8th May 2015 at 01:00

Languages are thriving - but we can do better

Nick Mair, chair of the Independent Schools' Modern Languages Association, states that independent schools are suffering from a "more severe" decline in language learning than the state sector (bit.lyLanguageDecline). The data Mr Mair quotes is no doubt correct but must be viewed in a wider context. A third of A-level language entries still come from the independent sector, despite the fact that it educates just 7 per cent of pupils.

My own experience - and that of many other independent schools - is contrary to what Mr Mair describes. We have had roughly the same proportion of sixth-formers studying languages for the past 15 years and there is no sign of this changing. Plus we have seen a significant increase in German this year.

How do we buck the trend? We insist that every pupil takes at least one language at GCSE, and in Years 7-9 we facilitate study of three modern foreign languages for those who are keen.

There is certainly a perception that languages are "difficult" and graded harshly in public exams. But it is up to schools to combat this. Once you get students into the classroom with strong teachers and modern teaching methods and resources, the benefits of learning a language become apparent.

We need a two-pronged approach. First, include languages in the promotion of essential subjects for a robust career - and let's see the same level of engagement from employers as we do in science. Second, let's go a step further than including languages in the English Baccalaureate: let's send a strong message by making them compulsory at GCSE. This is something all independent schools can choose to do.

Alice Phillips

Headteacher of St Catherine's, Bramley, and a former president of the Girls' Schools Association

Holding teachers in a cell of jargon

To reclaim education ("Schools, yield no longer. Let's reclaim education" Comment, 1 May), might I suggest realigning the media-political rhetoric? "Holding teachers to account" conjures up images of teachers in holding cells awaiting trial. Nobody seems to know what the collective crime is. "Toolboxes" are essential for skilled tradespeople but teaching is more complex than a leaking pipe. I belong to a value-driven, altruistic profession that employs subtle pedagogy to provide the best education possible within the climate our politicians provide.

Yvonne Williams

Ryde, Isle of Wight

All's well that tends well-being

How refreshing to read the assertion that a child's well-being affects their learning ("Contentment has to come before attainment", What keeps me awake at night, 24 April). Research has repeatedly shown that an unhappy child will not learn as easily as a happy one, yet we do little to teach emotional well-being in schools. There are pockets of great practice; now, surely, it's time to make this a requirement in all schools.

Our experience at VisionWorks for Schools has shown that students of all ages are eager to learn life-enhancing well-being skills. However, many teachers feel uncomfortable teaching them. It is time to make this a mandatory part of teacher training so that all staff are able to model and teach the principles of well-being. Not only would this make for happier students and better results, but in a stable, secure environment mental health issues would also be less prevalent. Our schools would be transformed. We know because we've seen it happen.

Sue Allen and Janet Grant

VisionWorks for Schools, Wiltshire

Keep your friends close in troubled times

Both Ann Mroz and John Tomsett point out that many schools will be in dire financial straits as cuts bite after the election ("The only certainty is that teachers must vote", Editorial, 1 May; bit.lyTomsettElection).

As governors of a small, rural secondary school faced with falling rolls and a totally inadequate funding formula, we are certainly agonising over our situation, but we remain determined to sustain a curriculum offer that does not disadvantage our students, whatever the financial consequences.

Unlike many secondaries, we did not rush to obtain academy status (and the accompanying funding). In our time of financial need the local authority has been very supportive - acknowledging the school as a protected strategic resource for the isolated communities it serves. We now know who our friends are. I suspect that in the near future many academies will rue the day they ceased to be community schools with community values at their heart. I cannot imagine that the remote leaders of academy chains will be as supportive or sympathetic.

Colin Richards

Spark Bridge, Cumbria

Independents, go back to core principles

The TES Independent School Awards (www.isawards.co.uk) acknowledge the great contribution these institutions make to British education and Britain as a whole ("Put your school in the spotlight", Funding for Independent Schools, 24 April).

Independent schools are justly renowned for their academic excellence - my own school, Dulwich College, is no exception. And through teaching children from other countries they make a significant contribution to Britain's balance of payments.

However, it is basically unfair to connect the quality of education a child receives with the ability or willingness of their parents to pay for it. Independent schools should return to one of the key principles by which many of them were founded: teaching poor but academically gifted children. In exchange for their continued charitable tax status, they should be obliged to provide more bursaries and support less well-resourced education through partnerships with schools and local authorities.

Shouvik Datta

Orpington, Kent

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