7th August 2015 at 01:00

A shoulder to lean on, but for what purpose?

What strikes me about "Staffing in the early years" (By the numbers, 31 July) is not so much the statistical information but the fact that the children in the picture are walking with their hands on one another's shoulders (see above).

I have only ever noticed this practice outside the UK. I've received some odd looks when, wearing my "elf and safety hat", I've asked why children have to walk like that when adults don't. I've even seen pupils going up and down stairs, complete with heavy satchels, in this formation. I'm at a loss as to why.

Rob Crompton

Newbury, Berkshire

Exam proposals are missing the mark

The notion that teachers should be expected to mark exam scripts in order to address the shortage of examiners is suspect ("All teachers should learn how to mark exams, says head of OCR board", bit.lyExamMarkingStory).

Such marking is a specialised activity, appealing to particular mindsets, and cannot be likened to the more discursive assessment systems that teachers employ in the course of their duties. Press-ganged examiners will make poor examiners.

Dr Millan Sachania

Headmaster, Streatham and Clapham High School, London

Let students be the judge

Why not let students assess their own progress? ("The `burdensome' assessment that weighs staff down", News, 31 July.) Ask any child after only a few days in a new class who is the best at spelling, maths and so on, and where they would put themselves on the list; they will know with unerring accuracy.

Maybe schools should be honing these skills. In my experience, children can engage in self-assessment from an early age and, with support and experience, can become surprisingly accurate. I have even found that pupils can effectively assess their work against external criteria and enjoy seeing how well they can improve their scores.

This idea has long been used informally in subjects such as PE, but perhaps it is time to use it in a more formal way, easing the burden for teachers and avoiding some of the timeconsuming and unnecessary overassessment of young people.

Frederick Sandall

Retired headteacher and local authority adviser

Lifelong friendship, forged in the staffroom

Thank you to Tom Finn-Kelcey for highlighting the benefits of spending time with colleagues ("Why teachers who play together, stay together", Comment, 31 July). The article brought a smile to my face as it demonstrated how great a school team can become through socialising together.

Over a period of about 10 years, the primary school I worked at fully embraced this, with regular meals, birthday celebrations, a Come Dine with Me competition and even a wedding reception in the school hall. Best of all, a group of us spent May half-terms in Portugal relaxing together (one year there were 19 of us).

We were a strong team, going above and beyond for the children and for each other. The fact that we took the time to get to know each other, regardless of the positions we held within the school, made that possible. It motivated us, allowed us to laugh, cry, reach out and open up, to try our best, to understand, to reflect and to carry on. As a result, staff retention was excellent, as were professional development opportunities and the sharing of good practice with colleagues.

Three years on and times have changed. The school has become an academy with new headteachers and new ideas. Most of the former staff have moved on - myself included.

However, what remains is a large group of friends who no longer work together but continue to play together. I would highly recommend socialising with colleagues for rewards both in and out of school. Portugal 2016 here we come!

Chloe Ogden

Primary school teacher, Oxfordshire

Reward systems sap self-esteem

In response to the article "Prizes are no way to reward pupils, expert says" (News, 17 July), I would recommend Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards as compulsory reading for all teachers. Reward systems rob children of the opportunity to develop intrinsic motivation and therefore the personal sense of satisfaction that is the only route to authentic self-esteem.

Without such systems in place, teachers would have to reflect on how engaging their lessons really were and how strong their feedback was. Active learning means more than being busy or entertained. When children are truly engaged, they find little need to push the boundaries.

I have used this issue as a springboard for discussion and the students always end up agreeing that reward systems are phoney and are relieved to be excused from them. Still, I suppose the idea of training children to pin their hopes on hollow rewards does serve as a simple model for our capitalist system.

Louise Knight

International teacher

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