Election offers the chance for education reforms | Letters

Children hold signs outside the Department of Education during protests at Sats tests for six and seven-year-olds. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA

The parliamentary select committee report on primary school curriculum and testing (More primary school children suffering stress from Sats, 1 May) provides a welcome commentary on the deleterious effects of high-stakes testing for school league tables. It recommends moving to publishing a rolling three-year average to reduce the stress on schools and the misleading interpretations of these. Unfortunately, this proposal, while leading to more stability in the league table figures, will do little to reduce the stress on schools and pupils. There will still be yearly publication of league tables with all the well-known perverse incentives for schools. There will remain considerable uncertainty surrounding reported school rankings, limiting their usefulness for any kind of accountability and, in particular, for any kind of parental choice. The committee does appear to have failed to follow through the logic of its own critique.

While the committee has failed to take the opportunity to overhaul the system in any meaningful way, one would hope nevertheless that the publication of its report will create a debate in this election period that will explore more radical solutions. This should include a consideration of abandoning the present system in favour of a more nuanced national monitoring system based upon samples of schools and pupils, together with support for schools to carry out their own assessment designed to improve learning, without the distortions produced by published league tables.
Harvey Goldstein
Professor of social statistics, University of Bristol

• Statements such as “Children from poor families are only half as likely to get places in outstanding schools as their wealthier peers” (Report, 18 April) imply that education systems are neutral and independent of the localities they serve. The statement seems to imply that “outstanding” is a mark of school and teacher competency that can miraculously bestow the advantages of education, without any public policy to tackle the inequities that prevent children from educational attainment in the first place.

However, labels such as “outstanding” or otherwise arise largely from the educational progress and attainment of the pupils of the locality of that school that are to a great extent reflective of the material conditions of the people in the locality relative to other schools and localities. Parental education, child vocabulary size, books at home, nutrition, absence of stress, suitable housing, access to libraries, health and perinatal care are among diverse influences. Many of these are directly affected by government austerity policies on benefits, wages and public services. Therefore more affluent pupils will tend to do better and contribute to the “outstanding” label of the schools in their localities, not vice versa.
Dr Judith Flynn

• The term crisis is perhaps too readily used to describe our beleaguered public services, but the number of skilled and highly successful staff leaving and considering leaving the teaching and medical professions must be a cause of alarm. Alex and Peter Foggo’s explanation of why they have had enough of their school management responsibilities (Report, 28 April) is an admirable summary of what has gone wrong with our education system. The current disillusionment of many of our best teachers will eventually leave our schools staffed only by casual workers, recruits from abroad and university leavers doing one or two gap years before starting a more lucrative job.
Eric Macfarlane
Tadley, Hampshire

• It was good to see the range of points made by your contributors to Put this in your manifesto (Education, 5 April). But why no mention of special schools? The Tory government’s reductions in funding to local authorities has led to related reductions in all aspects of the provision of special education. Our most vulnerable youngsters are being taught by committed professionals in difficult circumstances and many parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the future for their special needs children. Post-19 provision for learners with special needs is patchy and often unsatisfactory.

One telling aspect of this whole situation is the omission of training bursaries for those who wish to specialise in teaching in special schools, though they are available for other educational areas.
Dr Christine Tyler
St Helens, Merseyside

• My daughter’s partner was recently delighted to be offered a post in a London primary school starting next September. He has now been told by the school that it has received its budget estimate for next year will have to reduce the number of teachers from 20 to 14. Meanwhile, the government continues to pour money into free schools which the recent all-party committee report declared wasteful and poor value (Report, 26 April).
John Tatam
Richmond, Surrey

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