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TES letters

news | Published in TES magazine on 13 June, 2014

Why shouldn’t schools use the freedom they’re given?

I have no axe to grind: I am not in Birmingham nor involved with any Muslim schools, but I am a retired inspector who was part of 300 Ofsted inspections over 13 years.

The government promoted academies and free schools by saying that they would be community-run and have the freedom to develop their own curriculum and ethos. Of course this is reflected in teaching and learning. With their extra freedom, academies are better placed to address underachievement by devising and teaching a curriculum that suits the range of abilities and interests of their pupils.

With community schools, greater continuity between a child’s home environment (socio-cultural or religious) and the school enhances learning – this is a strong educational argument for faith schools, for example. Similarly, single-sex classes in faith or other schools are not uncommon.

This is all that the Muslim-led schools appear to have done. However, Ofsted, not above political pressure, can quite easily judge curriculum, teaching and learning to be limiting and inadequate from a conventional standpoint as dictated by a generic inspection framework. This then negatively reflects on management and leadership (including the governors), and the schools end up in a failing category, including special measures.

For other schools, parental involvement is considered most desirable. Having inspected a number of schools in Birmingham, I know that many second- or third-generation parents just want the best for their children – more than the national curriculum. They understand that context is as important as content when it comes to teaching and is key in addressing underachievement. It is this that they wish to influence.

This seems to be the real concern for the authorities – a sort of fear of a “Muslim takeover” by a young generation who know the system well, including the government drive for community empowerment and involvement.

Husain Akhtar

Retired inspector of schools, Harrow

Free schools’ failure is frankly shocking

“When free schools falter, let them fall” (6 June) quotes statistics on the comparative performance of free schools and those maintained by local authorities. But free schools are new. A proper comparison would be between new schools of all kinds.

In my 30-year experience, new schools – with newly appointed headteachers and staff and new buildings – are almost all outstandingly successful in their first few years. For any new school to fail means that the wrong people were allowed to run the wrong kind of institution in the wrong place at considerable public expense and educational damage to its students.

Many free schools are clearly doing very well and should be congratulated on that. But the failure rate of free schools, compared with other new schools, is unprecedented in English education and frankly shocking.

Sir Peter Newsam

Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

Parents: trust teachers, not tests

As the parent of a child in Year 1 who will be required to take the phonics screening check this month, I would like to thank all the teachers in England’s schools who do a brilliant job of teaching our children to read and to enjoy the experience. They know what children can do and how to help them improve.

Why, then, is education secretary Michael Gove insisting that children sit a test that tells teachers nothing they don’t already know? Testing at age 5 and 6 is wrong and I urge all parents to call on the government to stop the test and trust teachers.

Name and address supplied

Who believes in performance pay utopia?

In “Fear of performance pay may be dwindling” (6 June), you quote Sir Peter Lampl, chair of social mobility charity the Sutton Trust, commenting that a survey revealed a “positive response by a majority of teachers to performance-related pay, based on senior staff assessment and pupil progress”.

But can the figure of only 1,100 teachers surveyed (a fraction of the workforce) provide a secure empirical conclusion?

“Reforms mean good teachers may be paid more”, reads the caption to the image accompanying the article, suggesting that education may be given increased funding, rather than the current reality of savage cuts and deprivation. I have yet to meet any teacher who is convinced by such blatant utopian bias.

Fred Greaves

Division secretary, Surrey National Union of Teachers

Build engineers from the ground up

Rhys Morgan is right to ask the further education sector to train more engineers (“ ‘Step up’ to engineer a solution to skills gap”, Further, 6 June). But we need to begin earlier than that.

The recent University of Winchester report Thinking Like an Engineer: implications for the education system shows that once you identify engineers’ habits of mind (systems-thinking, problem-solving and visualising), it becomes clear that the issue is more about pedagogy than physical resources.

If we start teaching children at primary school using the engineering design process and similar engaging learning methods in science, maths and design and technology, then we will be more effective at encouraging young engineers. FE is too late.

Professor Bill Lucas

Centre for Real-World Learning, University of Winchester

Conceive it or not

Mick Connell, co-director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, is confused: Joseph would have been far too busy getting his head around Mary’s incredible news of an impending “virgin birth” to discuss her own “immaculate conception” (“In the beginning was the word…”, 6 June).

George Bethell

Stowmarket, Suffolk


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