10th October 2014 at 01:00

It's time to take a new approach to `Brand FE'

What a great idea to consider further education as a brand ("Brand of gold", Feature, 3 October). In the early Noughties, the Campaign for Learning commissioned researchers to explore this idea and came up with the central brand message "discover your hidden talents".

Now the issue has moved on. Although a voyage of personal discovery is important for learners, the real reason that FE remains undervalued is that we have failed to heed the results of research that show the sector is just as complex, worthwhile and worthy of understanding as higher education.

If we are to make apprenticeships work, we will have to focus on the quality of the learner experience as a priority and engage more with employers. Later this year we will be publishing a major piece of research into this important topic to stimulate wider debate about the essence of the FE brand.

Professor Bill Lucas, Centre for Real-World Learning, University of Winchester; Kirstie Donnelly, UK managing director, City amp; Guilds; Dr Lynne Sedgmore, executive director, 157 Group; and Stewart Segal, chief executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers

Private schools must show grace under fire

There can be no educational justification whatever for treating independent schools differently from state schools in terms of inspection ("Private schools face four-minute warning", 3 October). These institutions are quite happy to quote examination data when justifying their privileged positions; they should be equally happy to quote comparable inspection outcomes. The challenge for Ofsted is to work without fear or favour to develop a reformed inspection regime which does justice to all schools, whether they are local authority-run, academies, free schools or independents. The challenge for the private sector is to accept it with good grace.

Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

A perfect storm on the educational horizon

Ofsted's apparent commitment to a broader curriculum is a positive step ("Ofsted may end focus on English and maths", 19 September). However, it is still operating within a context that works against broad and balanced provision.

As long as the political agenda is dominated by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), with its emphasis on English and maths, the media pressure will be too great to be ignored. Fear of international failure drives media reporting, with little understanding that tables with a wider remit (notably the Trends in International Maths and Science Study and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) are more positive about English schools.

The new primary accountability system will be based on English and maths alone in Year 2, with science joining in Year 6. In secondary, GCSE will remain dominated by the English Baccalaureate performance measure and its narrow range of provision, reinforced in the sixth form by the facilitating subjects of the Russell Group.

Results from the new, Progress 8 exam system will arrive only from summer 2017, but problems are likely to be apparent before then owing to high-stakes testing earlier in the system and performance-related pay (PRP). Critics have already noted that the new system can be gamed by increasing the outcomes for high-achieving students, thereby worsening the chances of low-achievers. The introduction of PRP means an increase in pressure to deliver short-term gains, regardless of the long-term consequences.

The cheating scandal currently engulfing schools in Atlanta ("Soul-searching at the `ground zero' of high-stakes testing", 26 September) cannot be seen as a purely American phenomenon. High-stakes accountability plus a high-rewards performance structure is a toxic mix. A wider focus on outcomes is now essential.

Trevor Fisher

You can't put a price on commitment

It comes as no surprise to me that financially rewarding Year 11 pupils for hard work and good behaviour has no impact on GCSE grades ("Money doesn't talk when it comes to student behaviour", 3 October).

A bribe is a bribe, a short-term inducement to cajole somebody into doing something that they would not normally do. It demands neither loyalty nor respect and often results in the bribee developing contempt for the briber.

In my last school, we used a system of good comments in pupils' diaries to reward virtually any activity deemed to be positive. Kids like being praised - even the high-achieving ones - and our comments were the currency of praise. Because they didn't cost anything, teachers could give constantly and generously without fear of being out of pocket.

As a joke, I once gave a chemistry student a mole of good comments (6x10 to the power of 23) for correctly explaining electrolysis. He was thrilled.

I have no idea whether this system improved GCSE performance or not, but it was great fun for pupils and teachers alike and contributed to an atmosphere of healthy competition.

Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

Plus a change, plus c'est la mme chose

I note from the latest edition of The Linguist that the new AS- and A-levels in modern foreign languages are "not about quick fixes, but recognise the vital importance of planning for the longer-term, ensuring continuity and progression".

Does this mean that all the changes we have had to endure over recent years weren't similarly planned?

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

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