Letters: Education reform

Teachers scorn Gove's plans
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Another week, another dangerous, madcap scheme from Education Secretary Michael Gove. The latest "initiative"? Move teacher training away from higher education institutions and transfer it almost wholly and completely into schools or, to coin a phrase, "Training on the job".

It shouldn't come as a surprise. For the worst part of 30 years, teaching has been ruled by government diktat: you will be told how, when and what to teach. Teachers have lost any influence over the curriculum and have become deskilled, deprofessionalised and demoralised. Every lesson must conform to Ofsted's tripartite model – introduction, main and plenary – no diversions, stick to the lesson objective, here's the script, follow it. The ultimate aim is to produce an unthinking, unquestioning group of automatons, all chanting from the same government song-sheet.

Unfortunately, teacher training has also succumbed to the Ofsted/Teacher Development Agency straitjacket: students are expected to tick a narrowly defined set of competencies, and many courses are little better than basic skills training, with art, history, music and drama completely marginalised.

Student teachers aren't taught about child development and there is little attempt to debate ideas or to promote a deeper philosophical understanding of education. These student teachers need time to think and reflect, to discuss their experiences, to generalise, to relate practice to theory, to compare and contrast and to question and challenge. Not every school or teacher is necessarily a good role model. Some of Ofsted's "outstanding" schools are exam factories.

Training on the job? Gove betrays his barely concealed contempt for teaching, theory and the intellectual tradition. This is a thinly disguised attempt to reintroduce the position of Victorian pupil monitor.

Richard Knights


I do not see how an expansion of the Teach First scheme and more school-based staff-training can justify the eulogy in your leading article ("A sound way to put teaching first, Viewspaper, 16 November). From long and close observation of the PGCE programme at a Russell Group university and recent extensive research into pedagogical models in primary and secondary classrooms in England, I can see only a continuation and extension of the "one size fits all" model of teaching to prepare for measurement and accountability rather than learning, emanating from such strategies.

How are these "brief encounters" with pedagogy and the philosophy of teaching and learning supposed to prepare trainees to become professional leaders of learning in their classrooms? The answer is that these initiatives do not have that intention. Government policy on teaching and learning since 1997 has been based on the model of teacher as deliverer and the pupil as compliant recipient and then regurgitator of the digested script.

Come on, Mr Gove, surely you can do better for the next generation than "roll out" this tired and discredited old model.

Professor Bill Boyle

Chair of Educational Assessment, School of Education, University of Manchester

In your leading article on teaching, you were right to urge caution on teaching incentives. Labour's introduction of performance-related pay has not been linked with a rise in standards of teaching. As I recall, 97 per cent of teachers got the £2,000 pay increase awarded by headteachers, mainly to keep the peace and teamwork intact within the school and to avoid accusations of favouritism.

Unfortunately, neither the Government or the Civil Service seem to have very good negotiating skills in dealing with unions. Look what happened with the deal they struck with the doctors and consultants where massive pay increases were given for marginal increases in performance. The positive actions being taken in introducing the Teach First approach is an excellent move, for it weeds out, at an early stage, those who cannot teach effectively.

For long-term solutions, my 30-year experience in management consultancy shows that two things are necessary, collective ownership of what are the constraints on improvements in performance and what actions are necessary to reduce or remove those constraints.

Les Graham

Hexham, Northumberland

Time to bring our troops home

I fully support the troops in Afghanistan, who are just doing their job to the best of their abilities, but I endorse neither the actions nor policies of the previous government and its allies, former president George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld et al. They, along with the present Coalition, has on their hands the blood of every Serviceman and woman who had perished not only in Afghanistan but also in Iraq in the name of oil and greed.

You report (16 November) that Colonel Tim Collins criticises the dramatist Jimmy McGovern, saying, "At this very moment, we have men laying down their lives in Afghanistan so that Jimmy McGovern retains his freedom to attack them".

This is merely another fine example of the endless rhetoric that has been bandied about by two consecutive governments and the military hierarchy in justification of what is tantamount not to a "War on Terror" but the illegal invasion of two countries which were inferior in every military department.

There is also the shame of the needless loss of life of not only British and American forces, but also the armies of Iran and Afghanistan and above all the annihilation of defenceless men, women and children of two of the most impoverished nations on Earth whose everyday plight has worsened since the bombs, drones, missiles and bullets started falling on civilian homes.

Cameron should use the power invested in him to do the people's will and bring our boys home.

Jonathan Nicol

Port Talbot, South Wales

Church muddle over condoms

This is bizarre; Pope Benedict says that it could be morally justified to use a condom if it were necessary to protect the life of another. Fair enough, but why should it be immoral to use a condom to begin with? The bizarre bit is the example quoted: a male prostitute who is HIV-infected being allowed to use a condom.

So is the Church now condoning those who sell their bodies for sex as engaging in a socially acceptable practice? And if we presume the "male prostitute" in question is engaged in homosexual acts, does the Church now find homosexuality acceptable, but only if pursued as a means of employment?

The Church's continuing conflation of matters of sexuality with matters of vital morality invariably leads it into these strange types of logical contortions. Of course, a more straightforward justification of a moral case for the use of contraceptives would be to avert the agonising deaths suffered by millions of women in developing countries who, denied access to contraceptives, resort in desperation to back-street abortions. Or a moral case even more simply stated: the provision of contraceptive facilities to women empowers them with the most basic of human rights, their right to choose the size and timing of their own family.

The Church continues to flinch from these more straightforward illustrations of everyday moral cases for the use of contraceptives.

Alan Stedall


Arrogance, or just a joke?

I hope that Mary Dejevsky was joking when she suggested (Comment, 16 November) that everyone on foot should be compelled by law to wear a high-visibility jacket whenever they go out after dark.

I suspect that she wasn't and that her comment reflects the all too common arrogance of the car-driver who thinks that it is not his or her responsibility to drive slowly and carefully, but the responsibility of her potential victims to get out of her way. I wonder whether she would tell women not to go out on their own after dark in case they get attacked?

Nick Wray


Reform of the Lords

I support John Griffin's suggestions for the reform of the Lords (Letters, 22 November). The present over-large jumble of hereditary peers and government appointees should be replaced by a body which represents the people according to what they do and not where they live.

We have a wealth of national and local bodies for professions, trades, religions, the arts, charities, children, the elderly, etc. A balanced selection of these bodies, determined by statisticians, should be invited to supply a member of the Lords for a fixed four-year term. Keep the numbers low (say 200) and the bodies represented should meet most of the costs.

Olga Leapman

London, SW8

Prince on plinth

R G Hart (Letters, 20 November) may be pleased to note that here in Ipswich, Prince Obolensky is not forgotten. We have a rather nice statue here, a memorial to him.

M Kleissner

Ipswich, Suffolk

Perspectives on welfare reforms

New threat to the badly disabled

John Rentoul ("The Coalition doesn't need to reinvent the Blairite wheel", 16 November) passes quickly over the Coalition's proposals for welfare reform, seeming to agree particularly with the reform around sickness benefits.

While help should be given to disabled/sick people to re-enter full or even part-time work if they can, why are the liberal press apparently so unkeen to emphasise the huge flaws in the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)? The Citizen's Advice Bureau, which has been monitoring the administration of the benefit, has concluded the WCA is not fit for purpose, a fact Danny Alexander used to quote before the election.

Many seriously ill people are being inappropriately found "fit for work" (at times, against a consultant's better judgement), or are being placed in the "work-related activities group" of the ESA, meaning they will be consigned to JSA.

There are about 8,000 appeals against ESA decisions a month, and between 40 per cent and 80 per cent of these are successful. The architect of the ESA scheme, a Bristol University professor, has described it as a "system in meltdown".

As someone very ill and disabled, I am scared of what the Coalition's "shake-up of welfare" will mean; I do not believe people such as myself will inevitably be treated fairly by the ESA. What sickens me more than my illness is the apparent lack of support for chronically ill and disabled people in the liberal-left press, especially as the right-wing tabloid press seems to be making us a scapegoat.

Katherine Wimhurst

Colchester, Essex

Crime fear link to jobless penalty

Iain Duncan Smith seems to have slipped up badly over penalising unemployed people who fail to turn up for work-placement. They could have their Jobseekers Allowance withdrawn for three months. Thirteen weeks at £65 per week is a loss of £845, a massive penalty for someone probably long-term jobless and unlikely to have any money in hand on which to survive.

Conservative mythology dictates that long-term jobless are masters at not having to work. Does it now suggest that they are masters at not having to eat, not needing somewhere to sleep?

Will Mr Smith guarantee that none of them will even dream of breaking into our houses, of mugging us, of snatching our wives' handbags? Instead of reducing the police force, can he persuade the Home Office to increase their numbers so that our streets may, if we are lucky, remain safe, if Duncan Smith gets his way?

Kenneth J Moss

Norwich, Norfolk