Education: Your views: Under siege from a tyrannical regime

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The Independent Online
We refer to your article "Stormy days as the inspector targets trainers" (Education+, 5 February). We have in most universities already been "targeted". This seems to be an apt word considering that we feel under siege.

Whilst agreeing that we all need to be delivering the highest quality possible, it is frightening to hear that professors of education and others involved in training are too intimidated to speak out in case they are on the receiving end of the wrath of Chris Woodhead. He is often, to our surprise, described as an educationist. If so, how can the current feeling in higher education exist? It does not seem to us good educational practice to operate within a state of tyranny.

As was pointed out before, we should be doing more than grading. We should be offered informative commentary to help us as tutors improve our practice, and in turn the efforts of our students. We could not believe David Taylor (head of Ofsted's teacher education team) saying in the article that Ofsted did not give low grades if just one student had been assessed wrongly - but waited for two students to have been wrongly assessed! As Ted Wragg pointed out, it's not because the course is bad, often merely that the inspectors disagree with the tutors'/teachers'/universities' assessment of the students.

This is a complex issue, one worthy of academic debate and challenge. This will not occur under a tyrannical regime which sets out to target "failure" rather than to identify "success". We are not woolly-minded progressives, but educationists who work in schools now as a way of teaching our own students, of developing teacher understandings and improving our children's chances of a good education, including an understanding of the arts.

We had better state that the views expressed in this article are ours and nothing to do with our institution. OK, Chris?

Jim Clark, Mike Jarvis and Helen Taylor, Arts Education Team, University of Northumbria at Newcastle

Year sevens baffled by the three Rs

I teach English in an ordinary comprehensive. Like many of my colleagues. I am shocked that so many of our year seven intake begin their secondary school career with an inadequate set of skills in English and mathematics. Even the brightest and best admit to a lack of confidence in writing and arithmetic. They often claim that too little time was spent in primary school developing their abilities in these essential areas of study.

In the learned opinion of our expert critics. the primary school curriculum is in danger of becoming too narrowly based. I would have thought it obvious that children who cannot read and write properly will also fail in every other subject.

Our aim must be for the average 11-year-old to have a mastery of the three Rs before entering senior school. Too often secondary school teachers in all subjects are having to struggle with pupils who find written or spoken information, simple spelling and punctuation rules, or the relationship between numbers and calculations baffling and alienating experiences. No child has a chance to develop his reference skills, eagerly looking things up in an encyclopedia, if he finds it too difficult to decide the correct alphabetical order of three or four keywords. Regrettably, this is a typical problem for many pupils.

Every teacher wants all his students to develop a thirst for knowledge, to be able to discover information for themselves and therefore to develop their own interests. However, when we have a lesson in the school library wishing to encourage this attitude in our students, frequently over half of a year-seven class will simply skim through the books in front of them, their eyes flickering over each page for less than a second. This is because their reading abilities are defeated by the relatively simple writing on the page in front of them.

This happens despite the excellence of many of the children's books now available. They are usually of a higher quality and are more attractively designed than those published for previous generations.

Far from benefiting from the wider primary school curriculum, many pupils have acquired no sense of intellectual curiosity, because they lack the skills to decode information they find. It is unsurprising that they can gain no pleasure from reading. In addition, because of their poor reading skills they find it difficult to concentrate and are tempted to misbehave. In many cases these are the same children who by the age of 14 or 15 truant regularly and drift into a life of petty crime or fall victim to under- age pregnancy. Because they remain semi-literate and semi-numerate throughout their school career, for them education has become a prolonged act of humiliation. It is hardly surprising that they vote with their feet and often end up unemployable.

All this is not to say that there should be a return to mindless rote- learning all day and every day in primary schools. Furthermore, the Government cannot simply engage in make-believe and pretend that there is not a desperate lack of resources, especially in the primary sector. Simply announcing a policy change will not solve that problem.

By ensuring that there is a better set of priorities in the primary school curriculum, the Government is taking an urgently needed step in the right direction. If our children learn how to read, write and calculate with confidence and accuracy at an early age, then we are providing them with the skills and hence the opportunity to succeed in the wider curriculum.

Name and address supplied

Dome rises as the schools fall down

As a parent of a primary school child in Wiltshire, I am concerned by the lack of funding increase in primary education, when centrally managed budgets have been increased by 5 per cent.

My six-year-old child is facing a class of 37-plus. The school is having to cut yet another teacher to meet budget requirements. The temporary classrooms are falling down; three have no toilets, one has no water; the heating system constantly breaks down. We can't replace the school's rotten windows with double glazing because that's improvement and there's no money for improvement.

We have a government in office on the ticket of education that can spend millions on a pointless dome. The Government will tell you that it has made extra cash available to local councils, but have they checked that the cash is going directly to schools?

Yours desperately disappointed,

Megan Jones, Colerne, Wilts.

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