TES letters

21st November 2014 at 00:00

We can light the way for students lost in the dark

Reading the editorial "What kind of world leaves children suicidal?" (7 November), I felt moved to write in support of the feelings expressed.

As one of many designated safeguarding leads in schools around the country, I find it striking how frequently we have to deal with situations where children express suicidal thoughts. There's no single scapegoat and rarely any easy answers.

My advice to teachers and parents alike is this: give them time; listen to them; journey alongside them. The good news is that when children (and adults) express suicidal thoughts, it can often be a small step away from darkness to light.

Name and address supplied

The worsening situation for children's mental health highlighted in your editorial and by ChildLine's research findings (" `Nothing is more urgent than addressing the increased unhappiness in children' "), is storing up trouble for the future as well as the present.

Children are easily influenced by the messages they receive from role models on television and in the fashion industry. In the playground, a child who is not one of the in-crowd is often bullied or ostracised.

Young people who experience bullying or mental illness develop patterns of behaviour that they can carry into adult life. Teachers need to work closely with child and adolescent mental health services to address behavioural issues such as bullying and to make sure that all children are able to fulfil their potential academically, vocationally and as citizens.

Shouvik Datta
Teacher of English for speakers of other languages, Kent

Let's Stem the tide of subject snobbery

In promoting the role of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects, education secretary Nicky Morgan suggests that other subjects - the humanities, arts and, by implication, social sciences - will not open up a wide range of careers for young people ("Nicky Morgan tells pupils: study Stem subjects to keep your options open",).

This assertion is not supported by evidence on graduate employability, nor by the Russell Group's Informed Choices report on preferred "facilitating subjects", which include geography. This last subject experiences some of the lowest levels of graduate unemployment, and geographers include leading figures such as home secretary Theresa May.

Science and maths have rightly experienced significant rises in uptake in recent years, but it is time for greater balance in representing the contribution of many other facilitating subjects - including geography - to education and employability.

Dr Rita Gardner
Director, Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers

All hopes that greater sanity would prevail at the Department for Education were dashed when education secretary Nicky Morgan announced to the world that the only subjects worth studying were maths and science, and that those who studied the humanities and the arts would be disadvantaged for life.

If this point of view gains ground, funding will be reduced and generations of expertise will be dissipated. The nation's intellectual and cultural capital will be damaged and thousands of alienated young people will regard themselves as failures.

Lynne Taylor-Gooby
Principal, the Royal School, Haslemere, Surrey

Praise for Ofsted's by-the-book approach

It is unusual for me to defend Ofsted, but on the issue of book scrutiny, I think Russell Hobby of the NAHT headteachers' union and others are misguided (" `Assessment treadmill' may overwhelm staff", 14 November).

It was ludicrous for an inspector to make a judgement on teaching quality and learner progress in a 20-minute observation. At long last Ofsted has accepted this and now judgements of "progress over time" will take into account a range of evidence, including the work of learners. Some leadership teams have decided that the only way to produce such evidence is for teachers to mark and re-mark books.

But far better ways are available to achieve the same goals while reducing the marking load. First, give oral feedback and get students to record a memo of the feedback in the margin of their work. This evidence is instantly visible to any visitor.

Second, rather than getting learners to redo work, give targets for future work. Ask the learner to repeat the target underneath the title then, if they achieve it, award them a smiley face. Progress over time is easily identified, no teaching and learning time is lost and no re-marking is necessary.

Robert Powell
Author, trainer and former headteacher, Stafford

Elite sixth form won't set the world on fire

On the one hand I applaud James Handscombe, principal of the new pound;45 million Harris Westminster Sixth Form, for wishing to increase the number of low-income children in London attending Oxbridge and Russell Group universities ("This headteacher wants his students to run the country", 14 November).

On the other hand the enrichment of this unashamedly elitist, de facto grammar school may be at the expense of depleting surrounding comprehensives of their best students, much as the Premier League robs the Championship of its best players.

Using pound;45 million to nurture future state-educated Cabinet ministers is not good value for money, which would be better spent improving neighbouring schools. This is a misguided vanity project in which the education of the many is being sacrificed on the bonfire of the few.

Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire


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