11th March 2016 at 00:00

The media has been quick to seize upon the idea that ministers and officials at the Department for Education somehow want to stifle the use of exclamation marks in children’s creative writing.

I fear that there has been some wilful misunderstanding here! The guidance published in June 2015 sets out to explain exclamations as a sentence function and not the use of exclamation marks – these are two separate areas of grammatical knowledge. An exclamation is a particular kind of sentence; an exclamation mark is a punctuation mark that can end several kinds of sentence, or be placed after a phrase or single word (eg, an interjection).

The range of uses of the exclamation mark will continue to be acceptable in children’s responses in the test. If a child is asked to write or identify an exclamation, the correct sentence format, starting with ‘what’ or ‘how’, will be required. However, when the question relates to statements or commands, children will be awarded marks for writing an appropriate sentence, which can end with a full stop or an exclamation mark. So teachers and the media can be reassured that pupils will not be marked down for using an exclamation mark for emphasis.

Nick Gibb

Schools minister

Good intentions aren’t enough

I am glad that one don (at least) in the shape of Professor Stephen Gorard has found that the allocation of the pupil premium grant (PPG) is not as fair as the government makes it out to be (“Pupil premium funding is a ‘blunt instrument’”, Insight, 4 March). His research has thrown up one anomaly: if they have received free school meals at some point over the last six years, both very poor pupils and those on the threshold of poverty are entitled to the same grant.

There are two other problems with the PPG. First, at infant level, all pupils are entitled to free school meals. Parents of pupils on the breadline are not completing the forms to sign up for FSM entitlements because their children are getting their lunches for free, meaning that many infant and primary schools are seriously losing out on the funding.

Second, many pupils are the children of asylum seekers and refugees, and their parents are in no position to complete the documentation that enables their schools to claim the PPG for them. Often, schools do everything they can to give them free meals without seeking financial returns.

The intentions of the government are good, but the consequences have been unintended and impact negatively on schools. Who was it who referred to the notion that good intentions are often the road to perdition?

David Sassoon

Director, Schools Support Services

The (hand)writing on the wall

In the DfE’s latest assessment arrangements for key stage 1, teachers are advised that, “where pupils are physically able to write and meet all of the statements except for being able to produce legible handwriting, they may be awarded the ‘expected standard’ but cannot be awarded the ‘greater depth’ standard’ for their writing.”

Will the “expected standard” become a glass ceiling?

Teachers will have to discern whether children at the end of KS1 are unable to write due to a “physical disability” or whether they are able to write but their handwriting is illegible. This could cause a dilemma in children with a mental or visual impairment, who may be physically able to write but not in line with end-of-key-stage expectations.

Under the current assessment guidance, children will be denied the opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills (not the mechanics but the content), which could be seen as discriminatory. It would appear that the current administration have achieved their election promise to ‘remove the bias towards inclusion’ and created another label – ‘expected standard’ – that defines and limits children at the start of their education.

Julie Wharton

Senior Lecturer, Department for Teacher Development, University of Winchester

Why so serious?

I think there was a time, some years ago, that TES made a point of including one letter (just one, usually short) each week on some lighter aspect of education. I do miss it. There really isn’t much to laugh about at the moment. Couldn’t you re-establish the tradition? Something light, or ironic, would be well received.

David Rowlands

Lydbrook, Gloucestershire

Facebook users respond to news that the government plans to encourage more part-time working


As the kid of a teacher, I was going to go into teacher training. But as soon as I left full-time education so did my mother. She did the job as the holidays fitted better. But every night she’d get home at 6:30 and then did marking from 9-11 every night. Teaching isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle choice. And a tough one at that.


My wife works 0.6 (Monday to Wednesday) but spends Thursday and Friday working. All for £22k (she’s UPS3) – a disgrace.


I gave up my primary teaching career after 12 years. I chose my marriage over never-ending work. And I can honestly say that sitting chatting to my husband every evening is like getting my best friend back.


Get paid for five days, work seven, most evenings and the weekend. We are heading for a massive teacher shortage.


From the TES Community forums

The rise in mental stress in children


In my school we have a noticeboard devoted to stress reduction tips and we recently brought in a student counsellor.


I’m getting more calls from parents expressing concerns that their children do not want to come to school. The kids are not coping with the demands of the new curriculum.


I’ve got to stop putting pressure on my pupils. If I know they’ve been trying their best but their brains are saturated, there is no point in me forcing them to complete another controlled assessment resit.


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