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TES letters

We're doing our level best in a world without elves

As we approach Christmas, spare a thought for primary schools trying to come to terms with life without elves. Elves have been part of the fabric of our education system for longer than most people can remember. However, the government has now banned elves without providing any realistic alternative.

Professor Tim Oates says elves don't exist in other countries, and schools can't agree what elves look like. Also, parents have never understood why we use elves and children can find the label demoralising. So elves have been given the boot and we've thrown our lot in with pixies. It was thought we might go down the gnome route but this was soon rejected.

At the start of the year children are classed as beginner pixies. If they work hard they can move on to "within shouting distance" of being a pixie and eventually they become secure pixies. Children who are very clever can become master pixies. But no one can make up their mind on what you need to know to be a beginner pixie, let alone a within-shouting-distance pixie.

The government has produced Year 2 and Year 6 statements. In Year 2 there are four categories: master pixie, expected pixie, not-quite-there pixie and no-hope-of-ever-becoming-a-pixie pixie. The trouble is, these pixies look remarkably like elves!

Robin TavernerColchester, Essex

Exams don't discriminate, facilities do

Professor John White's notion that it is the exam system that penalises the poor seems to miss the point ("How examination `keeps the poor in their place' ", 12 December). Having just visited a well-known public school for a concert, I was impressed not only by the talented young students but more importantly by the facilities where this talent could flourish. I would argue that the huge difference in learning environments "keeps the poor in their place", a "place" that is too often uninspiring.

Frederick SandallRetired headteacher

Pay decisions reveal debt of ingratitude

Regarding "When lesson grading breeds resentment" (Letters, 12 December), a friend of mine was until recently the director of a government department. He told me that pay awards were given according to appraisal results. However, even for the best candidates, if the money wasn't there the applicant was told they had failed to satisfy the criteria. An appraisal could be outstanding but lack of money dictated the results. It should therefore be no surprise that a government-imposed civil service system follows the same procedure.

Paul IngletonKent

Science skills with practical application

I completely agree that we should not be encouraging students to prepare for a narrow controlled assessment in GCSE science ("Ofqual: science practicals will no longer count towards GCSE grades", bit.lyPracticals). But dropping assessment of practical activities is unnecessary and could undermine employability.

Practical skills are fundamental to progress in a sciencebased career; there are now alternative digital methodologies that have been proven to capture evidence of such skills and deliver highly rigorous and reliable assessment through coursework. Ofqual should consider these alternatives to help educators deliver essential workplace skills.

Matt WingfieldChief business development officer, Tag Assessment

College of Teaching: rise to the challenge

The consultation on a College of Teaching and CPD ("College of Teaching dreams close to becoming a reality", 12 December) is a welcome opportunity for teachers to engage at the start of the process rather than at the point of implementation.

Voice welcomes the concept of a body to raise the status of the profession and to promote public confidence in, and respect for, teachers. Teaching has suffered because of the stranglehold that government has had on education and the lack of a member-driven body to steer the profession through seemingly relentless change.

If teachers were motivated to be part of a College of Teaching, and could see the benefits for individuals and the profession as a whole, a college would help to galvanise and unify by raising aspirations, standards and morale. The challenge will be convincing busy and overworked teachers to join.

Teachers will also welcome the provision of high-quality CPD. However, there must be a properly funded and resourced mechanism to enable schools to release teachers from their duties in order to participate in this.

Deborah LawsonGeneral secretary, Voice

Why the fixation on a royal prefix to the proposed College of Teaching? How does "royal" add anything other than an unwarranted cachet? It might do if the Royal Family were to deign to send their offspring to the state schools where most members of the college are likely to teach, but they won't, college or no. The teaching profession does indeed need to "do itself proud", but not with such a tainted association ("The profession must do itself proud", Editorial, 12 December).

Colin RichardsSpark Bridge, Cumbria

Seeing red over Labour's selection stance

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt says it is not Labour's policy to end selection at 11 (" `Labour has supported and invested in schools' ", 12 December). A very definite statement. It has convinced me, after 65 years of voting for his party, to vote for another that will: it's green, Mr Hunt, not yellow.

Sir Peter NewsamThornton Dale, North Yorkshire

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