8th January 2016 at 00:00

On reading Clare Jarmy’s excellent “Why the ‘gifted’ label could hold back talent” (Professional, 1 January) it struck me a particular argument was missing. In The Impact of Science on Society, Bertrand Russell evokes John Stuart Mill’s father who, to prevent his son from becoming conceited, told him: “If one showed more ability than another, that was due entirely to a better education.”

Graeme Tiffany


When ‘outstanding’ is all and nothing

In job-speak, at least, “outstanding” still has currency (“Why is ‘outstanding’ such a dirty word in schools?” Insight, 1 January). The word has become an increasingly vacuous qualifier: “a candidate with outstanding potential” (ie, not yet evident?); “outstanding leadership and management skills”; “an outstanding individual is required” (in terms of personal qualities, regardless of educational roles?); and the jobs themselves are described as “an outstanding opportunity”. Of course, when everybody and everything gets to be “outstanding”, then nobody or anything is. Remember when grade A wasn’t good enough? Do we now need starred outstandings?

And don’t even get me started on the word “inspirational”. Should educational institutions be modelling such clichés?

Keith Davidson

Columnist for Teaching English, the professional journal of the National Association for the Teaching of English

Ministers x tests = confusion?

I would like to volunteer my services to help administer the new Year 6 times table test when all government ministers sit down to take it (bit.ly/TestNew).

I’m assuming that they would like to take the test to show the value for adults of knowing their times tables up to 12x12. I am, of course, slightly suspicious that they may want to opt out – or even be prepared to cheat to achieve a decent result.

Mike Rath

Barnstaple, North Devon

Lectures worth listening to

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures were a model of excellent teaching. So how do they achieve such enviable differentiation, appealing to children of all ages (and, I have to confess, to an adult in educational leadership)?

Of course, there is considerable money and time invested in the lectures, and even the wealthiest public schools might struggle to persuade a succession of astronauts to appear in the classroom. Yet much is straightforward classroom practice. There are explanations. Technology is used to add relevance and sophistication. Children are involved in the learning. There are practical illustrations. There is grounding in the relevant subject knowledge.

And my favourite moment? As a volunteer poured invisible carbon dioxide over lit candles, putting them out one by one, as if by magic, a girl in the audience silently mouthed “Wow!” If any of us can have that “Wow!” effect this year, then we’ll know we have chosen the right career.

Michael Hartland

Assistant headteacher, Wimbledon College, London

More interference, less success

After more than 36 years, I have retired. When I began in teaching, I was in authority and had a new-fangled overhead projector. Then I became a facilitator with a BBC Micro Model B. Next was the literacy and numeracy hour, where I was told what to teach every minute, but at least I had a whiteboard. Then I was back to being in authority and PowerPoint was the requirement. After that was “too much teacher talk”, so I was a facilitator again with a laptop. Finally, I was given new freedoms but still told what to teach and I had an interactive television.

One factor has remained constant; the more politicians interfere, the further we fall down the international rankings. You would think they’d have worked it out by now.

J Pearce

Retired teacher

Nationalisation by another name

The heading “The biggest change to the schools system in 50 years” (Insight, 1 January) is misleading. The proposal that all schools in England should become academies is the biggest change since 1870, when it became the responsibility of locally elected school boards to build and maintain elementary schools. So called “academisation” is simply nationalisation with a fancy name. Only the teaching unions seem aware of the implications.

Sir Peter Newsam

Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

Facebook users respond to John David Blake’s call for teachers to wear academic dress bit.ly/TeacherGown

“Someone appears to have forgotten about those all-important health and safety rules; if students aren’t allowed maxi-skirts because they are dangerous on the stairs, then H&S won’t be permitting staff to wear them, surely?


“I’d walk like Snape down the corridors, might be tempted to buy a wand, too”


Twitter users have their say

“I’m in if I can wear a superhero mask too. And a utility belt to hold pens. And I can have super powers. Otherwise no.”


“Agree teachers wearing academic gowns for special occasions in schs recognises intellectual standing /role model

@Liz_Sidwell (former DfE commissioner for schools)

It would be great if teachers were protected from workplace bullying and respected again. Gowns not required.


From the TES Community forums

Shortage of teachers (bit.ly/StaffShortage)

We don’t need to encourage more new teachers, we need to retain teachers. Too many schools want to get rid of higher pay scale teachers with experience but who are not in senior leadership in favour of cheaper newly qualified teachers. The British education system is broken – who will mend it?

Ms Chipping

It’s all about workload. That’s the main difference between 10 years ago and now. I’m well organised but there are limits to the amount of time I can spend marking and assessing. I started the holiday with a marking mountain, which is slowly being reduced. Please don’t talk to me about teachers having 13 weeks holiday.


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