Voices The Government has faced a barrage of criticism over the HS2 plans

The Government is looking to spend upwards of £50bn to improve a journey taken by only 2 per cent of commuters

Place guarantee for founders of free schools

Parents who set up the Government's flagship free schools would be guaranteed places under new admissions proposals being considered by ministers.

Youths face life for boy's murder

Three youths face life sentences after being found guilty today of murdering schoolboy Nicholas Pearton.

Pandorama back in reckoning for Gold Cup

In the fortnight still dividing jump racing professionals from their defining challenge, all they expect is for things to go wrong. For punters, equally, fresh positives for the Cheltenham Festival will be few and largely inconsequential. It would be wrong, however, to treat absolutely every racecourse gallop as stage-managed, every pronouncement of optimism as bland or meaningless. And Noel Meade, for one, surely deserves to be taken at his word, after working Pandorama at Leopardstown yesterday morning.

What's in the Welfare Reform Bill?

The Government has pledged the biggest shake-up of the benefits system in 60 years, saying that 2.7 million households will be better off and almost a million people will be taken out of poverty.

Online House Hunter: Back to school

Whether you have opted for that three-bedroom house in Twickenham or four-bedroom house in Finchampstead, choosing the right school is vitally important.

Events to focus on vocational training

The National Apprenticeship Service will host sessions and conferences for businesses and prospective young workers throughout Britain starting tomorrow as part of Apprenticeship Week.

A World By Itself, Edited by Jonathan Clark

"This volume cannot be a universal compendium," says Clark in the introduction to this massive history of the British Isles. "It can, however, give some sense of why historians find history important."

Teaching of Urdu has doubled in four years

The number of state secondary schools offering Urdu as a foreign language has almost doubled in the past four years, according to figures released today. According to a report by CILT, the national language learning centre, pupils at more than 10 per cent of schools study the subject – up from 6 per cent in 2007.

Mayor caught speeding by local schoolchildren

The Mayor of Doncaster has been caught speeding by children in a police road-safety exercise.

Former 'Blair Babe' rises to key Labour post

Yvette Cooper is one of the most powerful women in British politics and was once tipped to become Labour's first female prime minister.

Ofsted

On 14 September we reported, based on an Ofsted report and on a subsequent press briefing, that Ofsted had found that up to 750,000 children have been wrongly labelled as having "special educational needs". Ofsted has since clarified its findings. We are advised that the true figure was up to around 450,000.

Independent/Durham Business School MBA scholarships: High flyers spread their wings

If MBA student Tim Forber was hoping for a quiet fortnight to study for impending exams, he'll have been disappointed. Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and the BNP all came to Oldham in the coming days ahead of the by-election – and Forber is the senior police officer in charge.

The Independent/Durham Business School MBA scholarships: International high flyers spread their wings

If MBA student Tim Forber was hoping for a quiet fortnight to study for impending exams, he'll have been disappointed. Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and the BNP all came to Oldham in the coming days ahead of the by-election – and Forber is the senior police officer in charge.

The Top 50 Selective Schools at A-level

Click HERE for comment by Richard Garner, Education Editor, and full related links

The school point score is devised through a new system introduced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exam watchdog. Under it, equal weight is given for each A-level with 270 points awarded for an A-grade pass, 240 for a B, 210 for a C, 180 for a D, and 150 for an E. The International Baccalaureate is also recognised with 1,380 points for a maximum diploma score of 45.

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Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there