9th October 2015 at 00:00

Our European language bias does students a disservice

I notice that all the languages covered in “Language learning” (By the numbers, 25 September) are European, except for Chinese. Of course, it is important for schoolchildren to understand Britain’s place in wider European society by learning European languages and history. But there is great value in knowing non-European languages as well.

In South Asia, Hindi, Bengali and Tamil are spoken by many millions of people, and have rich literatures, histories and cultures. In Japan, a technologically and scientifically advanced country, much of the research is done in Japanese.

Smaller languages are also worth knowing. The Netherlands in the 17th century, Britain in the 19th and South Korea today have shown that the impact a country can make on the world bears no relation to the size of its population or its geography.

Shouvik Datta

Teacher of English for speakers of other languages

Drawing the line on baseline assessments

Having just visited the headteacher of an infant school, I was interested to hear about the pressure staff are under to ready very young children for a regime of tests. I entirely agree with Dame Alison Peacock when she talks of pupils’ welfare coming first and the dangers of labelling children at such an early age (“Superhead snubs baseline assessment”, News, 2 October).

Have we not learned anything from countries that hold back from introducing “formal” teaching until the age of 7? Their young people appear to do far better in academic subjects by the age of 11 than those in this country.

I also feel for the school leaders trapped in this testing regime. If they ignore the tests, they run the clear danger of being judged as “requires improvement” or worse.

Maybe the answer does lie in a mass boycott – if schools refuse to “play the game”, ministers might just have to take note.

Frederick Sandall

Retired headteacher

At Early Excellence, we agree with Dame Alison Peacock that the best way to assess young children is to observe, interact and support them in their play and learning. Emotional well-being is absolutely critical.

Early Excellence has already supported nearly 16,000 teachers to build their knowledge of each child through observation and interactions, and we have introduced the concept of assessing well-being and involvement to many of the schools that have signed up to EExBA, our Reception baseline assessment.

This model offers the best of both worlds: a system of assessment that recognises teachers’ skills and acknowledges that tests are not in the best interest of four-year-olds, as well as a way for schools to meet the government’s accountability agenda.

Liz Marsden

Founder and director, Early Excellence

Ofqual: ‘we interpret results intelligently’

“Ofqual admits extra checks for science papers ‘didn’t work’ ” (News, 2 October) implies that our GCSE science research results will not be part of the accreditation process for science GCSEs and that the process had gone wrong. During discussions with your reporter, we should have made it clearer that the results did in fact feed into the standard accreditation process.

Yes, the correlation between judged question difficulty and actual student performance was lower than in our earlier GCSE maths study. We were always aware of that possibility, given that science papers typically have a much wider range of question types than maths papers.

The research is valuable: as well as the results being used in the accreditation process, it has prompted further discussion about the holistic judgements made in accreditation, and we will now analyse the research findings further, to help us hone the approach for future studies. Readers can be reassured that we do research using well-established and respected methods, and interpret the results intelligently.

Glenys Stacey

Chief regulator, Ofqual

Is honesty the best policy in inspection?

I read with interest the remarks of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, who urged headteachers to be honest with Ofsted inspectors about their school’s strengths and weaknesses in order to receive brownie points (“Wilshaw and DfE on EBac collision course”, News, 25 September).

I wait with equal interest to see how many headteachers will have the bottle to do so, given the name-and-shame culture that currently exists. While some inspectors will welcome Sir Michael’s statement, there are always rogue ones who will condemn institutions to the “inadequate” or “requires improvement” dustbins of educational history.

And the jaws of academisation will gobble up those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such judgements.

David Sassoon

Director, Schools Support Services

An ‘efficient’ school is an effective school

Mike Rath seems to have confused me with “the present government” for some reason (“Forget efficiency and prioritise pupils”, Letters, 2 October). The government does not have a monopoly on the word efficiency.

I completely agree that schools should be run in the interests of their pupils and parents. But it is freedom from unnecessary bureaucracy, setting one’s own curriculum and being able to exercise other freedoms that will ensure precisely that.

“Making extensive cuts” is clearly not efficient if pupils can no longer access a suitable curriculum and the standard of education offered is inferior. But giving taxpayers good value for money certainly is, and this is what we are aiming to achieve.

Simon Corns

Headmaster, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Blackburn

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