Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer to talk publicly about deal to buy blogging platform for $1.1bn. Follow it live here
Yahoo is giving more details of its $1.1bn acquisition of the picture-sharing social network Tumblr at a press event in New York starting at 4pm ET
The secretary of state for education is pressing on doggedly with his proposals for the reform of education at all levels. This is in the face of opposition of the major headteachers' unions and representative associations throughout the maintained and independent sectors (ASCL, ISC, GSA and HMC). And all the admissions tutors of Cambridge University. At the weekend the NAHT expressed clearly what many teachers and headteachers think (Report, 18 May). The lack of respect for our professional expertise and long experience is breathtaking and will win no one to the cause. Indeed, it is a strategy no good teacher would ever use to alter the mindset of an apparently troublesome student. Conflict breeds conflict and, before long, contempt.
There is no hunger for many of these reforms. Parents and students are not baying for them. Teachers oppose them as retrograde steps in many cases. Too much change at too many levels is a recipe for chaos for the next decade. And at A-level – to name but one area – we risk undoing the progress since 2000 towards greater breadth and flexibility in the two years of study. Am I alone in thinking that cost-cutting may be just as important in these developments as any altruism apparently tilted at standards?
No good teacher I have ever met was against rigour. If it has been lost, by all means reintroduce it – but with teachers on side and not embattled by long lists of implied failings. Above all, Mr Gove, please just listen to those closest to the country's young people. You will find us open to constructive dialogue. But deeply resistant to endless, destructive – and undeserved – criticism.
Head, St Catherine's, Bramley; president-elect of the Girls' Schools Association
The high price Yahoo paid for Tumblr acts as validation – and encouragement – for New York's burgeoning tech companies
Barely had the ink dried on Yahoo's announcement of its $1.1bn acquisition of Tumblr – "we won't screw it up," the acquirer promised – than the New York tech world erupted in gossip and speculation about which company among them would be next to find an equally rich and self-deprecating corporate suitor.
"That's all people are talking about at Internet Week – what's going to be the hot new acquisition?" said Caroline Waxler, the festival director of Internet Week New York. Internet Week is a series of panels and parties centered on the New York tech scene.
The rich price Yahoo paid for the five-year-old company acts as a kind of validation of the promise of New York's smaller and younger tech scene, Waxler suggested. "People are blown away that a New York company is getting that valuation." While tech acquisitions are common, the eye-opener is Tumblr's high price.
The $1.1bn price tag for Tumblr isn't remarkable for a California-based company – where Instagram sold for $1.1bn to Facebook and Groupon and Zynga had gigantic initial public offerings – but it's the largest memorable deal for a New York tech company. It's particularly surprising to many considering Tumblr's modest $13m in revenue and sizable $25m loss last year.
Now that Tumblr has hit it big, it has blazed a path for other New York tech companies whose worth can now be measured – or, as the case may be, wildly overstated. Roger Kay, a tech investor and the founder of Endpoint Technologies Associates, called them "budding entrepreneurial companies just waiting for their fairy godmothers."
While many will talk of a bubble, the truth is that the staple exit strategy of past bubbles – an initial public offering, or first-time listing on a stock exchange – is not as easily available to young companies now. With IPOs harder to complete, these companies seek acquisitions instead to pay back the money invested in them by venture capitalists and "angel" investors.
Kay, who invests in half a dozen companies, said the Tumblr news was a boost to tech investors. "It was encouraging to some of my properties that are looking for money," he said. "I can think of a couple that would be happy to try to get acquired."
Roger Ehrenberg, a venture capitalist with IA ventures who sat on the board of TweetDeck, said other New York companies could be in line for a large acquisition, even though not all of them have names as immediately familiar as Tumblr's. "I'd say AppNexus is likely the next $1bn-pluc NYC company," he said, including either an initial public offering or a sale.
AppNexus runs technology for advertising campaigns and has raised about $140m in financing so far from a group of companies and venture capital firms including Microsoft, Venrock and Marc Andreessen. While AppNexus is headquartered in New York, it also has seven offices globally, including in Hertzliya, Israel; Hamburg, Germany, London and Paris. Ehrenberg's firm is not an investor.
Another New York favorite, according to Ehrenberg, is Etsy, which he said "is growing very rapidly and has big exit potential as well." Etsy is a web site for sellers of vintage or handmade jewelry and accessories; it also a social function that allows buyers and sellers to "friend" each other. The company has raised about $51m in financing since its founding in 2005 and booked $525m in sales in 2011 according to the most recent count.
Waxler said after listening to the talk at Internet Week, she believes news and animal-picture site BuzzFeed will be the next big acquisition from among the city's ranks of startups, or a location-services company like Yext. Local techies have been speculating on food-ordering site Seamless – which just today merged with GrubHub for an undisclosed amount.
It may be the Seamless deal, in fact, that provides the biggest validation of New York's way of doing business. Many of the city's professional residents, too busy to cook or shop, depend heavily on ordering from home.
The wealthy in America and Britain no longer resemble the prewar elite, but appearances cannot mask how cut off they are from the rest of us
"Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor."
At its core, The Great Gatsby is the story of an American caste system. Jimmy Gatz, a Dakota farm kid turned army captain, tags along with fellow officers to a party, where he glimpses a woman from a different world. In his uniform, the penniless Gatz is not fenced off from Daisy Fay by the usual "indiscernible barbed wire". But in order to marry her, he must erase his history and turn into someone else: Jay Gatsby, former Oxford man, possessor of a vast fortune obscure in its origins but all too visible in its expenditure on parties and hydroplanes and shirts "piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high".
The rest you know – if not from F Scott Fitzgerald then perhaps from Baz Luhrmann's new film version. Although he normally can't see a subtlety without sending in a wrecking ball, Luhrmann has left intact the sense of tremendous human waste. At the top are the "careless people", such as Daisy and husband Tom Buchanan – and then there's everyone else, who cannot gain even a toehold in 1920s America except through some form of shadiness. The chasm between rich and poor puts the American Dream off-limits to most Americans. In Fitzgerald's telling, those such as Gatsby who gave it a shot were doomed to failure. As indeed, was the entire economy. The Jazz Age was followed by the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the Great Depression.
And yet, 90 years on from The Great Gatsby we are in a world that Fitzgerald would have recognised. Last year, the head of Barack Obama's in-house economic thinktank, Princeton professor Alan Krueger, unveiled a graph of what he dubbed "The Gatsby Curve". On the horizontal axis was measured economic inequality; plotted out vertically was to what extent children's chances of success were determined by their parents' wealth. At the bottom of the graph were countries such as Denmark and Sweden: relatively equal societies where children stand a reasonable chance of getting as far as their talent and hard work allowed. But at the top were the UK and the US: societies marked by a massive wealth gap, where poorer children are born with the dice already heavily loaded against them.
In Britain and America, inequality is now back to Gatsby-esque levels. Last year, prize-winning economic geographer Danny Dorling gave a speech in which he plotted how Britain's annual income had been divvied up down the ages. In 1923 the richest 1% of Britons took almost a quarter – 23.3% – of all income received. After the second world war came a long period of greater fairness so that by 1979 that proportion had dropped to only 6%. Then came Thatcher and Blair and soaraway inequality. By 2006, the year before the crash, we weren't quite at a Gatsby-esque divide, but we were heading that way: the top 1% of Britons were taking 15% of all income received in the country. This cash is then turned into houses, shares and other assets so that now the top 1% hold over 50% of all Britain's marketable wealth. And so inequality is passed down the generations. Today's headlines offer endless examples. The average London house now costs over half a million, or more than 19 times what the average British worker makes in a year. A Labour MP points out that of the 159 top civil servants, only five went to comprehensives.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg both know there is a problem with a society that only gives rich kids a chance. Both have made speeches denouncing the lack of social mobility in Britain; the government even has a social mobility strategy. Yet Clegg refuses to accept that there's a link between inequality and immobility. Despite academics advising him otherwise. Despite Alan Milburn's report on Britain's top jobs for the Cabinet Office last year that found: "A majority of employees offering the best-paid graduate jobs target … only 19 universities. The students who attend those 19 universities disproportionately spent their childhoods in the south of England."
The wealthy in America and Britain no longer resemble the prewar elite. They work, for one thing, and you may find the odd ethnic minority or woman in their ranks. But appearances cannot mask how cut off they are from the rest of us. It is still the case that 70% of high court judges were privately educated, even though only 7% of British children attend fee-paying schools. Last week, the Sunday Times reported that Bristol University tutors are considering treating applicants from state schools as "disadvantaged". We used to talk of oppressed minorities; now, it seems, we are in the age of oppressed vast majority.
For those state-school children whose parents can afford it, there is private tuition. Again, this is a world the young Gatsby would have recognised, with his hour each evening devoted to practising "elocution, poise and how to attain it". But for parents who don't need to scrimp and save, there are plenty more places to spend your money to gain advantage for your offspring. If you can, visit the Westminster school website. The insitution attended by our deputy prime minister is holding an auction of internships, often donated by alumni or present parents. For £500 you can buy your teenager two weeks with designer Amanda Wakeley; £600 a spell with a private-equity firm on Jermyn Street; while £300 buys work experience at Coutts.
Fitzgerald would have recognised such a world. Because this is what a 21st-century caste system looks like.
What can you do if you are told your child must move to a different school eight miles away? Not a lot, it seems, if the school is part of an academy chain
Janet May says she speaks for her entire village as she vents her frustration. "The word I would use to describe my feelings now is desperate. As a group we are incredibly sad and angry, but we also feel powerless in the face of the refusal of the academy trust to engage with us. Their whole attitude has been one of contempt.
"They say they have listened to us. But they have not: they have not grasped the anger and frustration of this entire community."
May, who lives in the picturesque Devon village of Lapford, is at the forefront of a dispute which critics say illustrates the power the government has given to academy chains across England to take major decisions over the future of schools, in effect over the heads of local communities.
Parents at Lapford community primary school, which sits in rolling countryside between Exeter and Barnstaple, have been fighting a decision by the multi-academy trust now running it to have its year 6 pupils educated eight miles away at another of its schools.
They worry that, from September, their children will face a lengthy round trip to school every day, that pupils will have to change school twice in two years and thus that the village school may become unpopular with families, putting, they fear, the school's long-term future at risk.
They have collected a 370-signature petition against the plans – quite a feat in a village of 250 homes – and parents also have the parish council firmly behind them. But there seems little they can do, with the trust not even, it seems, legally required to consult them.
It was only in January last year that Lapford opted to join the Chulmleigh Academy Trust, a multi-academy group formed of three other small primaries and the local secondary school, Chulmleigh community college. At the time, May says, parents were enthusiastic, especially as 56-pupil Lapford had faced an uncertain financial future under Devon county council.
But optimism quickly turned to concern as the academy trust, headed by Mike Johnson, who is principal of Chulmleigh community college, came forward with plans last summer to have older pupils at another of the trust's primaries, East Worlington school, taught at Lapford four mornings a week, with Lapford pupils travelling to East Worlington on Fridays from last September.
Parents at both schools were unhappy because of concerns about pupils travelling. In November, the trust came back with a new offer, involving East Worlington year 5 and 6 pupils spending all week at Lapford. Again, this was shelved after East Worlington parents protested.
In January, the current plan emerged. Lapford and East Worlington year 6 pupils would travel to another school in the trust: Chulmleigh primary, which neighbours the community college. It was approved by the trust in March.
May, whose daughter Tiffany, 10, would have to start making the trip to Chulmleigh primary from September, says: "How would anyone feel about a child having to transfer schools twice in two years?"
Lorraine Kigongo, who has two children at Lapford and runs the village's pre-school, says parents are already talking of pulling children out because they do not want them moving schools in both years 6 and 7. She says: "The trust has just not listened to us at all."
The trust has said that both educational and financial considerations lie behind its proposals. But parents say they have been given little detail. The latest consultation document says that the trust is "facing a deficit within two years" and cannot afford the current set-up of three teachers at both Lapford and East Worlington schools, which between them have 101 pupils.
But Johnson says the main reason for the change is the need to raise "educational standards" at Lapford.
The consultation document says: "The children at Lapford … stand to get better Sats results," but does not say why. Johnson says that Lapford is under pressure – both it and East Worlington have satisfactory/requires improvement verdicts from Ofsted – and that the quickest way to "raise standards" would be to have both classes taught at Chulmleigh primary, which was adjudged "outstanding" when last inspected in 2006.
Two weeks ago, the trust decided to press on with its plans, rejecting Lapford parents' alternative for all Lapford pupils to be taught there by two full-time and one half-time teacher, and with parents volunteering to help out.
Although Johnson says the trust has spent many hours responding to parents' concerns and answering questions, it seems that it has no legal responsibility to do so. When parents complained to the Department for Education, they were told: "There is no statutory requirement for the academy trust to carry out consultation on the restructuring".
In this multi-academy trust, there is no individual governing body for each school, and no formal representation for Lapford among the trust's decision-making directors.
The village of Corby Glen, Lincolnshire, faced losing its 50-year-old secondary school earlier this year after an academy trust that took over the running of the school in 2011 told parents it wanted to close it, moving pupils to another of the trust's secondaries, 12 miles away in Grantham, from 2014.
There was outrage from the community. Lincolnshire county council said the West Grantham Academies Trust's plans for the 230-pupil Charles Read high school would be "detrimental" to education in the area, but it has no powers to intervene.
However, campaigners persuaded their local MP, Nick Boles, to lobby the academies minister, Lord Nash, and are hopeful a deal can be done to have the school kept open by transferring it to another academy trust: the David Ross Foundation.
Academy critics say the underlying issue is that trusts are allowed to take major decisions without the checks and balances that would be present in a local authority school set-up – either around statutory public consultation, or through voter anger on closures feeding back to elected councillors. The only politician who can veto plans is not local, but national: the education secretary, Michael Gove.
Alan Parker, a former schools adjudicator – an official who settles disputes between parents, schools and local authorities over school admissions and reorganisations – says that, in academies, unlike in maintained (non-academy) schools, parents have no right of complaint to the adjudicator over school re-organisation. "In the maintained sector, if there is a reorganisation plan, you have to publish in advance what you plan to do, it's quite clear who must be consulted and how those planning any change have to respond," he says. "That's not the case with academies, which are private institutions, getting public money on the basis of a contract with the secretary of state."
Mervyn Benford, information officer of the National Association for Small Schools, says the advent of multi-academy trusts stands to make small schools more vulnerable. He says: "We believe the government should be concerned about giving academy trusts power to allow them to ride roughshod over local parents."
David Wolfe, a barrister at London's Matrix Chambers who has been involved in legal cases against academies, says: "[Multi-academy trusts] reverse a regime whereby schools were run by their local communities through elected organisations and makes them potentially the playthings of the people who set up the trusts, subject to approval by the secretary of state."
The only hope Lapford parents now have is a possible legal challenge, or persuading Gove to reject the trust's plans. May says that a group of parents are also considering home-schooling their children in the village rather than sending them to Chulmleigh.
Johnson says: "There is no contempt for the people of Lapford. I completely understand the opposition, but we believe this is the way to ensure education standards are as high as possible.
"I do believe that a local authority, with a local councillor speaking for a local primary school, could find it significantly more difficult to make the kind of change that schools sometimes need to make to improve standards."
Education minister says nations' GCSEs and A-levels will diverge from English system as 'consequence of devolution'
The education system is set to splinter into national components, with Michael Gove writing to his Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts to kickstart the separation of GCSEs and A-levels as "a natural and legitimate consequence of devolution".
The education secretary's decision raises the spectre of England, Wales and Northern Ireland all having different secondary school examinations and qualifications, with employers and universities having to distinguish between English, Welsh and Northern Irish GCSEs and A-levels, leading, in time, to the evolution of entirely different education structures, as is already the case in Scotland.
In his joint letter to Leighton Andrews, education minister in the Welsh government, and John O'Dowd, education minister in the Northern Ireland assembly, Gove said "the time is right for us to acknowledge" that the three nations would need to go their separate ways on educational qualifications.
The letter follows a meeting between the three men last week to discuss the subject.
"I recognise that you still have decisions to take on your own reforms to GCSEs and A-levels. It is clear from our discussions, however, that our reforms are leading to very different qualifications in Wales and Northern Ireland from those I believe are right for young people in England," Gove wrote.
He said he had received advice from Ofqual, the education standards regulator in England, that "it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain comparable standards when the structure, content and even grading of these qualifications are diverging to such an extent".
"I therefore believe that the time is right for us to acknowledge that the three-country regulation of GCSEs and A-levels is no longer an objective towards which we should be working," Gove wrote.
Currently, GCSEs and A-levels are set to the same standard for all three regions. But last summer's GCSE marking fiasco saw a fissure develop between the responses in London and Cardiff, with the Welsh government taking what their English counterparts regarded as a softer stance.
A Whitehall source said: "The Welsh are determined to keep dumbing down their exams. Leighton Andrews interfered with exam boards last year. He opposes our attempts to toughen things up and made clear he will continue to interfere to make things easier. It's better that we all go our own way and defend our positions to our electorates.
"It's been agreed that we will explore what the Northern Irish described as 'a surgical separation'."
The situation is complicated because Wales has no equivalent of Ofqual, with the education minister also acting as standards regulator.
In his letter, Gove warns that Wales and Northern Ireland may have to give up the GCSE and GCE titles. "With this issue resolved, I see no reason why cross-border differences in qualifications should not work between England, Wales and Northern Ireland as they do between our three jurisdictions and Scotland."
A Welsh government spokesman said: "Wales is keeping GCSEs and A-levels, as is Northern Ireland. We wish Mr Gove well with his plans to rename these qualifications in England."
The education department seems desperate to teach more teachers; Newham local authority refuses to release a report's findings; parents give up on battle against academy chain
Trainee teachers: a spot of poaching?
Relations between the government and university-based teacher educators have reached a new low amid claims that a Department for Education agency has been attempting to lure would-be students away from the traditional higher education sector towards a favoured ministerial project.
An email sent by the National College for Teaching and Leadership – which oversees both traditional, university-based provision and the new School Direct school-based route – sought to persuade prospective postgraduate certificate in education university trainees to consider its rival. It reads: "You may have already applied for a PGCE by now, but have you thought about applying for School Direct?"
It continues, under "Why you should apply for School Direct": "School Direct is different. That's because you're part of a school team from day one, where you can train as a teacher with the expectation of a job once you qualify.
"It's free to apply. Simple too."
The Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (Ucet) has furiously accused the government of trying to "manipulate" the teacher-education market, arguing that its members have tried to play fair by not discouraging would-be students away from School Direct, which is the favoured route of the education secretary, Michael Gove.
Just as intriguing, though, is why officials felt the need to make the appeal. Although the DfE published figures this month suggesting applications for School Direct have been very healthy, questions have been raised about the detail behind the numbers, amid persistent rumours that the total actually accepted on to School Direct is still low. Is the DfE getting desperate?
The highest-profile battle fought by parents this year against moves by the government to enforce an academy "sponsor" on a non-academy school seems to have been lost. Governors at Roke primary in Kenley, Surrey, voted by a 2-1 majority to stop contesting its transfer to the Harris academy chain, bringing to an end four months of furious campaigning by parents.
This was triggered after the government responded to a "requires improvement" Ofsted verdict on the previously "outstanding" Roke by insisting that the school was to be sponsored by Harris, rather than another local academy seemingly favoured by governors and parents.
The majority of governors are understood to have come to the view that the arrival of Harris in September had become the only way to stabilise the school, which lost its headteacher last month. But parent campaigners are bitterly disappointed, complaining they were not consulted, and that they had raised money for a legal challenge. This would now not work, said a source, without governor support.
Ironically, governors have just been sent the results of the consultation carried out by Harris on the plans. Parents are said to have voted by clear majorities both against Harris's sponsorship and against any move to academy status. So much for local democracy.
A London local authority is facing pressure to release an investigation report on management practice at a school once described as "outstanding" by Ofsted. Newham council has rejected a freedom of information request for the report, which was written about activities at Langdon school in the period from 2004 to 2009, after a probe by education consultant Tim Blanchard. Allegations investigated included claims that free school meals and pupil attendance data were falsified.
Newham has relied on a provision within freedom of information legislation that can allow the non-release of reports on the basis that individuals could be identified. Rick Helm, a former teacher at the school who made the request, is challenging the decision through the information commissioner. Newham said: "Newham council's decision [not to release the report] is currently being reviewed by the information commissioner. It would be inappropriate to comment further."
Langdon was in the spotlight in 2005 when pupils travelled to Singapore to support London's successful Olympics bid. A letter sent to Langdon staff last year, by a second investigator into the affair, Susan Paul, said that Blanchard's report had found evidence of a "systematic process involving professional malpractice designed to show the school in the best light educationally and also to benefit financially".
It also said Blanchard had concluded that attendance, exclusions and free school meals data had been falsified and that "inappropriate processes" had been followed with regard to keeping pupils officially "on-roll" and "off-roll". Paul wrote to staff saying she wanted to "assess and if necessary challenge" Blanchard's findings. Education Guardian understands Paul's investigation never concluded.
Asked to comment, Newham said: "Following an independent investigation into serious allegations regarding management and administrative matters at the school between 2004 and 2009, six members of staff were suspended. Disciplinary procedures were undertaken … resulting in a number of these members of staff leaving. There has been no further evidence of management irregularities." It added that improvements had since been made to teaching and management.
Helm said: "I am disappointed that Newham has not released the report, as there needs to be a resolution of these issues." Last month, the school lost its "outstanding" rating and was placed in special measures.
Schools are gearing up to be a key battleground in next year's referendum on Scottish independence
Rosie Duthie and Euan MacIntosh, both 15, have made up their minds on how they plan to vote in next year's referendum on Scottish independence. For Euan the answer is a clear "yes" because he believes it will be his best guarantee of a free university education. Rosie is a "no". She says: "We should be arguing that what we think is better for the future of young people in Scotland is better for England too and for the European Union."
Next year these young people from Douglas academy in the salubrious Glaswegian suburb of Milngavie will be among the first 16-year-olds in the UK mainland ever to vote. It appears that, like Rosie and Euan, many are taking their role in the process very seriously. It is a change that will bring politics into classrooms and canteens. People on both sides of the border will be watching closely the success or failure of extending the franchise to schoolchildren.
Some, like the Scotland Office minister David Mundell, claim the turnout among teenagers will be small because only middle-class children will bother to get themselves on the young people's voting register, which will remain confidential to avoid making children's addresses public.
But the move has widespread support in the Scottish parliament, with the first draft of the bill to give 16-year-olds a vote in the referendum passing last week on a vote of 97 to 12. The Liberal Democrats are committed to widening the franchise to all elections, and Labour is considering whether to include it in its manifesto for the 2015 election.
The leader of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, has said it may be "dispiriting and depressing" for young people who vote in the referendum to find they are then denied a vote in the general election a few months later.
The vote is something the 20-year-old vice-chair of the Scottish youth parliament, Kyle Thornton, and many others across the UK have lobbied hard for. "We have been campaigning for a decade and we will be working really hard to get people to register; we will be going in to schools and motivating the young people to make sure they are on the register … This is an opportunity to create a politically aware generation.
Thornton has now left Bellahouston academy in Glasgow, but he says: "In my last two years at school there was a general election, a European election, a council election and a Scottish election. There was an irony that we couldn't vote – I think we were as well qualified as any adult."
For teachers, the next academic year will be challenging as they try to ensure a fair hearing for both sides and to contain the massive lobbying effort that is likely to reach schools. Both sides of the debate are recruiting hundreds of teen ambassadors to take their arguments into schools, preparing teachers' packs, and offering speakers and visits. There is likely to be some mediation by the Electoral Commission in this new electoral battleground.
Emma Hendry, principal of modern studies at Elgin academy, is already debating the issues with year 9s and upwards. She says: "They are excited or at least interested in the idea that they will have a vote and that it will be about a decision that is so important to their future … I think they will be at least as well-informed as most adults because they are still in the education system and will have opportunities to hear the arguments."
Hendry herself is undecided. "The young people ask me how I will vote. I can honestly tell them I haven't made up my mind yet."
At Douglas academy, pupils are in training for STV (central Scotland's ITV franchise) and the national debating competition Debating Matters on independence. The school won a regional final of the Debating Matters championship this year and deputy head Stephen Sinclair is planning a series of debates on the issues around independence.
During the heats, teams will debate questions such as whether an independent Scotland should keep the pound. The last, televised, round will be on the referendum question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Teenagers who have already volunteered to represent either side are accessing training and creating political relationships and CVs that could stand them in good stead for their future careers. Michael Low, 17, a sixth-year pupil at Bishopbriggs academy in Glasgow who has a conditional offer to study politics at Oxford next year, has already attended a session with someone from the Obama campaign.
"There is a lot of discussion in school, informally," he says. "People know I am a Better Together [the pro-UK campaign] youth rep and they can ask me about particular issues, or they can ask me for badges and other campaign material."
Meanwhile, the yes campaign aims to recruit 10,000 youth ambassadors. Ellie Koepplinger, 16, from Glasgow's Hillhead high, is on the yes campaign board. She says: "I feel my teachers are quite opinionated, and are willing to discuss independence when prompted, but most won't go out of their way to have that discussion with pupils. However, I strongly feel that many pupils are interested in the debate, and want to know more."
She wants to help counter some of the information teenagers share on social media, which can at times be "wildly unrealistic".
Like Low, Koepplinger believes in votes at 16 for all elections. She says young people like "the thought that we could actually make a difference to something. It will allow us to hold our heads up higher to say that we have proved we are able to take part in something like this."
Transport select committee examining scale of whiplash payouts told 10-60% of claims were probably not entirely genuine
Up to 60% of the whiplash claims brought by car drivers or passengers after accidents are either fraudulent or exaggerated, MPs have been told.
David Powell, a manager at Lloyd's Market Association, told the transport select committee investigation examining the size and number of whiplash payouts, that 10-60% of claims were probably not entirely genuine.
The adviser to underwriters told MPs that it was too easy to bring low-level whiplash claims as there was a "very low and easy medical threshold that claimants had to get over".
Insurers typically pay out £2,500 after a low-level claim, he said. Crash victims were facing enormous encouragement to bring claims by a claims management industry that had grown up to process such claims, Powell added.
Earlier the committee heard from medical experts that whiplash injuries could occur in vehicles being driven at just 6mph.
Michael Gove has a sense that 'significant innovation' is coming soon to a classroom near you. Could it have anything to do with Rupert Murdoch's education company?
Next year schools don't need to follow the national curriculum. The year after, only some of them will. And the year after that, robots will be teaching our children. Don't believe me? Read on.
To surprisingly little fanfare, the government has "disapplied" the national curriculum from September 2013, except for English, maths and science in some primary years. Schools should still teach all subjects named in the current curriculum, but it will be up to each teacher to decide what content to include. The logic is that removing the old curriculum for a year gives teachers a chance to prepare for the new curriculum, starting in 2014. Problem is, the next draft of the new content won't be out for consultation until July – a particularly bad time to consult with teachers – and it will mean the final curriculum will not get into the hands of schools until at least September. Teachers are therefore facing the distinct possibility of needing to create a hybrid curriculum ready for autumn but not knowing what that will involve until they are back in their classrooms.
So … won't teachers just stick with what they already have? They can't. The government's endless fiddling with assessments means even teachers wishing to recycle old materials must spend hours reworking them to meet new requirements. "Disapplication" sounds as if everyone is going to have a year off: to plan, and think, and innovate. That's an illusion. Instead, teachers will probably still spend next year revising their previous lessons, while painfully aware that the following autumn they will have to throw them out and write new ones.
Then, in September 2014, teachers must rein in all their innovative tendencies and follow the government's new "highly prescriptive" programmes of study. Unless the teacher works in an academy. Academies don't have to teach the national curriculum, ever – somewhat undermining the title.
So far Michael Gove, the education secretary, has given no clear reason why not all schools should follow the new curriculum. He recently praised individual schools for developing their own curricula, including Ark schools' maths programme and Pimlico academy's content-rich curriculum. But this praise for school-based development contrasts sharply with speeches made earlier in his tenure. Back in 2011, Gove repeatedly emphasised the impact of rigorous, prescribed curricula in the world's best-performing countries and was taken enough with the idea of compulsory core knowledge that he even asked experts to investigate the practicalities of having nationally required textbooks. Why has he suddenly gone cold on the idea? Oh yes, the robots …
Last week in the House of Commons Gove was asked whether children would be better served by having the national curriculum revised at fixed periods rather than at the personal whim of ministers. Gove, in an opaque statement, claimed he did not wish to prescribe in a way that might hinder changes arising from new technologies. "I have this sense of significant innovation coming," he said with a mystical flourish. "I don't want to unnecessarily constrain it."
One can't help but wonder if this "sense" has anything to do with Amplify, an educational group already selling tablet computers to schools in the US pre-loaded with curriculum materials. Amplify, as it happens, is part of Rupert Murdoch's education company. Also, Marketing Magazine reported in March, following a Freedom of Information request, that Gove had been visited in 2012 by officials from the TabletsForSchools programme – whose staff include Andrew Harrison, chief executive of Carphone Warehouse, and Sebastian James, chief executive of Dixons. Gove gave a seal of approval to the scheme and ordered his department to help the company with its plans of trialling and then rolling out tablets across the country. Results are due out in September of the first trials evaluating the impact of tablet teaching on student achievement.
So the robots aren't coming just yet. But it's not too much of a leap to imagine that schools full of over-worked teachers scrabbling to keep up with change might think an off-the-shelf curriculum on sale from another school, or a tablet replete with pre-planned lessons, is an answer to their nightmares. I don't know about you, but I have this mystical sense of significant profit to be made. No wonder some people don't want to constrain it.
• Laura McInerney taught in London for six years and is currently a Fulbright scholar
A report for consumer watchdog Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute last week found that nearly one in three first-year students at UK universities felt their courses were not good value. We ask: would you like more contact with your tutors?
Bob Hughes graduated recently with a BA in English from York University
I had four to eight hours of seminars and lectures a week, with anything from 30 students to around 200 in lectures and around 10 to 15 of us in seminars.
It gave me a lot of time to find my own arguments and thoughts and critically engage with it. Had we had more contact hours in certain areas, it would have detracted from our independent studies.
But I know for a number of students paying £9,000 a year the expectation is higher. Some have tried working out roughly how much per hour a seminar or lecture costs. I think that number is arbitrary and doesn't reflect all the university experience. But they do want more bang for their buck.
Ana Apostu has just completed a foundation year in sciences at London Metropolitan University, where she is about to start a BSc in biological sciences
On the foundation year, I got 12 hours a week of lectures and tutorials and our teachers also set up study groups for people who didn't manage to get their heads around the subjects. There were around 12 to 15 people in each tutorial group and more in the lectures. Next year, I will do around 15 to 18 hours. For the foundation year it was enough and hopefully next year, when fees are £8,000, it will be the same.
Science is a difficult subject and you need a lot of hours of practice and learning. In some cases I would like more practicals. Theory is something you can research on your own, but you need a tutor to be next to you and to show you practical skills.
Shakeel Ibrahim is a second-year optometry student at Aston University
I have six hours of lectures a week, a half-hour seminar, 10 hours of practicals and optional practice sessions on Tuesday mornings. I think it's perfect. All lectures are put up online and the seminar is recorded as well, so if you don't go you can catch up.
I was the last year to pay £3,500, but even if I was paying £9,000 I'd still think it's worth it because when you qualify and start earning you can pay it back. I measure it not in hours, but in how well I feel I have progressed and how well I'm doing in assessments.
Georgia Barclay, first-year politics and parliamentary studies student at Leeds University
I have seven hours of lectures, seminars and a workshop every week, plus four hours for electives – I'm doing languages. The seminars have about 20 people, the workshop was optional so numbers decreased, lectures are huge. It seems reasonable for the amount we are learning and what we need for exams and for coursework. The £9,000 is for the whole university experience – the exposure to employers, different things you can put on a CV.
Jahnavi Emmanuel, second-year history student at Wadham College, Oxford University
I have one to three hours a week of one-to-one tutorials and two hours of lectures with between 10 and 40 people. I often find I would get more out of an hour's reading than going to a lecture – it depends on the lecturer. The quality of contact time I get in terms of tutorials is much better than friends who do history at other universities.
There's a massive disparity between science and arts subjects. Science students have lectures from nine to 12, then labs from one to five and have tutorials on top of that. But at the end we all come out with an Oxford degree – we get the same product.
Presence of Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, who supports bill to allow abortion, prompts Cardinal Sean O'Malley's withdrawal
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the leader of the Boston archdiocese, skipped Boston College's commencement on Monday because of the involvement of the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, who supports a bill in his country that would allow abortion.
A few dozen protesters, some playing bagpipes, demonstrated at the college during the morning graduation ceremony. They held signs with messages that included "Boston College Keep Your Pro Life Values".
Kenny was addressing undergraduates and accepting an honorary degree from the Jesuit-run college. He has said that the proposed legislation simply clarifies when a doctor can perform an abortion to save a woman's life. But Catholic bishops have said it would greatly expand abortion, particularly by permitting it in certain cases when a woman threatens suicide.
The leader of the Boston archdiocese traditionally gives the benediction at the college's ceremony. O'Malley called abortion a "crime against humanity" and said he had decided not to attend the ceremony because Boston College didn't withdraw its invitation and Kenny didn't decline it. A Boston College spokesman, Jack Dunn, said that the school respected O'Malley and regretted that he had not attended graduation. Dunn said school officials had extended the invitation to Kenny before the bill's introduction and that the college "fully supports the church's commitment to the unborn".
CJ Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League and one of the protesters, said that too many Catholic institutions have compromised their identity. "What rational person can reasonably be expected to take seriously Catholic opposition to abortion when our own Catholic institutions honor someone who's trying to legalize abortion in his country?" he said.
Also at Monday's ceremony, two graduate business students who were injured in the Boston Marathon bombings were to receive their diplomas. Brittany Loring and Liza Cherney are graduating from the Carroll School of Management. Loring needed three operations after her left leg was struck by shrapnel from the first of the two blasts at the marathon finishing line on 15 April. Cherney was standing next to her close friend and classmate and was also badly hurt.
Learning how to spell is a useful lifelong skill. Use the Guardian Teacher Network's resources this week to help your students get to grips with it
Whether or not last week's introduction of compulsory spelling tests for all key stage 2 pupils in England will improve literacy standards, there are many reasons to crack spelling. The Guardian Teacher Network has resources to help students spell words such as "necessary" with ease and learn a lifelong skill, which they will need when their computer spellcheck malfunctions.
For key stage 2 and beyond, start with 100 most common words spelling journal. One of the most popular resources on the Guardian Teacher Network, the resource is helpfully separated into 10 weeks with 10 words per week. Each week includes word list, practice space, wordsearch and anagrams.
Thanks to English teacher and examiner Roger Smith, the teacher behind Spelling it Right, who is a big fan of the look-think-cover-write-check method of memorising spellings. This resource focuses on how to remember the spelling of new words and there's a worksheet showing a practical example of using the strategy to memorise a complicated word: disestablishmentarianism. Parents can encourage their children to become better spellers with the help of this spelling it right handout.
Retired English teacher Chris Hardwidge has shared contractions spelling for years 3 and 4 to practise spelling in contractions, including the somewhat tricky use of apostrophes. Also find these year 4 tests covering most of the key spelling objectives for year 4, with the words embedded in simple sentences.
Print out and laminate this useful spelling card shared by English teacher Joseph Donovan, listing the most commonly misspelt words – great for those learning English as well as spelling.
The Guardian Teacher Network also has a series of interactive lessons on spelling for all the key stages, written by English teachers to tackle the most common spelling issues.
Spelling long vowel phonemes is a revision lesson for primary focusing on the past tense "ed" verb ending. Spelling strategies introduces a number of strategies to key stage 2 pupils, both for learning spellings and for tackling the spelling of difficult words. Not all strategies are effective every time, but this lesson will help to reinforce these familiar approaches through interactive practice.
Helping students group words into commonly occurring letter strings is another great strategy for the teaching of spelling. This lesson focuses on the word endings -ight, - ious, -ial and -ough.
For a bit of context, looking at the common roots of words and their origins gives children an insight into the way that language has been built up over the centuries and also enables them to begin developing spelling strategies, and to infer the meaning of words new to them.
For students who haven't mastered the basics at primary school, this one-stop-shop interactive on spelling for key stage 3 is very helpful. By the end of this lesson, students should be able to recognise different prefixes and suffixes attached to root words, and use them correctly to form new words, plus recognise the importance of word families. The basic rules are spelt out (and of course the exceptions to each rule).
The only surefire way to improve your spelling is to recognise, understand, correct and record errors –this spelling diary looks at ways to do this with some nice online activities. Creative spelling will help students to devise their own ways of improving their spelling, applying spelling rules and recognising exceptions using dictionaries. Spelling strategies will help students address personal difficulties with words and experiment with different ways of learning and remembering difficult spellings, for example using mnemonics and applying knowledge of word origins.
This interactive on spelling complex words and exceptions will help students to understand how to spell complex polysyllabic words and unfamiliar words that do not conform to regular patterns.
It's never too late to learn to spell, and there's no reason why a weak speller at primary school shouldn't become a fully literate key stage 4 student. Universities complain about bad spelling from even their brightest students. Correct spelling will make a student's work easier to read and understand. This spelling interactive for key stage 4 goes over general spelling rules and gives practice in choosing the correct versions of commonly misspelt words.
It's fascinating for children to discover that the way we spell words is not exactly set in stone and is in fact the result of a series of compromises. Not that long ago, people spelled the same words in any number of ways and students can compare different spellings used in other English-speaking countries. The history of spelling explains more.
There have long been calls to simplify spelling, including an attempt by George Bernard Shaw, and you may be interested to read these teachers' notes on SaypYU (pronounced Sipe-You), the Spell As You Pronounce Universal collaborative project that aims to build a list of words from all languages spelled using a 24-letter alphabet. The letters C, Q and X have been removed and replaced by their phonetic equivalents: K and/or S. The theory goes that the simple spelling of words would make it easier to learn how to read and write, and learn foreign languages. The website http://saypu.com is a lot of fun to explore.
And finally, for serious spelling and grammar fans, do take our grammar, punctuation and spelling quiz, which has been entertaining teachers and other interested adults since we launched it in February this year.
Join the Guardian Teacher Network community for free access to teaching resources and an opportunity to share your own as well as read and comment on blogs. There are also thousands of teaching, leadership and support jobs on the site.
The combined mega delivery service will serve more than 500 cities and enable delivery from over 20,000 restaurants
Online food ordering companies Seamless and Grubhub have announced a merger, creating an as-yet-unnamed mega delivery service.
The new company will serve more than 500 cities and enable food orders at more than 20,000 restaurants. It will also pose a threat to smaller delivery companies including Delivery.com.
In a release, the long-time competitors said the merger presents an opportunity to expand the reach of their services, encourage quicker and more diversified product development and improve growth opportunities.
"GrubHub and Seamless share a common goal to generate more business for local takeout restaurants while providing the best possible service to diners," said Matt Maloney, the GrubHub co-founder and chief executive, in a statement. "By combining our complementary restaurant and diner networks, we are well positioned for continued growth in a massive market."
Maloney will serve as the new company's CEO, and Seamless chief executive Jonathhan Zabusky will be the company's president.
Maloney co-founded GrubHub with chief operating officer Mike Evans in 2004. In five rounds of venture financing, the team acquired $84.1m in investment funding. GrubHub purchased the parent company of Campusfood and Allmenus in September 2011.
GrubHub is based in Chicago and has a more dominant hold on the midwest, while Seamless has a defining grasp on New York, where the company is based. Seamless also has a presence in the UK. And though both companies have a regional focus, they each have expanded their brand focus into major US cities.
Under Zablusky's leadership, Seamless underwent a significant rebrand and changed from SeamlessWeb to Seamless in July 2011. In October 2011, the company acquired Menupages.
Tech Crunch on Friday reported on rumors that the companies would merge. The tech blog said rumors of a GrubHub initial public offering have been circulating since last fall, and this latest development does not necessarily pose a threat to that consideration. Both companies are currently independent and privately held.
This combined company's name is expected to be announced after regulators approve the merger. Offices in New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City and London are set to remain open.
Industry reports show that $350m was invested in food technology in 2012, a 37% increase from the amount raised in 2011. This is directed towards online food delivery service companies and other web platforms and applications that specialize in things like niche organic food delivery or accept Bitcoin as payment.
Who is more worried about tests at school – children or their parents?
One in five suffer psychological ill health, but most shun university counselling
Universities should do more to encourage students with mental health problems to seek help, a leading charity has warned.
More than a quarter (26%) of students who say they experience mental health problems do not get treatment and only one in 10 use counselling services provided by their university, according to a National Union of Students (NUS) study.
Of the students surveyed by the union, one in five say they experienced mental health problems while at university. This is in line with national statistics estimating that in any one year 23% of British adults experience a mental disorder.
Those who do experience mental health problems cite coursework deadlines (65%) and exams (54%) as triggers of distress. Financial difficulties (47%), pressures about "fitting in" (27%) and homesickness (22%) also contribute to mental ill health.
Stress is one of the most common symptoms of distress (80%), with many students also reporting a lack of energy or motivation (70%), anxiety (55%) and insomnia (50%). Some 38% experience panic, while 14% consider self-harm and 13% report suicidal thoughts.
NUS researchers admit that their survey was self-selecting and may exaggerate the prevalence of mental health problems among students. But Hannah Paterson, NUS Disabled Students' Officer, says the "primary concern" is that very few of the students experiencing distress speak about their problem.
Of those who do experience mental health problems, 64% do not use any formal services for advice and support.
Students are more likely to tell their friends and family about feelings of anxiety, than they are to approach a doctor, academic or university counsellor.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, says this may be because of the stigma attached to mental illnesses. He adds that universities should do more to reach out to students.
"Higher education institutions need to ensure not just that services are in place to support mental wellbeing, but that they proactively create a culture of openness where students feel able to talk about their mental health and are aware of the support that's available.
"Opening up to friends and family can help those feeling stressed or anxious, but anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or consistently feeling down may have an enduring mental health problem, so it's best they visit their GP. Nobody should suffer alone."
Poppy Jaman, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England says the NUS' findings are unsurprising: "The student community is considered high risk for mental ill health, with exams, intense studying and living away from home for the first time all contributing factors.
"Where symptoms of poor mental health are spotted early and appropriate support and treatment is put in place the subsequent rate of recovery is significantly improved. Much more needs to be done within educational settings to improve the prevention and intervention of mental ill health."
Major donors are motivated both by the excitement of giving and the satisfaction that their money has been put to good use, finds Andrew Derrington on a recent fundraising study trip
Canada is a good place to learn about university fundraising because the giving culture is fairly similar to the UK, but its practice tends to be about 20 years ahead. So it was that I recently found myself on the annual CASE fundraising study tour, which takes groups of academic leaders and fundraising professionals from Europe to Canadian universities to learn first hand how they approach this trickiest of businesses.
At McMaster University, we learned about the motivations of fundraising's three main actors: development professionals, donors and academic leaders. Lorna Somers, vice president of McMaster University Foundation, told us about the transition from her early days at McMaster in the late 1980s, when academics treated her "like someone with advanced leprosy" and alumni would tell her that universities should look to the government for any money they wanted. Now academics are eager – sometimes too eager – to be involved. McMaster's annual fundraising target is $21m (£13.4m) and their last campaign raised $470m (£300m) in four years.
Donors have changed too, as we discovered when we met three of McMaster's most generous donors. All were alumni who had lost touch with the university and been attracted back, either to study or because they wanted to get involved in the running of the university. For each, giving was prompted by the realisation that they had the means to help the university do something exciting and extraordinary. This realisation is not the result of a fevered sales pitch but rather the culmination of a long relationship. Most of McMaster's top 20 donors started small, with less than $1000 (£640) and more than a decade elapsed between their first gift and their major gift.
McMaster was not the only place where we heard how important it is to manage, or steward, this relationship. Donors give because they want to make a difference. Once they have given, they need to be told what their gift has achieved. Then they may know that they can achieve more by giving again. Professionals who take the lead in donor stewardship involve academic leaders in generating and sustaining both the excitement that may result in a gift, and the satisfaction that the gift has been put to good use.
But not all academic leaders are good at this. We tend to get too hung up on the issue of asking for money. Some of us are terrified of the idea, others become too eager to askand become 'askaholics'.
John Kelton, dean of health sciences at McMaster, who has raised over $200m (£128m) in the last 10 years, told us about his relationships with major donors. Appropriately enough, our meeting took place in the 'floating' boardroom suspended in the atrium of the Michael G De Groote School of Medicine, a building funded by a donation of $105m (£672m), the largest single donation to a Canadian university.
Kelton's account of his work with donors made it clear that listening to donors and understanding what they are interested in, is as important as talking. Although our visits to three other universities confirmed everything we had learned at McMaster, in each of them we learned something distinctive and new. Max Blouw, president of Wilfrid Laurier University, told us how a successful campaign must be rooted in reality.
One of the first tasks he had set himself as president was to develop a story about the university based on the facts of the present rather than the myths of the past. As a result, Wilfrid Laurier's new mission statement, 'Inspiring lives of leadership and purpose', contains a strong component of business excellence that adds distinctiveness to its earlier bland image based on its origins as Waterloo Lutheran University.
Waterloo University, just next door to Wilfrid Laurier, tells a story of itself as producer of scientific and technological innovations that fuel a local high-technology economy. It encourages its staff, students and alumni to generate wealth, substantial chunks of which get fed back as donations. Waterloo alumnus and inventor of the BlackBerry, Mike Lazaridis, has given hundreds of millions to support research to develop technologies of the future in nanoscience and quantum computing. A Waterloo student donated the million dollars profit he made from selling his first business.
Despite these successes, only a small fraction of the alumni who could make substantial donations are disconnected from the university. Jason Coolman, director of alumni affairs, told us about his research on using 'elite' alumni to engage these disconnected former students and gradually get them on board.
On our last day at University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), Gillian Morrison from the university's central campaigns office talked us through the stages of developing UTM's extraordinary $2bn'Boundless' campaign. The biggest in Canadian university history, this campaign is directly linked with academic mission, and shows that smaller universities can have no excuse for lack of coherence in their campaigns.
So could the UK emulate what the Canadians have achieved? The more I think about it, the more I think we could. And if we learn from their mistakes rather than repeating them, we could do it faster. An average sized, middle-ranking British university should be able to get to a point where they are raising £5-£10m per year from philanthropy within five to 10 years.
Review by the BBC Trust says web services have improved, but coverage of regional news is 'not particularly comprehensive'
• Click here to read the BBC Trust report
The BBC has been told to up the standard of its online local news and look to mine more personal data from users of its website network, but otherwise its web services have been given the seal approval by in a review by the BBC Trust.
On Monday, the BBC Trust published its second service review of BBC Online and the interactive red button service – last reviewed in 2008 and 2010 respectively – which spans 10 products including internet news and sport coverage and the BBC iPlayer video catch-up service.
A largely clean bill of health for BBC Online, which reaches 22 million people each week, was marred by the criticism that its online local news, considered the "most important product in the BBC Online portfolio", is not as good as coverage of UK and international news.
"One area for improvement is the provision of local content, particularly local news," the BBC Trust said in its 101-page report. "[The] BBC Online's local offer is not as strong as its UK and international news."
The report found that local news stories are "not updated frequently" and news coverage "is not particularly comprehensive in most localities".
"In addition, BBC local sites are organised around regions or counties, which are perceived as being too large to be locally relevant," the trust found.
However, the BBC could find significant resistance to a major ramping up of its local content strategy from regional and local newspapers.
In 2008, the BBC Trust axed the corporation's highly-controversial plans to launch a £68m network of local news websites with video content after criticism from the newspaper industry.
The trust said at the time that the network of more than 60 websites would "not improve services for the public enough to justify either the investment of licence fee funds or the negative impact on commercial media".
Earlier this year, Ofcom began awarding licences for the network of local TV stations across the UK, which aim to tap into local advertisers.
The BBC Trust also said on Monday that the corporation's management should improve its local content "alongside broader actions to improve navigation and personalisation".
"The [BBC] executive should consider how to improve navigation across the different parts of BBC Online, with improved links and consistency of design, as well as an improved internal search facility, to ensure users get the most out of every visit," the BBC Trust concluded. "Many users want to be able to personalise the site according to their own preferences, and the BBC should explore ways to make this possible, while always safeguarding people's personal information."
Safeguards recommended by the trust include "full transparency" of what data the BBC holds on an a user, and the benefits this will bring, as well as the BBC always providing an "editorial voice" when providing or recommending content.
"There should be no commercial imperative behind the BBC's personalisation plans, and any commercial use of the data by the BBC should be at the user's explicit dicscretion," the BBC Trust warned.
The corporation's regulatory and governance body also said the online operation has undergone "substantial change" since its last relatively critical 2008 review and has made "good progress in rationalising its offer and improving its management and operations".
In 2008, the corporation was heavily-criticised by the BBC Trust for "poor financial accountability" for running £36m over budget with BBC Online.
The latest review concluded that BBC Online now has a "good level of financial accountability", although for more transparency the corporation has been told to drop the definition of "cost-per-user reached" to actual "people reach".
An analysis showed BBC Online spent £103m versus a budget of £109m in the year ended 31 March 2013, a 5.6% underspend.
In 2010, BBC Online was hit with a 25% budget cut, part of ex-director general Mark Thompson's Delivering Quality First cost-cutting package, and told to reduce the number of websites it operates from 400 to about 200.
Monday's report shows a breakdown of where cuts have fallen as the budget has been slashed from £125.8m to £103m.
The most popular area of news, sport and weather has taken almost the biggest hit – from a budget of £49.2m to £43.9m from 2010 to 2013, an 11% fall and 23% of the £22.8m total savings made across all BBC Online cuts.
Knowledge & Learning, which contains a great deal of educational content and is to be relaunched this year, was the biggest casualty with a 25% budget cut from £24.9m to £18.7m across the period. It accounted for 27% of the total BBC Online budget savings for the three-year period.
TV & iPlayer took a 24% budget cut, from £16.1m to £12.2m, about 17% of total savings; Audio & Music fell 14% from £15.5m to £13.3m, worth 10% of all savings.
"Website users told us they value BBC Online and trust its news and sport above any other online provider," said BBC Trustee Suzanna Taverne. "However, people also raised some areas where they would like to see improvement – such as the search and navigability functions, and the local news sites … that will help the [BBC] online offer to remain the 'go-to' website for millions of users each day."
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We have to stop state legislators from sneaking creationist and revisionist textbooks into public schools
Louisiana's legislators are continuing their legislative jihad to keep the theory of evolution out of the state's public school science classrooms. On 1 May, legislators killed a bill to repeal Louisiana's creationism law, the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA).
The law allows non-science to be snuck into science classrooms by teachers who use supplemental materials to "critique" politically controversial (but not scientifically controversial) theories, including evolution and climate science. Despite this loophole for creationism created by the LSEA, educators are still required to teach "material presented in the standard textbook", which includes the theory of evolution.
These biology textbooks are a major problem for creationists, whose next goal is to throw them out, and they have allies in the Louisiana legislature who are willing to help.
House Bill 116, sponsored by Frank Hoffmann, a state representative, would throw out Louisiana's biology books – it passed the Louisiana State House by a 73-22 vote. This is the third bill Hoffmann has sponsored to remove biology textbooks since they were adopted by the state board of education, in 2010.
When our board of education adopted life science textbooks, creationists fought hard to block their approval. At that time, Wired pointed out that these textbooks are "well-respected, and used widely in US high schools."
The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that in 2010, the state board of education received a large number of complaints that intelligent design wasn't included in textbooks. One vocal opponent, Winston White, complained:
"It is like Charles Darwin and his theory is a saint. You can't touch it."
Winston White's father, Judge Darrell White, is one of the founders of the Louisiana Family Forum, a powerful creationist lobbying group. Judge White echoed his son's sentiments at a board of education hearing. He called evolution "mindless nihilism" and claimed that teaching it in public schools would cause another Columbine shooting. The New Orleans Lens described the scene:
"[White] said one of the Columbine killers wore a shirt that read 'natural selection,' and held up a similar shirt for emphasis, and implied that Baton Rouge might be in danger of a similar massacre."
Yes. You read that right. I was at that hearing and sat in shock as Judge White implied that teaching evolution caused Dylan Klebold to shoot up his school. Creationists in Louisiana suggest that state-approved biology textbooks will lead to mass murder.
When the state board ultimately approved the textbooks – a huge victory for science education – Fox News pointed out that Louisiana "rejected calls by conservatives to include references to the debate over evolution and the religious-based concepts of intelligent design or creationism in state-approved biology textbooks."
It's clear that the opposition to these biology textbooks comes from creationists who are trying to sneak religion into public school classrooms.
Representative Hoffmann, the legislator sponsoring the bill to throw out science textbooks, was one of the sponsors of the state creationism law. He also meddled in the initial adoption process of the science textbooks.
At that time, creationist complaints swamped the state board, which had initially punted the textbooks' approval to a little-known committee that included Representative Hoffmann and his partner-in-creationism, Senator Ben Nevers – another sponsor of the LSEA. (Nevers recently made news by stating that he wanted the United States Supreme Court to reverse its decision to overturn Louisiana's 1981 law that mandated the teaching of creationism.) The pair managed to get themselves appointed leaders of this committee.
The Baton Rouge Advocate noted that Hoffmann argued "the books under review were not consistent with the spirit of the (Louisiana Science Education Act)." Of course, the spirit of the act is to teach creationism to students. What Representative Hoffmann meant is that these textbooks taught evolution and didn't have a trace of intelligent design or creationism, and thus he considers them a problem.
Hoffmann and Nevers voted against these biology textbooks, and they lost. The board of education adopted the textbooks and required evolution be taught in public school science classes, despite their complaints.
That's where Hoffmann's new bill comes in. After losing the fight in 2010, he realized had an uphill battle, because the state board listens to scientists. His bill would take control of textbooks away from the state and give it to friendlier audience – local school boards, who would be able to choose whatever books they want.
Representative Hoffmann claims the current bill isn't his latest salvo in a war against evolution, but given his record and his constituents' complaints, he's reminding me of Shakespeare. The legislator doth protest too much.
It's also worth noting that this bill could harm history education too, by allowing revisionist history textbooks to be used, which has become a problem in our neighboring state of Texas.
I asked the Texas Freedom Network, an organization which defends civil and religious liberties, about revisionist history standards there. Dan Quinn, their communications director reminded me that the people who are attacking evolution nationally are "the same people who took a wrecking ball to the social studies standards." Quinn said:
"[We have] social studies standards in Texas today that question the separation of church and state, challenge the fact that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War and claim that the red baiting tactics of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s were somehow justified."
The Texas Observer said that Texan conservative factions even "recommended removing references to African-American and Latino figures like Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from some social-studies standards" because "the curriculum contained an 'overrepresentation of minorities'."
Luckily, that specific push documented failed, but because this bill takes away state oversight from textbook selection, this type of revisionist history could be brought into Louisiana's classrooms with ease.
Representative Hoffmann's bill is bad legislation and a message must be sent to the Louisiana legislature. We have to ask them to reject this bill, and not to allow revisionist history or even more creationism into public schools.
• Editor's note: a previous version of this article misspelled Representative Frank Hoffmann's name and has been corrected accordingly
NAACP challenged 2011 state elections over legislature's failure to draw new district lines according to 2010 census
The US supreme court will not order new legislative elections in Mississippi over complaints about the timing of the state's redistricting, under one of several decisions that were handed down on Monday.
The Mississippi National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had challenged the state's 2011 state elections, because the legislature did not immediately use the 2010 census to draw new district lines in 2011. The state house and senate instead argued for several weeks before ending their 2011 session, without adopting new maps. The NAACP had asked for that election to be set aside and special elections to be held under a court-ordered plan. It said that using the old maps violated the one-person, one-vote principle by diluting African-American voting strength.
Courts affirmed a ruling that allowed state lawmakers to run in their old districts that year. The Supreme Court justices, without comment, upheld the lower court rulings.
Also on Monday, the court affirmed the authority of federal regulators to try to speed local government decisions on proposals to build or expand cell-phone towers. The court voted 6-3 to uphold an appeals court ruling in favor the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The case involves complaints to the FCC by telecommunications companies and the wireless industry that local authorities are delaying the placement and construction of wireless service facilities. The FCC said that local jurisdictions generally should act on applications within three months for existing structures and five months for new towers.
The court also said that it will hear a new case on the intersection of religion and government in a dispute over prayers used to open public meetings. The justices said they would review an appeals court ruling that held that the town of Greece in suburban Rochester in upstate New York violated the constitution by opening nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity.
The 2nd US circuit court of appeals said the town should have made a greater effort to invite people from other faiths to open its monthly board meetings. The town says the high court already has upheld prayers at the start of legislative meetings and that private citizens offered invocations of their own choosing. The town said in court papers that the opening prayers should be found to be constitutional, "so long as the government does not act with improper motive in selecting prayer-givers."
Two town residents who are not Christian complained that they felt marginalized by the steady stream of Christian prayers and challenged the practice. They are represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Yahoo is still sinking. The Tumblr purchase is an effort to salvage what value is left for activist investor Dan Loeb
Yahoo was a junk shop company until its dissident investor, Dan Loeb, got the idea to hire Marissa Mayer as the company's CEO, its fifth since 2011, less than a year ago.
Because she was from Google (and already hugely rich in her own right), and a woman, and young, and pregnant, this was media story enough to shine a spotlight on her and Yahoo and make it seem like the company had, once again, arrived at a meaningful point of departure.
The fact that Yahoo is, by wide agreement and confirmed by ever-fading results, a company long past its prime and purpose was, suddenly, obscured. Rather, the new CEO was something like a new president of the United States, with all possibilities before her, and everything dependent on her charismatic leadership. Yahoo's deep, encumbered, long-defeated, seen-it-all, done-it-all, culture be damned.
This idea of the blank page, and second chance (actually Yahoo has had an almost infinite number of chances), was a media illusion, orchestrated by the technology press – largely lead by Kara Swisher, a figure of influence and intrigue in the technology business, and the editor of All Things Digital, which broke the story last week of Yahoo's imminent billion dollar level acquisition of Tumblr.
Yahoo, before Loeb and Mayer, was a Silicon Valley company that had been superceded by at least two tech generations. All of its disparate features and functions, each added to or bolted on to the company over the years in desperate attempts to make it relevant again, are performed better by other companies.
Its constant management turmoil has forged a bureaucracy as devoted to protecting itself with implacable resistant and mindless servility as great as any in the top-down corporate world (Yahoo in fact resembles the 1950s yes-man corporate world much more than a flattened, entrepreneurial tech model). In the face of everybody else's better ideas and better run enterprises and newer technology, most of what the company has done in the last 10 years is lose market share.
What it became, principally, was a traffic hub. For no positive reason, in fact largely for a series of negative reasons – inertia, indifference, mindless familiarity, its legacy place in the click stream, its truly staggering collection of porn (its secret sauce from early internet times has been to be the porn search engine of choice) – it attracts vast amounts of traffic, which is inherently worth something.
Several years ago, Microsoft almost bought Yahoo. That deal, which would have represented a reasonable outcome for the company, was scuttled by management infighting and incompetence. This lead to the attention of outside, "activist" investors, and the eventual takeover by Loeb who successfully installed his supporters in a key block on the board.
Loeb, an inveterate meddler and control freak (more kindly called an "activist investor"), who is now pursuing Sony and earlier this year was involved in public fisticuffs over Herbalife, knows little about technology or actually about operating a company. His mission is to maximize his investment and get out: pump and dump.
Although Loeb was responsible for hiring Meyer, dispensing with interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, who had been installed after CEO Scott Thompson was pushed out for faking his resume, and even though it is the intrusive Loeb to whom Meyer effectively reports, he has been largely absent from all the coverage of the Tumblr acquisition and the Yahoo reinvention.
The story line is that Yahoo, with new vigor, and in a renaissance of strategic vision, is remaking itself. Rather then: Run by an activist investor, who specializes in stock-moving headlines and diversionary activity, Yahoo is trying to buy anything that will, however momentarily, create new attention around the company.
The Tumblr acquisition, greeted by near universal oohs and ahhs, ought more obviously to be seen in light of the circumstance that Yahoo, over the last year, has basically tried to buy anything it possibly could. Only a few weeks ago it was rebuffed in its efforts to buy the French-owned Dailymotion. Spurned by the French government, it ricocheted to Tumblr.
Of note, Loeb's key lieutenant, who he installed on the Yahoo board, is one Michael J Wolf, whose career, given our similar names and involvement in the media business, I have been forced to follow (I often get his mail and phone calls; on occasion we have shown up for the same lunch date). Wolf, a sometime author and consultant without portfolio, is what I would call one of the most well-known snake oil salesman in the media business. For years he advised media conglomerate CEOs on strategies that might create short-term buzz (while, as has often happened, resulting in a long-term drag on value). Wolf has now, on no basis whatsoever, self-styled himself as a new media guru.
In the end, Marissa Meyer is merely an instrument of Loeb's and Wolf's bright ideas for getting out of Yahoo as fast and as profitably as they can. Hence, her billion dollar deal for Tumblr, so that Yahoo might join the social networking business and buy itself some cool. Forget the fact that nothing in Yahoo's muddled experience and questionable competence suggests it knows anything about the social business or has any sensibility that has anything to do with cool, not to mention that it has had a long history of killing the acquisitions it has made.
Here we are.
Kara Swisher and the rest of the technology press is orgiastic about large amounts of money changing hands. And Dan Loeb is staging his exit.
Setting up her own Tumblr, dropping Google+ from her Twitter profile, rolling with the zeitgeist - the chief executive of Yahoo has got internet style to burn
Marissa Mayer: she's got style. First she buys Tumblr - which, OK, is one of those Big Corporate Acquisitions that gets everyone het up (if they're on Tumblr) or analysing the cash flow (if they're on Wall Street).
But Mayer? She took to Twitter, and to Tumblr, and - as was observed - may have become the first person to announce an acquisition with an animated GIF.
We also liked the fact that she took to Twitter (where she has a mere 330,000 followers - come on, Marissa, try harder) in order to announce the acquisition of Tumblr on her own Tumblr (natch), the faintly puzzlingly titled marissamayr.tumblr.com.
The obvious question: what happened to the "e" in her surname? "Hmm - marissamayer is also me but because of Tumblr/Flickr I thought I should be marissamayr.tumblr.com", she explained. (It's true that there's a http://marissamayer.tumblr.com/, but it's empty so far.)
Oh, and the other thing? Mayer deleted the Google+ link in her Twitter bio and replaced it with a Tumblr one (natch). Oh my, it's an exodus.
And then it gets even better: she put up a second post on her Tumblr titled "great workplace dilemmas of our time" - referring neatly both to her own reputation for having instituted a "no more working from home" rule, and Tumblr's for its "the internet is for porn" approach.
Let's hope she doesn't get too distracted posting to remember to actually run the company.
Tumblr's acquisition by Yahoo looks like an investment not in search advertising but in content
In its latest attempt to inject some energy through acquisition, Yahoo is buying content creation platform Tumblr for $1.1bn. But what does Marissa Mayer see in Tumblr's 26-year-old founder David Karp, and what does the deal mean for the rest of us?
This is a rational deal at a good time for both parties. Clocking 17.5bn monthly page views, Tumblr brings struggling Yahoo the large audience it needs to be a content power player. Meanwhile, five years after being founded, Tumblr's reported $13m in annual revenue remained small for its scale and for the purported opportunity.
This tie-up is all about leveraging the huge audience Tumblr has amassed – through advertising. Despite having been overtaken by Google, Yahoo remains a top-tier ad sales house, with significant clout to place ads targeted at Tumblr's youthful readers.
But don't expect this to play out in such obvious fashion because Tumblr's Karp in fact hates the kinds of advertising on which Yahoo and the internet have come to depend.
Speaking at Monaco Media Forum in November, Karp agreed that internet ads "suck": "One of the things I've found most disheartening on the internet today is it's all been defined and relegated to these little blue links. The advertising industry as a whole is an incredibly creative and capable industry… They've got these Mad Men aspirations and right now they're all being squeezed in to these hyper-optimised, hyper-targeted models where you're basically trying to deliver the little blue link at the exact right moment rather than trying to tell stories that make people want to become customers."
To that end, Tumblr has introduced its own tools to let brands tell and promote their stories in a different way – Radar and Spotlight are how marketers can buy links to their blogs in curated sections, while Highlighted Posts and Pinned Posts let small-scale creators pay just a few dollars to gain more prominence in readers' dashboards.
These tools ride the native advertising wave ("content marketing", "branded content" or "sponsored content", depending on who you speak to) on which publishers and platforms are now helping marketers to communicate using language that is indistinct from core content, overcoming readers' increasing aversion to invasive banners and paid links. Thanks to them, Tumblr's revenue has grown fast from a low base, but the effort can now be taken to the next level.
So Tumblr's acquisition by Yahoo, whose own ad sales are declining, looks like an investment not in search advertising, not in display advertising, but in a third, new marketing category – content. In announcing the deal, Yahoo says: "The two companies will work together to create advertising opportunities that are seamless and enhance the user experience."
That seamlessness could solve another looming problem: while Yahoo has blamed its sales dip on audiences' migration to harder-to-monetise mobile platforms, content retains its shape and essence no matter the device on which it is consumed.
Today's highly technology-driven advertising economy has been created in the image of Silicon Valley engineers at the likes of Yahoo; all data science and super-efficiency. But Tumblr – which distinguishes its New York stomping ground as a thriving mecca for creatives instead – could represent an energetic east-coast outpost that will help Yahoo sell to a Madison Avenue that is primed to enter the ascendancy once more.
The well-stocked Rolodex in Yahoo's ad sales office can help introduce Tumblr to tier-A brands that are crying out for new ways to reach consumers using stories. And those stories could benefit from wider delivery across Yahoo's huge existing audience network.
The idea is a fine one, but is not without its challenges. For one, content marketing is unproven at large scale, which conventional internet advertising is. That scale will have to grow significantly to make good on the $1.1bn acquisition price. And return on investment is harder to prove from this model than from the dominant cost-per-click model.
If the next couple of years' marketing accounts don't show real returns from the format, advertisers could easily pull spending back. Even with the model proved, content marketing alone won't necessarily keep the lights on at Tumblr. If Yahoo foists on it the old-style ads that Karp has opposed, users (and Karp) may feel betrayed.
Critical to the prospect's chances is the extent of Tumblr's integration in to the Yahoo mothership. Among 76 acquisitions since 1997, Yahoo is criticised for having let Flickr, Delicious, Broadcast.com and Upcoming.org wither on its vine – innovative services all apparently starved of resources to innovate at Yahoo's Sunnyvale HQ.
Users previously became agitated when Yahoo began tinkering with GeoCities and Flickr, and recently when Facebook updated Instagram's terms and conditions. So Yahoo must give Tumblr the room it needs to go on supporting creative content on its own terms, while nevertheless leveraging enough behind-the-scenes commercial support that Tumblr can make back the money Yahoo is putting up.
Much of Tumblr's popularity rests on its indie credentials and Karp speaks passionately with a mission to serve artists such as Michael Stipe, who are using the service as a blog, scrapbook and portfolio. Tumblr must be allowed to retain this identity, and not adopt Yahoo's diminishing profile, if the deal is to work. Yahoo has promised it will be "independently operated as a separate business".
Being on the opposite coast may help Tumblr remain sufficiently distant from its new owner and close enough to its creative local kin to do exactly that.
CBI head and UK's largest employers descend on Downing Street amid claims tax row has been used as 'political football'
The president of the CBI is delivering a firm message from some of Britain's largest employers to David Cameron, calling on him to stop "moralising" on how multinational corporations should be taxed.
Roger Carr, flanked by some of the country's most powerful global business leaders, trooped into Downing Street on Monday for a 3pm meeting of the prime minister's business advisory group. Around the table were chief executives of the UK multinationals Burberry, Tesco, Vodafone, BAE Systems, Prudential and GSK. Also present was Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, despite the search firm coming under fierce attack from MPs last week over its tax arrangements.
Business leaders were keen to outline their views to the prime minister before the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland next month, during which David Cameron has pledged to use Britain's presidency to tackle "aggressive tax avoidance" by multinational firms.
A hint as to the robust tone business leaders were likely to take with the prime minister came in a speech Carr gave earlier in the day at an Oxford Business School event in London.
"It is only in recent times that tax has become an issue on the public agenda – Starbucks, Google, Amazon – businesses that the general public know and believe they understand; businesses with a brand that become a perfect political football, the facts difficult to digest; public passions easy to inflame."
In what appeared to be pointed criticism of increasingly firm rhetoric from Cameron on multinational tax engineering, the CBI boss insisted tax avoidance "cannot be about morality – there are no absolutes".
In January the prime minister used a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos to put a marker down on questions of tax structuring by big business. "Some forms of avoidance have become so aggressive that I think it is right to say these are ethical issues," he said, urging multinationals to "wake up and smell the coffee".
Carr told an audience at the London event: "Tax payments are not, and should not be … a payment viewed as a down payment on social acceptability, or a contribution made by choice in order to defuse public anger or political attack."
The CBI boss, who is being talked of as a successor to Dick Olver as chairman of BAE Systems, invited the G8 to consider three things in relation to tax reform:
• to avoid the moral debate – "it's all about the rules"
• to fix the rules on an international stage, not unilaterally
• to consult on proposed changes with business.
Earlier in the day, asked whether Cameron was going to raise Google's tax affairs at his meeting with business leaders, a Downing Street spokesman said: "We don't talk about individuals or individual companies' tax affairs. What the PM will be doing at the meeting will be explaining the tax and tax transparency part of the G8 agenda which he has been discussing with other G8 leaders and he will discuss again at the European council."