1st May 2015 at 01:00

This crisis is real and it's engulfing the profession

The 44,000 teachers who responded to the coalition government's workload challenge would profoundly disagree with John Blake that workload is merely "the word of the moment" ("There is no workload crisis - just politics", Comment, 24 April). A looming teacher recruitment shortfall is being compounded by a retention problem as teachers make the difficult decision to leave the profession and regain some work-life balance. A classroom teacher shortage will be the biggest educational challenge to whoever forms the next government.

Mr Blake's denial of the workload problem is shot through with false choices. Politicians do not have to choose between an education system which is effective for pupils' learning or one that backs teacher professionalism - the best systems achieve both. Neither should there need to be a choice between an effective accountability system and support for teachers.

It is baffling that Mr Blake lists the tasks of little educational value that teachers are required to perform and identifies their cause (unskilled interaction between poor quality school leaders and a badly communicating schools inspectorate), but then concludes that nothing should be done. And where is the evidence for his assertion that this is not the driver of workload difficulties in "some high-achieving schools"? Teachers working in "outstanding" schools tell me that workload increases exponentially as the pressure to retain the category grows.

Finally, Mr Blake's conception of elected governments "imposing" their vision of education is dispiriting and defeatist. Of course governments have the power to impose - but they would do far better to consult.

Mary Bousted

General secretary of the ATL teaching union

If John Blake is trying to argue that workload isn't a problem for teachers, I'm afraid his efforts are wasted on me. Amusing as it is to see him playing hopscotch over the chalked-out boxes of educational issues, his arguments seem to suggest that teachers who want to reduce workload are activists; are against accountability; and are going to damage the opportunities of deprived children. One might imagine that Carl Orff composed O Fortuna for just this moment.

His article is itself a solution "in search of a problem" because it does little to address the real teacher workload issue - a problem for which someone should be held accountable.

Lisa Pettifer

English teacher, north-west England

John Blake's article is packed with inconsistencies, contradictions, and sweeping generalisations and assertions.

His attempt to portray unions' emphasis on workload as irrelevant or counter to effective education is simply wrong. Overworked and stressed teachers are unlikely to be effective.

He criticises union surveys as being biased, yet conveniently ignores the Department for Education's own survey.

His accusation that "activists" want to see accountability rolled back is also wrong. Nobody with any sense objects to accountability but we are right to identify flaws.

Of course children are the essential focus of education, but putting workload issues on the back-burner is not going to increase retention and recruitment in a time of rising school rolls.

Nigel May

Waltham Abbey, Essex

Where's Ofsted? At the edge of an abyss

"Under fire on all sides: what fate for Ofsted?" is absolutely spot on (News, 24 April). I am involved in school-based teacher training and it's increasingly difficult to remain upbeat about my trainees' future when we see their colleagues taking part in the marking Olympics. It certainly doesn't do anything for the pupils - it's all to cover the school's back when Ofsted calls.

I'm now looking towards retirement in a way I never thought I would. It's just so pointless and idiotic. The Department for Education and Ofsted must wake up and see the abyss ahead.

Mark Turner


Over the past 12 years, the inspection framework has changed three times. On each occasion those of us doing the inspecting were told there was to be a "greater emphasis on teaching and learning". Educational outcomes are already measured by assessment systems; if interpreting this data is all inspectors are asked to do, they needn't leave their computer screens.

The heart of the job is to evaluate how well students are learning and how well teachers are teaching. If Ofsted can't command the confidence of the profession in carrying this out, then it needs to recruit more able inspectors. Inspection is an art, not a science, and it requires the judicious application by highly skilled practitioners of their own rich professional experience.

Alan Marsh

Former inspector

At the sharp end of music provision

By the numbers (24 April) may show an increase in the number of pupils learning a musical instrument in class, but the real concern is the enormous drop from Year 4 to Year 7. There's little point in getting classes of 30 to learn the ukulele or whatever if they don't continue after the free lessons end.

The hefty cost of music tuition is often too much for the family budget to bear. The few pupils who do continue into secondary school find themselves in a small and isolated group. The lack of variety in provision is also a worry. Then there is the fact that to become proficient in playing an instrument takes a lot more time and effort than learning Candy Crush.

Maybe I'm pessimistic and the picture nationwide is more encouraging than in my neck of the woods. I sincerely hope so.

Paul Ingleton

Head of music, Borden Grammar School, Kent

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