TES letters

2nd January 2015 at 00:00

The future of examination is unclear. We need a guide

Last year, Richard Pring and I wrote in TES that it was essential to test exam reforms before introducing them ("Without a pilot, exams will crash and burn", Comment, 8 August). This has not happened. Although it is still possible for GCSEs, it is not for the new AS- and A-level courses starting in September. So, as the situation becomes increasingly unclear, it is absolutely vital that clear guidelines are issued by those in authority.

The new AS-levels are stand-alone qualifications but they do not necessarily need to be taught separately from A-levels. Students can be taught in the same classroom, and the exam decision does not have to be made until the deadline for entries. Even then there will be no need for separate teaching, as A-level students will need an internal, end-of-year exam anyway. However, those students who choose to stop at AS-level will not be able to go back to A-level. If they change their minds, they will not be able to bank the AS-level marks (as at present). They must understand this when deciding to take the exam.

People planning for courses in September 2015 need to know that although the coalition parties will not change this process, the Labour Party has committed to restoring a system in which AS marks count towards A-level grades. The final outcome therefore depends on the result of the general election.

At present, there is no synoptic statement of what the future holds; it is time that this was made by an authoritative body. In my view, the Joint Council for Qualifications is failing in its duty if it does not produce such a statement soon.

Trevor Fisher

We will pay the price of forced charity

Labour has threatened to make it mandatory for independent schools to adopt or sponsor academies, or risk losing their charitable status. A time will come when these schools say that enough is enough. Factoring in the funds already set aside for bursaries, there is a tipping point where it would be cheaper and less disruptive to a school's operations to forgo charitable status and pay the tax bill. The school would then be master of its own destiny, free to reduce its links with the community and, if it so wished, to cut back on bursaries - both of which would be a shame, but hardly surprising.

Independent schools don't want to adopt a fortress mentality. They are more than willing to share facilities, resources and expertise, but not when they are forced to.

David Rowlands

Will politicians really end workload woe?

I welcome education secretary Nicky Morgan's promise to address the issue of teacher workload and schools minister David Laws' concern about increased demands during inspection ("Shield staff from Ofsted pressure, headteachers told", News, 19 December).

I wonder, though, how much we can rely on statements made before an impending election, which may well be forgotten afterwards. Many current policies were developed during the teacher-bashing Thatcher years; despite being vehemently opposed inside and outside Parliament at the time and since, they are still with us.

We have passed the point where mere opportunistic pledges of good intentions were adequate. The expression "rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic" comes to mind.

Tony Mills
Semi-retired languages tutor, Stockton-on-Tees

The answer to the problem of teachers' excessive workload is in their own hands: don't put in more than 40 hours a week. Don't take work home at weekends or during the holidays. Ofsted's Michael Wilshaw can hardly fire the entire profession.

May I also suggest that teachers stop picking on pupils over trivial issues such as appearance and uniform. Also, if they did not make students waste their evenings doing homework, teachers wouldn't have to waste their evenings marking it. These measures would mean more happiness and less stress for teachers and pupils alike.

Mark Taha

There's no debate: questions are necessary

I read with interest the article "Our love of questions needs the third degree" (Professional, 19 December). In my classroom, I employ "dialogic teaching" methods that are essentially collaborative and exploratory, and I wholeheartedly support the argument that it is better to ask a few selective, carefully structured questions and wait for a measured response. Learners need thinking time to formulate their ideas. To encourage alternative interpretations during a debate, I sometimes say, "That is rather tenuous - would anyone argue with that view?"

It is imperative that questions are clear, provocative, stimulating and challenging, so as to make our learners think, reflect and evaluate their ideas and generate dynamic discussion.

Mark Damon Chutter

The Grimm reality of education reform

The best way to attack stupid policies is to debunk them, which Robin Taverner did in festive style with the help of four categories of pixie ("We're doing our level best in a world without elves", Letters, 19 December). I particularly like his use of fantasy characters; levels and performance descriptors are grim fabrications conjured up by the Department for Education, as horrifying as any character in Grimms' fairy tales.

Taverner deserves "imp" status. He'll need to enjoy it while he can; Ofsted gnomes are about and may pounce unannounced.

Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today