14th August 2015 at 01:00

Employers: get involved to get better workers

Sky Academy's Deborah Baker quite rightly points out that employers need to play a bigger part in the education of young people ("Together we can tip the balance on skills", Comment, 7 August). I couldn't agree more.

We are reaching a critical point, as skills gaps continue to widen across industries and employers increasingly complain that school-leavers are not sufficiently prepared for work. But the question is how and at what point employers should engage with young people. Offering a week's work experience or delivering the odd lecture is not enough. Employers need to be involved from the beginning, helping to design and deliver curricula that equip students with skills that are relevant to the world of work.

I am pleased to say that this is starting to happen. We have been delighted with the positive response and willingness of employers to get involved with our network of Career Colleges, which centre on an employer-led, career-focused ethos for 14- to 19-year-olds. Further education colleges are leading the way when it comes to facilitating this innovative education but there is no reason that schools can't do the same.

Ruth Gilbert

Chief executive, Career Colleges Trust

Ability grouping has singular problems

In this era of performance data, league tables and data points seem to be the main driver of teaching and learning. As a result, pupils fall victim to an emphasis on exam results. But what about grouping by ability? Is it not just normal classroom practice to assist differentiation?

In my studies, I have researched these questions and discovered a variety of hidden consequences of ability grouping, from self-fulfilling prophecies of expectation to reduced self-esteem, increased bullying and, crucially, no obvious improvement in results. Why do we continue to use such methods when research shows them to be ineffective and costly?

Joshua Bennett

Primary PGCE student

Autonomous students need responsibility

I agree with Frederick Sandall about letting students assess their own progress ("Let students be the judge", Letters, 7 August). Students are very capable of tracking their own progression if they are given the assessment criteria and the support to understand them.

Years of teaching NVQ, GNVQ and BTEC courses have taught me that students are their own best critics; we do them a disservice if we assume that it is only teachers who can correctly assess work. Allowing students to judge their own efforts results in better student engagement, improved confidence in the subject and a better standard of work overall. It also means that assessment is less burdensome for staff and can result in innovative approaches to assignments.

We want students who are autonomous learners with new, exciting ideas, not learners churning out more of the same. Students need to be part of the complete learning process, not just given the crumbs we think they can manage - could anything be more frustrating?

Sally Butler


Paper-based marking is cruising into peril

The recruitment shortage in markers has been exacerbated by the return to using only summative exams instead of some authentically validated coursework ("Exam board seeks markers on cruise ships", bit.lyCruiseShipExaminers). Although it is admirable that new recruitment ideas are reaping expertise, the shortfall on the horizon threatens learners and presents a clear and present danger to the quality of the qualifications system.

The OCR's Mark Dawe is right to state that a long-lasting solution is needed; the shortage is not going away and is only going to get worse. The centuries-old tradition of paper-based marking is merely feeding the malaise of stakeholders who are unsure what change could look like and fear an unfair system.

Techniques and technology such as comparative judgement and evidence-based assessment have gained a major foothold in vocational and professional assessment. Moving these into general qualifications would be better for learners, liberate examiners and give greater currency for the world of work or further learning.

Dan Sandhu

Chairman and chief executive, Digital Assess

We must resist radical exam intervention

Last week's report on OCR's mismanagement of assessment in the summer of 2014 (bit.lyOCRMismanagement) does not make for edifying reading. Although it is humiliating for senior managers to have their dirty linen aired in public, it is much more disturbing for the education community to think that OCR may have handed the government the opportunity to take one exam board under ministerial direction and control. If such a thing goes ahead, teachers and students will be denied freedom of choice and the curriculum will inevitably be narrowed.

However imperfect the current assessment system is, such radical intervention will not solve its many ills. When will we learn that changing organisational structures does not in itself resolve the underlying problems? We need better conditions, training and remuneration of examiners to draw more teachers in and improve accuracy. It is not possible to have a system completely free from error, which is why we need a cheaper and fairer appeals system.

Yvonne Williams

Isle of Wight

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