Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The research period

Ruth Scurr, affiliated lecturer in the politics department, Cambridge University, and fellow of and director of studies at Gonville and Caius College writes in the THES about the impossible clash between the 14-week research period and the school summer holidays.

'Because I have small children whose school holidays fall inside the designated research period, I find myself pencilling in their play dates, day trips, sleepovers and so on, under the austere heading (of research period). While childless colleagues book themselves into tranquil libraries up and down the country, teasing out the nuances of little-known manuscripts, accumulating the raw material for another research-assessment-exercisable book, I am fraught beside the paddling pool, lucky if I've read the newspaper.'

She also states that although the University of Cambridge offer a playscheme the success of this provision is very much dependent on the child's attitude.

'When it comes to filling our RAE entry forms, the first question should be: Have you reproduced in the past seven years? If answering yes (male or female, since this is as a much a problem for fathers as for mothers) you should turn in a different coloured form where your research output can be measured talking into account the obvious fact that you have not, since the birth of your baby, spent 14 uninterrupted weeks in the library during the designated "research period"'.

Traditional subjects increase in popularity

University heads have welcomed the comeback made by traditional academic subjects displayed in this year's A levels.

Science subjects are ranked 3rd in this year's fastest growing subjects, behind critical thinking and mathematics, showing an increase of 7.96%. Biology and chemistry also feature in the list of the 10 most popular subjects, ranked at 4th and 8th respectively.

Steve Smith, vice-president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Exeter University said that the trend towards traditional subjects put paid to suggestions that students were "turning to 'soft' subjects" and was "good news for universities, the economy - and for the UK generally".

Thursday, 16 August 2007

The cash carrot gathers support

The Guardian is reporting that the Liberal Democrats are also considering whether incentives should be offered to students taking subjects such as maths and physics at university after a recommendation made by the CBI, which wants £1000-a-year "cash carrot" bursaries.

Stephen Williams, the party's schools spokesperson said, "The fall in the number of pupils studying science at school is having a knock on effect in universities, where prestigious science departments are [closing] because of a lack of students".


Results of the class

The Independent is reporting that selective state grammar and independent schools are overwhelmingly responsible for the rise in A-grade passes at A-level. This growing divide in achievement between state and private schools is now at its widest for more than a decade. This comes from Mike Creswell, director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance.

The education charity, the Sutton Trust has also published a report revealing that the gap in private and state schools in higher in the UK than any other country in the Western world.

The rise in A-level passes has been far more limited in comprehensive schools and, in the country's remaining secondary modern schools, there has been no improvement in a decade. Headteachers are concerned that the introduction of the A* grade, available to those who sit the exam in 2010, will only widen this gulf.

Professor Alan Smithers, the head of the Centre for Education and Employment at the University of Buckingham, said the private schools' rise in performance was largely down to their students' subject choices. "These schools would offer subjects like further maths and physics and foreign languages - subjects where there are a high percentage of A grades. Across the system as a whole you've got this growth in subjects like media studies and the expressive arts - whereas it is more traditional academic subjects which have the highest percentage of A grade passes."


Monday, 6 August 2007

Tomorrow's World returns

After its cancellation in 2003, Tomorrow's World is set to return. Former presenter Judith Hann said: "It's appalling that there is no weekly programme about science because so much is happening in the world at the moment. I now work at the Royal Society alongside emerging scientists and what they all say is, 'one of the reasons why I got inspired was by watching a programme like Tomorrow's World."