24th April 2015 at 01:00

If you want well-tailored research, look locally

Professor Dylan Wiliam makes some worthwhile points in saying that teacher-led research alone will not bring about universal improvement ("The research delusion", Feature, 10 April). It is likely that a one-size-fits-all solution won't suit every situation.

The Association for the Study of Primary Education supports and encourages teachers and schools to undertake their own local research in the context of their work. Increasingly, this is being done with partner universities. Professor Wiliam is right in acknowledging that what works in one school community may not work in another. We believe in placing the focus on a particular school and the professionals within it. Local research can be used to strengthen the philosophy of a school or its approach to teaching and learning. Or teachers may adapt larger-scale research projects to the needs of their own school.

We must trust teachers' professional judgements and celebrate the many positive aspects that come out of school-led research. And unlike some larger-scale research projects, outcomes have to stand the test of local accountability.

Paul Latham

Chair, Association for the Study of Primary Education

Professor Dylan Wiliam is quite right to stress the practical wisdom of teachers and the need for them to know their students.

Knowing a student means understanding the influence of religion, sexuality, gender, nationality, language and socio-economic status on their behaviour and thinking. Over the months and years, teachers build up a level of detailed knowledge of their students that general research cannot replicate.

It is also important for teachers to develop relationships of trust with pupils and parents. For this, a knowledge of the local community is important. Libraries, community associations and local mental health services can play a crucial role in building these relationships.

Shouvik Datta

Orpington, Kent

It's time we built up support staff's pay

Tom Finn-Kelcey is right: support staff are the "foundations that a good school is built upon" and we should "improve awareness and raise the status of such vital roles" ("Why our support staff need superstar status", Comment, 17 April).

That is why, in its election manifesto, Voice is calling on the next government to set up a national pay and conditions structure for all support staff, and to provide the funding to enable schools to recruit and retain the staff they need to deliver high-quality education (www.voicetheunion.org.ukmanifesto2015).

Pay for support staff varies greatly across the country. The introduction of a national pay and conditions system is long overdue, as is a coherent career structure supported by CPD.

Deborah Lawson

General secretary, Voice

Mock elections generate real passion

I agree that staging a mock general election is an excellent way to stimulate debate and develop the art of rhetoric ("Why playing politics is a serious business", Professional, 17 April).

In 2010, at my former school in Hounslow, West London, we invited local candidates to address the sixth form and answer questions. This enabled students to experience the wisdom (or lack of it) of real politicians, and witness politics in the making when the sitting MP lost her seat a few days later.

At a time when large swathes of the electorate are disengaged from the political process and complain about feeling disenfranchised, there is no better way of ensuring that the next generation becomes proactively involved in changing society.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

Test less, teach more

The blog by GL Assessment's chief executive Greg Watson brought to mind the possibility of less frequent assessment (" `Whoever becomes the new education secretary, don't you just know they'll want to reform exams' ", bit.lyGregWatson). It is tantalising to consider the benefits this might accrue.

The unintended consequences of our current regime include focusing too much on the grade, teachers building on previous knowledge in smaller steps in order to demonstrate progress, a low tolerance of failure and limited opportunities to take risks. If we test less, we teach more. It becomes easier to distinguish the "signal" from the "noise", and is less stressful all round.

Yvonne Williams

Ryde, Isle of Wight

Why practice makes perfect motivation

I used to be a big fan of motivational posters ("Are posters a strategy worth sticking to?" Professional, 10 April). But after reading Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, I came to realise that success is less about believing you can do it and more about how hard you work. Instead, try individualised booster cards with statements about children's past successes, however small. Perhaps they won a race on sports day or have 100 per cent attendance. These cards remind pupils that they have achieved in the past and can do so again with hard work. This puts across Gladwell's belief that "Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good."

Jane Redfern Jones

Chair of governors, Wrexham, Wales

For whom the TES polls

How might teachers have responded if the question "Who do you intend to vote for." had instead begun "For whom..."? ("Labour takes the lead in battle for your vote", News, 17 April.) My guess is that several would have reacted to the pedantry. I'm with the "others".

Duncan Dwinell

Borough Green, Kent

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