Education Letters: Dramatic stuff for 2012 games

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Currently there is much media speculation and advice on how the 2012 games should be opened and closed. The cameo presented by the London 2012 team in Beijing, with its disjointed symbols and celebrity culture, should be a warning against involving image consultants and marketing companies. Required is an honest presentation that portrays aspects of British culture and achievement.

Recently, I attended a concert given by the Oxfordshire Schools Senior Orchestra in the Czech Republic, a stunning performance. It was rapturously received; one attendee remarked that the quality of the music had touched hearts and uplifted the spirits of the community.

Throughout Great Britain there are music, dance and drama school and youth groups of outstanding ability and creativity ("From gang war to stagecraft", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 11 September). Give these talented youths centre stage and an inspiring and honest performance will ensue; worldwide viewers will be like the audience in the Czech Republic: transfixed with admiration.

Fred Nind, Bexleyheath, Kent

TESTING COMMENTS

In response to Conor Ryan's article ("Why we must not ditch national tests", E&C, 4 September), there clearly is a need for accountability in education. But is it too much to ask that this accountability regime is structured in such a way that it does not damage the educational experiences of children?

There are mountains of evidence as to its downsides, and the recent parliamentary inquiry into assessment saw the Government as the current system's only unequivocal defender.

Ryan mentions a couple of alternatives. But neither addresses the central problem with results-led accountability: the side effects of using the same exam both as a check on children's learning and as a means of judging schools' and politicians' performance.

There are other, potentially less damaging, ways of offering school-by-school and national accountability. The fact that the Government is not even investigating them suggests that it is more wedded to defending old ideological positions than doing the right thing by pupils.

Warwick Mansell, TES reporter and author of 'Education by Numbers: the Tyranny of Testing'.

In his extraordinary attempt to defend the indefensible, Conor Ryan displays just why he was the Government's senior education adviser in what was, by common consent, the darkest period in Britain's education system of recent times – namely, the appalling Woodhead-Blunkett years of the late 1990s. Ryan claims that "testing has helped ensure that the basics are better taught". Yet he conveniently ignores the research evidence showing how such narrowly defined school testing with its associated "drilling" have actually led, over several decades, to a decline in overall educational standards.

Ryan also makes the spurious claim that tests allow parents to "compare schools on an objective basis" via "objective accountability". Such a statement assumes that it is narrow test scores produced through mechanistic drilling that are what parents most care about; yet all the evidence points in a very different direction, with a rounded educational experience being far more important for most parents. Commentators such as Ryan would be better employed doing some thinking about how we can create standards and accountability without all the counter-productive collateral damage that the deathly testing regime generates.

Dr Richard House, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University

If, as Conor Ryan argues, we do need public accountability provided by some form of testing, then the current format of industrial testing is not the way to do it; although I am more convinced than ever that the current system and levels of "accountability" benefit the Government rather than inform parents and taxpayers.

The fiasco of this year's marking demonstrates how the whole system has become too big, too expensive, too unwieldy, too inaccurate and so pointless that the opportunity should be taken to re-evaluate the whole programme and scrap it.

We need to move education from teaching to tests to something smaller in scale that is school-based and centred on the expert knowledge of school professionals, and which does not have the distorting effect on the curriculum that is currently so evident.

A Welsh local-authority director of education told me recently of what he saw as a transformation for the better in Year 6 following the demise of Key Stage 2 testing. It will be interesting in coming years to observe and compare standards in schools in Wales and England if SATs remain in place here.

Philip Parkin, General Secretary, Voice, Derby

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