2nd October 2015 at 01:00

One-size-fits-all academies won’t do

Although the Catholic Education Service supports the Education Bill’s aim of raising standards, we do not accept that conversion to sponsored academy status is the only way to improve inadequate schools (“What will the new Education Bill mean for you?”, News, 18 September).

Despite the vast majority of Catholic schools providing a high standard of education, we believe that where they are inadequate, decisions about their future should be made at a local level in consultation with the trustees and the diocese.

As one of the largest providers of education in England and Wales, dioceses have been making these decisions for more than a century. They have led the way in school improvement, pioneering many methods that are now in mainstream use, such as federations, school partnerships, multi-academy trusts, umbrella trusts and executive headteachers.

By allowing for a range of approaches, the various different needs of schools can be catered for, something that the one-size-fits-all approach of the bill will struggle to provide.

Paul Barber

Director, Catholic Education Service

Displays show the way for self-esteem

Reading Tom Bennett’s column “Displays of pointlessness” (Comment, 25 September), I couldn’t help thinking what a useful tool the display board has been in my years as an art teacher in special education. Early on in my career, I discovered that displaying a child’s art had a miraculous effect on their behaviour and engagement. Visible improvement in self-esteem and self-worth permeated their education, not just in the art room.

For the past 10 years, I have been working in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and the display board is as powerful for me and the patients as when I started teaching 36 years ago. Let’s not underestimate what these individuals get from contributing to what some may see only as “clutter” or “pleasant junk”.

Nick Rose

Head of education, CAMHS, Huntercombe Group

I loved Tom Bennett’s column “Displays of pointlessness”. I have cut it out and pinned it to my classroom wall.

Lou Belrhiti

East Sussex

Phonics focus fails to foster fluency

Regarding the latest phonics results (bit.ly/PhonicsResults), it was interesting to read schools minister Nick Gibb’s comment that the phonics method is producing “confident, inquisitive and fluent readers”.

First, labelling six-year-olds as “passing” or “failing” the phonics test is inexcusable in terms of equity and inclusion. Second, the grip on time and teaching that phonics has in primary education should actually be achieving something. Third, and most crucially, our research shows that, owing to the dominance of this reading strategy, most children are not activating other “cueing systems” when phonics (ie, sounding out) fails them.

Children are not being trained to use semantic knowledge, syntactic knowledge and picture cues. Therefore, they are unable to integrate word-level, sentence-level and text-level components (the skills of a fluent reader) because of the government’s insistence on phonics as the only route to reading.

Professor Bill Boyle

Managing director, the Evaluation Business

The real personality test is time

When selecting staff, schools can use personality indicators such as Myers-Briggs, or they can interview, observe a lesson, set a written task, watch interactions with pupils or rely on their instincts. But this all seems to miss the point (“Are personality tests worth it?”, Professional, 25 September). Whichever method is used, don’t we have to ensure that it actually works?

Selection of staff cannot be called successful if a school thinks that they can recruit the right person on the day; they have to be the right person in the job afterwards. In occupational psychology terms, the selection process needs to be both valid and reliable. Some employers systematically look for this – for example, by actively checking whether those selected go on to succeed in terms of performance and appraisals, or by setting selection tasks for a range of current staff.

Unless the validity is checked, you don’t know whether any problems that emerge later could be caused by the selection method as much as the applicant. In other words, you could be lucky or unlucky, and risk recruiting the wrong people for years to come.

David Shakespeare

Consultant, Square 2 Learning, Buckinghamshire

Forget efficiency and prioritise pupils

Sir Peter Newsam makes it very clear that he feels the academy/free-school route is just a way of privatising the education system (“Why academisation means privatisation”, Letters, 25 September). Meanwhile, Simon Corns talks about the academy/free-school route allowing headteachers and governing bodies to “run their schools more efficiently”.

“Efficiently” is, of course, the present government’s polite way of saying “by making extensive cuts”. Had Mr Corns instead talked about running schools “in the interests of their students and communities”, I might have been more convinced.

Mike Rath

Barnstaple, Devon

Parliamentary tour gets vote of confidence

In light of the requirement to “uphold British values”, our current cohort of primary trainee teachers recently visited Parliament to learn more about the work of the Parliamentary Education Centre, which was established in July this year.

The tour was exceptionally well organised, informative and inspirational. All the trainees and tutors were positive in their feedback, saying that the main message they heard during the visit was that “this is our Parliament”.

Numerous useful resources and links are available for schools (all free, as is the tour), and I would recommend a workshop or visit to anyone interested in promoting “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect” within a meaningful context (www.parliament.uk/education).

Veronica Towers

Course director, Wandsworth Primary Schools’ Consortium

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