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Dear madam: letters to the editor 11/1/2019

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss assessment, honours and the benefit of pupil choice

Tes letters to the editor, 11/1/19: assessment, new year's honours and pupil choice

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss assessment, honours and the benefit of pupil choice

Learners are individuals, not just bits of data

We are entering the second half of another data-driven school year with no sign of change towards the learner “having a voice”, but there has been a welcome raising of more general consciousness that the politically imposed academy trust system might not be achieving what the Department for Education promised.

After the false dawn of Assessment for Learning, which was quickly sanitised by the Department for Education and degenerated into a series of classroom gimmicks, this is a plea for formative teaching. The word "assessment" has become so brutalised by its centre-periphery model, owned by the DfE, that we need to think about its incorporation and integration within the daily classroom teaching and learning practices.

As the director of the UK’s first Centre for Formative Assessment Studies [CFAS, University of Manchester 1989-2014], my experience has taught me that the mere use of the word “assessment”, whether in a formative or summative or classroom typology, dooms the learner to some form of judgement, grading or scoring imperative. This was never the intention of the originators, practitioners and researchers of formative assessment.

So my wish for 2019 is that, instead of meekly following the DfE’s preferred classroom model of coaching for data production, teachers (and their defenders, school senior leadership) think about a formative teaching model. This has the learner as an individual who is supported to develop as an autonomous learner with an authentic voice, which leads to a significant involvement in his/her own learning progress.

Professor Bill Boyle
Tarporley, Cheshire

What about the footsoldiers?

Why was it that all those in the New Year’s Honours list working in schools were headteachers, principals or chief executives? Why the generals and not the bloody infantry? Another reason to dispense with the antiquated, discredited so-called “honours” system.

Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

Pupil choice would solve a lot of problems

Slavery is banned, women have the vote, gay people are liberated. But in schooling, basic logic and respect do not yet seem to apply. In secondary schools, we still cram together pupils with disparate interests and teach them one subject after another, whether they like it or not.

A little forcefulness is sometimes required to do this. We call it "discipline". Even so, the results are never totally satisfactory, and the means of achieving them even less so. There is stress, conflict and unpleasantness along the way, and extraordinary waste of time, effort and resources.

Isn't it obvious why this is?

Human beings, even small ones, don't like their freedom being taken away from them. Even less so do they like being constantly told what to do, especially when it goes against their natural aptitudes and aspirations.  Unfortunately, our system does just that. Can anyone see a clash here?

The freeing of young people from the "yoke" of education will not be possible in the foreseeable future. But the "school experience", for teachers and taught alike, could be eased if compulsion were less of an issue. To achieve this, all that is necessary is to match what pupils are called upon to study with the areas of learning they wish to pursue. Instantly a major grievance dissolves and learning becomes more attractive.

It's time to start thinking not simply of "options", but of genuine choice, so that pointless, empty learning, and the problems it spawns, disappear. 

AJ Marsden
Retired secondary school teacher



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