School report: a round-up of recent stories from the front line in education

    12 March 2020

    Words of welcome

    Boris Johnson’s reshuffle last month means that the Department for Education has welcomed a number of new faces, including Gillian Keegan, MP for Chichester, who has been appointed the new apprenticeships and skills minister. The 52-year-old, a former apprentice with Delco Electronics, claims to be the ‘only degree level apprentice in the House of Commons’, and last year was made an apprenticeship ambassador by her predecessor, Anne Milton.

    Other new education ministers include Michelle Donelan, MP for Chippenham (pictured below), who has been made the new universities minister — the first time since 2010 that the brief for universities has been separated from science. Nick Gibb will remain schools minister, while Baroness Berridge, a state-educated ex-barrister, has been appointed the new academies minister.

    Sex ed shake-up

    Parents in Wales will no longer be allowed to remove their children from sex and relationship education or religious classes, it has been announced. As Emma Park reports on p23, the Welsh government is renaming both subjects to RVE (Religion,Values and Ethics) and RSE (Relationships and Sexuality Education), and making them compulsory in all state schools. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of people, including humanist and religious faith groups, are firmly against the plans, with some claiming the changes could be unlawful because they remove parental rights.

    A similar shake-up in England means that relationships education will be compulsory as of September. Unlike in Wales, however, parents will still be able to remove their children from sex education classes.

    A co-ed battle

    Last November, Notre Dame High School in Glasgow held a vote on whether the all-girls secondary should allow boys into the school. This might not sound newsworthy but the school, which was founded in 1897, was the final remaining all-girls state school in Scotland. As such, the vote has attracted its fair share of attention.

    Contrary to what might have been expected, many of the pupils were against the plans to turn co-ed; it was council which led the charge for change. Around a thousand people signed a petition opposing a consultation on changing the status quo and pupils even protested outside Glasgow City Chambers in a bid to keep their school single-sex. A statement from the group read: ‘In 1897, the Sisters of Notre Dame travelled to Glasgow to establish a school for the education of girls and we continue to serve this legacy. We believe that being in an all-girls school enables us to grow to our full potential.’ They also carried placards reading ‘Empowering girls for 122 years — why change now?’, and ‘Empower women’.

    Kath Brough, of the school’s Parent Council, also revealed how more than 95 per cent of parents with children at the school did not want the admissions process to change, saying that local boys had the option to attend St Thomas Aquinas Secondary. The vote, however, didn’t go in their favour, with councillors voting unanimously to allow boys in, starting in 2021.

    Although single-sex state schools still exist in England and Wales, this marks the end of the road for Scotland. The next question is whether the school, which is currently one of the top-performing in the city, will be able to retain that title.