Newnham Croft Primary:

the parents respond Andy Martin's article ("A prince turns into a frog", Education +, 24 April) undervalues the real achievements of Newnham Croft Primary School in serious ways. In this multicultural, multilingual school community (at least 20 nationalities are represented), children and parents are encouraged to learn from each other in a variety of creative ways. They emerge with a real understanding of diversity; a training in tolerance; and, in the words of the Ofsted report, their "attainment in English, mathematics and science assessments is well up to the standards expected for their age and is often higher". This in itself demonstrates that the school is spectacularly successful at integrating the large number of children whose native language is not English.

Many academics, including myself, were victimised at primary school for being brighter than average. This does not happen at Newnham Croft, and in my experience of helping out during class, the slow are not victimised either.

Classes full of bright, articulate and cheerful children are not easy to keep quiet, and this is a problem. But many of them would need to be in a ferociously selective environment to reach full academic potential. There is time enough for that. In the meantime, my own child has been able to learn music (praised as "excellent" in the Ofsted report), French, judo, dance and chess in lunchtimes and after school, to name only a few of the opportunities available.

Dr B J Andrews

School of Oriental and African Studies University of London

We congratulate Dr Martin for his article about the failure of the Cambridge primary, Newnham Croft, in the recent Ofsted inspection. He expresses what many parents have long known and protested about, and which Ofsted and HMI now confirm. All credit to The Independent for giving space to a parent's perspective.

Our experience as parents of children at Newnham Croft spans eight years - Dr Martin paints a deeply regrettable, but an entirely accurate picture. We can all find our own crazy examples of ideologies followed by the school, for instance, forbidding the use of lined writing paper and of exercise books for children; years grouped vertically even before the decline in pupil numbers forced it upon the school.

For years the governors have allowed the school to adhere to failed ideologies, rejecting the ideas and wishes of critical parents. Too often discussion has been suppressed and critics squeezed out of the school, though by no means all parents were unhappy.

Thank goodness for Ofsted, which has reintroduced rationality and empirical evidence through the medium of an independent review! Now much of importance is in the public domain; governors and some parents are enraged at the publicity, arguing that this can only make it harder for the school to recover. Should the school be attempting to recover from the Ofsted report, or from some deeply rooted problems? We think it must be the latter. We are also sure that something fundamental needs to change, since the prevailing secrecy surrounding all the governors' deliberations over the last few years has not solved problems.

What is urgently needed is a more effective means of reconstruction downstream from Ofsted and an examination of the bodies responsible for the downfall of the school, both here and nationally. The lessons to be learnt in Newnham Croft are of national relevance. For instance, 75 per cent of the governors are appointed or co-opted: not elected by parents. The board of governors has been chaired repeatedly by local councillors, and others too have been political appointees. The pattern of local appointments needs examination.

The local education authority appoints governors too, and also exercises influence through its advisers. Over the years parents have made the LEA amply aware of Newnham Croft's decline. Why was nothing done earlier to nudge the school on to a safer course?

Where failure arises from simple incompetence, perhaps the remedy of an action plan with the old management in place is sufficient. Many parents fear however that there is a broader educational and ideological problem underlying the malaise. Confidence can only be restored by addressing broader questions in the aftermath of a failure. In this case we are delighted by the cathartic effect of the Ofsted inspection, and the opportunities this has created. Does a school need to fall so far, though?

Dr C J Padfield, Director, Cambridge University Programme for Industry, Tutor for Graduate Students, Trinity Hall

Dr M Warner, University Lecturer in Physics, Senior Tutor, Corpus Christi College

As members of Cambridge University, and parents of children now attending Newnham Croft School, we wish to dissociate ourselves from the view expressed in the article about Newnham Croft School.

The article is not a balanced representation of either the Ofsted report or the views of parents. Our children work hard at school. They are happy and motivated. They make good progress. Their performance in national tests is above average. We see no evidence that the school is anti-education.

Ofsted has identified problems in the school, in particular in management and also in two of the infant classes; these problems must be addressed. A new chair of governors, and a new acting head with extensive management experience have already been appointed; change is apparent in the classroom. Parents are being consulted. We believe that the school has many strengths and merits the support of all parents.

Professor Martin Jones, George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archeological Science

Peter Carl, Lecturer in Architecture

Dr David Macdonald, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences

Dr Fred Parker, Lecturer in English

Dr Peter Robinson, Lecturer in Computer Science

Dr Solomos Solomou, Lecturer in Economics

Wendy Solomou, Research Associate of the Centre for Family Research

Mary Anne Steane, Assistant Lecturer in Architecture

Arne Hessenbruch, Research Associate, Darwin University Library

Methods at fault, not children Andy Martin's article so precisely mirrored our own dismal experience of state primary education in Cambridge that at first I thought he was describing my daughter's old school. But Newnham Croft is at the other end of the social spectrum; not many "sons and daughters of Cambridge intellectuals" in our catchment area, but a large proportion of children underprivileged in various ways.

The catchment area couldn't be more different, but the school was identical. Several large classes (35+) housed in ridiculous open-plan buildings with no partitions; a noise level so high it physically hurt; work full of uncorrected mistakes. ("How would you feel if your work was criticised?" said the head teacher when I challenged him. When did "teaching" become "criticism"?, I wondered.)

When our daughter was nine we took her to a private tutor who diagnosed her as being two years behind. We took her out of the school. The head teacher excused the school's poor performance by saying it was the difficulty of the catchment area that was causing the problems, not the school itself.

But Andy Martin's article blows that hypothesis out of the water. Here are two schools where the children are socially poles apart but have exactly the same problems of under-achievement. It's clearly apparent that the fault lies not in the quality of the children but in the teaching methods.

Our child has spent the last seven years in private education. Classes are small, doors are shut, the children face the front of the class and listen to the teacher. It works wonders. Our daughter is now approaching her 11 GCSEs with a clutch of predicted As.

We feel monumentally let down by the state education system, and bitter about the amount of money we have had to spend to secure an adequate education for our daughter. As hard-working, tax-paying citizens, a decent education for our child should be a right, not a luxurious extra.

Vicky Squires


Sterling UK Shakespeare It's unfortunate that Lisa Jardine ("The View From Here", Education + , 24 April) has written off Shakespearean productions in the UK, but then if she will only pass judgement on all that she sees at the South Bank, we can expect little else. Moreover, her experience draws on three productions, two of which predate the 1970s and Sellars's The Merchant of Venice, which, for the record, set its courtroom scene against the repeated screening of the famous amateur video of the Rodney King beating and not the OJ Simpson trial. Factual details aside, it troubled us here at the ESC that Jardine's knowledge of Shakespearean production in this country appears limited.

She ignores the sterling Shakespearean work being undertaken by the smaller, touring companies such as the English Shakespeare Company, who have been struggling to bring theatre to places out of reach of London and Stratford for years, not to mention the regional houses of Birmingham Rep, Harrogate (which had a fantastic production of The Merchant of Venice on at the same period as Sellars's and much more exciting), and West Yorkshire Playhouse, to name but a few.

It is a struggle for such companies to get their work reviewed in the national press, no matter how innovative they are, simply because they are not in London or because they do not have a star in the leading role. It's a shame that she is not using her influence as a pundit to foster home-grown talent and develop British culture.

Repeatedly, we find that journalists express themselves through the work of the two so-called "great" companies. Let us laud, critique, for a change, the work of other - no less great - but certainly not as well subsidised nor accredited but far more risk-taking and populist theatre companies.

Rosalind King

Lecturer In English and Drama, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London,

Member of the Board of Directors, English Shakespeare Company