Letters: Religious education

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Hilary Wilce misses one straightforward reason why more pupils are taking religious studies at GCSE ("The new disciples", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 10 January). Schools are under pressure to maximise the scores they get per pupil from GCSE results. As religious education is compulsory, it makes sense to enter all pupils for GCSE. If pupils had to opt in to religious education, rather than obtain a parental opt-out, the situation would be rather different.

Chris Newell, Dorking, Surrey

Super-sized problem

It is not just issues of discipline that are troubling about the new super-sized schools. The larger a school is, the more staff spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing badly behaved pupils, and occasionally high achievers, while those in the middle are ignored.

The Government talks of personalising pupils' education, but there is nothing more impersonal than being among the silent majority who don't cause trouble but who aren't the gifted and talented either. All pupils deserve the respect of receiving attention from their teachers, and this is inconceivable in the titan schools.

Henry Wickham, Headmaster, Lockers Park School, Hemel Hempstead

Texting trouble

I read last week's column (Quandary, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 10 January) offering advice to the parent of a teenager. I strongly disagree with the advice given. If the girl was watching television or chatting on the phone, I could fully understand the advice. But listening to music and texting friends is an activity that many normal teenagers do and shouldn't distract them from their work.

Lots of teenagers avoid many pieces of homework entirely, and they will only feel willing to do their work if they are in an environment in which they feel comfortable. Being able to listen to music and text their friends creates an environment in which they can feel relaxed and settled.

I strongly reject the notion that parents should watch over their children in this way. After all, this girl was described as doing well at school. Even if she were not, I would still feel that this sort of draconian interference is likely to cause more problems in terms of aggravating the parent-child relationship than it would solve. I can imagine many teenagers turning their music up even more loudly and texting even more often in response to what they would rightly see as an infringement on their personal space.

Texting friends as a teenager is, I think, broadly equivalent to having a normal level of conversation with your colleagues while working in an office. If an office manager were to bar colleagues in an office from talking to each other, or reduce the amount of time that they were allowed to speak to each other, there would rightly be uproar. I feel that the behaviour of the girl as described was normal and healthy. By interfering in the way that was suggested, her behaviour would most likely go downhill.

Michael Detyna, Office manager, Centre for Educational and Academic Practices, City University

League tables

Conor Ryan should realise that dissatisfaction with league tables in education goes far wider than just the trades unions and "self-interested" teachers (Comment, Secondary School League Table supplement, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 10 January). That he claims the league tables regime has been "a force for good" simply beggars belief.

Ryan claims that league tables encourage openness, but any teacher will tell you that exactly the opposite is the case – with the regime actually causing a distraction from the goals of education and learning, and teachers devoting scarce resources to outwitting the auditing culture.

And why is it that, according to Ryan, there is a need for "pressure to succeed" anyway? Such "pressure" is only required because the schooling system itself is so alienating – precisely because of the kinds of values that Ryan talks about – that a quasi-authoritarian, fear-inducing apparatus of control is the only way in which standards can be driven up. Heaven forbid that we should consider creating a schooling system that successfully appeals to what is best in children's and teachers' natures!

But Conor Ryan seems to possess a world view that assumes human beings to be inherently indolent and untrustworthy, and therefore needing to be monitored, measured and controlled. Out of this comes a system that will confirm their prejudices.

It is also widely known that teaching to the test has become the norm under Conor's beloved audit-driven system – but just what is it that is being measured by the narrow testing apparatus? Research has convincingly shown that other, perhaps more important, child competencies have actually got worse since the audit culture colonised our schooling system.

The current system also has far more to do with the needs of the globalised economy than it does with children's well-being and potential development – hence, we see truancy getting worse, even though the Government has spent around £1bn in trying to reduce it.

Research shows that league performance tables tell us far more about schools' class composition than they do about real educational quality. But even if it were possible to get reliable data to compare schools (which it demonstrably isn't), what can be the justification for imposing a disciplinary regime that brings about all manner of unintended negative side-effects?

One such unwarranted side-effect is the attitude with which students are now coming to their university studies. Whereas in previous times, students would come with a thirst for learning and for a general widening of their educational horizons, today it is routinely very difficult to get students to attend any kind of learning experience that is not directly related to their courses of study, and about which they will not be formally assessed.

It seems clear that there is at least some kind of causal relationship between this new consumerist attitude and the fact that pupils and students have quite literally been schooled in a system dominated by examinations, high-stakes tests, and the associated, all-pervasive culture of teaching to the test.

Would civil servants at the Department for Children, Schools and Families care to calculate the wastage that these performance tables represent in terms of the scarce resources that could have spent on genuine, tangible improvements in schooling?

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

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