Education letters: Fight on Wight over closures

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The Independent Online

ISLE OF WIGHT REPLIES

I would like to take issue with your article "Save Our Schools: Fight on Wight Over Closures" (EDUCATION & CAREERS, 13 March). You say that money is a major reason for our plans to reorganise education on the Isle of Wight. In fact, the reorganisation is solely about improving results. While the council does want a fairer distribution of resources between schools, we have made it clear that all money released during this process will be used to improve services for the children.

Our proposals for closing almost half of the 46 primary schools are very much a first draft. There is room for manoeuvre and the number of eventual closures may very well be nowhere near as drastic.

The assertion that thousands of people have attended rallies outside council buildings in Newport is false. To date, there has only been one rally in Newport and police estimates were a maximum of 1,200 people in attendance.

The comments I made that appear to be critical of the leadership of heads were made in response to a question about why the issue of surplus places and very small schools had not been addressed by the education authority before. I was describing how we had arrived at our current position and was not at any point critical of schools or heads.

It is incorrect to say that many teachers "summoned" to a meeting to hear the potential fate of schools wept openly. Besides the emotive use of the word "summoned" (this was the second meeting to which head teachers were invited and they were already aware of the proposals), no heads "wept" openly, to our knowledge.

In fact, the majority of heads support reorganisation and many are critical that the step has not been taken sooner.

Furthermore, the council's press office has not been "put in the unusual position of highlighting deficiencies in the island's education system to justify the need for change." Council policy is that school reorganisation is necessary to improve unacceptable standards.

The press officer's comments were to give the writer, Steve McCormack, an overall picture of the options and the reasons for them. They were given in response to a question about whether the reorganisation was to tackle surplus places and save money – and they were not "umprompted".

Steve Beynon, Director of children's services, Isle of Wight

CLASSICAL GLITCH

I run the Iris Project, an educational charity which promotes the classics in state schools, and I am hearing about recurring problems when working with comprehensive schools that have "language specialist status". You would think that this would make it easier to implement and promote languages such as Latin and ancient Greek, but, actually, sometimes the opposite happens.

Technically, language specialist status as defined by the Government only includes modern foreign languages, and schools are keen, of course, not to lose specialist status. Therefore, some schools in this situation that might have several children interested in doing Latin as their main other language, but the school doesn't allow this. This is because it would be seen as discouraging children from doing modern foreign languages, and thus risk the school losing its specialist status.

Also, it often means that there are no funds allocated from the language status to ancient languages. So they are, at the same time, both discouraged and underfunded. I wonder whether the Government might consider redefining language specialist status for secondary schools to include all foreign languages, not just the modern ones, given that one of their stated aims is to support "languages for all". This surely should include classical languages, which help immeasurably with the learning of other foreign languages, including the modern.

Dr Lorna Robinson, The Iris Project, Oxford

BALANCED TARGET

The report from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is a clear demonstration that university degrees are not the only route to achieving success, as so many young people are led to believe ("University degrees are a waste of time – the damning verdict of British students", The Independent, 10 April).

A degree per se guarantees neither a fulfilling career nor a bright financial future. Increasingly, employers are seeking enthusiasm, an understanding of the world of work and those skills needed for success in the 21st century (communication, teamwork, enterprise, creativity). These only come from combining practice with theory.

It is no surprise that increasing numbers of employers are calling for staff with more practical and vocational degrees. The Government needs to change its target of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education into one of the same percentage gaining higher levels of learning or skills, to ensure that the future expansion of higher education is geared towards practical and vocational subjects.

Andy Powell, Chief executive, Edge, London W1

As a British student, I found your article very one-sided. I am coming to the end of my second year at university and feel that I have gained a wealth of experience inside and outside the classroom.

I believe that the result of studying at university, like most things in life, is largely dependent on what the student chooses to put in during their time at university. Since being at university I've spent four months in Paris, have undertaken a work placement related to my course, and regularly work at university events. All of which are expanding my skills and knowledge beyond the classroom and providing me with transferable work-place skills.

Mattie-Matauka Kayukwa, International politics and sociology student, City University, London

VERY SPECIAL NEEDS

I am principal of a school for young people with autism and complex learning difficulties. In the past 20 years, the number of children with autism spectrum disorder has increased, due largely to the enormous strides in diagnosis of the disorder (Education Quandary, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 27 March).

One of the major changes has been in approaches to supporting children with autism. Whereas some children are able to access a mainstream school or generic special needs provision, those children most affected require autistic-specific methodologies and specially designed learn-ing environments.

But there are never enough places. We tend to have referrals from local authorities when existing provision cannot meet the child's needs – either because their environment is not specialised enough or because their behaviour has become more challenging.

What we are seeing now is referrals for children whose profile is complex, the majority requiring one-to-one support.

Robert Hubbard, Principal, Prior's Court School Thatcham, Berkshire

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