TES letters

Has exam reform raised standards? Who can tell?

Ofqual's open letter to schools last month confirmed that, from this year, valid and reliable year-on-year comparisons will be impossible to make, given the changes to GCSEs and A-levels.

Headteachers who have responded to education secretary Michael Gove's exhortation to link teachers' pay more closely to performance can look forward to some interesting appraisal meetings: "The fall in high grades is due to a shift in national assessment arrangements. It's nothing to do with me!"

And which governors would dare withhold a pay rise for headteachers this year, regardless of the published results?

More sinister is the fact that we will not be able to track the changing national picture. So whether the school system is improving or not will be a matter of conjecture and opinion, rather than an inference from evidence. And just in time for the run-up to the general election. Nice one, Mr Gove.

Peter Lacey
Managing director, Ecarda

Friends in the right places

At last, Michael Gove is about to make a sensible appointment. David Ross seems the ideal candidate for chair of Ofsted. He is a privately educated multimillionaire and a generous donor to the Conservative Party. He is a member of an elite dining club (Bullingdon for grown-ups?) that gives him access to prime minister David Cameron. He will also be able to oversee inspections of 25 of his own academies. As for the minor detail of knowing anything about teaching and education, well, that can be put right with a month or so of fast-tracking.

I feel that the appointment of Mr Ross signals the end of political bias in Ofsted and that he will be utterly impartial. I hope my congratulations are not premature.

Dave Walsham
Tatworth, Somerset

Eacute;cole of hard knocks

Yes, the French education system favours the elite and is stultifying. Instead of erasing social inequalities it reinforces them. But this is certainly not just because of the practice of marking out of 20 ("Where bad grades `paralyse' pupils", 4 July).

Changing the marking system is another gimmick from another education minister who thinks he's just invented the wheel. It's cheap and it lays the blame on teachers. And, this way, he doesn't have to think too much about why so many children are put off by school and by a system that crushes them.

Denise Zingilli Short
University lecturer and former secondary teacher, France

London Challenge's legacy lives on

The London Challenge was a resounding success ("The London wonderground", Feature, 27 June). And its legacy continues in the work of the London Leadership Strategy, an organisation run by headteachers for headteachers and school-improvement bodies. We are actively working to share the "London effect" in the capital and across England.

The London Challenge worked because in addition to key programmes of support, it had a small team creating relationships and leveraging funding. Somerset Challenge, Schools NorthEast and the London Leadership Strategy are good examples of local infrastructure that are still doing this today, but these activities require appropriate resources and funded support.

We welcome interest in the school-improvement and leadership agenda and look forward to sharing our knowledge of past success and current effective practice.

Anita Kerwin-Nye
Managing director, London Leadership Strategy

Phonics fanaticism must be opposed

Thank goodness for a bit of common sense - the campaign to teach reading only through phonics is indeed damaging ("It's time for this `flawed' phonics check to go", Letters, 27 June). The English language is not a science and has to be absorbed, practised, explored, played with and enjoyed in all its organic and anarchic manifestations.

Phonics has its place in the teaching of reading, but it is not a holy grail. The mistaken impression that our pronunciation is and should be standardised is an unintended consequence of the narrow preoccupation with phonics as the sole platform for teaching reading. "Air" and "heir" are true homophones; "lesson" and "lessen" aren't, and neither are "sauce" and "source". But I expect such rich subtleties are ignorantly smudged in the minds of acolytes of the gospel according to synthetic phonics (or should that be "acolights"?). The arguments against exclusive reliance on phonics are strong and cogent - it is time to hear from those prosecuting this narrow dogma.

Alan Marsh
Weymouth, Dorset

Professional support for Pisa runs deep

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) has recently been accused of being a factor associated with worsening instruction around the world. It has also been claimed that this is a widely held position of professionals knowledgeable about school policy, but at least 348 academics in different fields disagree (see the open letter at www.eale.nlpisa.htm).

Those who criticise Pisa clearly aim to exclude comparable evidence of student performance - whether at country level or at school level - from educational decision-making.

Academics in the broad group that signed the letter carry out research on school performance and do not believe that lobbying to eliminate all measures of student achievement is constructive, nor does it offer any help for better policymaking and better school outcomes.

Andrea Ichino
Professor of economics, European University Institute

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