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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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    Hull says the subject doesn’t meet the needs of ‘business partners’. Try telling that to Thales of Miletus

    You might think that a university philosophy department facing closure in Hull is of as much interest to the average person as the shutting of a butcher’s in Wolverhampton is to a vegetarian in Totnes. There are almost as many universities as high streets now, and for every closure here there’s an opening somewhere else.

    But the events unfolding on Humberside are symptomatic of a deep malaise affecting not just universities but the wider culture. The crude pursuit of what is “practical”, “efficient” or “useful” is threatening everything of value that isn’t evidently profitable.

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    After watching her students battle the odds to find work, journalism lecturer Wendy Sloane is taking action to help level the playing field

    Julia Johnson isn’t your typical journalism trainee. She didn’t prepare for her career through stints at her local newspaper or writing a blog; she did it running pubs and clubs in Hackney. But she sees the experience as an asset: “You listen, and you hear gossip. Just like a good journalist.”

    As a black, working-class woman, Johnson doesn’t conform to the journalist mould in other ways. It’s a notoriously homogenous profession. Recent figures published by the National Council for the Training of Journalists show that journalists are more than twice as likely to come from the wealthiest socio-economic backgrounds than the overall population (39% compared to 15%). Just 5% of journalists working in the UK are from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, compared to 9% in the wider economy. And according to the Sutton Trust, 51% of top journalists in the country went to private schools– more than seven times the national average.

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    All power to the pupil activists drawing attention to the lack of information about LGBT issues in sex education in England

    All I remember from my relationship and sex education in school is phallic objects, condoms and everyone being terrified of pregnancy. Looking back it’s clear how disjointed and inadequate this was at a time when I was struggling with the complexity of being a black, queer, working-class boy navigating life inside and outside school.

    If I had been given information about the kind of relationships I would later come to be in and given the space to think critically about my gender it would have made my road to self-acceptance a less bumpy one. It was also a missed opportunity to address toxic elements of masculinity such as suppressing emotion or objectifying women. Modernising the sex and education curriculum wouldn’t just make LGBT+ people safer, but would benefit the wellbeing of all students.

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    Researchers explore whether genes and early eating habits may trigger disordered eating

    Researchers are trying to identify the role genetics and early eating habits play in conditions such as bulimia and anorexia.

    Eating disorders, which often arise before adulthood, have been increasing in recent years and about a quarter of young people report having symptoms, according to MQ: Transforming Mental Health, a research charity.

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    Social policy professor Hartley Dean and an anonymous former Russell Group university teacher are among readers responding to recent comments on ‘spiralling grade inflation’ by Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students

    In seeking to explain the phenomenon of grade inflation in some of our higher education institutions (Universities watchdog threatens fines over grade inflation, 19 December), the Office for Students might reflect on just how the “value” and meaning attaching to a first-class degree has been impacted by the incremental shift of emphasis imposed upon the HE sector by policymakers. There is a fundamental tension within the sector between market principles and scholarly values: a tension which will inevitably be handled differently by different institutions.

    In an environment where students and teachers alike are ever more instrumentally driven by the dynamics of competition, judgments about how to differentiate between the results of hard work and intellectual competence (warranting a 2:1) and originality and intellectual agility (warranting a first) are ever more difficult to make. There is no easy balance to be struck between, on the one hand, the demand that we optimise the employment prospects of undergraduates and the “competitiveness” of our institutions, and, on the other, sustaining the ideal that HE is about promoting the inherent value of human understanding.
    Hartley Dean
    Professor of social policy, London School of Economics

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    Education secretary asks headteachers to consider using sustainable alternatives

    Schools are being encouraged to set themselves the target of eliminating their reliance on single-use plastics by 2022.

    The education secretary, Damian Hinds, has urged headteachers in England to consider using sustainable alternatives instead of non-recyclable plastic for items such as straws, bottles, bags and food packaging.

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    Gus O’Donnell warns Britain is ‘sleepwalking into a deepening crisis’ of mental health

    An “addiction to exams” is fuelling stress, anxiety and failure in schools across the UK, the former head of the civil service has said.

    Gus O’Donnell said the UK was “sleepwalking into a deepening crisis” and called for the current exam system to be overhauled.

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    Students are taught from a young age that women must look pretty and men must earn a lot of money

    Finding the perfect life partner can be difficult, but South Korean students are taught from an early age the ideal method for attracting a spouse is really quite simple.

    “Women have to work on their appearance and men have to work on improving their financial capabilities,” say the government guidelines for high school pupils.

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    It’s no easy task for parents, but there are ways to start this crucial conversation

    “If you had a question about sex, where would you go?” I ask my 12-year-old daughter, Orla. She doesn’t look up from her phone. “I’d ask online,” she deadpans. “then delete my browser history.”

    “You wouldn’t come to me?” I venture, worried, hurt, amused and (a tiny part) relieved. “Mum, if I asked you about sex, I’d then have to imagine you having sex and that would be traumatic for me,” is the answer I get back.

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    Tough tests are forced on state schools as data reveals benefit to independent sector

    Tory education reforms are giving private school pupils a huge additional advantage in the hunt for university places and jobs by allowing them to sit easier GCSEs than the more rigorous exams that are being forced upon state schools, new official figures suggest.

    Data released in parliamentary answers, and research into the exams chosen by private schools, shows the extent to which the independent sector is still opting for less demanding, internationally-recognised GCSEs (IGCSEs), which state schools are progressively being barred from using.

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    Education, not your background, is now the main marker of social difference

    “I’m not posh,” an irate David Dimbleby told the Today presenter John Humphrys. “I come from Wales, as you do.” Dimbleby, who this month stepped down as host of BBC’s Question Time, was being interviewed by Humphrys, another stalwart of BBC journalism. Humphrys wondered whether Dimbleby’s poshness helped him maintain close ties to the royal family. “There’s a typical sneer in that question,” Dimbleby retorted.

    Whether coming from Wales is sufficient protection against poshness is a moot point. Dimbleby was educated at Charterhouse and Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a member of the Bullingdon Club. His second wife, Belinda Giles, is the granddaughter of an earl. His son Henry attended Eton (at the same time as Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg). That’s not exactly an unprivileged background.

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    Independent schools are offering easier IGCSEs as state schools trial harder exams

    The Labour party is demanding an inquiry into GCSE reforms that it says are putting state school pupils at a disadvantage by forcing them to sit harder exams than students in the private sector.

    The Department for Education describes the reformed GCSEs, which started to be introduced last year, as “gold standard”. But official figures show that many independent schools are opting for internationally recognised GCSEs (IGCSEs), which are being phased out of state schools at the behest of the government because it considers them less robust.

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    By abetting the ad industry, universities are leading us into temptation, when they should be enlightening us

    To what extent do we decide? We tell ourselves we choose our own life course, but is this ever true? If you or I had lived 500 years ago, our worldview, and the decisions we made as a result, would have been utterly different. Our minds are shaped by our social environment, in particular the belief systems projected by those in power: monarchs, aristocrats and theologians then; corporations, billionaires and the media today.

    Humans, the supremely social mammals, are ethical and intellectual sponges. We unconsciously absorb, for good or ill, the influences that surround us. Indeed, the very notion that we might form our own minds is a received idea that would have been quite alien to most people five centuries ago. This is not to suggest we have no capacity for independent thought. But to exercise it, we must – consciously and with great effort – swim against the social current that sweeps us along, mostly without our knowledge.

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    Calculations to kick-start the new year

    UPDATE: To read the solutions click here.

    To welcome the New Year, we’re going to celebrate the number 2019. Here’s one numerical factoid readers may find charming:

    2019 is the smallest number that can be written in 6 ways as the sum of the squares of 3 primes:

    7² + 11² + 43² = 2019

    7² + 17² + 41² = 2019

    13² + 13² + 41² = 2019

    11² + 23² + 37² = 2019

    17² + 19² + 37² = 2019

    23² + 23² + 31² = 2019

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    The solutions to today’s puzzles

    Earlier today I set you the following puzzles about the number 2019

    1) Date jam

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    Worried that she is speaking French like Joey Essex speaks English, Emma Beddington fights back with classes, podcasts and cartoons about mustard-loving aliens resuscitating literary giants

    I used to think I was pretty great at French: I could handle a subjunctive and disdained the myriad mangled pronunciations of “millefeuille” on Masterchef. I lived in French-speaking Brussels for 12 years and have a French husband who still tolerates me misgendering the dishwasher after 24 years. My inflated sense of my abilities was bolstered over the years by compliments from surprised French people. Admittedly, the bar is pitifully low for Brits speaking a foreign language: like Samuel Johnson’s dog walking on its hind legs, it’s not done well but people are surprised it’s done at all.

    In recent years, however, I have let things slide. My French has become trashy: it’s the language of reality and cooking shows (my staple French televisual diet) and easy chat with indulgent friends. I fear I speak French like Joey Essex speaks English, and since we moved back to the UK this year things have got worse. My only French conversation here is with my husband and it runs a well-worn course: who should empty the bin; why we have no money; which of our teenage sons hates us more. When I try to express something complex, I get stuck mid-sentence, unable to express my thoughts clearly. Words that used to be there, waiting to be used, are awol and I have developed a horrible habit of just saying them in English. My husband understands, so who cares?

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    Readers respond to George Monbiot’s article about the part publicly funded universities are playing in supporting research into techniques for overcoming resistance to advertising

    For decades universities have been falling down on the job of teaching people to think for themselves and selling themselves as trainers for enhanced income generation. It is an abomination if, as George Monbiot reports (Who is really making your choices? It may not be you, 31 December), they are supporting research into techniques for overcoming resistance to advertising. We should look to other institutions to provide reservoirs of resistance. They will not be specifically set up to combat the “hidden persuaders” that Vance Packard wrote about in 1957, but by groups who build community on other common interests.

    Perhaps the most successful is the Campaign for Real Ale, which took on the global beer producers who told us what to drink. My own city has many fine pubs, traditional and modern, which are obvious centres of resistance and not just on the beer front. What some will find more surprising is that there are some church communities around that encourage people to develop a capacity for scepticism, while helping them to stand up to the powerful forces of 21st-century global capitalism.
    Geoff Reid
    Bradford

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    Secondary school pupils to learn life-saving skills and defibrillator use from 2020 in roll-out of government plans

    Children will be taught basic lifesaving skills under government plans for health education to be provided in every school.

    Under the proposals all secondary school leavers in England will be taught how to administer CPR, to know the purpose of defibrillators and to give basic treatment for common injuries.

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    Beyond the dreaming spires, colleges and universities badly need investment – and closer ties to their local community

    Elitism and Oxbridge: it is the hardy perennial of debate about the state of our universities. Last month yet another report – this one from the Sutton Trust– highlighted the extent to which Oxford and Cambridge remain dominated by students from the south-east of England, many of them selected from a small number of elite fee-paying and selective state schools.

    The stark inequity of Oxbridge and Russell Group admissions has been a recurrent theme for at least a decade. Despite genuine efforts to increase access for students from marginalised communities, progress has been achingly slow. So it’s easy to see why access to elite institutions has come to be seen as the litmus test of how equal our higher education system is. But a preoccupation with squeezing a few more poorer students through the narrow gates of elite colleges, desirable though that is, has eclipsed the real problem bedevilling our university system: a fair deal for the institutions that are educating everybody else.

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    The format that time-travels to mealtimes gone by enters the classroom to show how education has changed since the Victorian era

    It is 1897 and at a school in Coventry the coal burners have been lit, the inkwells filled, and the portrait of Queen Victoria straightened. The classrooms are all worn, wooden desks, wildly inaccurate world maps, and pupils in caps and corsets. Everything looks as cosy as a period drama, except this is a geography lesson. And the subject is the empire. Teacher Sue taps the map to show how Britain holds territories on every continent of the world. She transcribes lines extolling the virtues of colonialism and white British supremacy from a standard Chambers textbook of the time on to a blackboard. The children – a 21st-century mix of races and ethnicities – copy them obediently into their ledgers. “You can see where racism comes from,” says one girl. “It’s really upsetting.”

    And so we return to the series format with never-ending potential for resurrection. Back in Time for School (BBC Two) follows similar adventures returning to dinners, weekends, Christmases, teas and factories of the past. The reason for this is ostensibly to see how we used to live, but also to watch folk in olde hats retching over a spoonful of brimstone and treacle.

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