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Advantages of the Scottish educational system

In the excellent article on the advantages of Scottish higher education ("Northern light", Education +, 27 February) Diana Appleyard makes a very important statement. She says, "The reasons ... begin at the earliest level." I find the majority of people south of the Border, including most politicians, have no idea about the differences in Scottish education that contribute to its pre-eminence.

There are legal maximum class sizes. All teachers are graduates who also have a teaching qualification recognised and accepted by the General Teaching Council for Scotland. Indeed, it is not possible to teach in Scotland without being a member of the GTC.

All secondary education in Scotland is fully comprehensive. All secondary schools can cater for the needs of pupils of all abilities. Because all the children in a particular locality go to the same school there is no divisive "them and us".

With one absurd exception, there are no opt-out schools in Scotland. As a result all the local authorities can provide for the needs of each school within a comprehensive budget. In contrast to the claims of the Prime Minister that all the worst schools are in Labour-controlled councils, all the educational authorities in Scotland are Labour. These councils are all very proud of their schools, and with the majority of those involved in local politics, pride in education in Scotland comes before party dogma.

How sad it is that the Prime Minister is advocating a selective grammar school in each town and city in England, when Scotland can show the United Kingdom that a fully comprehensive secondary education system, without divisive selection provides its pupils with the best education in the country.

Professor AS Milton

Whaddon Cambridgeshire

Dramatic lessons

So at last Ofsted realises that weak teachers lack the ability to keep order in the classroom, rather than knowledge about their subject matter. (Report, 4 March).

I left secondary school teaching after working for three years in inner London schools. What prompted me to leave was the difficulties I experienced in controlling the pupils. My own very academic university experience (Oxford, followed by the Institute of Education) left me woefully ill- equipped to obtain and maintain classroom control.

After re-training, I now work as a consultant for a career management practice. As part of this work, we run training courses on communication skills, using trainers who have a background in the performing arts.

When I first took part in one of these courses I was completely flabbergasted. Why, as part of my initial teacher training, had I never been taught about the power of pause to re-gain the attention of a group, or about the impact of different postures? It struck me as particularly ironic that the trainer who led the course worked part-time at Rada, just a stone's throw from the Institute of Education. Whilst he was busy teaching budding actors techniques that would help them gain the rapt attention of the audience, this material never filtered round the corner to the premier teaching training institute in the country.

If I had learnt then what I know now perhaps I would not have become one of the large band of teachers who left the profession. I wonder whether the re-worked teacher training curriculum will actually include training of this kind, or will the current sink or swim approach continue, resulting in more struggling teachers, and more pupils who do not get competently taught?

Caroline Elton,

Jo Ouston and Company,

London

No short-term contracts

So Richard Welch (Your views, Education +, 20 February) feels that the way to improve teachers' performance and motivation is to increase the pressure upon them by imposing short-term contracts. Would he advocate extending this proposal, so that we could improve the nation's health by putting doctors on short-term contracts? Perhaps we could lessen the crime rate if police officers had to renew their contracts every five years!

Of course the country's children deserve the best possible teachers and the best possible educational opportunities. Of course we should seek to eliminate mediocre teaching.

Various approaches to improving the quality of classroom practice are currently being discussed and piloted in schools across the country, but we cannot expect to attract or retain capable and committed professionals by placing them under more pressure.

Anne Kidd

Colchester

Linguists do all right

As a former admissions tutor and now head of a large department of modern languages, I found that much of Lucy Hodges' article ("Mind your language", Education +, 20 February) rang familiar bells. However, there are grounds for optimism. Linguists generally enjoy excellent employment prospects (more than 90 per cent of our graduates over the past six years have found jobs or enrolled on a further course of education within six months of graduating). Moreover, many language departments offer ab initio courses (especially in German, Russian and Spanish) that produce graduates at a linguistic level equal to those commencing with A-level. Indeed, the job opportunities for native speakers of English offering two foreign languages have rarely been better. In recognition of this, Bradford this year plans to relaunch its renowned two-language postgraduate course in interpreting and translating by offering Spanish alongside French, German and Russian.

Dr John Russell

Head of the Department of Modern Languages

University of Bradford

Number crunching

The article on literacy ("In the beginning is the word", Education +, 27 February) illustrated, perhaps unwittingly, that numeracy is at least as much of a problem.

The sub-head was "More than half English 11-year-olds have below average reading skills". In a population as large as that of 11-year-old children, this is almost bound not to be true. Whatever the measurement taken (height, weight, intelligence, whatever) about half will be below the average and the other half above.

The problem which the article was addressing was that more than half the children did not meet a set standard: a totally different situation.

James R Adams

Weybridge

Surrey

Please write to Wendy Berliner, Editor, Education +, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Fax: 0171-293 2451;

e-mail: letters@independent.co.

uk. We reserve the right to cut or amend readers' letters.

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