Letters: Replacing smaller schools with academies

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Three into one

It's not only Pimlico residents who feel that there's been inadequate consultation over a new Academy (Letters, The Independent, 29 January). This process is being repeated countrywide as the Government increases pressure on councils to close many smaller comprehensive schools and replace them with oversized academies. Here in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria County Council is set to close three schools and build a new academy, giving non-religious parents no choice over where their child can go to school.

Parents were told during the consultation process that if there was strong opposition to an academy it would not happen. Now, despite a petition of nearly 6,000 signatures opposing it, and only 179 parents voting for it, out of 11,500 consultation documents printed, it's being pushed through. The County Council didn't even include an audit on the environmental impact of the three schools closing and a new school being built, and the subsequent car journeys created by 1,500 pupils travelling from across the borough, despite its climate-change policy stating that "this is the single priority that overrides all others now and for the foreseeable future".

It is time this government gave parents more, not less, control over their children's education, and realised that good schools come from good leadership and good teaching, not simply from new buildings.

Mike Stephenson, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

Mcquality control

It is possible that training offered by McDonald's will be seen as McQualifications, perhaps with some reason (Leader, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 31 January). There is, however, a way around this. Why not set up a body similar to the old Council for National Academic Awards, which supervised polytechnics, to keep an eye on standards?

Keith Flett, Tottenham, North London

You don't say...

It has recently been discovered that schools perform better with 800 pupils. In the late 1960s, it was realised that there exists a mathematical point that, if a school with a roll of 800 pupils increased by an additional 100 children, disciplinary and academic problems didn't double but quadruple. It has also recently been confirmed that reading a bedtime story to a child is educationally advantageous. Wow, I must go and write that one down.

Does anyone ever consult old educational lags about such matters? I say, don't just consult aspiring educational managers but also those who've worked a lifetime at the school coalface.

Surely by now some bright spark has crashed through the PC barrier and twigged that there's a correlation between indiscipline and the abolition of corporal punishment?

Geoff Licence, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

Chinese venture

Richard Garner's recent article ("Joint venture lets pupils study in China", The Independent, 14 January) gave an interesting account of developments in the internationalisation of British schools, and of the ties being forged between universities and secondary schools.

As your article stated, we are indeed planning to work with South Wolds School on its Trust School initiative, but this link will be through our UK campus. We are already co-sponsors of another forthcoming academy in our home city.

One small clarification: your report linked South Wolds to Ningbo University, which is in fact a wholly separate institution from ours. Where you stated that the University of Nottingham has "a subsidiary university in Shanghai", readers should note that the University of Nottingham Ningbo China is more than a subsidiary, and is situated not in Shanghai but in neighbouring Zhejiang province. It was established in partnership with Wanli Education Group, and is a full university within China – the first Sino-Foreign venture permitted under Chinese law. It currently has 2,800 students from China and more than 30 other countries, studying UK quality-assured, equal-value University of Nottingham degrees, in a distinctively British style.

These clarifications aside, we are extremely interested to explore any opportunities for South Wolds and other schools to work with the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. We champion educational links worldwide wherever they deliver mutual benefit, and are grateful to you for bringing them to the attention of your readers. the picture Professor Christine Ennew

Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Nottingham

GCSE teaching

Many people think that GCSEs are getting easier as the years go by. I, however, think that they are just as hard as they used to be. Teachers are better at targeting their teaching to specific exams, which means students are more likely to get better grades than when teachers used to teach whatever they wanted for the exam. Teachers now have higher expectations of students, so teach them more effectively to help them pass more easily. Also, with the introduction of Ofsted, the standard of teaching has improved.

Lauren Morgan, Plympton, Devon

Industrial relations

The British Universities Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA) sees serious implications in the proposal by Keele University to cut up to 38 out of 67 posts across the School of Economic and Management Studies, including in business administration, economics, and health planning and management. In particular, we see the stated rationale for the proposed job cuts as an attack on critical social science.

We fear that the university, while mindful of the possible need for course restructuring, is wrongfully advised to close all existing programmes and courses in human-resource management and industrial relations for which Keele has a deserved international reputation for excellence.

In addition, we find it disingenuous to suggest that individuals with a background of teaching and research in industrial relations do not have the appropriate skill sets to teach human-resource management. Wherever human-resource management is taught in British universities, staff are able to combine both subsets of the discipline within their teaching portfolios. Indeed, we would argue that the two subject areas cannot exist without one another.

Last but not least, the vast majority of UK professors of human-resource management live happily within the two subsets of academic inquiry, and a great number might define themselves as industrial-relations specialists.

As the professional association representing over 670 industrial-relations academics, BUIRA is mystified by the interpretation of the subject contained in Keele's consultation document, and urges it to reconsider its approach in the light of staff's willingness to accommodate changes to teaching portfolios within the School of Economic and Management Studies.

Rosemary Lucas (president), Carol Atkinson, Paul Brook, Hamish Mathieson, Linda Clarke, Ralph Darlington, Dave Lyddon, Sian Moore, Helen Rainbird, Tony Royle, Melanie Simms, Martin Upchurch, British Universities Industrial Relations Association Executive

Please send letters to: The Editor, Education, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS (include daytime phone number); fax to: 020-7005 2143; email to: education@independent.co.uk; letters may be edited for length and clarity