TES letters

20th June 2014 at 01:00

Transition can help learners to take flight

In the excellent article "Keep transition on track" (Features, 13 June), much useful advice was given. However, for those with special educational needs, transition can be more complex. It can be difficult and daunting, but it can also be a positive celebration of achievement, a stepping stone to a career or a bridge into a new phase of learning, maturation and autonomy.

In the current economic climate, though, the rich palette of opportunities is becoming more restrictive, with reductions in some educational pathways, health and social services support under pressure and living choices more limited.

Educational services are a strong conduit for the transition process. When working with experienced, well-qualified and determined staff, the results can be positive, productive and life-enhancing. Transition can be liberating for marginalised learners who often find a voice at these significant moments.

Dr Len Parkyn

Transitions team consultant, St John's School and College, Brighton and Seaford, East Sussex

As a retired secondary maths teacher and a primary school volunteer, I was interested in your article about transition. Despite lots of research saying that the best results are achieved by mixed-ability grouping, successive governments have told us that schools should teach in ability groups. Such groups are based on information from primary feeder schools. But this could potentially inflate students' potential or undervalue it.

Some schools spend the first few weeks on their own assessments. However, this means that students' early experience of secondary school is marred by immediate testing. Surely the best way to start a new school is to teach in mixed-ability groups. There you can ensure that students have a happy introduction to secondary and encourage them all to reach their potential - including the brightest and most enthusiastic.

Mike Rath

Barnstaple, Devon

British values? Make them universal

Much has been made recently of the importance of instilling "British values" in education. Values often resonate beyond national borders. Therefore, we believe that by embracing values grounded in universal principles we can provide children with the best environment in which to learn and prosper.

Through Unicef's Rights Respecting Schools Award, we work to embed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child at the centre of our schools' ethos and culture. This has had an incredible impact on pupils and staff. Children feel valued and know what their rights are. Crucially, they also gain a vital understanding of the wider world.

Many schools across the UK already embrace values of freedom, respect and tolerance. We believe that it is by safeguarding these universal values that we can create a generation of children who are actively and positively engaged in society.

Catherine Aden, headteacher, St James' CofE Primary School, Rochdale;Elena Evans, headteacher, Stag Lane Junior School, Middlesex;Jennifer Pearce, headteacher, Thornley Primary School, County Durham;Alison Smith, headteacher, Yohden Primary School, County Durham;Rachel Cook, headteacher, Cotsford Infant School, County Durham;Beverley Jones, headteacher, Cotsford Junior School, County Durham;Marie-Louise Binks, headteacher, Wingate Infant School and St Joseph's RC Primary School, County Durham;Jean O'Neill, headteacher, St Peter's CofE Primary, Rochdale;Rachel Cross, interim headteacher, St Mary's CofE Primary School, Slough, Berkshire;and Dolores Davidson, personal development and mutual understanding coordinator, St Joseph's Primary School, County Antrim

Education is a lesson in politics

Forty years ago, a group of politically affiliated governors attempted to alter "the character and ethos" of a London primary school that was offering a progressive, secular and egalitarian education. In the ensuing conflict, "a breakdown of trust" left "teachers feeling bullied, intimidated and in fear of losing their jobs". The school was criticised for not holding religious assemblies and gender equality achievements were ignored. Teachers were dismissed. Regardless of the reports of supine inspectors and politicians' vacuous values, all education is political and the most powerful determine its content.

Brian Haddow

Former teacher, William Tyndale Junior School, London

The shot heard across 100 years

Next week, on 28 June, we will mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The action that sparked the First World War will now spark an unprecedented period of commemoration. Sadly, this did not become the "war to end all wars", but it was the one that changed everything. The tragic centenary offers an opportunity for teachers to help children to think for themselves and explore the diverse consequences of this hugely significant period of our history.

Melanie Moore

Curriculum director, Cornerstones Education

Man v machine

Further to your article on Ark Schools' plans to set up a new school using technological innovation ("Academy plan heralds rise of the machines", 13 June), we wanted to clarify some things.

Our interest is in what will deliver for pupils in the communities we serve - this is not about having fewer teachers or bigger class sizes. In fact, high-quality teaching is at the core of what we do, hence our recent accreditation as a teacher training provider. The documents you mention were a summary from two years ago of some of the advantages and disadvantages of using technology and we intend to learn the lessons from how such techniques have been applied in the US and elsewhere.

Blended learning is only one part of what technology can offer. Research shows that it can also pay dividends when pupils are able to set their own learning pace, work in small groups and gain instant feedback. We are interested in such innovation only when its effectiveness has been carefully assessed.

As ever, we seek to innovate in our practice to ensure that our pedagogy keeps pace with the rest of the world. As we recruit a principal for Ark Pioneer who will research the most up-to-date evidence, we will be in a position to further expand our plans.

Lucy Heller

Chief executive, Ark Schools

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