Education Quandary

'Newspapers are full of bad news about education - teachers can't cope, pupils can't write... Did anything good happen in education in 2004?'
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Hilary's report

Hilary's report

The Independent's education specialists say yes, plenty of good things happened. The education editor Richard Garner believes that one of the best pieces of news was that, following last year's crisis, there was no budget crisis for schools this year: "Charles Clarke's formula guaranteeing a minimum increase for every school appears to have done the trick."

Also, he says, primary-school test results in English and maths went up for the first time in three years, and the number of 11-year-olds getting level 5, the level expected of a 14-year-old, went up by two per cent in maths and science. There was good news, too, for seven-year-olds: from next year, end-of-year tests, which now take place on the same day for everyone, will be over. In future, equal weight will be given to teachers' assessments of how pupils are doing, and tests will be taken whenever teachers think that children are ready to take them.

For the editor of this supplement, Lucy Hodges, other good things include the passing of top-up fee legislation. Although it is unpopular with middle-class parents and won't ensure that universities are well-funded, it does at least mean that young people will be contributing more to their higher education, she says. "The great feature of the new system is that students and their parents don't have to pay any tuition upfront; students will pay for it all after graduation, when they are earning enough to make repayments." She also feels that Professor Steven Schwartz produced a good report on diversity among university students, underlining that universities should have as many students from different backgrounds as possible.

When it comes to the Tomlinson proposals for changing 14- to 19-year-olds' education, she gives half a thumbs up: "I'm not very enthusiastic about his diploma idea, because it seems the sort of thing a civil servant might concoct, but at least it puts the vocational on the same level as the academic."

For Sarah Cassidy, education correspondent, another good thing is the fact that the Government has stopped banging the drum for faith schools. "Estelle Morris, the former Education Secretary, was forever saying how brilliant schools that had a religious foundation were." It felt as though she was doing this because Tony Blair was keen on them. But Charles Clarke isn't. So that seems to be the end of that particular sideroad.

I would add that there are a lot of good things to be seen if you actually visit schools: more new or refurbished buildings, better equipment, and, above all, a swelling team of bright, enthusiastic young teachers. Very slowly, it is starting to add up to something that looks more like 21st-century, instead of 19th-century, schooling. Also, both in and out of school, the good news is that we are all finally waking up to the fact that junk food means junk brains.

So, plenty of things to celebrate. Of course, there are always going to be problems in something as complex as education. And the media would be failing if it didn't report them. But enough of those until 2005... Happy Christmas!

Readers' views

On a personal level, yes, something good did happen. At a comprehensive in east London, I teach young men who stun me every day with their intellect, goodness and enthusiasm.
Vivienne Qurrey, Essex

In 2004, the fantastic new head of my sons' primary dramatically improved the morale of staff, children and parents alike, not least by starting new activities such as a choir, computing, hockey, football and gardening.
Karen Donaghey, Oxford

Next Quandary

In February, our son has got a university interview, but he has all the personal skills of a warthog. His school doesn't do interview training, and we can't afford private help. Also, he resists any suggestions that he could change his behaviour. What can we do?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 20 December, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser