30th October 2015 at 00:00

Wellbeing of pupils is key to debate on baseline tests

Continuing exchanges over the new baseline assessment (“Principled approach to baseline tests”, Letters, 23 October) have to date omitted some key arguments. Jan Dubiel writes of measuring “the aspects of learning that matter” – yet we are speaking of four-year-old children here.

If Early Excellence is indeed “working hard to support effective and progressive pedagogy”, then why is it colluding with the universal institutional assessment of four-year-olds, which can only further entrench, and even extend, the toxic “schoolification” of early childhood?

As research evidence piles up that delaying the start of formal education until 6 or 7 is best for children, entrenching still further England’s unconscionably early school starting age appears nonsensical and the antithesis of progressivism.

What’s at issue here is the myth that it’s appropriate to specify, codify and control children’s early learning – and that arrogant adults know best what and how young children need to learn. Those colluding with this unnecessary new assessment are the enemies of our young children’s wellbeing and age-appropriate development.

Finally, to put the record straight, my informed understanding of the robust exchanges that have occurred between the anti-baseline campaign and Early Excellence is that the “attacks” have been travelling in both directions.

Dr Richard House

The Critical Institute, Stroud

Caught between conflicting agendas

My college has been given a grade 3 (“requires improvement”) rating by Ofsted and I can’t understand the conflict between logic and agenda that seems to have taken place. At our last inspection, we were very close to grade 2 and we collectively accepted this despite how much it hurt us to miss out. We worked with the HMI, who reassured us we were back on track. Our grades improved and we embedded all that was asked of us.

Our recent observation was shocking in more ways than one. The lead inspector criticised us for allowing too many poor-quality and high-needs students on to courses. But we are a second-chance college and pride ourselves on the final destinations and journeys our students achieve.

The HMI had endorsed and even complimented our contribution to society with our high-needs students. Apparently it’s great when they progress but not so great if they simply have a valuable life experience in education. How can there be room for such opposing agendas? How can we trust any advice we receive now?

We followed guidance about embedding maths and English in our subject lessons. We bought into British values, spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and everything else we were asked to, only for the recent observer to question why we were bothering to write that information in schemes of work. He said it should be clear in lessons whenever we were observed. I concede that perhaps it wasn’t always visible in class, but how could it be in an observation of 15 minutes maximum?

Finally, all the students I spoke to said the inspectors had a terrible bedside manner. Some were very upset, thinking they had let down the college. One student who was doing extra work in the class and was involved as a peer learner was made to feel guilty for doing so. I understand there needs to be vigour but there is no reason to be rude. “What are you doing here?” can be asked without making someone feel worthless.

There are many things to trawl over and dissect, but the key issues that challenge my trust in the current educational environment are as follows. How can we possibility believe in the advice of an HMI if the next observation is from a team with a differing agenda and there’s no sense of consistency? And how can our students believe they can contribute to society if they’re made to feel worthless – or, even worse, discouraged from enrolling?

Name and address supplied

Best advice? Avoid the small print

Tom Bennett (“The best advice I ever got”, Comment, 23 October) asks “veterans” to share the best advice they were ever given. Well, 20 odd years ago, I was a nervous primary PGCE student on my first placement. The university-based tutor arrived in school and proceeded to ask a very long-serving classroom teacher, “What advice would you offer to students starting out on their teaching careers?”

After a moment of silence, the grizzled veteran lowered his Daily Mirror and said, “Ignore anything on A4 paper.”

Wise words.

Paul Kynaston


How to cross the arts/science divide

Brian Cox’s suggestion that science should form a crucial part of the University of Oxford’s philosophy, politics and economics degree is a good idea (“ ‘Trust in teachers to make our nation science-literate’ ”, News, 16 October). Such a provision would increase the appreciation of science among arts and humanities graduates and go some way towards bridging what is often an artificial divide between science and humanities subjects.

The fact that so many children are choosing not to study the sciences separately at GCSE suggests a lack of confidence. A subject such as history can make science more interesting to non-scientists – for example, by focusing on the lives of famous scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton and the way their work transformed our understanding of the world.

Shouvik Datta

Orpington, Kent

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