The news that more students are choosing to do difficult subjects such as physics, chemistry and maths at A-level, and that university applications for such subjects are up, is heartening. Whether this trend is due to the sterling efforts of the Higher Education Funding Council is not known. But certainly its attempts to foster interest in science, maths and engineering cannot have hurt, and some may have been vital – particularly the expenditure of £100m sustaining these expensive subjects at university level.
Much has been written about the anomaly of young people shunning subjects at A-level and degree-level that will open doors to interesting, financially rewarding careers. Perhaps, finally, the message has got through to parents and teachers that, yes, science and maths may be hard work, but for some students it is what they love doing.
The irony is that the upturn in demand for these subjects has come at a time when the financial system is in meltdown and the stock market has been crashing, so jobs in the City look much less attractive. The argument was that students should opt for science and maths if they were good at them because they would burnish their job prospects and earning capacity. If they couldn't get a job in research they might aim for a well-paid job in the financial sector, number-crunching for an investment bank or a hedge fund. Now that ambition looks threadbare, will young people still want to have a go at maths and sciences?
The figures released by the Conservatives on exclusions show short suspensions are being used to clamp down on bad behaviour before it escalates. The Tories say that head teachers' hands are tied and that they are not able to make long-term exclusions. But that conclusion is not borne out by the facts. Although the Labour government initially set targets to reduce the number of permanent exclusions, those were dropped later.
The fact is, head teachers try to avoid exclusions because they are so damaging for the pupil. But it is doubtful whether it is a good thing to give so many disruptive children repeat suspensions. The number suspended 10 times or more in a year doubled between 2004 and 2007. The Tories are right to ask whether this is the best way to tackle bad behaviour.
Quote of the week
"It would be a disgrace if students and their families were made to pay for the bungling carelessness of officials by cutting grants."
President of the National Union of Students, commenting on reports that the Government is to cut funding for higher education