Head's solution reveals private-sector blinkers

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Gillian duCharme, head of Pounds 14,000-a-year Benenden (TES, October 31), may have been "brave" to spend a week supply teaching at an east London comprehensive. She also claims to have had "a very good learning experience".

One of her criticisms reveals, however, that she was not quite as a good a learner, or a classroom manager, as she makes out. She complains that as far as she was concerned, most of "the support teachers, there to help statemented pupils cope in mainstream classes . . . were sitting there doing nothing".

I cannot speak for the school in question, but I would suggest that if these support teachers were present in any of her classes, she had a basic responsibility to deploy them effectively. Better still, she ought to have agreed an agenda with them before the lesson began.

Her solution mirrors the blinkered vision of a teacher too long in the independent sector: "Why not take the students out of the classroom, if they can't cope, at least for some periods every week and give them extra help, and then put them back in the classroom?" Whose lessons should they be withdrawn from? What if conscientious subject teachers object on the grounds that they, and not support teachers, are responsible for teaching and assessing their students? What about the fact that many special needs students loathe being withdrawn? How can they be re-integrated when they have missed so many mainstream lessons?

Withdrawal is one strategy which may be appropriate in a tiny minority of cases. It certainly is not the panacea which Ms duCharme suggests, nor is it an alternative to effective in-class support, which assists more students.

DAVID R WILSON 16 Earlington Court Forest Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne

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