11th September 2015 at 01:00

It’s not just schools – we’re all exam addicts

Your editorial on 21 August (“Let’s admit it: we have a problem with exams”) was great, but you missed the next step.

One of the main reasons why politicians are addicted to exams (a habit, by the way, that cost colleges £205 million in fees in 2013-14, which was 2.5 per cent of their budget) is because many parents are addicted too, and this translates into votes.

Within the education system, universities are also addicts. Exams help them to convert 13 years of education into a few digits of code (“ABB” etc), which is processed by Ucas at great speed so that 400,000 people can have confirmed offers on results day.

The desire of universities for results data, particularly “top universities”, feeds the habits of better-off parents and contributes to a pretty large private school sector that sets its normal fees at double the average state funding (£13,000 v £6,000). Although the leaders of independent schools talk about character and breadth, their institutions live or die by their results.

An interesting test of my argument would be to look at how teachers act when it comes to the results of their child’s schools. Like other graduate parents, I’d guess they’re just as anxious about their children’s futures and just as addicted to those few lines of code as everyone else.

Julian Gravatt

Assistant chief executive, Association of Colleges

Build our economy by building on D&T

Claire Lotriet’s World of Ed Tech column (Professional, 4 September) talks about the benefits of using tools creatively to make something. Yet we already have a national curriculum subject where children do this – design and technology (D&T).

The advantages of learning by doing are huge. For the past 26 years, all primary schools have had to teach their pupils to design, to think creatively in order to solve problems, to use tools to make what they have designed, to learn about a range of materials and components and, since last September, to “understand and use electrical systems in their products”.

Unfortunately, the true nature of D&T is frequently not recognised or understood. Too often it is taught in the margins of the primary curriculum because accountability measures prioritise other subjects. However, well-taught D&T can light the spark of interest that gives relevance to maths and science and sets a child off on a career path into design, manufacturing or engineering – vital, growth-creating sectors of the economy.

Until ministers recognise what is being lost by not building on the pioneering, world-leading introduction of D&T for all pupils back in 1989, then children, employers and, ultimately, the economy will continue to lose out.

Richard Green

Chief executive, Design and Technology Association

To stop a fight, get everyone involved

Developing a good whole-school/parent engagement strategy is one way to minimise the likelihood of parental aggression (“Teachers report surge in parental aggression”, 28 August).

The Prospects Group has created the Leading Parent Partnership Award, a scheme that is now used in a significant number of primaries and secondaries. We find that schools that reach the standard of “award status” tend to have five easy-to-implement features underpinning their engagement strategy:

l A thorough induction programme, to ensure that the school builds relationships with parents right from the start.

l Regular communication to let parents know what is going on.

l A welcoming environment, to break down perceived barriers and facilitate communication.

l Parent-friendly engagement policies and guidance, encouraging feedback and acting on it.

l A policy of consulting with parents on school policy, so everyone is clear about what is expected.

Basing an engagement policy on these simple objectives is a good place to start.

Andrew Thraves

Director of education, The Prospects Group

Behaviour management works both ways

We have always enjoyed Tom Bennett’s articles in TES and wish him well in his new role as the government’s school behaviour management expert. Many teachers will have appreciated his 16-page guide to behaviour management included with the 28 August issue of TES; it is full of sound, helpful advice. Interestingly, however, all the activities suggested are designed to enable the teacher to manage the child.

It is, of course, important to equip teachers with management skills, but we would suggest a two-pronged approach: let’s also help students to learn to manage their own behaviour.

In our experience, pupils who are taught the skills of emotional wellbeing increase in self-esteem, empathy and motivation. They learn to take responsibility for themselves; they are calmer and habitually set themselves goals. When this is the norm, the classroom is pleasant for everyone.

Sue Allen and Janet Grant

VisionWorks for Schools

My subject is the benefits of change

Congratulations on the excellent “The school that gave up teaching subjects” (Professional, 4 September).

Many will argue that, with assessment and league tables based on performance in the so-called “basic” subjects, it is difficult to move away from the traditional, teacher-led subject curriculum. The pioneers, like Great Torrington School in Devon, must show the way. This school, and others like it, prove that children will learn enough to do well in the traditional assessments. More importantly, they will also learn that learning is fun. Great Torrington proves this. It is now up to others to follow suit.

Frederick Sandall

Retired headteacher and local authority adviser

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