23rd October 2015 at 00:00

Ofsted objectors can’t have it both ways

When it comes to Ofsted and its inspection workforce, some people seem intent on trying to have it both ways (“Ofsted’s cull ‘stinks’, say rejected inspectors”, News, 16 October).

As chief inspector, I made a commitment to deliver what the teaching profession has long been calling for – more inspections led by Her Majesty’s Inspectors and many more serving leaders joining our inspection teams. Having honoured that commitment, we now have the usual suspects being rolled out to take a free swipe at our new selection process, based on the anonymous grumblings of individuals who didn’t make it.

While I can understand the disappointment of unsuccessful applicants, I cannot allow some of the inaccurate claims contained in your article to go unchallenged.

At every stage of the process, candidates were given clear information about what they were being tested on, including their ability to interpret a range of evidence, to prioritise their time on inspection, and to write clearly and accurately. For the online assessment, each candidate was offered feedback on how they performed against published criteria. We did point out that we weren’t able to share actual marked papers with applicants because this could have jeopardised the integrity and fairness of any future selection exercise.

It is categorically not the case that any additional inspector – successful or not – has been involved in training or mentoring those recruited to work as Ofsted inspectors under the new in-house arrangements that came into effect last month.

We have taken the opportunity, now that our contracts with the three outsourced providers have ended, to create a smaller and more manageable inspection workforce. Thanks to a stringent but fair selection process, we now have a strong pool of inspectors who are well equipped to deliver a high standard of inspection. My plea to TES and to our critics is this: please judge us on whether we are successful in achieving that goal.

Sir Michael Wilshaw

HM Chief Inspector of Schools

Stakes are too high for boarding gamble

As an ex-boarder, I’d like to challenge Ann Mroz’s assertion that a “boarding school will be experienced no differently from any other” (“It’s time for an unbiased look at boarding schools”, Editorial, 16 October).

To be sent away to board at 7, or 6 in my case, is to be cut off from intimate contact with your family and the comfort and familiarity of home life. It seems reasonable to suppose that the psychological effects are on a different scale from those of being sent to a day school. It certainly affected me profoundly and has required much psychotherapy to get to grips with.

Until a serious comparative study is done into the effects of day and boarding schools, it will be difficult to go beyond Ms Mroz’s comment: “No one really does know.” For now it seems wise to listen to those, like Joy Schaverien (author of Boarding School Syndrome), who have gathered considerable clinical evidence that boarding can do serious and lasting emotional damage, and apply the precautionary principle. Young lives are too precious to be experimented with.

Simon Partridge


‘Science literacy’ is essential for public life

I agree entirely with Brian Cox that we should “Trust in teachers to make our nation science-literate” (News, 16 October). In an age completely dominated by science, it is frightening how few British politicians are scientifically trained.

A degree in science does not only make one science-literate, it also enables one to think clearly and rationally. It is no coincidence that both Margaret Thatcher (chemistry at Oxford) and Angela Merkel (physics at Leipzig) studied science at university. And by comparison with David Cameron (PPE at Oxford), Chinese leader Xi Jinping studied chemical engineering at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University. I rest my case.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

Principled approach to baseline tests

I was intrigued by Helen Pope’s letter “At the mercy of the baseline assessment” (16 October). There is no requirement to complete a Department for Education-accredited baseline – nor will there be from 2016 onwards. If the idea of using EExBA is such a professional compromise, then refuse to do so.

The letter implies that EExBA was developed to make a profit – it was not. It was developed to provide teachers with a principled and meaningful alternative to test-based models and to enable accountability for the aspects of learning that matter.

It seems a shame that some members of the anti-baseline campaign are fixated on attacking the integrity of Early Excellence and me personally. We are a small, independent organisation led by highly regarded educational leaders. We work hard to support effective and progressive pedagogy and have produced an assessment that reflects holistic and principled practice. We provide high-quality training and educational resources to schools – why would we feel uncomfortable about that?

Jan Dubiel

National development manager, Early Excellence

Free schools are Gove’s ‘splendid legacy’

While, of course, Mike Rath’s apology means a lot to me (“The high cost of freedoms for the few”, Letters, 16 October), I am not headmaster of a selective school – Queen Elizabeth’s became a free school in 2014. But I am entirely in favour of free schools and academies. Both will be a splendid legacy of Michael Gove’s much-needed reforms. I do accept that they cost money, but I would also maintain that they have increased choice for parents and have sharpened up our education system in all sorts of ways. It would be tragic to see this policy reversed.

Simon Corns

Headmaster, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School

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