Education News Weekly – 8th May, 2017
Invisible ink in exams, the benefits of rosemary and the myth of the tutor-proof 11 plus
Confirming what we all knew to be true for some time, a major grammar school exam board has said the 11 plus exam can “never be tutor-proof.” Bearing in mind that ‘tutor-proof’ means ‘nothing on this paper could ever possibly be learned, practised or taught before sitting it’, this comes as no great surprise. Buckinghamshire County Council’s grammar schools are to re-instate GL Assessment as their 11-plus provider, despite axing it five years ago amid concern that its questions were predictable and therefore favoured wealthier parents who could pay for extra tuition. From September 2018, exams written by GL Assessment will replace the current 11 plus papers, which are designed by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at Durham University, which had wrongly been trumpeted them as ‘tutor-proof’.
The National Union of Students is to offer free tampons to female students across the UK, following increased reports that poorer women struggled to afford them. Birmingham University welfare officer Izzy Lenga told the meeting: “The price of tampons is not just sexist, it’s classist…we have to break the cycle and say that while the Government may not care, we do.” Delegates at the NUS’s annual conference voted in favour of using the union’s funds to buy tampons, towels and environmentally friendly moon cups to be handed out to all who request them in a bid to end the classist and sexist burden to female students.
In other potentially positive news, BBC Newsbeat reports that the Royal College of GPs has suggested that mental health treatment – specifically prescriptions – should be free for students in England beyond the age of 18, once they start university. Such prescriptions are already free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Speaking of classism…pupils from ten private and grammar schools are 100 times more likely to apply for the most prestigious graduate schemes than their peers who were educated at the bottom 10% of schools, regardless of which universities they went on to, new analysis has revealed. According to research carried out by Rare, a recruitment company which specialises in encouraging diversity in the workplace, 30% of sixth form students at the top ten schools had applied for the most prestigious graduate schemes.
This compares to just 0.3 per cent of students at the bottom 10% of schools. Schools such as Westminster, Sevenoaks, Haberdasher’s (boys and girls), Eton, North London Collegiate and Charterhouse dominate the list of applicants to the most prestigious graduate schemes, including those at law firms, banks, management consultancies and other FTSE 100 companies.
Post-Trump and Brexit, it seems there has been an horrific 89% spike in racially motivated incidents and hate crimes at schools, according to data obtained by a Tes investigation. Teachers and charities believe both campaigns may have normalised hate speech, including racism, sexism and homophobia, leading to the increase. TES submitted freedom of information requests to all 39 of England’s police forces. The 32 that responded revealed that:
- In May last year – in the middle of the Brexit referendum campaign – the number of police reports of hate crimes and hate incidents in schools rose by 89 per cent, compared with the same month in 2015.
- The number of hate crimes and hate incidents in schools increased by 54 per cent from May to July last year – covering the run-up to the referendum and the immediate aftermath of the outcome – compared with the same three-month period in 2015.
- During the summer and autumn terms in 2016 – when the Brexit referendum took place and Donald Trump won the US presidential election – the number of hate crimes and hate incidents in schools increased by 48 per cent, compared with the same period in 2015.
Teachers at the Easter NUT conference also warned of an upsurge in bigoted behaviour, while police partially explained it by citing victims’ increased willingness to report incidents, and the improved awareness among members of staff.
In a never-ending bid to do as little work as possible (/or more likely to get better value out of their soaring tuition costs), university students are devising increasingly ingenious ways to cheat in exams. Recently, a student was caught using invisible ink – which can only be seen under a UV light, smuggled into the exam hall – to see notes written in her law statute book, which was allowed in the exam.
Other high-tech cheating innovations include tiny in-ear devices, smart watches and calculators with a function that can include text or even video, pens that can store up to half a page of notes and perhaps most worryingly, the massive increase in students buying essays written by experts online, and cheating their way through a whole degree. Whilst universities already operate strict anti-plagiarism systems to detect the copying of academic texts, the process of buying originally-written essays means that examiners and markers are powerless to prevent systemic foul play. Figures obtained by The Sunday Telegraph found that more than 20,000 students are now buying essays each year, so wealthy students can essentially buy their way to a first-class degree.
As in every exam season, the education world is awash with revision advice, but here’s one piece amazingly backed up by history and now scientific research: the smell of rosemary improves memory. In tests carried out by Dr Mark Moss and Victoria Earle from Northumbria University, 40 pupils aged 10 and 11 carried out a series of memory tests in rooms with and without the aroma of rosemary, and those exposed to rosemary had on average an improvement of 5% to 7% in results. Rosemary has been associated with memory for hundreds of years, and the findings back up earlier research on adults. There are neurotransmitters in the brain associated with memory and Dr Moss suggests that these can be affected by scents.
Following the illustrious recent history of bottle-flipping and dabbing, fidget spinners are the latest playground craze to face the wrath of schools and teachers. Although they’re supposed to be an aid for students with anxiety, ADHD and autism, and can help improve focus when used in a structured way in the classroom, schools have begun to ban them for being too noisy, and infuriating teachers. Churchill Academy headteacher Chris Hildrew announced that the gadget, which is a palm-sized spinner containing ball bearings which can be flicked and spun around, would be banned from all lessons at the Somerset school because they made too much noise – specifically after a complaint for a year 7 student. This follows several schools in America that have banned them, and no doubt Churchill Academy will be the first of several to do so in the UK.
Singer Nicki Minaj has promised to contribute to the college tuition fees of her fans, if they can prove to her that they got straight As in school. She’s responded to several fans on Twitter (most asking for under $1000), and even seems willing to pay the full $6000 for one fan, covering tuition fees, accommodation, food and books. She’s not the first star to show such recent generosity, with Chance The Rapper earlier this year donating $1m (£870,00) to schools in Chicago for their “arts and enrichment programming”. He said: “The cheque that I donated is a call to action.”
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.