Education letters: Measured success

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While US educationist Robert Slavin is clearly on to something that "works" ("Hard evidence of success", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 12 June), his advocacy of "evidence-based practice" should be treated with caution. Not least, what might count as authentic "evidence" is often far from clear; and there are dangers in adopting the notion that only audit-driven research into what is measurable is legitimate in scientific and policy-making circles.

It might be, for example, that Slavin's work is successful for reasons other than those that are obviously measurable. For example, the Success for All programme at St Stephen's C of E Primary is very likely working not because it "accelerates learning", but because it (possibly unwittingly) honours some fundamental learning principles that are often routinely ignored, and that are carefully geared to be genuinely developmental, and that emphasise children forming relationships.

These last are the kinds of pedagogical values that holistic educators (Steiner, human-scale education) have emphasised for decades, and that need to be reinstated at the heart of modern schooling.

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

LOW MORALE

Neil Merrick's report on further education ("Pay talks open as low morale bites", E&C, 5 June) misses the point about low morale. Although pay is an important factor, it is by no means the only one. Over the years, the increasing monitoring, supervising, observing and recording of our every movement and moment gives the impression that we are incompetent, lazy and untrustworthy. The only people more closely watched are prisoners!

Increasing coursework means that we have to prepare, observe, mark and give feedback at an increasing rate, and within tighter timescales with no extra resources. We are judged against false standards – in one course I am involved with, the Learning and Skills Council pass rates for Levels 2, 3 and 4 are exactly the same – we cannot challenge these figures even though we know that they cannot possibly be correct.

This is the same LSC that is reducing or withdrawing funding for adult courses – under this government, life-long learning ends at the age of 25. If you dare to challenge decisions made by the management, you are accused of being negative.

We are subjected to endless meetings on the new mantra of "Teaching and Learning", in which there are debates over a one percentage difference in achievement data. Because of difficulties in getting everyone together, we are told to cancel classes – now that really contributes to teaching and learning. Form-filling is an art in itself – our latest staff review document was 15 pages of questions.

Colleges need to be run by professional administrators with a strong business sense instead of failed lecturers who have immersed themselves in the latest "eduspeak" and jumped on the latest bandwagon. Until then, morale among frontline lecturing staff will continue to decline, and any pay increases will be merely a sticking plaster on a very large sore.

Name withheld, Birmingham

UNQUALIFIED STAFF

Your report entitled "Pupils from poor homes far more likely to be taught by unqualified teachers" (The Independent, 4 June), while providing the National Foundation for Educational Research's analysis of the qualifications of state secondary-school teachers, fails to highlight a major concern, if not an educational tragedy, for all.

Largely due to this government's obtuse and disingenuous "workforce remodelling" strategy, many schools now employ unqualified staff as cover "teachers", as a cynical cost-cutting measure. Such members of staff (mainly classroom/teaching assistants) are now used endemically in schools. Surely pupils deserve to have all lessons properly taught by qualified, registered teachers who are also secondary-subject specialists?

Philip L J Barton, secondary science supply teacher, Exeter, Devon

Unfortunately, your description of the teaching of school science as a bright spot is overly optimistic. The recent staffing survey did indeed find that over 90 per cent of science teachers had relevant post-A-level qualifications. However, this is partly because those who had general science training were considered qualified to teach each of the separate sciences.

Physics teachers, for example, may not even have had an A-level in the subject. When science teachers were categorised into main subject specialism, only 22 per cent were physicists, 22 per cent chemists, and 8 per cent were not scientists. One in six teachers were "specialised" in general or combined science, but we know that being taught by non-specialist teachers can limit student interest and performance in the separate sciences.

Bizarrely, it seems that these general teachers were so busy teaching the separate sciences that only 79 per cent of general lessons were taught by scientists. It is vital that the Government keeps up its commitment to increase the number of specialist science and maths teachers, and as new teachers qualify they should be targeted at schools with persistent vacancies.

Dr Hilary Leevers, assistant director, Campaign for Science & Engineering

MISSING TARGETS

The Government's recipe for failing schools that do not achieve certain levels at GCSE seems arbitrary. In some parts of the country, where 11-plus selection still exists, up to 70 per cent of secondary pupils between the ages of 11 and 16 attend secondary-modern schools. Some of these schools perform remarkably well and achieve the Government's target of 30 per cent of Year 11 students gaining five A*-C grades, including English and maths. But other perfectly good secondary moderns don't.

Many of these schools are in thinly populated rural areas, where parents have no alternative school within several miles if their children don't pass the 11-plus. Their intake of students, by definition, includes few, if any, students in the top 30 per cent of the ability spectrum. Several secondary-moderns are in deprived, low-wage agricultural areas. So, if as seems likely, some rural secondary-moderns don't reach the proposed targets by 2011, will they be closed? Or be replaced by academies?

Most academies are in densely populated urban areas. Rural secondary moderns are, on average, smaller than comprehensive or grammar schools. It would be expensive to replace each small "failing" school with an academy. Closure would result in pupils travelling unreasonable distances, and increased transport costs. Much more detail of the Government's plans is needed before a considered appraisal can be made.

John Knight, Leamington Spa

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