Help Me Investigate Education’s top education stories of 2011

The new year is right around the corner and so the writers at Help Me Investigate Education thought it would be a good time to reflect on the last 12 months. We’ve compiled a list of what we think are the top education stories of 2011, with a focus on investigative articles. Anything we missed? Add your suggestions in the comments.

UCU: ‘We Want An End to the Murky World of Pay” at Top UK Universities
The Univeristy and College Union (UCU) called for more transparency in higher education pay after a Times Higher Education survey found huge discrepancies in the salary increases of vice-chancellors versus other employees.

The UCU said that vice-chancellors earned 15.35 times more than staff at the bottom of the pay scale.

“One of the reasons vice-chancellors’ pay has been so embarrassing for the sector has been the complete lack of transparency behind rises,” said UCU general secretary Sally Hunt in a press release. “We want an end to the murky world of pay at the top of our universities and a fair system applied consistently from top to bottom.”

In March, members of UCU went on strike to protest pensions, pay and other job-related issues.

Tuition Fees Increases
Not quite in line with the focus on investigative pieces, but unavoidable when it comes to education news, was the follow on from the announcement of a steep rise in tuition fees come 2012.

After the initial announcement late in 2010, tuition fees were set to increase to a minimum of £6000, with an upper boundary of £9000 that, as it turned out, was used by more universities than expected. As always, The Guardian sifted through the data and told us what each university would charge on average.

As a result of the increase in fees, most students were outraged, and in November, thousands of students marched the streets of London (and elsewhere) in protest. Earlier this month, Birmingham University went to the High Court to seek an injunction to criminalise student protests on University grounds.

There have been questions asked about the way in which higher education will be funded on a wider level, due to the varying costs of running different courses in different areas, and a lot of these questions remain unanswered. Even some of our team had a go at tackling the issues.

Dispatches Goes Undercover in Islamic School
Dispatches’ investigation into Islamic schools ‘Lessons in Hatred and Violence’ proved to be one of the most controversial education stories of the year.

Filmed secretly from the Darul Uloom School in Birmingham, the documentary showed a preacher making offensive remarks about atheists and other religious groups. Separate footage taken at a madrassas held at a West Yorkshire mosque showed a teacher hitting children.

The report led to the arrest of a man for alleged assaults on children, while the leadership at the Darul Uloom school was replaced and any teachers who had made offensive remarks sacked.

The programme not only raised questions about how rigorously independent faith schools are assessed, but it also highlighted the lack of information available on madrassas. As Riazat Butt argued in a comment piece for the Guardian newspaper: “there is no hard data on how many mosques and madrassas there are in Britain, who runs them or what they teach.”

Exam Boards Investigations Sparks Reforms
A damning expose by the Daily Telegraph uncovered that one of Britain’s largest exam boards was bragging about its tests being easy, setting off calls for the system to be overhauled.

In secretly filmed footage, officials at Edexcel, which sets tests for thousands of students, told undercover reporters how simple their tests were and expressed surprise the board received clearance from the official regulation system.

As a result of the story, Education Minister Michael Gove requested exams regulator Ofqual investigate exam boards’ conduct. Other education officials, such as Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary, also called for the system to be reformed.

Gove Receives Thousands of Pounds in Private Office Donations
In October, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Education Minister Michael Gove raised more than £30,00 in donations to his private office — an amount that far surpassed his fellow cabinet ministers and raised speculation he used the funds to hire a private adviser.

A majority of the donations came from “individuals with business interest in The City”, according to BIJ. A full list of donors is available here.

Private office donations can be used for ‘political purposes’, reports BIJ, including hiring an extra researcher. Gove not only refused to comment on if he used the donations to hire an adviser but also would not say what he used the money for in general.

Channel 4’s Finds Thousands of Children Are Prescribed Antipsychotic Medication
An investigation by Channel 4 News found that soaring numbers of children are being prescribed antipsychotic drugs for health problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and for autism.

Anti-psychotics such as Risperdal and Seroquel are meant for patients with serious mental conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychosis. But 15,000 children under the age of 18 were prescribed the medication last year by their GPs – double the number a decade ago.

No official data is collected on the number of young people being given anti-psychotics. The figures only emerged after Channel 4 News commissioned a drug database company to collate the information.

Teachers Strike
On Nov. 30, a mass walkout of teachers and lecturers ground the education system to a halt, as dramatic changes to Teachers’ Pension Schemes meant they would have to work longer and pay more into their pensions.

By 2014, proposals suggest that pension payments could increase by 50% and the retirement age would rise from 60 to the state pension age of 65; essentially, making teachers work longer for less.

The Schools Minister, Nick Gibbs, proposed the changes as the cost to the taxpayer will balloon in coming years as life expectancy improves. As a result of the strikes, the DfE said that 58 percent of schools were closed, which was lower than expected, but some 2,000,000 teachers took part in the strikes.

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