TES letters

Ofsted's clusters are a blast from the past

How ironic that Sir Michael Wilshaw wants all schools to join clusters (" `Force schools to join clusters', Wilshaw says", 5 September). When I first joined the teaching profession, all state schools were members of local clusters without exception.

These clusters didn't limit themselves to "exceptional headteachers" but had an array of expertise to offer schools, including subject specialists who gave targeted support. The old clusters were large, enabling them to buy expensive equipment and lend it to schools. This also meant that their various experts could support schools full-time without simultaneously having to juggle the pressures of being a headteacher. These clusters worked well for decades and the modern version is a feeble attempt to replicate their services.

Of course, they weren't known as "clusters" back then. They were called local education authorities.

Gary Ellins
Teacher, Stockport

Put the brakes on damaging exam reform

Can you imagine the uproar if the driving test were managed in the same way that Ofqual proposes to (and indeed is) managing GCSEs? A key passport to participation in society would be available only to a set percentage of young people, no matter how competent they were at driving. If an instructor succeeded in getting more of their pupils to be sufficiently competent, they would gain their licences only at the expense of somebody else.

What has happened to the aspiration that we should criterion-reference competence in English and maths? Everyone in education should be in uproar that our national qualifications system has become a way of ranking young people, with all those "below average" inevitably treated as failures. And with schools judged against GCSE benchmarks, there can never be overall improvement no matter how much schools do improve.

Roger Broadie
Director, Broadie Associates

Research is a tool like any other

The concept of learning styles is a tool (" `Pseudoscience has nested in schools' ", 12 September). Like any other tool it can be used effectively, ineffectively, or in a way that is potentially damaging. The reason it has taken root in schools may well be because it is something teachers can recognise and relate to.

Research too is a tool. It would be dangerous for the profession to assume that all research is flawless - and even more dangerous to assume that all things of value can be measured. Luckily teachers are intelligent people, capable of making up their own minds and finding out what is effective in their classrooms.

Sara Shaw
Retired teacher, former social worker and master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming

Follow schools' lead to end the apartheid

I read "This staff apartheid in colleges just won't do" (Further, 12 September) with a sense of dj vu. The picture Jayne Stigger paints of poorly paid and poorly regarded learning support assistants in further education is remarkably similar to the picture in a lot of primaries and secondaries 10 to 15 years ago.

As a former member of Mpowernet at Anglia Ruskin University, I was involved in the highly successful higher-level teaching assistant (HLTA) programme. A small follow-up study (bit.lyHLTAStudy) reveals its positive impact. Some HLTAs become qualified teachers but most do not. Instead, they seem happy with the recognition of professionalism that their HLTA status affords them, leading to greater job satisfaction, a little more money and an end to the apartheid discussed in the article.

If HLTA status has worked so well in schools, isn't it time to introduce it to the FE sector?

Colin Sowter
Formerly of Mpowernet, Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford

The next step for careers guidance

Joy Mercer of the Association of Colleges is quite correct concerning the quality and suitability of careers advice ("Careers advice? Keep it local, experts argue", Further, 12 September).

The traditional careers service and the Connexions service have been marginalised and fragmented over the past decade. Career hubs are a way forward but much can be learned from the independent and specialist post-16 and post-19 sectors in that they have to be aware of opportunities beyond local offerings and prepare learners for the "next step" to aid transition.

It would be both worthwhile and prudent for the Association of Colleges to engage with the independent and specialist sectors to add a richer and alternative dimension to careers, vocational planning and delivery that may benefit all learners.

Dr Len Parkyn
Transitions team consultant, St John's School, Brighton and Seaford, East Sussex

Building bridges secures learners' futures

I am writing in response to the call for high-quality traineeships from the TUC and the CBI ("Building skills for a brighter future", Further, 8 August). It is great to see businesses and trade unions working together. At Class of Your Own, a social enterprise for education and the built environment, we firmly believe that collaboration is the strongest way forward.

We need to take action so that young people can gain skills and confidence. Thankfully, businesses are proactively trying to secure their industry's future. Companies that collaborate with us are enabling pupils to learn from professionals.

Although I agree that young people need dedicated, high-quality traineeships with proven results, I believe the best way to achieve this is through sustainable collaboration between schools and industry, supported by a dedicated learning programme that ensures real impact and measurable outcomes.

Liz Forrester
Education director at Class of Your Own

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