushing each other. There was no malice to them, so watching them from across the street in Liverpool as I trudged home from Labour party conference one evening just made me feel nostalgic. Freshers’ week obviously hasn’t changed, then.

    And yet in some respects it has. Booze will always be part of it – the British still can’t easily talk to strangers, especially strangers of the opposite sex, without being a few sheets to the wind – but universities are now casting around for freshers’ week events that don’t just involve bar crawls and they’re doing it by popular demand, not from a nannying desire to ruin all the fun (although doubtless it goes some way to reducing town versus gown tensions). At Durham last year, there was a day trip to a petting zoo for those who’d rather not meet fellow freshers while throwing up in the gutter. Others are laying on yoga classes. Listening this week to someone from Newcastle University explaining to a faintly incredulous radio interviewer that not all students want to drink, I remembered the girl on the edge of that cheerfully hammered group in Liverpool; the one who didn’t seem as drunk as the others, who looked as if she was resignedly going along with it.

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    Heads claim they encourage A-level students to ‘take their foot off the gas’

    Elite private schools have called for universities to cut back on the use of unconditional offers for undergraduate places over fears that pupils will not be motivated to strive for high A-level grades.

    Mike Buchanan, the executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents many of the country’s most expensive independent schools, claimed that pupils “take their foot off the gas” after accepting offers that do not require specific A-level grades.

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    I was relieved when all the pressure and expectation ended, but I miss the intellectual way of thinking

    I started my full-time PhD in 2014, and finally graduated this summer after having to extend it for health and financial reasons. I never thought I would succeed, but somehow I managed (even the dreaded viva examination wasn’t as scary as it sounds). For the first month or so after graduating, I basked in the relief and elation, absolved from all that pressure and expectation. But those feelings dissipated quickly.

    Several months on, the wattage of doctoral graduation has dimmed. To put it simply: I feel kind of lost and empty. There’s something anticlimactic about post-doctoral life that has left me feeling directionless and with a sense of unarticulated potential. For the past three years I have been meeting deadlines, working non-stop and striving for something that felt bigger than I am, and now what? Just silence. This has left me feeling odd, sad and not myself.

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    Wole Soyinka bemoans attacks on girls’ education and calls on young people to mobilise politically in run-up to February poll

    Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has urged youth to mobilise before next year’s election in Nigeria in the hope that a new, potentially female leader can emerge to “radically transform” the country.

    “It desperately needs a committed idealist who can build a team around himself or herself and just tell these old fogies to go and take a rest,” said the Nigerian poet and playwright.

    “I don’t romanticise youth, I’m just saying I’m tired of my generation.”

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    Headteachers gather in central London to protest against shrinking education budgets

    An estimated 2,000 headteachers and senior school leaders converged on Downing Street to deliver what organisers called an unprecedented protest at the damaging effects of shrinking budgets on their schools and colleges.

    After a rally at Parliament Square, the headteachers marched down Whitehall to hand in a letter to Philip Hammond, the chancellor, explaining that their school budgets were in danger after seven years of austerity.

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    What to do when your work is never quite good enough

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. For an increasing number of students, that means stopping at nothing less than perfection. The pursuit of such a standard leads to overwork, wasted time and an inability to complete tasks: if it’s not flawless, it can’t be submitted. Perfectionism isn’t classed as a mental disorder in itself – but it has been linked to various mental health problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. So how can you break free from the perfectionist trap?

    Related: ‘My brain feels like it’s been punched’: the intolerable rise of perfectionism

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    Senior professors among 300 people alleged to have bullied students and colleagues

    Hundreds of academics have been accused of bullying students and colleagues in the past five years, prompting concerns that a culture of harassment and intimidation is thriving in Britain’s leading universities.

    A Guardian investigation found nearly 300 academics, including senior professors and laboratory directors, were accused of bullying students and colleagues.

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    Home Office says difficult pupils in small towns across the UK are being targeted

    Gangs have been specifically targeting children who have been excluded from school to groom them as drug dealers in towns across the UK, a Home Office report is to warn.

    Related: National police unit starts work on 'county lines' drug gangs

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    It’s one of the biggest decisions of your life – here’s what you can do when courses fail to deliver

    When Chris Moore headed to University College London to start a history degree, the last thing on his mind was the fear that the course might turn out to be a huge disappointment.

    After all, UCL’s “elite” history department promised students that they would be taught by “leading historians” with an “outstanding commitment to teaching”.

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    New rules launch next week, just as thousands of students move in to shared homes

    A tougher licensing regime for private rented homes comes into force on Monday, along with a new minimum size for bedrooms – just days after it emerged that 35 people had been found living in one London semi.

    The government measures are designed to crack down on bad practices and generally make life better for renters. They come as thousands of second-year university students begin renting their first place with a group of friends.

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    Essay mills | Startling Saturday paper | Polyamory/Balamory confusion | Successful relationships | Robyn’s ‘seismic cultural impact’ | Brexit vegetarianism bonus | May’s Chequers plan

    The attempt to ban “essay mills” is likely to just drive them underground (University chiefs ‘urge education secretary to ban essay mills’, 27 September). The easiest way to avoid this practice is for lecturers/tutors to stop setting “essays”. Other forms of assessment are available – and should be less boring to read and easier to mark.
    Brian Whalley
    (National Teaching Fellow), Sheffield

    • I’ve liked the Guardian’s smart, sophisticated dark-blue masthead. I’d like a bit of warning of upcoming colour changes; I visited the shop half asleep on Saturday, and the bright pink was a bit startling. Was this done to make sure we were all paying attention on a Saturday morning?
    Jo Macdonald
    Sturminster Marshall, Dorset

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    Students at university with long ties to US power unsurprised by allegations in culture that ‘normalises’ sexual misconduct

    Across the Yale campus, outdoor bulletin boards are plastered with the same rain-soaked message: “We believe Dr Christine Blasey Ford.”

    Related: Why are Republicans ramming Brett Kavanaugh on to the supreme court?

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    Decision to allow Swop a stall at freshers’ fairs at Brighton and Sussex divides opinion


    The University of Brighton is launching an investigation after a sex workers’ support group ran a stall offering help for students at its freshers’ fairs.

    The decision to allow the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project Sussex (Swop) to attend events in the city and at the university’s Eastborne campus on Tuesday and Thursday was described as “beyond disgraceful” and criticised online.

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    OK, so helping students plagiarise work was unethical – but it was also intellectually challenging and stimulating

    I worked for three years at a proofreading company which is technically billed as an “educational charity”. This online company markets itself as a totally innocent organisation that helps students edit their essays, and on the face of it, nothing about this operation would seem morally dubious. Of course, two of the online company’s services – proofreading and heavy editing – are far away from any wrongdoing. In the former instance, students submit work to receive a cosmetic spelling and grammar check. In the latter – a slightly costlier makeover – the syntax of essays is also edited. Most of us have access to this sort of assistance, one way or another – an intelligent aunt or uncle, an older sibling, or perhaps parents will scan over an essay. And, of course, many students are affected by conditions beyond their control that result in them unfairly losing marks for trifling spelling and grammar mistakes.

    The third service – “rewriting” – was rather more morally suspect, and was one of the most ethically dubious practices I’ve ever engaged in (I suppose I should get out more).

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    Hopes that Norwich school would help youngsters recover from abuse or bereavement and rejoin mainstream education

    The UK’s first school for children who have experienced early-life trauma such as neglect or abuse and are currently being failed by the education system could open within two years.

    The short-stay school would provide children aged four to seven with therapy and education to prepare them to rejoin mainstream schooling.

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