Saturday, September 16, 2006

UK Head teachers predict suits on obesity targets

Headteachers yesterday warned that litigious parents could soon sue schools for failing to prevent their children from drinking, smoking or taking drugs. They fear that government plans to set targets for improving young people's health and welfare in England could unleash attacks on their ability to control wider health and social trends.

Families are already taking legal action over schools' alleged failure to tackle bullying and heads say they could soon be held responsible for obesity, pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, drug taking and drinking.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We are not clear at all yet who is going to be held to account. You cannot be set targets for things you cannot control: alcohol consumption, for example, among young people." The government is expected to propose a wide range of targets and indicators for local authority children's services. Mr Dunford said: "We really think it is going to be very dangerous and difficult if schools are held to account for all these things."

Some measures and targets which ministers are thought likely to introduce will have a direct educational impact, but others, say heads, could divert attention from the core job of teaching and learning. They argue that litigation could follow if schools became too involved in other areas. The Department for Education and Skills said schools had a role to play in the new programme "but we don't expect them to do it alone".


Teenage boys failing in England

Fewer 14-year-olds reached the expected standard for their age in English this year, national test results revealed yesterday.

Whereas results for maths and science improved, in English the proportion reaching Level 5 in their Key Stage 3 tests dropped by 2 percentage points to 72 per cent and boys in particular were failing to make the grade in the 3Rs. In reading, 59 per cent of 14-year-old boys reached the standards expected in the tests known as Sats, compared with 74 per cent of girls.

In writing, 83 per cent of girls reached Level 5, whereas only 69 per cent of boys matched them.

In maths, 77 per cent of girls achieved the expected level, one percentage point ahead of boys. Overall, maths results rose by three percentage points from 2005 and in science, 72 per cent of pupils reached the expected level for their age - a rise of two percentage points on last year. The tests were taken by 600,000 pupils in England.

Government officials said they hoped that freeing up the curriculum, investing œ1 billion in personalised learning and reintroducing synthetic phonics would reverse the trend. However, the Government highlighted the successes of pupils attending privately run academies.

Passes for teenagers rose 8.8 percentage points in English, more than 10.6 percentage points in maths and 12.9 percentage points in science.

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said: "The results indicate that academies ... are improving at about three times the national rate in maths and about six times the national rate in science. They are also seeing a big improvement in English."

Nick Gibb, the Tory schools spokesman, said that it was unacceptable that one in three children at 14 are not reaching their expected reading level. Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said it was unacceptable that so many boys had such poor language skills.


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