Natasha Abrahart Inquest: ‘no Support’ For Vulnerable Student

During an inquest into the death of Bristol University physics student Natasha Abrahart, it was revealed that no adequate plans were put in place to help the chronically shy student overcome her anxiety during a presentation in front of over 40 colleagues. The presentation was scheduled to take place on the same day that Abrahart’s body was found, prompting police to be called to her flat close to the university campus. The inquest heard that staff were aware of Abrahart’s vulnerability and missed laboratory interviews as a result of her shyness, but no proper measures were taken to support her during the laboratory conference. She is one of 12 suspected student suicides at the university since September 2016.

Adrian Barnes, a senior tutor in the school of physics, revealed that Abrahart’s struggles with social anxiety were brought to his attention in 2017 after she began missing work. He met with her and referred her to the university’s disability services, but Abrahart did not engage with them. The court was told that there was no direct contact between Abrahart and the university’s student wellbeing service. Barnes denied that Abrahart was at risk of academic failure and asserted that the physics department had been seeking ways to help her overcome her social anxiety. The inquest is ongoing.

For confidential support on mental health call Samaritans on 116 123 or contact in the UK, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 in the US. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis support service is 13 11 14 and international helplines can be found at

Poor Primary School Pupils Increasingly Left Behind By Peers

Official data reveals that bright primary school children who qualify for free school meals (FSM) are being left behind by their peers, with the attainment gap in literacy, writing and maths widening between the two groups. The key stage 2 national tests in England, commonly known as Sats, taken by 11-year-olds revealed that children not eligible for FSM were outpacing their disadvantaged peers, with more achieving better results than before. New data for the national phonics check conducted by five and six-year-olds in Year 1 also indicated that pupils on FSM were not keeping up, securing a lower pass percentage than in 2016. Figures from Ucas supported the findings, indicating that students receiving FSM were only 50% as likely to attend university as those from better-off backgrounds. Although this report is an embarrassment to the government, some primary schools achieved outstanding results despite the high proportions of their pupils receiving FSM. For example, the entire cohort at Evelyn Street Community primary school in Warrington, Cheshire, 45% of whom received FSM, met national standards whilst 55% of them were judged at a higher level in maths, writing and reading. Nevertheless, the national figures show that better-off pupils are outpacing disadvantaged pupils in achieving high standards. The proportion of pupils on FSM achieving the highest levels in maths grew from 9% last year to 13% this year, but the proportion of other pupils went up from 20% to 27%, thereby widening the gap between the two groups to 14 percentage points. The gap in high achievement in reading has similarly stretched to 15 percentage points between the two groups this year, compared with 13 last year.

Would You Microchip Your Child?

Introducing Danielle Duval, aged 11, from Reading, Berkshire, who is preparing to undergo the revolutionary procedure of being fitted with a microchip tracking device for safety purposes.

Danielle believes it is a great idea, especially since the recent events involving the abduction of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman have made her quite nervous. She is not alone in her thoughts, as most of her friends are also willing to undergo the procedure. Even her younger sister, Amy, agrees that it could aid in keeping children safe.

Wendy Duval, Danielle’s mother, is just one such parent who believes that the chip is a responsible choice. She admits it won’t prevent abductions from happening, but it does give her peace of mind, especially when Danielle is out and about. Wendy is not the only parent who sees the benefits, as she has had numerous people inquire about where to get the device.

Critics of the chip may claim that it won’t work, but Professor Kevin Warwick, from Reading University’s cybernetics department and the designer of the tracker microchip, is confident that it will be effective. Even if the chip only saves one life, it will be worth it. However, Mary MacLeod, the Chief Executive of the National Family and Parenting Institute, expressed concern that the procedure might be invasive and may not guarantee that children are safe.

All in all, while the chip may not be the solution to ensuring the complete safety of children, it is an option for parents who want peace of mind. The decision to utilize the device is up to every individual parent and child, and it must be taken after careful consideration of its associated ethical concerns and benefits.

Kate Figes, a mother of two and author of Terrible Teens: What Every Parent Needs to Know, disagrees strongly with the idea of implanting trackers in children. She believes that treating children like pets is wrong and that it is more important to prepare them for the real world. Fear is not a healthy motivating factor for parents to implant these devices in their children. Instead, she emphasizes the role of good parenting in building a child’s sense of safety, which enables them to develop their own internal warning system. She underlines that for children to become responsible individuals, they need the freedom to explore and develop on their own. Therefore, implanting trackers in children is not a substitute for good parenting.

On the other hand, for Pauline Nolan, who experienced the ordeal of losing her 15-year-old son Dan when he went missing while fishing with friends in Hamble, near Southampton, trackers are a means for peace of mind. She wishes Dan had a chip implanted in him as it would have made the search for him easier. She believes that trackers would be helpful for parents who want to keep their children safe and know their location. However, she acknowledges that this should be a mutual agreement between parents and children, and that a child’s privacy should be respected.

Pauline Nolan is also concerned about the alarming rate at which children are reported missing. She is frustrated with experts who underestimate the likelihood of abduction and the lack of media coverage on the issue. She highlights that as many as 220 under-18s go missing each day, and 60 children are unaccounted for each day, leaving them vulnerable and in need of finding. For that reason, she is supporting the National Missing Persons Helpline, which is launching a fresh appeal to find her son Dan. They are using lorries to display his picture, and a 24-hour helpline number is available for anyone who has information.

In conclusion, while Kate Figes and Pauline Nolan have their own different takes on the use of trackers for children, both are concerned about the safety of children and emphasize the importance of parental guidance and the need to find missing children quickly.

A Complete Crisis’: 2,000 School Leaders Rally Against Cuts

Around 2,000 headteachers and senior school officials gathered outside Downing Street recently to stage a protest at the negative impact of shrinking budgets in their schools and colleges. The group organised themselves through the grassroots WorthLess? campaign, developed by Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School, based in West Sussex. Before delivering a letter to the UK’s chancellor, Phil Hammond, the group weaved its way from Parliament Square to Downing Street. The letter outlined the dangers faced by schools and colleges due to seven years of austerity, and was signed by heads from various parts of England, plus school officials from Northern Ireland and Wales.

The educational system in Hampshire is in a dire situation due to inadequate funding. As a school head since 2009, I had always had a deputy head until last year when we couldn’t afford the post anymore. The situation is compounded by the £65,000 reduction in our lump sum funding, which severely impacted the quality of education we offer. Although there’s an increase in our per-pupil funding, our budget still has a considerable £20,000 shortfall annually. This shortfall affects small schools like ours, with only 115 pupils, and other village schools even more severely. We are not asking for a lot of money, but just enough to enable us to offer broad and balanced curriculum and pay our staff.

“I am 57 years of age, and this is the first protest I have ever participated in. We have gradually run out of areas to reduce costs in our budget without severely impacting the education of our pupils. In the past, A-level classes had between ten to fifteen pupils, but now they have up to 25 students per class. Our school used to replace any teacher who left immediately, but since 2010, we ask ourselves if we can survive without replacing them.”

“It’s disheartening to hear that all schools receive increased funding because it’s not the case. If we continued in the current pace, my school could lose up to £500 per pupil in the next five years. That’s over £1 million in total for my school. It is critical to find a sustainable solution. We can no longer fund provisions like mental health support or some courses. Our expenditures are analyzed and scrutinized before we can make a decision. More often than not, I have to say no to requests. We are merely trying to provide an excellent education to our pupils."

Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould, a renowned palaeontologist, passed away at the age of 60 due to cancer, leaving behind a rich legacy. He was an unlikely candidate for consideration as one of America’s "Living Legends," yet he was awarded the honour by the US Congress during his lifetime. The Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) since 1982, he was best known for his 300 monthly essays published in the Natural History magazine, starting from 1974 till last year. These essays were widely translated into multiple languages and published in various books.

Gould was a gifted writer who wrote essays about seemingly complex topics in natural history and palaeontology, often using references and examples from everyday life to help people understand them better. One of his articles explained the peculiar evolutionary phenomenon of species decreasing in size by comparing it to the manufacturers of Hershey bars who avoided price increase by reducing the size of the bars. Gould’s literary skills and connection with his readers were unparalleled, and his only peers in scientific essay writing were Darwin’s bulldog, Thomas Huxley and JBS Haldane in the early 20th century.

Beyond being an acclaimed writer, Gould was also a significant public figure who publicly engaged in demonstrations and picket lines, especially during the 1960s and 70s. He was a part of the Radical Science Movement (Science for the People) formed in response to the Vietnam War, which later became embroiled in the cultural battles surrounding the publication of EO Wilson’s book Sociobiology in 1975. Gould and his colleague Richard Lewontin, former MCZ professor, were on different floors of the same Harvard building, giving rise to conflicts with Wilson, who was sandwiched between them. Gould’s objections were not merely political but also revolved around an alternative viewpoint on the mechanisms of evolution.

Gould’s unique interpretation of Darwinian theory, known as Darwinian revisionism, was most famously articulated in his book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. In it, he questioned one of Darwin’s crucial theses, namely gradual evolutionary change. He believed that the fossil record showed long periods of stasis followed by shorter, rapid evolutionary changes, which culminated in punctuated equilibrium. However, Gould faced opposition from traditional evolutionists who opposed his views.

Despite the controversies, Gould’s remarkable intellect and writing skills will continue to inspire generations of students in the fields of science and literature for many years to come.

An organism’s phenotype, or various physical features, may be either structural spandrels or exaptations, according to Gould and Vrba’s definition. An example of exaptation is feathers, originally used as a heat-regulating device among reptilian ancestors to birds but later repurposed by birds for flight. Some evolutionists initially regarded this concept as sacrilegious, as they believed that all characteristics of an organism were shaped by natural selection. However, Gould argues that evolution is not a "menu" where organisms can freely pick what features they want, but rather constrained by structure. While not all phenotypic traits are advantageous, such as spandrels and exaptations, evolution is still crucially governed by chance, with no indication of inherent progress towards complexity, perfection, or intelligent life.

Gould therefore proposes a hierarchical view of evolution, which includes genes, genomes, cell lineages, and, significantly, species. In contrast, much of contemporary biology has prioritized genetics to the point of neglecting the organism as a whole, reducing it to merely a tool for serving the purposes of its genes. Gould insists that the study of speciation is essential to comprehending evolution, and that the concept is foundational to all the disputes that have garnered him polarizing attention regarding evolutionary theory, pitting him against scientists such as Richard Dawkins. Despite this, both he and Dawkins remain children of Darwin, and find far more commonalities than differences in their evolutionary beliefs.

Gould’s intellectual odyssey from a radical critic to a senior academic did not follow the conventional trajectory. He rigorously defended his ideas in The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, positing that even cutting-edge research is historically constrained by the twists and turns of theory and evidence that guide its development. His writing frequently returns to his palaeontological roots, and he sees the history of evolutionary biology as vital to understanding what we know about the field today.

Born and bred in Queens, New York, Gould pursued his academic training in geology and palaeontology in Antioch College, Ohio, and Columbian University. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1982, a cancer associated with asbestos exposure, and committed the next twenty years of his life to pursue his research and become an inspirational figure to cancer patients. Gould married twice, and is survived by his former and second wife Deborah and Rhonda, and their respective children.

Finally, Steve Jones remembered Gould as a leading light in the study of snail genetics. While his research on live or fossilised snails in the Bahamas is noteworthy, Gould became most renowned for his interpretation of these facts. Similarly, Darwin became an eminent figure for evolutionary studies due to his insights gathered from his voyages, making both scientists clear examples of ones who revolutionized their fields through their unique perspectives on empirical evidence.

Although it faced criticism from some, Stephen Jay Gould’s influential theory of punctuated equilibrium – also known as "evolution by jerks" to its detractors – served as a much-needed wake-up call for the sluggish field of post-Darwinian biology. It forced scientists to remember neglected areas of evolutionary theory and ignited heated debates. While many believed that Gould’s theory posed no threat to Darwin’s conventional ideas, Gould staunchly disagreed.

In the eyes of some of his peers, Gould was ultimately a scientific failure for his controversial views, but they couldn’t deny the impact his work had on the public. Despite occasional verbosity, he was known for his brilliant science essays and humorously took on creationists while remaining relatable by sharing his love of baseball. He remained dedicated to his work until his death, discussing topics such as snails in his final conversations.

In his lifetime, Gould was recognized for his contributions as a punctuationist, popularizer, and polemicist. However, in the scientific community, he also earned the rare and esteemed title of naturalist, a position held by his predecessor Darwin. Stephen Jay Gould, palaeontologist, was born on September 10, 1941, and passed away on May 20, 2002.

Are Profit-making Academies The Future For Education?

The recent government announcements about academies and free schools have highlighted the familiar themes of autonomy, liberation, and devolution of funds to the front line. The government has promised to abolish bureaucracy and allow schools to operate independently. Prior to this, Sir Bruce Liddington, schools commissioner in the last Labour government, who is now Director-General of the academy chain E-ACT, delivered a speech outlining his vision for a ‘world-class education system.’ However, this vision did not involve the words freedom and empowerment, but instead focused on charitable trusts running chains of schools with centralised back-office services and the possibility of generating a profit in the longer term.

Liddington unveiled his organization’s five-year business plan which highlighted the group’s ambitious goal to expand their 11 academies and get 40 academies, 21 free schools, and 65 "converter" academies by 2015. Furthermore, rumors have suggested that E-ACT is looking to run more than 250 schools someday. The vision of an education system where thousands of autonomous organizations bloom and nourish control over their budgets has been a long-term goal of politicians on the right for almost 20 years. However, upon closer inspection, an alternative vision of the future emerges.

It involves a patchwork of government-funded chains, each with a distinct brand running thousands of schools and top-slicing revenue the same way local authorities have been doing for years. The Ark chain is one of these chains with high expectations for the schools it has been acquiring since Labour’s academy program was unveiled over a decade ago. The chain’s six pillars include high expectations, good behavior, depth before breadth, small schools, excellent teaching, and longer school days and are rolled out meticulously from the heart of the Ark operation. The organization claws back 4.5% of the school’s budget for central services such as HR, procurement, finance, school improvement, and research pedagogy.

The Ark approach is one of "stewardship" rather than control, where each school has its own distinctive character, but all share an Ark vision and ethos. Although academy chains recognize their accountability for results, there needs to be something standing between schools and outright failure aside from Ofsted. This approach is similar to that followed by other large academy groups such as Oasis Community Learning, who retain 4.5% of their schools’ funding to provide central services.

Rev. Steve Chalke of Oasis Community Learning prefers to describe the group as a family of academies rather than a chain. Their aim is to provide opportunities to young people who do not have them. Building a cluster allows them to share expertise and costs, and procurement, which improves the quality of each school. The chain started with one school but realized they could add more value by adding schools.

The retention of funds for schools by local councils varies significantly, with some retaining only 3% while others retain up to 10%. However, some councils have found innovative ways to improve schools dramatically. The Learning Trust, a social enterprise that has managed education on behalf of Hackney Council for a decade, has boosted GCSE results in an authority previously criticised for its inadequate schools. Alan Wood, Director of Children’s Services in Hackney, believes that cooperation between local authorities, schools, and parents can lead to higher standards while allowing for diversity and autonomy, including academies.

The purpose of chains, such as Ark and Oasis, might be compromised if other, more financially-motivated groups enter the market. The accounts of larger chains show that enormous sums of money are at stake and that governing trusts retain a significant amount of the funds. Many of these funds are not publicly available, which highlights issues of transparency in the operations of chains. The director general of E-ACT now earns more than many council chief executives, even though he oversees only 11 schools. E-ACT is also establishing a for-profit operation to sell services back to schools, and the financial returns for those involved in school chains can be substantial, even without the opportunity to make a profit.

Some suspect that the Department for Education is seeking to allow for-profit schools, as it brokers deals between academies, chains, and free schools. There is no limit to the number of schools that a chain can take on if it is deemed competent by the Secretary of State. The long-term development of the policy is still uncertain, and it remains questionable whether the core need for schools is autonomy or better forms of local accountability. The accountability of these large chains concerning vast amounts of public money will also require closer scrutiny.

Multiplication Of Teachers And Funds Needed For Sunak’s Post-16 Maths Policy

Rishi Sunak has stated that England is out of sync with other developed countries by not requiring young individuals to continue studying maths till the age of 18. However, making this a reality will require significant amounts of funding and teachers to achieve.

Previewing Sunak’s declaration, Number 10 claimed that England is one of the only nations in the world that does not mandate children to study some sort of maths subject until the age of 18, when countries like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Finland, Japan, Norway, and the United States do.

While some countries insist that children continue with maths in some form until they leave school, some of the countries mentioned above only implement the requirement on those in specific areas of secondary education or only in the initial stages.

A 2017 report commissioned by the Department for Education stated that Russia, Japan, and Sweden were among those where all children had to take maths, Canada, France, and Germany had "most" children, 81-94%, enrolled in maths. Further down came Singapore and Hong Kong, which score high in international comparisons of maths attainment.

In other countries, such as the US and Australia, curriculum requirements and compulsory education vary between states, making it difficult to draw national comparisons. However, what is certain is that England has a relatively low rate of school pupils continuing with maths past the age of 16. Approximately half of those remaining in English schools or colleges continue to take maths classes, split between those who take advanced "level 3" courses such as engineering or physics, and a larger group forced to do so because they failed to obtain a 4 or higher on their maths GCSE results.

That leaves approximately 200,000 students in each year group who have done well enough in GCSE maths but do not need to take courses requiring any form of maths teaching in years 12 and 13. However, that does not include "all children" – Catherine Sezen, the Association of Colleges education director, estimates that around 15% of the post-16 year groups are at work, on apprenticeships, or have dropped out of education, employment, or training entirely.

“It is right that the prime minister is taking an interest in education for 16- to 18-year-olds, but speeches are the easy part. Progress requires an implementation strategy founded on evidence, supported by appropriate funding, and not ignoring large sections of young people,” said Sezen.

Sunak is not the first minister to consider this issue, but in 2011 the government, led by Michael Gove as education secretary, asked Carol Vorderman to lead a task force on maths in schools. It recommended that students continue some form of maths instruction until the age of 18.

The government’s eventual response was a new post-16 certification for those who wished to pursue it, known as core maths, which focused on subjects like statistics rather than the heavy mechanics of A-levels. However, with no motivation to enroll in the program, students have mostly avoided it, with just 12,000 entering core maths qualifications in 2021.

By 2017, the government had commissioned another report, a review of post-16 mathematics by Sir Adrian Smith, a well-known statistician who now serves as president of the Royal Society.

"My conclusion is that we still lack the appropriate range of pathways and the capacity to deliver the necessary amount and variety of instruction," wrote Smith, adding that substantial changes would be necessary to make it feasible in a decade.

Five years later, and those changes have yet to materialize. The problems identified by Smith, such as a lack of resources and qualified maths teachers, remain. Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, notes that recruitment is 5,000 below the government’s targets over the last ten years, with several shortages being filled by teachers without maths degrees.

In the meantime, funding for sixth forms and further education colleges — which would bear the brunt of extended maths instruction — remains 20% below that of other schools "for no good reason," according to Sezen.

Smith responded to Sunak’s statement, saying, "If we want our economy to flourish and young people to be prepared for well-paying jobs, we need a radical overhaul of our education system that includes all young people doing some level of maths until the age of 18. The prime minister recognizes this, and today’s announcement is encouraging."

Making The Switch: How I Moved From Sixth Form To Primary Teaching

I have a degree in secondary education, but my interest in child development compelled me to seek exposure to younger pupils. Initially, I taught A-level design and technology and GCSE physics. However, after a couple of years, I began to observe lessons at a primary school attached to my school and eventually transitioned from teaching sixth form to primary pupils.

I first secured a position at a prep school where I taught design technology to pupils aged between three and 11. I later moved to another prep school where I continued teaching design technology and also taught science. Eventually, I returned to my original school and became head of the junior school, which offered education to pupils aged between three and 11. Presently, I am head of the school, which caters to pupils aged between three and 18.

Switching stages is no mean feat. One should never presume that teaching at a primary school is a breeze just because you have experience in a secondary school. Transitions require extensive professional development, personal development, and work shadowing. Nonetheless, my school was quite supportive.

Shifting between primary and secondary school teaching presents unique challenges. One cannot be too precious and should brace themselves to confront diverse challenges. Although some people view primary school teachers as inferior, the grade and age to which one teaches do not determine a teacher’s ability. Ironically, the challenge of teaching a vast seven-year-old science class is more demanding than teaching physics to six A level students.

Teaching pupils of different ages provides perspective. Some teachers trivialize younger pupils’ issues until they reach exam age, which is misguided. Moreover, parental involvement in younger pupils’ education is more intensive and focused on managing their expectations as they grow older.

Returning to secondary school teaching after working at a primary school was daunting. I worried about dealing with "big kids," exam systems and curriculums, all of which I had no experience with. However, it turned out to be straightforward. Children of all ages face similar challenges, and the ability to deal with people matters more than their age or grade.

Although my professional qualification played a role, continuous professional development, tapping into support networks, and sharing good practice were more important. The core teaching skills in primary and secondary schools are similar. Teachers can learn a lot about handling people and providing children a voice that can transfer between the two different contexts.

I hold the belief that secondary school teaching should follow the same principles as primary. We often become fixated on subjects and forget that we are teaching children, not just the course material. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is vital, and we should all prioritize being teachers of children first and teachers of our respective subjects second.

My varied experience has proven highly beneficial to my current position, equalizing the importance of younger and older pupils. Still, switching roles demands an open-minded, self-reflective personality.

Career Development Loans: Are They A Good Way To Fund Your Master’s?

Many students who want to pursue postgraduate studies face a major obstacle: funding. These days, research council funding no longer extends to taught master’s degrees, leaving many students to fund their studies with a combination of scholarships, sponsorships, and/or bank loans. Specifically, career development loans (CDLs) offered by the Cooperative Bank and Barclays have become increasingly popular for postgraduate students.

Since CDLs began in 1988 with government support, over 304,000 individuals have taken advantage of the scheme. Banks have consequently provided loans worth more than £1.34bn over 25 years, with the Cooperative Bank noting it has seen steady growth in CDL applications, with nearly 5,000 students taking out the loans in 2013.

CDLs are available for full or part-time studies in professional and vocational fields. The government pays the interest on the loans for the duration of the courses, and students only need to begin repayment after completing their studies. This has become increasingly important as the number of postgraduate students has fallen due to a rise in tuition fees, especially for part-time students, who have declined by over 27% in recent years.

Although CDLs are designed to help fund postgraduate study, they have come under fire for their high interest rates, non-income-contingent payback terms and a requirement for a good credit history, potentially limiting their applicability and access to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Additionally, banks may reject applications or offer limited sums depending on credit ratings and years of residency.

Despite these criticisms, applicants can apply for loans ranging from £300 to £10,000 at an interest rate of 9.9%. Recipients have a repayment period lasting between one and five years, with the average being five years, and they can settle early or defer repayments if they have yet to find a job after the end of their course.

Straying from the agreed-upon plan can result in enduring harm to your credit record and have an impact on your future capacity to obtain credit. As with any bank loan, some level of financial risk is involved.

In the event that recipients fail to meet payments, both The Co-operative and Barclays transfer the loan to a debt collection agency. The Co-op has stated that they are unable to disclose how frequently they transfer loans to a third-party debt agency as such data is commercially sensitive.

The Co-op has said: "If a customer experiences financial difficulties and is unable to repay their loan, we would encourage them to contact us as soon as possible. We always strive to support customers facing financial difficulties and would only turn to a collection firm as a last resort."

BIS says: "CDLs are commercial bank loans, and the banks aim to recover costs if someone misses repayments and defaults."

The CDL may not be an ideal solution for funding postgraduate studies, but it remains one of the few options available.

If applicants believe that the course will enhance their vocational skills and career prospects, then CDLs may provide a good option. However, it is less suitable for individuals wishing to pursue a career in academia or any other profession without a secure salary.

For advice and an application package, please call the information line on 0800 585 505 or visit for additional details. The information line is open seven days a week, from 8 am to 10 pm.