TES letters

27th February 2015 at 00:00

You have to laugh at Ofsted's ban on satire

How refreshing to read an endorsement of satire from an influential senior figure in the world of further education ("If we attempt to stifle satire, the joke's on us", Further, 6 February). I too became an FE teacher in the late 1970s and also enjoyed the world according to Wilt. I have peppered my teaching career with my own satirical writings and sketches - FE has always furnished me with rich material.

When I left teaching to join Ofsted as an inspector in 2003 (withhold your venom momentarily), I was delighted to find that the annual conference concluded with a few satirical sketches and songs. I eagerly made my own contribution; having been hurled from college inspections into schools after four days' training and expected to arrive at two entirely distinct graded professional judgements on safeguarding, I had no shortage of things to satirise.

Suddenly, in 2008, we were told that any entertainment that poked fun at Ofsted or undermined the august organisation that employed us was "inappropriate". The sketches and songs were forbidden, and as far I know Ofsted conferences now conclude with exhausted colleagues propping each other up at the soulless bar of a corporate hotel. How sad that Ofsted so lacks confidence in its identity and standing that it cannot bear to laugh at itself. Just what is it afraid of?

Alan Marsh
Former Ofsted inspector, Weymouth

Philosophy GCSE - what's the big idea?

A C Grayling's campaign for a philosophy GCSE addresses a serious issue in education today (News, 20 February): the increasing lack of opportunity for young people and their teachers to think deeply about the big questions in life. RE is just the latest casualty.

The chance to explore the fundamental problems and issues that affect us all, and fascinate young and old alike, is being replaced by facts and figures about world religion that will have little impact on understanding and will soon be forgotten. All that is required of schools is compliance, therefore philosophy will not thrive, or not in a form that Grayling would recognise - better if we learn not to think, but simply to regurgitate the meaningless drivel that our political masters deem suitable. This dissonance between what teachers believe and what they have to do causes real stress for those who came into the profession to change the lives of young people for the better.

Kim Cowie
Deputy headteacher, County Durham

Language reform has made us tongue-tied

I have every sympathy for the sentiments expressed by Sally Butler ("Thirst for skills in a language drought", Letters, 20 February). She's absolutely right, but I have to heave a weary sigh. We've been down this road so many times before, with countless vocational language qualifications swept aside by that warped fanatic Michael Gove in his quest for "rigour".

Once the notion of equivalence was kicked into touch, we were left with an exam that, as any language teacher will tell you, is no preparation for advanced study and could even be considered a certificate of incompetence in a language, unless you want to regale your exchange partner's parents over dinner with a memorised paragraph about your ideal school uniform.

As long as the Bullingdon Etonocracy holds sway and we have a one-size-fits-all exam, we won't achieve languages for all, and the dire consequences predicted in Ms Butler's letter will come to pass.

John Connor

Independent MFL consultant, Devon

Staff need differentiation, too

Will Daniels makes some pertinent points regarding staff training ("Banging your head against bad CPD", Professional, 20 February).

I wholeheartedly agree that online training is horrific and impersonal if presented in a meaningless way. The argument that "CPD is done to teachers and not with them" is poignant as this certainly appears to be the case in some schools and colleges. Furthermore, teachers need to be inspired, developed, nurtured and empowered by CPD in order to experiment with different methods and approaches and to take creative risks in the classroom.

Moreover, training should be personalised to the needs of the teacher. Differentiation is needed during development days and we must not forget that staff, like students, need stretching and challenging. Unfortunately, some managers lack the confidence to let their most talented practitioners take the lead during Inset days. It is imperative that we think about our gifted and talented staff who are often left bored witless and wishing they were still sunning it in Sorrento.

Mark Damon Chutter


Privilege doesn't always pay the piper

Julian Baggini writes that "more doors are open" to privately educated people, reflecting the privilege of the wealthy ("The age of entitlement", Feature, 13 February). Let's remember that some of these schools are charities and offer places to those who are not at all wealthy. I recently attended a "musical scholars" concert at a private school where I completed a training placement. It was performed by pupils who had won assisted places because of their musical ability - wealthy or not, they had gained success through hours and hours of scales and repetitive, often dull, exercises.

As an occasional trumpeter, I wish I could purchase the ability to perform improvised swing solos. But that's a door I cannot open without having spent hours at the music stand.

Ivor Thomas

Trainee teacher, East Sussex

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