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Operation mop-up?

In her Last Word article (TES, December 19), Patricia Rowan reminds us that the Education Secretary said recently "we put far more money into mopping up problems than we do in preventing them".

I welcome the creation of the Government's social exclusion unit with no direct additional funding but a brief to ensure that through better multi-agency working we get ahead of problems rather than reacting often ineffectively to them.

I agree with Perri 6 and Tom Bentley of Demos ("No place to learn about life", December 19) that a radical review of the expectations of schools is needed, especially post-14. The custodial model is no longer relevant. It is here that we should be thinking the unthinkable. We need to grasp the reality of the changing demands and patterns of work and opportunties for learning. Life now means coping with uncertainty and change. Schools are some of the last organisations not to have been re-engineered to respond to this - that is partly why they are so resistant to change.

We need to look forwards not backwards and allow some entrepeneurships, innovation and risk into schools. This must directly involve teachers if it is to be genuinely experienced by students. It is right that at last we have grasped the importance of the basics for those in nursery and primary schools. For some time our concern has been the tail of underachievement, but we have done little to understand it, let alone transform it.

Perhaps the lack of anyone seconded to the social exclusion unit from education has led to the issues of truancy and exclusion as a narrow starting point. There is much more fundamental work to do if we are really to transform the life chances of those older students who are increasingly alienated and poorly served by current provisions demanded by statute in schools.

MARY MARSH

Headteacher Holland Park School Campden Hill Road, London W8

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