Education letters: Isle of discontent
Thursday 24 April 2008
* It is depressing to have confirmed in your pages the extent to which the Isle of Wight education service appears to be out of touch with so many of the people it serves (Letters, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 17 April). In a £55,000 consultation exercise, a glossy brochure ("Tell Us Your Views") was launched at the beginning of this year. To have your views recorded, it was necessary to register agreement with one of three options for change proposed by the council; these would close between 23 and 41 of the island's 67 schools. The response to this questionnaire was low.
Many people, against school closures, chose instead to voice their protest through public demonstrations, larger than any seen in recent years on the island. Steve Beynon, director of children's services says there was just one rally in Newport. There were, I think, six marches on the island, three of them in Newport, the two main ones of which (26 January, 15 March) massed outside the windows of his offices at County Hall and were well covered by television, local press and the police who closed the street to traffic.
Mr Beynon states that reorganisation of schools is all about improving results – and not about money. Strange, then, that the three people handling this project at County Hall have been seconded from the following departments: finance, property and premises.
Finally, Mr Beynon claims good support from heads for these proposals.
As teachers have been warned not to speak out on the subject, it is hard to gauge opinion. However, early this month the local NASUWT agreed almost unanimously (15:1) on a vote of no confidence in the director of children's services. Among the many excellent teachers on the island, there are some I know now feeling sufficiently dispirited by the turn of events to be actively seeking jobs elsewhere. That is not the way to improve results on the Isle of Wight.
Rupert Besley, Newport, Isle of Wight
* If Steve Beynon took issue with The Independent's article about proposed school closures on the Isle of Wight, why did he tell teachers he had complained but then wait a whole month to actually do so?
He quibbles over points that were accurately reported. Steve McCormack's article ("Fight on Wight over closures", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 13 March) rightly stated that thousands protested against school closures outside council buildings.
Those who attended the three Newport rallies (two in January, one in March) will be surprised that Beynon knows of only one. And there were others in Shanklin, Ryde and Freshwater.
Beynon says the school reorganisation is solely about improving results. Your article stated that was the council's intention. However, there is no evidence that its plans will raise standards, and as The Independent pointed out, results have already been improving.
Are the majority of head teachers in favour of change, as Beynon claims?
We only have his word for it, and as the reorganisation will put many of them out of a job in two years' time I suspect the truth is as your article reported it: that they are "quaking in their boots". The recent NASUWT vote of no confidence suggests a less than rosy picture. Could that be the real reason Beynon is now trying to pick holes in the article?
Wendy Varley, Newport, Isle of Wight
* I could not agree more than with my namesake Dr Lorna Robinson, of the Iris Project, Oxford, in her advocacy (Letters, 17 April) of the teaching of Latin in schools.
I support in particular her comment that "classical languages....help immeasurably with the learning of other foreign languages, including the modern."
Among the latter I would include English, which, with its multiple roots and vast vocabulary, I found overwhelming as a 1940s/1950s school child. Until, that is, I began to study Latin, when prefixes such as ad-, de-, in-, per-, ex-, sub-, super-, etc., added to Latin-derived roots such as -spec(t) (see); -pend (hang); -tract (drag) expanded my word-capacity enormously by giving me a system for analysis and understanding. And this also made other languages I studied – French, Spanish, German, Russian – more-easily accessible because of their derivation from or influence by, Latin vocabulary or grammar.
And the little Greek that I know has given me greater access to other areas of our complex tongue.
Frederick Robinson, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
SMALL CLASSES BEST
* In a very limited sense, Conor Ryan might be right in arguing that "Schools should be free to have big classes" (EDUCATION & CAREERS, 10 April), but one wonders just why he is making such a big noise about what is arguably a minor technicality – especially when it draws attention away from the far more compelling arguments that favour smaller class sizes. There is a wealth of reputable empirical research supporting this view.
It is most telling that the utilitarian calculus that Ryan uses in the research he quotes is whether class size can enhance comparatively narrowly defined "pupil achievement"; yet thankfully, for many if not most of us, there are far more important aspects to schooling than narrow academic test and examination results.
It is also most revealing that the one real-world example that Ryan cites refers to a large room-full of computer-using students, with the extraordinary claim that this is a good example of "personalised learning"! The irony is that as we live in an increasingly individualistic age, smaller class sizes will become more and more appropriate, not least because many of us still believe that it is real human relationships between teacher and student that matter most, and not "efficient", mass-delivered computer-assisted "learning".
What this points to is that the mass industrial model of education is now out-moded and unable to meet the generality of modern children's learning needs; and the attempt to smuggle in cost-saving measures whose unacknowledged aim is really education on the cheap via larger class sizes simply won't do.
Dr Richard House, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University
ONE TO WATCH
* While the plans of outgoing NUS President Gemma Tumelty to turn it into some kind of business were hardly in the best traditions of student unionism, and hence rejected, her rostrum rant (Diary, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 17 April) on learning that delegates had had the cheek to reject the New Labour line, certainly was. Post Dave Cameron, a Cabinet post surely beckons.
Keith Flett, Tottenham, north London
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