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Dear madam: letters to the editor 12/02/2019

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss Ofsted and the pupil 'strike' over climate change

Tes letters to the editor

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss Ofsted and the pupil 'strike' over climate change

Young people are making their voices heard

My position on school attendance is fixed and immovable. It is the key to progress, attainment and the fulfilment of potential.

But I cry shame on those who are pouring scorn on the thousands of school students taking to the streets in protest at climate change. Not because I advocate walking out of school, because I do not; rather because I am disappointed in the reaction of many to this movement, organised by children for children. 

The movement, Fridays for Future, started in Sweden and is now gaining real momentum in the UK with thousands expected to walk out of lessons this Friday.

Children and young people here in the UK are making their voices heard in a nationwide day of action across more than 30 towns and cities.

They are protesting about the failure of “older generations” to tackle in any meaningful or concerted way the devastating impact of ecological damage. The elephant in the room is of course that the “older generations” are the perpetrators of this crime against the climate.

Our not-so-meek children are demonstrating because they will inherit an earth that their elders have wrecked. It is like a perverse inversion of the situation in which parents return to a home wrecked by their teenage children.

Those who mock the protest have made comments such as:  “…ridiculous. What are they going to do? Down pencils? This is just truanting” (Toby Young). Or “misguided and delusional…. a recipe for disorder and a dangerous strategy. Once you go on strike you set a precedent for anything” (Chris McGovern, the Campaign for Real Education). Worst of all is Australia’s resources minister, who said that “the best thing you learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue”.

Is it cynical to look at those mocking the initiative and reflect that environmental catastrophe will not mark their lives nearly as much as today’s children, who may have to explain to their grandchildren, as one young spokesperson puts it, “what a polar bear looked like”?

Shouldn’t we be proud of our young people? And equally, concerned about the comment made by William Wragg, the MP and one-time teacher, who said: “I don’t see what learning will come of it.”

We teach our children all about the values of civic life, about individual liberty and about freedom of thought. In fact, this is delivered through the curriculum as "Fundamental British Values".

We should be proud of our children, who have shown the ability to think about the wider world, and about its future; who are collaborating and networking together and across the globe to protest about what we have done and now what we are failing to do. What amazing real-time learning there is in this, and what fantastic social cohesion. This is a call to arms in a generation often considered to have had it easy – no wars, improved healthcare and life expectancy, human rights, equality legislation. They are coming together in significant numbers and explaining why with clarity and maturity and a great deal of common sense.

They may not have been conscripted to fight in wars, but today’s young people are still prepared to fight for their future. I don’t endorse their “strike action”, but I think it is high time we matched their passion for the planet with some action of our own.

Pauline Hagen
CEO, New Collaborative Learning Trust

Give pupils the education they want

Does our education system function according to logic and compassion? Do we provide learning opportunities for our pupils, cater for their needs and ambitions, respect their preferences and encourage them to pursue what they're good at?

Or do we prescribe their learning, oblige them to work towards our goals, not theirs, and browbeat them into submission, should they object to or stray from the tasks we require them to perform each day?

Someone coming here from Africa might wonder why truancy is rife, why so many children find school distasteful, why they often seek to avoid study rather than embrace it, why classrooms can be unruly and teachers opposed, ridiculed and vilified. Most of all, they would wonder why so much money is wasted on a school population that doesn't want what's on offer.

But it's not "on offer", is it? It is pushed, forced, inflicted on the nation's youth to such an extent that they feel oppressed and react accordingly. Under our current system, schooling is too often a burden to be endured not a joy to be sought.

So, is there logic and compassion there? Ought we not to seek a way of finding out what young people's aptitudes, interests, ambitions and talents are and then provide them with the means to follow them? Waste, conflict, frustration, unhappiness are minimised; enthusiasm, productivity, satisfaction, achievement are maximised. 

AJ Marsden
Retired secondary school teacher

The risks of research

It was good to see an article critically examining Ofsted’s research report (“Marking Ofsted’s homework”, 1 February. Subscribers can read the article here), but it would have been even better if it had been complemented by a critique from someone not so convinced of the value of research as Sir Kevan Collins.

That critique might have raised questions as to why research, including that funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, has had such a limited effect on practice and as to how far, if at all, the research quoted directed Ofsted’s thinking along previously unconsidered lines rather than just informing or backing it up.

There is a very real danger of simplifying the complexities of teaching and learning; paradoxically, placing too much reliance on research rather than on professional nous can do just that.

By claiming in some places that its new inspection framework has been based on “inspection and research” and in other places on “research and inspection“, Ofsted is in danger of suggesting their equivalence as a basis for inspection policy and practice. The current state of educational research, which does not, and cannot, resolve matters of value, suggests that that is misguided, even dangerous. Remember, none of the research quoted in the report or in the article can answer the question “What should I do?". It can only address the question “What might I do?”

Colin Richards


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