Dear madam: letters to the editor 19/10/2018

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss 'racism', Ofsted and the results culture in schools
19th October 2018, 5:28pm


Dear madam: letters to the editor 19/10/2018

Risks in early language development

In the quest for targets and outcomes, teachers may inadvertently fall into bad practice regarding early language development.

I have only recently learned of the apparently widespread practice of insisting that four-year-olds achieve correct pronunciation of speech sounds as part of Ruth Miskin's "Read Write Inc" phonics programme. 

Teachers should be aware that the acquisition of phonology follows a developmental pattern and that it is quite normal for young children whose oral motor skills are not fully mature to find it hard to articulate certain sounds (for example, "j", "s" "th", which appear relatively late). 

Forcing children to do so runs the risk not only of demotivating them but also of inducing both confusion and stuttering. Working on auditory awareness and discrimination is a far more effective way of sensitising them to sound production than emphasising their difficulties and failures.

Nicola Grove
Retired speech and language therapist and honorary senior lecturer at the Tizard Centre, University of Kent

Racism towards Europeans in UK schools

I read your article concerning racism in UK schools and thought that it could be useful if I gave you my experiences.

There seems to be a growing racism in UK schools following on from Brexit. 

I am an Italian QTS teacher of art. I taught in London a few years ago, but more recently I have been trying to find an art teaching job (even temporary, part-time) in Bristol and I am sorry to say that I have experienced a type of subtle racism on at least three occasions when attending interviews.

My nationality was mentioned and highlighted and ultimately seemed to play a part in my not receiving any job offers commensurate with my qualifications and experience. In fact, the only work I was able to find was as a TA with a special needs agency, as a contract worker with an umbrella company: no financial security, low social status and a general feeling of weakness and vulnerability that can impact on a person's mental health. 

Although my nationality was raised, no one questioned my level of English, my ability to communicate effectively or suggested this was a factor in their decisions. In some ways, it would have been easier to accept this as an explanation rather than to draw the conclusion that it was simply my being European that was the major contributing factor.

This, alongside letters from the Home Office, the mention of £30,000 annual salary and the general uncertainty of my position here leads me to reconsider whether there is any long-term future for me in the UK.

It is upsetting to think that a country in which I have invested so much in terms of study, time, energy and affection is becoming a place that I don't recognise. Many Europeans have long looked up to the UK as a democratic and civilised society that could offer opportunity in exchange for hard work and commitment. This no longer seems to be the case.

Name and address supplied

Ofsted is tackling exam-factory culture

What chief inspector Amanda Spielman is belatedly addressing is the evidence that the St Olave's Grammar School attitude to test performance has become the norm ("Spielman: Teachers 'reduced to data managers", 11 October). It has taken far too long to address this "expected performance at all costs" mentality - and Michael Gove's misguided approach to "recitation script" examination "performance as assessment' prolonged the malaise.

In 2006, the British Education Research Journal published a research report (from my team at the University of Manchester) titled "A Curriculum without Foundation". This evidenced the massive skewing of primary school teaching towards "coaching" for Sats - which evidence was soon extended to the hijacking of the early years of secondary education for GCSE preparation! Twelve years is a long time to campaign for change in a system that is supposed to support children's learning development.

Professor Bill Boyle

We need radical thinking on curriculum

The criticisms of Ofsted's recently reported curriculum "research" are partly, but only partly, misplaced ("Investigation: Is Ofsted biased about the curriculum?",19 October). It is true that the sample of schools visited as part of the "research" was far from representative of schools nationally, with a bias towards academies and free schools. Presumably, this was partly because of recommendations from Ofsted's similarly biased curriculum advisory group and partly because of the inhibiting effect on curriculum thinking of an over-prescriptive national curriculum on schools other than academies and free schools.

But, if the purpose was to explore possibilities and not to generate generalisations, there was no need for a nationally representative sample. However, what was disappointing was the commentary on the exercise, which revealed a paucity of radical thinking about the curriculum among both the schools seen and the writers of the commentary. Was that the best that could be done? Or is it the case that, after 30 years of national prescription in state schools, fundamental thinking on the curriculum is now the preserve of parts of the independent sector? I hope not.

Colin Richards
Former staff inspector for the school curriculum

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