Education Letters: Books no tests

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Michael Rosen argues against SATs and the Gradgrindian view of education that they represent and suggests instead that schools should be about pupils learning to love books and reading ("Give children books, not SATs", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 28 July). It is an entirely sensible view which is why I suppose Mr Rosen will not be called upon to inquire into where our education system should be going. After all, in his plan there is no scope either for top-down bureaucratic formulas or private companies to make money. In short, in their language, he has thought the unthinkable.

Keith Flett, Tottenham, North London

SATS FIASCO

Lord Sutherland of Houndswood has been appointed to conduct an inquiry into the SATs fiasco ("SATs fiasco company loses contract", The Independent, 15 August). Fiasco is a gentle way of expressing the waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to satisfy the lust of this Government for achieving impossible targets. I was a head teacher at the inception of SATs. Since then the system has become completely discredited.

Teachers are now pressured by heads to teach to the tests. School terms are devoted to the dreaded SATs and the bun fight to be top of the pops. This debacle is a national scandal. For teacher associations to claim disappointment is staggering: the SATs situation this year is a disaster. Heads must roll and I hope Lord Sutherland is true to his name and hounds the culprits out.

It is time that SATs were scrapped and the money used to employ more teachers. If parents want to check the progress of their offspring, ask their teachers. That is what teachers are paid for, is it not?

Tony Callaghan, Director, TiC (Teachers in Classrooms), Alpington, Norfolk

DUMBING DOWN

The head of Ofqual says: "Look back at what you yourself really did," in relation to earlier standards ("Investigation to test integrity of exam standards", The Independent, 11 August). Well, I have done, and I just cannot reconcile the apparently abysmal results we achieved back in 1960 and 1962 when I took my O- and A-levels with what a much bigger proportion manage these days. Are today's pupils really such hard workers? Has the teaching improved so much that those who would surely have failed the 11-plus or O-levels now do conspicuously better than those who passed many years ago?

The grade inflation would be questionable had the exams continued to be confined to a small group selected (however imperfectly) for academic ability. As it is, with almost half of each year group opting to go to university with results that, on paper, are better than those of most of my contemporaries (only about 7 per cent of whom went to university), the whole concept of maintaining standards has become a farce.

Roger Chapman, Keighley, West Yorks

RIGHTS ISSUE

The process Brandon Robshaw describes (Comment, E&C, 28 August) does sound inappropriate for determining pay awards. However, I fear he plays into the hands of critics through his assertion that after 18 years' service he "might reasonably expect [the award] should be granted as of right". Commercial organisations have long discarded the notion that those who stick around long enough will command the highest salary, regardless of the quality of their work.

Penelope Smith, West Drayton, Middlesex

BRAIN DRAIN

Now in retirement from a life-long career in science research, comprising industry, academia and government, I look on with rising panic at the dwindling interest of our brightest youth in science careers ("We cannot afford this scientific brain drain", The Independent, 12 August).

I have been predicting this decline since the Sixties. Since then we have seen the steady erosion of the salary parity that was established in the Fifties between universities, doctors, civil service science, the armed services and MPs. This has left academia by far the poor relation.

My grammar school physics teacher counted three British professors of physics as his "old boys", but when I left school I sensed that teaching was already a second-class profession. Even then, school-leavers with good A-levels were choosing new "soft" university degree subjects rather than the "hard" sciences.

This trend has become an avalanche, and I have watched the inevitable consequences of this for student achievement and teaching standards. The three years I spent gaining my PhD have certainly enhanced the joy I have derived from science. But the degree itself did nothing for my eventual salary.

I note with great interest the census results that seem to show that many young people are leaving Britain. What if these are disproportionately well-educated? What if their education is in science and education, and they are find employment in countries where "engineer" is a title of respect, rather than indicative of someone who crawls about under cars? Are the bright young bonus-earners of the service industries as welcome elsewhere?

Dr John C Scott, Weymouth, Dorset

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