29th May 2015, 1:00am




Let's solve the problem of content, not exams

David Harbourne's article is timely and persuasive ("Closing the skills gap will take some doing", Further, 15 May). However, his proposal for a new national baccalaureate to bring together academic, creative and technical qualifications with personal skills such as teamwork and problem-solving is in danger of missing fundamental questions.

The roots of the problem lie in the structure and content of the subjects of the curriculum, not in the examination system.

The now-defunct Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) recognised the importance of this when it joined forces with innovation charity Nesta. A panel of both bodies called for an online resource to enable pupils to recognise and understand problems in the real world that might be solved through creativity, problem-solving, and the application of their intellectual and physical skills.

This QCDA initiative, entitled RECORDAT (Recognising Real Design and Technology), was developing well, with hundreds of web pages. But in 2010 a new education secretary decided that the QCDA would be shut down and the work was stopped.

Geoffrey Harrison


Call it what you like, `gaming' is cheating

What a concerning editorial message. "It's time to face up to the grave shortcomings of Sats" (22 May) paints a picture of a narrow education that limits children and has corrupted the profession. Call it "gaming" or "clarifying pupils' answers" if you like, but it's cheating. If this is routine practice for a large number of schools, it must be supported by a high level of tacit collusion throughout the schooling system. It may serve the interests of some professionals and politicians but not those of children or wider society. Our schools were once bastions of principle and integrity. What have they become?

Mike Hunter

Retired headteacher

A vote for democracy's future

The education sector is bracing itself for five years of Conservative leadership. But like Jo Brighouse ("Playing politics", 22 May), I hope our students will remember the 2015 general election as the moment they learned the important lesson of political responsibility. We ran a mock general election in our sixth form as well as a real election for the inaugural Wantage Youth Town Council. Both proved to be fiercely competitive.

Candidates for the youth council prepared manifestos and held hustings. The seats were hotly contested and students canvassed hard. By the end of 7 May, we had seven newly elected youth councillors, who will soon attend their first meeting.

Mock election campaign managers proved highly effective, resulting in a visit from prospective Liberal Democrat MP Alex Meredith. And the result? A hung Parliament, with the Green Party garnering the most votes. The outcome was a Green-Conservative coalition and some great political lessons.

Regardless of our own views, we must remember the important lesson of political responsibility and model how to discuss, debate and approach politics. Our future is in their hands.

Gareth Alcott

Assistant headteacher, King Alfred's Academy, Wantage

United in pragmatic collaboration

If the College of Teaching can break down barriers between sectors and subjects then it will be a good thing (" `Own' your College of Teaching - by paying for it", News, 22 May). But at present, numerous national bodies running on parallel lines are competing to represent teachers' interests.

Perhaps we need to begin at ground level. Within school we are encouraged to work across subjects and at a national level subject heads meet to debate initiatives. What I would like to see is more local networks combining the expertise of all middle leaders to raise our aspirations and achievements. Pragmatic collaboration is the glue that will hold effective change together, and strengthen and empower the profession.

Yvonne Williams

Ryde, Isle of Wight

We need grammars to rise up again

Former Labour minister Alan Milburn recently lamented falling social mobility but failed to confront one of the most obvious causes: the demise of grammar schools.

Among former prime ministers, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major were all state educated. Where are such people now? The objection to selective education was always that children would feel consigned to the scrapheap at 11. But if selection were instead made at 13 or 14, pupils would be in a better position to know whether an academic or more practical path would suit them.

The selection process should include assessment of interests and aptitude as well as careers counselling by independent advisers able to point to alternatives such as apprenticeships.

Michael Sinker

Retired proprietor of Career Discovery

Working in harmony will benefit us all

Ben Warren is right to draw attention to the issue of low-ability, poorly motivated children ("Don't steal state schools' gifted children", Letters, 15 May). The best school systems in the world bring all their children up to a reasonable standard in both academic attainment and personal development.

However, partnerships between the state and independent sectors can benefit everyone involved. Independent schools can learn about some of the difficulties faced by the state sector. State schools can access independent schools' facilities in science, languages and sports. Teachers from both sectors can share teaching practice, experience and subject knowledge.

Shouvik Datta

Orpington, Kent

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