20th February 2015 at 00:00

`Entitled' pupils have the right to a fair hearing

As outgoing children's commissioner for England, I was interested to read the take on rights and a supposed burgeoning "culture of entitlement" in schools (Feature, 13 February).

Institutions across the UK that are part of Unicef's Rights Respecting Schools scheme would tell you - no doubt as wearily as I am here - that young people, taught about their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, are quick to explain that they do not grab those rights by denying those of others, including their teachers.

A 2010 analysis of schools holding the award shows clearly that discipline is better and more mutually respectful, rates of bullying and other disruptive behaviours are lower, and attendance is higher than at similar schools (bit.lySussexStudy). You can be a successful and orderly school and a rights respecting one. What a relief.

Nobody would be so simplistic as to go along with a notion that rights either sit alone and unquestioned or are there as a means of denying or traducing the rights of other children or adults. That is absolutely not what the convention stands for.

Can we please have a sensible, educated discussion about these issues - and one that includes children - rather than taking sides?

Dr Maggie Atkinson

Children's commissioner for England

The rain! To Spain, but shall I go by plane?

Dear Department for Education, we've just seen the sun for the first time this year. My thoughts naturally turned to the summer holidays and I'm looking forward to flying to Spain in a plane piloted by someone with no training or qualifications. Sooner or later I'll suffer a stomach upset and will be treated by a doctor with no training or qualifications. I'm sure you will approve and wish me happy landings and continued good health.

Bryan Meyer

Education consultant

How to find a happy medium

Although I agree that you must find a "happy place" to survive, I think it can often be outside your comfort zone ("The key to headship? Find your happy place", Professional, 13 February).

As headteacher of three very different primary schools during my career, I encountered many issues and social situations that were a far cry from my own background. What helped me to "survive" were the teams I worked with - most especially the people who lived in the community that served the school. These were rarely the teachers but instead the superb assistants, secretaries, cleaners and caretakers, who with careful management and respect can offer so much to any school.

So, for those contemplating headship, choose your school carefully but don't be put off serving a community "outside your comfort zone". Look to those who are there to support you and gain their trust as soon as possible. Good luck.

Frederick Sandall

Retired headteacher

Thirst for skills in a language drought

We should all be concerned about the sharp decline in language learning because it will affect everyone when the business sector can no longer interact with the rest of the world ("Dnde est our love of language learning", Further, 30 January).

Is it not time to develop a new strategy to engage learners and show them that learning languages is an essential skill irrespective of occupation? Can we not take the academic out of language learning and make it more vocational?

We are repeatedly told by our government that the UK is at the heart of Europe. This is not only geographically inaccurate but will also be totally unachievable if we are not able to communicate with our fellow Europeans on even a basic level. And please don't tell me everyone speaks English.

Sally Butler

Lostwithiel, Cornwall

When you're at a cliff edge, stop walking

I read TES articles. I read the letters. Nothing. We're at the edge of a funding cliff and the profession is busy admiring the view. If the 10 per cent cuts many predict after the election come into effect, I will have to lose 20 per cent of my teaching staff. Alternatively I could remove all teaching assistants (and more) or drop the entire teaching and learning responsibility structure.

We know what the Conservative Party is planning: Armageddon. And Labour's announcement was muddled at best and disingenuous at worst. Promising to peg the total pot of funding to inflation seems great until you realise they haven't included any provision for the huge rise in the school population.

So let's stop faffing with the net curtains while the house is about to be bulldozed and start thinking of solutions. Idea number one: Ofsted inspects schools only when data is poor and is reduced in size by more than 75 per cent, with the money saved diverted to school funding.

Joe Richardson


All eyes should be on IGCSE

Bernard Trafford is right to allow his subject heads to exercise their judgement on the suitability of qualifications ("Jury is out on whether the new GCSEs will demand more than their international rivals", bit.lyTraffordComment). This privilege should be extended to all schools.

The new GCSEs are untried and although the exhaustive detail in the mark schemes may reassure the regulators, this does not mean the new qualifications are intrinsically more testing. Any subject head wanting to make international comparisons and allow students to achieve their potential within demonstrably reliably assessed qualifications would surely go for IGCSE.

Yvonne Williams

Isle of Wight

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