Education: Your views

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Learning from overseas experience

The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education has decided not to comment on matters of policy until it reports in the summer. I would, however, like to respond to Charles Manton's letter, "Questions raised by inquiry" (Education +, 13 March 1997) in which he asked whether it was necessary for the committee to make overseas visits.

The committee has been firmly committed to seeking a wide range of evidence and views and that includes seeing what can be learnt from experience overseas. We have received valuable information from several countries' embassies in this country (we wrote to 33 of them), from British embassies abroad and the British Council, and frominternational organisations such as the OECD. Useful as this information is, it is no substitute for the chance to engage in face-to-face discussions with those involved in higher education in other countries. As with the Robbins Committee before us, small groups of members and advisers have visited a number of countries. We selected Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the US. In the course of the visits members have been able to talk to students, academics, employers and policy-makers about issues which are relevant to the committee's thinking. The cost of the programme of visits is about pounds 70,000.

Mr Manton also asked whether we were looking at what happens to graduates in the labour market and at public expenditure on student maintenance in other countries. We are.

Shirley Trundle,

Secretary, National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education

London

All children need help with homework

If you are a professor of education, ("Have you done your homework", Education +, March 13) a head of teacher training or a head of a major public school who can be phoned during the working day for a run-down on King Lear's motivation, there is no difficulty with homework.

But for some, even copying the homework task from the board, especially if it is written hurriedly by the teacher and they are rushing to get to the next lesson, may be a daunting task. If, when they arrive home, their parents are unable to make head or tail of what task has been set, and are in any case unable to help, the scene is set for trouble at school. Staff spend untold hours chasing pupils who are themselves disorganised and may come from dysfunctional or overworked families, in a vain attempt to extract the backlog of homework.

If homework is beneficial and helpful to pupils then there should be an opportunity, for all those who wish to, to undertake this in school under the supervision of qualified (and well-paid) staff.

Suzanne Tiburtius

Broadstairs, Kent

The options for pre-school education

I am chairman of governors at a rural primary school with 200 pupils.At present children in this village receive excellent nursery education at a pre-school or at a private nursery school. The governors are anxious to retain these options for the community.

The alternative is for us to take four-plus pupils into a crowded reception class for five mornings a week - numbers are not enough to make provision of a nursery class viable, even if we had room.

So we take the four-plus pupils from the pre-school for one morning a week, and the pre-school takes them for four mornings during the autumn term. They will move into full- time school after Christmas.

This arrangement leaves us almost pounds 3,000 worse off than if we took them in for five mornings from September - and this from a budget depleted by an unfunded 3.3 per cent pay increase and a 0.6 per cent overall cut. The money for nursery vouchers has been taken from the overall county education budget - it is not new money.

We will have to cut pounds 5,000 from the Education Support Assistant provision in other classes (this is a programme to help pupils who need extra attention) and pounds 10,000 from our teaching staff budget, with associated redundancy, but we feel strongly that these four-plus pupils should be in proper nursery provision; a reception class is fair neither on them nor on older pupils.

Nursery provision has not increased. The gainers are the parents, part of whose pre-school fees are paid by the vouchers. The losers are the older children at the school.

Sheila Glass

Ramsbury CP School, Ramsbury, Wiltshire

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, Education +, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Include a daytime telephone number. Fax letters to 0171-293-2451; e-mail: educ@independent.co.uk

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