Education: your views: readers' letters

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demystifying learning

Alan Story ("Double trouble for staff as student figures soar, Education+ 15 January) is to be commended for presenting the case for dropping the practice of systematic double-marking of all university exams, thereby freeing up valuable staff time for "more important tasks". What is missing in his argument is any mention of the mechanism for effective quality control in assessment, namely clearly defined marking criteria.

University curricula (modules/learning activities) are increasingly adopting a design approach which links assessment to learning outcomes, ie explicitly identifying what students will be able to know and do by the end, and ensuring that forms of assessment are in use which appropriately measure the achievements of these outcomes.

Staff assess work according to "up-front" criteria. This reduces subjective judgment and provides learners with the fullest possible information as to what is expected of them.

With this approach the "magical mystery tour" of university learning is demystified - and the custom and practice of double marking as a quality control mechanism are relegated to a minor, "sampling" role - with its own set of criteria, please note!

Heather Matlock,

Project manager, academic staffing

Thames Valley University


With regard to Lucy Hodges' article on the case of Gillian Evans ("Does the system fail women - or did this woman simply fail?", 15 January) I would like to point out that the ratio of male to female holders of senior academic posts at Cambridge is 19:1. It is therefore surprising that the university has not previously been challenged on its record.

Rev Stephen Trott

Chair of clergy section, MSF

Gillian Evans's campaign for fairness and accountability in the promotions procedures at Cambridge University should have everyone's full support.

Our knowledge of Dr Evans as a fellow committee member of the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards does not bear out the view of Cambridge academic, Joan Whitehead, that the issue "has taken over [her] life" and that she has "an unrealistically high opinion" of herself. Were this the case, she could not, for example, have provided the support she has for so many Cafas members fighting discrimination of all kinds, written pamphlets for Cafas or presented its views and evidence to the Nolan and other public committees.

Patrick Brady and Geraldine Thorpe

Cafas committee members

Benn Street, London E9


Susan Blackmore's discussion of the memes of Christmas ("The View from Here", Education+, 15 January) includes the assumption that Jesus was a man and that the elements of Christmas have Christian origins. But these too are memes based on cultural transmission rather than factual evidence, which suggests that Jesus may never have lived at all and that most of the elements of Christmas have pre-Christian or non-Christian origins.

Nicolas Walter

Rationalist Press Association, London N1


I attended Bolton Institute of Technology (its name in the Seventies) from 1976-1979 as a mature student, obtaining a CNAA-validated honours degree in philosophy and history.

As most of my tutors had Oxbridge doctorates and the CNAA validating team, who thoroughly scrutinised all the course work, exam work and theses, included Lady Warnock, I challenge James Dale's assertion ("Your Views, 15 January) that perhaps my degree is suspect.

Carol Whitcock

Wilburton, Ely, Cambridgeshire


I see New Labour has adopted yet another Old Tory policy - using local government as a whipping boy.

The only reason the council I was a member of sold off school land was because the old government would not let it borrow enough money to stop the schools themselves from falling down. The new one won't either.

Professor Robert Pritchard

Knighton Grange Road, Leicester


While feeling no sympathy whatsoever for Diana Appleyard ("Personally Speaking, 15 January) I feel very sorry for her daughters. I'm not a bit surprised that her nine-year-old is exhausted by the end of term. She's doing a 12-hour day (more or less) before she even has time to wind down mentally, emotionally or physically.

Val Pargeter

Stourbridge,West Midlands

Diana Appleyard's piece on long school holidays struck a thunderous chord. My wife and I both work in offices - we have to, to pay the school fees! When the holidays come round we have a difficult juggling act to perform: even if we added all our holiday entitlement together we would only just be able to cover the summer holidays. So we have to beg friends, bully relations, hire child-minders and generally box and cox to get our 10-year-old looked after.

Bruce Cowen

Lavengro Road, London SE27

Perhaps Ms Appleyard would do better not to confuse her children's education with child-minding, and be prepared to inconvenience her work schedule a little. Any parent who is happy for a 10-year-old child to be contained at school until six and still demand shorter holidays should seriously question their priorities.

Irene Inness