TES letters

28th November 2014 at 00:00

`Outstanding' is always in the eye of the beholder

As a former inspector, I recall that the first thing most headteachers did when receiving the call from Ofsted was to ask the name of the lead inspector ("Does your grade depend on the inspector you get?", 21 November). It puzzled me why this was so important in a system that was supposedly so objective.

The differences in outcomes because of the way inspections are conducted have now led to fundamental questions about the future of school inspections, and rightly so.

Sir Tim Brighouse ("My vision for a better Ofsted relies on trust", Comment, 21 November) has got it right, as one might expect from this eminent critic. A top-down system that does not invest in school self-evaluation is not fit for purpose. I recently heard about an inspection where a new headteacher endured two days of full-on criticism. Naturally she was left demoralised with no idea of how to plan for improvement. The critics just walked away, moving on to their next "victim".

Let us sincerely hope that Sir Tim's vision is put into practice sooner rather than later. If so, we may have a truly useful inspection system that supports school improvement.

Frederick Sandall
Retired adviser and former Ofsted inspector

In response to "Does your grade depend on the inspector you get?", I could pose my Ofsted question: "Is it possible to get outstanding without using smoke and mirrors?"

Becky Durston
Retired headteacher, Barnston, Essex

The growing disquiet regarding Ofsted's reliability is well documented. So let's agree to remove all banners and signage from educational buildings that boast of being judged outstanding. A simple, but effective, symbol of our disdain.

Bob Shinton
Disillusioned teacher, Lincolnshire

English `by accident' would be a car crash

In "Why we should simply stop teaching English" (Comment, 14 November) Dr Heather Martin claims that "our children" have an "intimate, intuitive relationship with our own language". She thus bases her argument on a false premise: that English is the native language of the children of this country. Figures from the Department for Education show that nearly 20 per cent of primary-aged children are non-native speakers of English, a figure that rises to nearly 75 per cent in some parts of London.

She argues that we should allow children to learn English "by accident". While she does make some valid points - for instance, that we assimilate vocabulary in context - she fails to take into account that children do not all pick up language equally.

This is a political issue. If schools fail to teach the rules of the English language to all children, the gap between those who come from educated families with good language models (whatever their native tongue) and those who hail from a disaffected underclass is set to widen.

Halina Boniszewska
Former language development adviser, Warwickshire

Let's come to our senses on learning styles

The fact that we learn using all our senses shouldn't need pointing out. However, when the Vak (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) learning styles bandwagon rolled into town, it seemed to be forgotten. Pupils had to be categorised and fed an unbalanced pedagogical diet. Intuition told teachers this was largely counterproductive but still it was steamrollered through in many schools. Thank you, Daniel Willingham ("Listen closely, learning styles are a lost cause", Professional, 21 November) for pointing out the myths surrounding this approach.

We believe a range of opportunities should be available for all children, enabling them to use all their senses to learn through investigation, observation and application. That's the approach our curriculum model uses to great effect.

Elaine Sutton
Creative director, Dimensions Curriculum

Safety first for school exchanges

Children learn best when they feel safe ("Zut alors! Is the exchange trip over?", 21 November; "Schools bid adieu to foreign exchange trips", bit.lyExchangeSafety). It is right that schools and parents recognise the risks in sending children to stay overseas. However, the solution is not to abandon the idea but to ensure that the highest standards of safeguarding are in place.

Because there is no international standard for safeguarding, the charity Child-Safe has developed Travel-Safe, a practical training and assessment programme for schools and others involved in youth travel. With high standards of safeguarding, young people can continue to benefit from educational travel.

Dave Grimstead
Director, Child-Safe International

A close reading of textbooks' flaws

In light of the discussion about textbooks, there is another way in which they may undermine rather than improve learning ("Teaching by the book is no miracle cure", Editorial; "Turn the page on `anti-textbook ethos', report urges", 21 November).

The brain needs to work to acquire understanding. To find out about cells, you could read a text and highlight key words; make lists of key points; represent the text as a diagram; or summarise content. All these methods can help learning.

When you turn to a textbook, this hard work has been done for you. The guiding principle seems to be: present the information as accessibly as possible. But this can be at the expense of developing literacy and better understanding. I look forward to textbooks that are both knowledge-rich and don't shy away from demanding real effort from students.

David Bryden
Christchurch, Dorset

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