TES letters

6th June 2014 at 01:00

Idealism gets skewered by the need to hit targets

It was depressing to read "We train teachers up just to break them down" (Professional, 30 May). Once more it reflected how the meddling of target-obsessed politicians has not only stifled skilled and experienced teachers - forcing them to teach in the formulaic way that will fit the latest inspection schedule - but also demoralised those entering the profession.

Worse than that, in our desire to measure the often unmeasurable, we endlessly test children, who unsurprisingly lose whatever love they had for learning out of fear that they may not reach the required level.

Most teachers enter the profession with a genuine desire to make a difference. Before long, however, naive idealism is replaced by the need to meet targets. The difficulty is one of accountability. Just who is to blame if Jimmy doesn't meet his target grade? The answer won't be revealed by poring over data or solved by linking pay to targets. The writer is correct in suggesting that you get the best out of people by giving genuine support, not by quality-assuring outcomes. As sociologist William Bruce Cameron said: "Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted."

Rob Pitcher

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Racism raging in schools? Rubbish

I could not disagree more with the findings of the Runnymede Trust that not enough is being done in schools to tackle racism and prepare young people for the multicultural modern world (" `Racism still tends to be a very strong part of school life' ", 30 May). No system is perfect, but most schools bend over backwards to promote racial harmony and the celebration of difference through regular assemblies, PSHE and a highly developed system of pastoral care. Indeed, success in this area is one of Ofsted's criteria for a school being graded outstanding.

Children are endlessly warned about the dangers of stereotyping, but observing that some ethnic groups perform better than others does not constitute racism. The trust's director Dr Omar Khan is exaggerating a problem that is largely being addressed. If black Caribbean students are three times more likely to be permanently excluded and Chinese graduates earn less than their white peers, this is not the fault of schools.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

A new chapter in the sixth-form story

Hooray! At last, you are putting the fate of sixth-form colleges at the front and centre of TES. Can you please keep it going? Can you carry on raising awareness, as you did in your excellent editorial ("There's no explaining this sixth-form bias", 30 May), and carry on giving space to the issue in Further?

We are, as you say, on the edge of disaster in our sector. It is grossly unfair on the future waves of students who may be denied access to the best education. With the help of some decent publicity, however, we could change all this.

Thank you for perhaps starting the draft (to borrow your analogy) of a new volume in the history of post-16 education.

David Kinder

Head of English, Godalming College

Reform teaching, not spelling

Greg Brooks ("Spelling reform could happen - but it won't", Letters, 23 May) is right to say that no progress is likely to be made on spelling reform "given the political impracticality of getting the world to agree on any changes".

A number of countries, including many involved in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), are easily able to teach a very high standard of spoken and written English in their schools, despite it not being their first language, so they do not see the need for any spelling reform.

The children there are taught to read English by focusing on meaning and recognising words by sight, and by using the names of letters to spell and write them. They work out the different spelling-sound relationships in known words to help them to read and spell an ever-increasing number of new words.

By contrast, our schools require children to first use "synthetic phonics" to blend specific sounds together in an attempt to make each new word. And our government doesn't know how many hundreds of thousands of children are not able to accurately name each lower-case and capital letter.

There is no need for a spelling reform in this country, just a teaching reform, so that our children are taught more like those in countries located higher up the Pisa league tables.

Alan Davies

Educational psychologist, Thrass UK, Chester

A climbdown from high-stakes testing

As an opponent of the reductionist approach to educational "measurement" epitomised by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), I take some comfort from the fact that Shanghai is considering withdrawing from the testing programme because of concern that it is obstructing wider reforms ("Pisa prodigy Shanghai may pull out of tests", 30 May).

It is reasonably reassuring that one of its officials implicitly contrasted measurement-obsessed, Pisa-oriented schools with those that "follow sound educational principles, respect principles of students' physical and psychological development and lay a solid foundation for students' lifelong development".

Why, then, is my optimism guarded? Up to now Shanghai has been committed to high-stakes testing. As we know from the UK, high-stakes testing is correlated quite closely with bending of rules, manipulation of data and other questionable practices. I hope I am wrong but the cynic in me wonders whether Shanghai's Damascene conversion to "sound educational principles" relates to an implicit recognition of past dubious practice.

Colin Richards

Spark Bridge, Cumbria

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