Your Views: `18,000 inspections'? No, not that many

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As researchers on the National Association of Head Teachers-funded research into class size, we were interested to see (The Independent, 18 October) a spokeswoman from the Office for Standards in Education stating that the Ofsted report on this issue "is based on the independent inspection of nearly 18,000 schools."

This is not true. The report itself states that it is based on evidence from only "594 secondary comprehensive school inspections ... [and] 1,173 primary school inspections" (page 4) and much of their analysis uses an even smaller sample.

She also claims that "the inspections were carried out without a pre- conceived ideology about class size." We recognise that individual inspections may be free of such preconceptions. Our argument is with the way in which the Office of HMCI aggregates, interprets and uses these reports.

Ofsted consistently conducts the debate without criticising or acknowledging the power of its own "official" (ie ideological) definition of quality teaching and learning.Ofsted argues that experiments in class size reduction have failed to demonstrate unequivocal benefits in terms of the quality of education provided. They are correct, but it is the wrong point.Class sizes in maintained schools in England and Wales are rising. There are now over a million primary school pupils in classes of over 30, and an estimated 18,000 in classes of over 40. In this context the key question is whether these increases are having a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching and learning in our schools and on the health of the teaching profession as a whole.

It is this question that requires urgent, independent and mature research.

Dr Rob Watling

Dr Mark Hadfield

School of Education

University of Nottingham

Learning the language of self-expression

Nick Tate, in his article on language teaching in schools ("My View", Education+, 17 October), touched obliquely on one vital point in his final paragraph.

It is much harder to learn a foreign language if you do not have a solid grounding in the grammar of your own language. "Self-expression is all very well, but in any other field one would be expected to learn how to use the tools of the trade, and as Jo Brand commented on Saturday, "... the German command of the English language will be more impressive than the English command of the English language."

Perhaps we should encourage teachers from other countries to come and teach us how to speak, write, spell and punctuate our own language.

Jenny Drewe (Miss)


Are these the unkindest cuts of all?

Further Education is being cut to ribbons by "efficiency savings" imposed by reductions in government funding per student.

While the National Health Service is bleeding at the rate of 3 per cent a year, the sixth form colleges and further education colleges in my area have had to endure 30 per cent cuts in the past three years, and now face 20 per cent more cuts in the next three years - all without any new educational technology to help make the use of labour more efficient. Total 50 per cent in only six years, duplicated nationally.

Is this disastrous formula equalled anywhere else in the public sector, or is this a record?

Harvey Linehan


East Sussex

Stretching credulity in exam results

Your report (The Independent, 15 October) of the 14 per cent pass mark for a maths exam calls to mind the words of the mathematician Lewis Carroll whose White Queen told Alice that with practice one could learn to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

If a candidate has got 86 per cent of a paper wrong, it is not valid to argue that the remaining correct answers can be scaled up on the supposition that the paper was of too high a standard. All that can be reasonably concluded is that the candidate has negligible competence at the level examined. There is just not enough information to make a judgement on what might have been achieved had an examination been set at a lower level. The concept of "harsh marking" seems a strange one for a maths exam. This would appear to be the subject par excellence where an answer is either right or wrong, and where correct and incorrect portions can be identified with precision.

It seems quite incredible that the examination in question should have been set outside the syllabus approved by the examining board. Are we to conclude that in the past the examiners have been in the habit of omitting questions on the more difficult topics and that teachers have responded by omitting to teach these?

Perhaps the White Queen was ahead of her time when she said, "I can do addition, if you give me time, but I can't do subtraction under any circumstances."

P Neufeld

Sidcup, Kent

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