17th July 2015 at 01:00

Decades on, we're still waiting for equal schools

"It's 50 years since the birth of comprehensive education" (Feature, 10 July) raises many issues. Of course, a discussion about comprehensive education must include what is taught, but who gets through the doors must also be a major consideration.

Although, as John David Blake says, 90 per cent of England's children attend non-selective schools, that does not mean they are unaffected by selection at 11. He should have mentioned the 36 local authorities that have grammar schools and the fact that 10 per cent could be considered fully selective. Selection affects those who "pass" but also the majority who "fail".

It is unclear what Mr Blake means by an ideological furrow. If he means that comprehensive supporters should embrace selection at 11, I would rather stay in the furrow. But we do need clarity. Academies can be comprehensives; the terms are not mutually exclusive. Selection can be ended.

Margaret Tulloch

Secretary, Comprehensive Future

The "birth of comprehensive education" did not occur 50 years ago when Circular 1065 was issued, but during the 1944 Education Act which led to that. This required local education authorities to provide secondary education in schools "offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes".

The government preferred a tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools - terms that nowhere appear in the act. But some local authorities educated children of all abilities within single "comprehensive" schools. In London, the first of these schools, Kidbrooke, was opened in 1954.

Circular 1065 in 1965 "requested", because the government could not "require", local authorities to submit plans for ending selection. It was well received, but to claim that a circular, lacking the force of statute, "gave birth" to anything is simply untrue.

Sir Peter Newsam

Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

Inspectors are losers under Ofsted, too

As a headteacher of a "good" school, I have read with despair articles stating that Ofsted's purge of inspectors resulted from "robust" assessment ("Ofsted purges 1,200. Now schools want to know who", News, 10 July). The letter "Ofsted's `purge' is all for show" (10 July) gives us an alternative viewpoint. Here is a third: the methodology was not robust but unreliable.

Although I am a very good inspector - as acknowledged at my sign-off and during subsequent inspections - I was not selected. So either I suddenly became very ineffective during selection or (dangerous thought) we should question the process.

I have evidence suggesting that no margin of interpretation was allowed during the online assessment. Certainly, this tool was not used alongside other more nuanced, field-based evidence to reach a rounded judgement. Remind you of anything?

Unfortunately even professional associations have not challenged the veracity of the process. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, stated that "40 per cent weren't up to the job", rather than questioning why so many eminently qualified and experienced inspectors have been lost.

Peter Devonish

Headteacher, Dereham Neatherd High School, Norfolk

Who'd have thunk it? Philosophy works

The news that philosophy greatly improves pupils' attainment in reading and maths will not surprise the substantial number of prep schools that provide philosophy lessons ("It stands to reason that philosophy benefits learning", News, 10 July).

This is often linked with the work of Independent Thinking and Ian Gilbert, whose Little Book of Thunks is an entry point for many pupils. Thunks, some of which are demonstrated in your article ("What is bravery?", "Why do we have to be kind to other people?"), provide an excellent way to get pupils critiquing ideas. Philosophy not only enhances academic and moral education but also pupils' personal outlooks on life.

David Hanson

Chief executive, Independent Association of Prep Schools

Why does encouraging children to discuss philosophical questions need to be validated through literacy and numeracy test scores? The success of philosophy for children should be judged in terms of their increased interest in, and engagement with, philosophical issues and their willingness to challenge assumptions, such as the overwhelming importance of literacy and maths to their lives as human beings.

Colin Richards

Spark Bridge, Cumbria

`Extra'-curricular activities are essential

The Scout Association survey revealing that state school students want the same extracurricular opportunities as fee-paying ones closely matches my own experience and was a core part of our plans as we designed the free school King's Leadership Academy Warrington (bit.lyScoutCharacter).

A good education is not enough to ensure that every student, regardless of background, has the same chance of success. Extracurricular activities offer essential learning and development opportunities. They build confidence and give students the evidence to convince employers and universities of their abilities.

Our extracurricular programme is compulsory and built into the school day. By budgeting carefully, we manage to provide opportunities that would be the envy of any private school. Recently, our Year 7 and 8 students have had the chance to learn ju-jitsu, take a first aid course and start their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh's Award. They all get music tuition and visit universities, museums, art galleries and theatres.

These activities should not be seen as "extra"-curricular but an essential part of a well-rounded education.

Sir Iain Hall

Chair of governors, King's Leadership Academy Warrington

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