Newspaper headlines: Schools 'shake-up', Cheltenham tales and Budget previews

The rush to escape from the classroom at 3.30pm could be a thing of the past for many, it seems, with the newspapers revealing George Osborne's plan to extend the school day.

The Times says he'll use Wednesday's Budget speech to argue that more time for teaching and extra-curricular activities "is needed to close the productivity gap between Britain and its competitors, including emerging powers such as China".

It is "drastic", but essential, argues the Daily Express's leader, given that British pupils are "doing poorly in international league tables".

The paper hopes that funding a longer school day in many schools and giving teachers more time "to spend exploring subjects in further detail" will help counter the effect of an exam system which encourages teachers "merely to impart the knowledge needed to pass the tests".

School 'captain'

Hand-in-hand with a longer school day will come the requirement for all schools to become academies, removed from local authority control.

It's the "death knell" for council involvement in education, warns the Daily Mirror, and "effectively abolishes nationally agreed curriculums and teacher pay scales". Suitable schools can become academies already, it argues, but forcing them all - good or bad - to do so, merely serves to demonstrate the "Conservative obsession with turning all schools into another market".

The New Day picks two commentators to offer both sides of the argument - a format the Fleet Street newcomer seems to favour.

Journalist and free school founder Toby Young backs mandatory academisation, arguing it will save money and reduce bureaucracy by taking councils out of the picture. "In an academy, the headteacher is the captain of the ship," he adds.

But Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, says small schools will struggle to manage everything from meals to transport themselves. And, he argues, the whole policy is "a serious distraction from the real problem" of improving the quality of teaching.

Evading capture

Image copyright Metropolitan Police
Image caption The image of a prolific burglar known as the Wimbledon prowler features widely in the papers, as he continues to elude the police

Sporting comment

  • New obsession has given fresh meaning to Pendleton's life - some might hate it, but Matthew Syed, in the Times, argues Victoria Pendleton's switch from cycling to horse racing has helped her move on from "the unforgivable sin" of achieving all her goals
  • Tyne-Wearside story - this weekend's footballing derby "will be like watching two favourite uncles scuffling in a pub car park", writes Mike Calvin, in the New Day. "Raw, rowdy and life-affirming"
  • Why wait? Kick Russia out of Rio Games now - "The more we wait for signs of transformation in Russian sport, the more evidence of an endemic drug culture emerges," says Martin Samuel, in the Daily Mail, so now is the time to seriously consider "the ultimate sanction"

Very special envoy

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A wet and windswept Angelina Jolie appears on front and inside pages after she visited a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon

'Clooney effect'

"Every year the Office for National Statistics acts as a kind of inexpensive psychotherapist to the nation, divulging our inner secrets," writes the Times. It's referring to the annually updated "basket of goods" that statisticians at the ONS use to calculate inflation.

Items added this time to reflect their growing popularity include cream liqueur such as Baileys, nail varnish, microwave rice packets and coffee pods.

The latter is down to the "Clooney effect", reckons the Independent, citing the power of adverts for coffee capsules involving Hollywood star George Clooney.

The Daily Mail is most tickled by the addition of Baileys - noting that it is "now very much in vogue", despite first being introduced in 1974 - "the year Abba won Eurovision".

Prunes to return?

Kicked out of the basket for 2016 are rewritable DVDs, CD Roms, pub snacks and nightclub entry. The Guardian views it as evidence the UK has "waved goodbye to the 1990s", with downloading and streaming replacing discs, and many nightclubs closing their doors.

The "revolution in social media", the Times argues, means young people also no longer need nightclubs to provide "an unreliable and expensive way of meeting boyfriends and girlfriends" - they can do it all from the comfort of their bedrooms.

In a resourceful piece of joined-up journalism, the Daily Telegraph manages to make a link between the changed basket and the EU referendum.

The paper says the inclusion of prosciutto and chorizo and the ousting of turkey slices shows British tastes are "becoming ever more Mediterranean". The paper notes that "the humble prune" was last seen on the list in 1974 - the year before the UK voted to stay in the European Economic Community - but adds portentously: "Its time may come again."

Eye-catching headlines

  • Dudleye - A London Eye-style Ferris wheel has been branded Britain's worst tourist attraction because it overlooks Dudley, says the Sun
  • A jump in fleas - Itchy Brits are being bugged by fleas, with the warm, wet winter creating a huge surge in house infestations, according to the Daily Mirror
  • Storks give up migrating to binge on junk food - the Independent reports that storks now prefer to stay in Spain or Portugal all year round, feeding on burgers and sandwiches at landfill sites

'Famously miserable'

Image copyright AP
Image caption Anita Brookner died on 10 March aged 87

News emerged on Tuesday of the death of Anita Brookner, celebrated art historian and author of novels including Hotel du Lac.

There is a perception, writes Juliet Nicolson in the Daily Telegraph, that in the literary world "being precocious matters", but Anita Brookner "gave the lie to such nonsense".

Her debut novel wasn't published until she was 53, and the message from her life, Nicolson adds, is that "if you discover, with advancing age, that you have the gift of being able to distil, consider, analyse and pass on your wisdom in such a way that your readership accumulates, then it is never too late to start."

Writer A.N. Wilson, in the Daily Mail, remembers Brookner as "famously miserable". She never married, he adds, and "though she denied they were autobiographical, her novels chronicle the lives of lonely women who have the unerring knack of falling for unsuitable men."

"Her stories of disillusion, personal betrayal, minor failure and loneliness are too uncomfortable to have had a wide readership," agrees Michael McNay in Brookner's Guardian obituary. "But though their scope is narrow, beneath an immaculate mirror surface there are great depths."

Left or right?

Image caption The papers discuss an apparent row of who sits where on the BBC Breakfast sofa - and whether one position is more important that the other

Budget briefing

Predictions abound in Wednesday's papers ahead of George Osborne's eighth Budget.

The Sun brings us news of a freeze on beer duty "in an attempt to keep more pubs open", while the Times says the chancellor is considering a cut to capital gains tax in the hope of tackling the problem of a "freeze" at the top of the housing market.

The paper quotes an unnamed Tory MP who says lowering the tax people pay when they sell their second homes could encourage more people to do it - and would be "a more politically acceptable" housing market tweak than further changes to stamp duty.

On the subject of housing, the Guardian also says the chancellor will take action to address the recent rise in homelessness. It will include "funding to provide 2,000 accommodation places for rough sleepers who are ready to move on from crisis hostels".

Accumulator bet

Nevertheless, the Daily Mirror sees precious little to be optimistic about in today's speech. "Behind the smoke and mirrors of higher investment and the odd handout", its leader argues, "is a shaming, widening inequality."

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, writing in the Independent, agrees. He says the chancellor's recovery is now "faltering" and "with storm clouds gathering" in the global economy, many households face the prospect of real financial difficulty. "The underlying problem is Osborne's commitment to severe austerity," he adds.

Still, if all else fails, the Daily Star helpfully points out that "George Osborne has a chance to wipe out the entire UK national debt with an £87 million accumulator bet" on three horses running at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

What the commentators say

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Media captionFay Schlesinger, from the Times, and Kiran Stacey, from the Financial Times, discuss Wednesday's headlines on the BBC News Channel.