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Dear Madam: letters to the editor – 12 March 2019

Ofsted's new inspection framework, the struggle to get disadvantaged children into Oxbridge and the decline of modern foreign languages – read what's been in the editor's mailbox this week

Dear madam: letters to the editor 28/3/19

Jules White highlights some difficulties related to Ofsted’s proposals for changes to their Education Inspection Framework. I write on behalf of colleagues working in the early years foundation stage and key stage 1 with further concerns relating to Ofsted’s assertion that the emphasis for children up to seven should be on numeracy and reading, as this will enable them to access the broader curriculum that is to be on offer in key stage 2 and beyond.  This will result in a restricted rather than a broad curriculum for children up to 7. 

The underpinning principles that apply to the Foundation Stage entitle children to a wide range of experience across the areas of learning, which should continue into KS1. The proposed changes to the Education Inspection Framework should be challenged, as they will not support effective practice for the youngest children in school. 

Although phonic knowledge is important, there is more to literacy, especially in English: the enjoyment of reading should be sustained despite the challenges posed by our orthography, where more than half of our most commonly used words are not phonically regular.  The powerful heritage of British early years care and education is recognised worldwide and should be acknowledged and celebrated.  It must not be suppressed in the service of ill-informed ideological preferences. 

TACTYC, the Association for Professional Development in Early Years, welcomes Ofsted’s reference to research studies that have informed their proposals. However, these do not represent the extent of knowledge developed over many years that has contributed to the depth and breadth of early years pedagogy in the UK, particularly in relation to early literacy. We have therefore included an extensive list of further suggestions of relevant research to supplement the papers listed in the consultation document, which we are happy to share more widely. Details are on our website:

Wendy Scott, president, TACTYC
Keswick, Cumbria

Colin Richards’ article about Ofsted’s expectations of primary schools misrepresents Ark’s curriculum programmes as being commercially driven. Ark is a charity. Our programmes – English Mastery and Mathematics Mastery – are provided at cost and any surplus is invested in the service. They are designed in partnership with teachers and are helping to reduce teacher workload as well as having a positive impact on student achievement.

Amy McJennett, director of English Mastery, Ark

Fifty years ago, I was a working-class lad who got a place at the University of Cambridge. Contesting James Handscombe’s pointers (“Breaking down the door to the ivory tower”, 5 April)”, I don’t think I knew how to think. My foundations of knowledge were not extensive. My ability to communicate was average. Each of these was fostered at university rather than before it. Why then did I get a place? The answer is chance – which half a century on is still a major factor for those who lack social credentials.  The eventual outcome? A degree three years on where chance again played a part.

Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

My teaching career has been full of mistakes. Making a mistake in a foreign language is easy. Words are frequently confused or misused.

An Algerian student asked me apprehensively, “What is Middlesex?” – perhaps imagining passion around the umbilical region. A French girl trying to translate “Ils se sont amuse’s” explained, “They funnied themselves all afternoon.”

Parts of the body can be used as verbs. Instead of “elbowed”, an Italian wrote “she stomached her way through the crowd”. I realised this is possible in late pregnancy. “Fingered” instead of “eyed” is another example.

A Swiss student told me: “The man (in the audio listening exercise) said he keeps his genitals in the fridge.” It transpired the description was about fishing and gentles are maggots used as bait.

I managed to say in French that I cook steak in the nude – “a poil” – instead of “a la poele, in a frying pan. I also innocently admitted to having a “swollen penis “ instead of “swollen gland” in a pharmacy when I had a sore throat and I translated I was “pregnant”/“full” after a delicious meal. A French colleague asked for a “tampon” to be put on his restaurant bill, asking for it to be “stamped” – for business purposes. A female visitor asked me for “un gant de toilette” – a toilet glove – and I gave her a sanitary pad. She thought English face flannels were very strange. A Scandinavian student said: “I left my coil on your sofa”. It was a small scarf, not an intrauterine device.

Spanish students happily admit to being constipated when they have a cold (blocked head) and usually ask for suppositories as medication.

It is a shame that modern foreign languages are being cut from many schools. Learning a language is important, helpful and amusing.

Anne Adams
London N6

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