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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Big UK companies concerned at school leavers

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has complained that school leavers in the UK are deterred from working in science-based industries by ‘a stripped-down science curriculum, a lack of specialist teachers and lacklustre careers advice’, according to a report in the Financial Times, 13 August 2006. The CBI’s director-general said employers were increasingly worried about the long-term decline in numbers studying higher level physics, chemistry and mathematics. A recent report by Alan Smithers, an education expert at the university, warned that physics, in particular, was in long-term decline in schools and universities. Another British business leader has complained that ‘embarrassingly large numbers of people’ leave secondary school unable even to read and write properly. See also media release by the University of Buckingham, 11 August 2006.


Disturbing level of sexual assaults on NSW school premises

Figures from the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics indicate that there have been 183 cases of sexual assault on school premises in the State in the year to March. See report from Nine.msn, 12 August 2006 and editorial in The Sunday Telegraph, 13 August 2006.

More LOTE teaching at primary schools in UK, USA

A British program that scrapped compulsory foreign language classes for 14- to 16-year-olds and expanded them in primary schools has been found to boost younger children's interest in foreign language study at secondary school. See report in The Times, 11 August 2006. More school systems in the USA are now teaching foreign language classes in elementary grades in response to a call from government and business leaders who say the country needs more bilingual speakers, 'to stay competitive and even to fight terrorism', according to an article in the Washington Post, 8 August 2006.

Plan for Middle Years in the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory Government has announced a three-year plan to implement the Middle Years in government schools across the Territory.

NSW K–6 science curriculum to be reviewed

The New South Wales Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, has announced a review of the State’s K–6 Science and Technology syllabus. The review will be undertaken by the New South Wales Board of Studies, which will establish a committee comprising teachers, academics and parents after its meeting in October. Community input into the review will be encouraged. The move follows earlier reviews of the Science and Technology syllabuses for Years 7–10 and 11–12. See Ministerial media release, 12 August 2006. For more information contact the office of Carmel Tebbutt.

School selection policies under scrutiny in Britain

In Britain the selection policies used by specialist government schools face growing controversy. Government guidelines allow specialist schools to pick some students based on natural ‘aptitude’ but not on ‘ability’, which assumes prior knowledge of a subject. Opponents of selection in government schools argue that choosing some pupils by aptitude is a ‘back door’ way of ranking them according to academic performance. See BBC News report, 11 August 2006.

Educational software suppliers plan new pitch to parents in USA

Educational software vendors in the USA are marketing their products as a means to help children gain a competitive edge in high stakes standardised tests. Retail sales of educational software in the USA peaked in the late 1990s and have been declining each year since then, as parents turned to free resources on the Internet. See Associated Press wire story in the San Diego Mercury, 6 August 2006.

Statistics on schools in USA

Recent demographic statistics on schooling in the USA have been summarised in an Associated Press report appearing at SeattlePi.com, 12 August 2006.

Voucher system criticised in USA

In the USA, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is calling for a voucher system for families of children persistently failing in schools. The vouchers would pay for the students to attend private and religious schools. The US$100 million program, which needs approval from Congress, would be available to students who failed to make progress for five straight years. See article in USA Today, 13 August 2006. The article argues against the voucher system and proposes alternative ways to help struggling students.

Closing the achievement gap in the USA

Changed teaching techniques in some Denver schools have been credited with dramatic improvements in the academic results of Hispanic and black children, who are now performing as well as white students on state reading and math exams. The success has been attributed to the use of team teaching, differentiated instruction for different students, and the use of student data to change instructional approaches. See report in Rocky Mountain News, 14 August 2006.

Court case over the teaching of reading raises concerns for schools

The mother of a student at a prestigious independent school in Victoria has won a case brought before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, in which she claimed that the school had not taught her child to read properly. The case has significant implications for the way in which schools promote themselves, and could lead to an increase in litigation between parents and schools, according to some experts. See article in The Age and commentary in The Australian, 16 August 2006.

Science curriculum needs to be more engaging, especially for girls, say experts

Education experts speaking at this year’s ACER annual conference have reinforced widespread international concerns that students generally, and girls in particular, are not engaged by the science that is currently taught in schools. One speaker cited the feedback from students in Britain, who took part in an international research project. The female students described their main scientific interests in terms of personal health and aspects of personal psychology such as dreams, while the boys were most interested in advanced weaponry and exotic phenomena in outer space. See report in The Canberra Times, 15 August 2006. Professor Jonathan Osborne, a speaker at the conference and chairman of science education at King’s College in London, says scientific knowledge is presented to students simply as ‘a body of authoritative knowledge’. This approach ‘oversimplifies and misrepresents the practices and processes of science’, and fails to develop ‘the skills and knowledge necessary to understand or interpret contemporary accounts of science, scientists and their findings’. He argues that science curriculums should cultivate understanding of methods and process, scientific culture, and the risks and benefits of scientific developments. ACER principal research fellow Sue Thomson has called for more science teaching in the early years when children are naturally interested in the subject. In Australia, the percentage of Year 12 students enrolled in biology, chemistry and physics had declined steadily from 1976 to 2002. See article in The Australian, 14 August 2006.

History summit

A national summit was held in Canberra this week to discuss and make recommendations on the teaching of history in schools. A commentary in The Age (18 August 2006) describes the event as part of an ‘audacious extension of federal power’ in which the Australian Government ‘is effectively seizing responsibility from the states for history teaching’. The Australian (18 August 2006) reports that the South Australian and West Australian governments ‘risk losing billions in schools funding’ after dismissing the findings of the summit, which recommended a return to the teaching of history as a distinct subject. Apart from New South Wales and Victoria, the States and Territories have subsumed the study of history within broader subjects. In the lead up to the summit, The Education Review (16 August 2006) reported comments by Professor Geoffrey Blainey, a key summit contributor and a prolific writer on Australian history, 'who in 1984 gained notoriety due to his comments about Asian immigration'. Blainey has noted the fall off in numbers studying history since the 1960s and argued that the effective continuation of democracy depended on the majority of Australians understanding their nation and its background. See also media release by Australian Government Minister of Education Science and Training, Julie Bishop, 17 August 2006.

Vigorous physical activity improves academic outcomes

Recent research from the USA finds that Grade 6 students who participated in vigorous physical activity (eg soccer, football or skateboarding) at least three times a week achieved approximately 10 per cent higher in core maths, science, English and social studies classes. The research also found that students who undertook general physical education classes did no better or worse academically than those who did not undertake any physical education. See article from Child Health News, 3 August 2006 (News-Medical.net). 

High school students introduced to scientific research

Fifteen Year 11 students are undertaking scientific research with the guidance of Macquarie University academics, as part of the CSIRO Student Research Scheme. Students spend at least 20 hours per week on the projects, working with experts from the chemistry, biomolecular science, electronics and psychology departments. See article from Macquarie University News, August 2006.

New media literacy award for teacher-librarians

EnhanceTV and ASLA have introduced the national Teacher Librarian Innovation Award for Media Literacy for teacher-librarians who have enhanced media literacy learning in their schools. Applicants must be qualified teacher-librarians, belong to one of the ASLA member associations and be at a school licensed by Screenrights. Entries close on 16 October 2006.

Decreased emphasis on handwriting in US schools

Many educators and parents in the USA believe that a decreased emphasis on teaching handwriting is leading to illegible, poor-quality handwriting among students. See article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 August 2006.

Teaching of gay rights watered down in California

Californian legislation allowing for the inclusion of contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in instructional materials for public schools has been adjusted to 'simply prohibit teaching or textbooks that negatively portray persons based on their sexual orientation'. See article in the San Francisco Chronicle, 8 August 2006.