Why Ruth Kelly has a lot to learn

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Ruth Kelly, the new Education Secretary, apparently has told new headteachers that "too many teachers are failing to maintain discipline in the class... parents deserve better". I would argue that pupils deserve better.

Ms Kelly should settle into her new job before making such sweeping and authoritarian statements. Ministers used to recognise that schools above all should inspire; now we have wonderful rhetoric with conflicting practice, then panic measures, and hence weak government. I suggest Ms Kelly pay attention to the following:

* Attendance data. We force children to come to school instead of asking why they are truanting. At last the Government is trying to encourage vocational experience to engage all pupils - but it is too little, too late.

* League tables. These force schools to cram, bully and manipulate. They create sink schools, sinking teachers and sunken children.

* Inclusion. We have no problems integrating physical disabilities if there is support in place but children with autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder or victims of violence or abuse are not going to respond to the heavier punishments Ms Kelly is advocating. Or do we punish only nice middle-class children who should know better?

* The removal of schools' duty to educate all children who live in the catchment area. There has always been choice - but this Government has produced disadvantage and elitism by allowing schools to say they are full even to children within 100 yards of their gates.

* Homework. Schools are under government pressure to demand children use the internet to do homework assignments. Many low-income families do not have a landline, let alone the internet. But there are not enough computers in libraries or schools. What happened to the promise of free laptops for secondary pupils?

* Workforce remodelling. It is not necessary for teachers to plan in writing every day of their lives. They are professionals. Just reduce the workload.

* Foundation stage. Soon there will be no teachers prepared to teach this age group, particularly if they have a mixed Year 1 and reception class.

The volume of paperwork, assessment and moderating are impossible to cope with.

You can't legislate for inspired teachers, you can only stifle and lose them and you certainly can't force children to learn.

Mrs J O'Brien Burrsville infant school Craigfield Avenue Clacton-on-Sea, Essex

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