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Letters—Crisis shows how education can be organised differently 

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Issue 2698
Exams are unreliable (Pic: Chris Harbeck/Flickr)

As a teacher, socialist and trade unionist I met the cancellation of Sats, GCSEs and A Levels with mixed feelings. I have genuine sympathy for children who have been preparing long and hard for their tests and exams. 

But the dirty little secret of our education system is that exams are fundamentally flawed.

If baseline testing for four year olds is reintroduced, the government will spend millions on a test which will fairly accurately tell us what month a child was born in. 

The intensive training of students that some schools use for Sats and the more humane approach used by others means the data is unreliable. 

A relentless focus on final exams tends to disadvantage working class students and students from ethnic minorities.

Judging schools on test data has narrowed the range of subjects in some schools. And focusing on grades has contributed to a growing mental health crisis among young people. 

Students are turned into raw material for data collection at the cost of a broader and wider education. 

The government is still finalising what it intends to do regarding students’ final results. As teachers we are well placed to know what they are capable of at this point in their lives. 

As long as teachers and support staff allow the Department for Education and Ofsted to set the agenda we will continue to do our students a disservice. 

As I was writing this, a friend on Facebook asked whether after all this is over we want to go back to the way we were before. 

We must organise for something far better.

Kieran Picken

Teacher and District Secretary Derby NEU (personal capacity)

  • During my many years in education, I’ve experienced some very odd days, fun days, joyous days, sad days, heartbreaking days, quirky days and celebratory days.

But I’ve never experienced anything quite like Monday last week in my school.

Students and staff very quickly became attuned to following social distancing policies, and the school’s interpretation of them. 

Pieces of tape on the floor where there are queues. Labels on chairs so that gaps are maintained.

It was strange to guide students into toilets outside the dining room, two at a time, to wash their hands before entering and after exiting, and have them comply almost to the letter.

But most surprising of all was the way staff almost instinctively started to distance themselves.

It just seemed to happen, almost as if it were a habit that had been in place for a lifetime.

But how strange it was to enter an almost empty school. To see more staff than students. More classrooms than pupils.

To hear nothing along so many of the corridors.

In the—few—classes, a lovely atmosphere. Very light. Pupils appeared to be very happy, and getting on with work. Taking everything in their stride.

But hanging over everything was a sense that we’ve never been here before, coupled with not knowing what it’ll be like tomorrow, or next week, or in a month.

What if we don’t return after Easter, or not until after the summer?

I say I’ve not experienced anything else like it. 

But perhaps it was like my first day as a student teacher, not knowing what to expect. Only being surrounded by a school full of staff in the same boat. 

A voyage of discovery. Let’s plough on.

A school worker

Kirklees, Yorkshire

Food firms hike prices

As a parent having to homeschool, one of my main concerns is keeping our family fed.

Local supermarkets are still crowded, and going there runs the risks of infection. So we rely very much on our local shop at the end of the road.

I have found that large bags of potatoes are being split into bags containing four potatoes each for a price of over one pound.

That represents, I believe, a 400 percent price hike. Onions were the same. 

As far as I know it is illegal to do this with packaged goods as they are sold for a particular price per package. 

I phoned the local MP John Penrose, who is a Tory. His assistant told me there had been many such complaints, but didn’t say what they are going to do about it. 

This cannot be attributed to “panic buying”. That is not the problem. It is a political problem. 

Frances Laing

North Somerset

Where are the unions? 

Have I missed something in all the news about Covid-19 and the lack of equipment for workers in health and care

Where are the trade union leaders? Are they all hoping for a nice meeting with beer and sandwiches with a Tory government to sort it out? 

While their members are at risk from lack of protective clothing and sufficient equipment they seem to have been remarkable only in their silence. 

They should be at least making outraged noises if not leading action on the front line.

Graeme Cumming


Not safe on the railways

Same for us on the railway in the north (No hand sanitiser, no social distancing, no protection, 25 March).

Sanitiser only arrived today. No alcohol content though so not too sure about how much use it will be.

We’re still having to squeeze past passengers to do our jobs because they simply won’t stay home.

Plus some of the trains we work on make it impossible to stay away from passengers when we do our safety critical work. Not to mention the small space and recirculated air.

Jon Long

On Facebook

Royals are the wrong priority

So prince Charles can get tested but health workers putting themselves at risk every day to try and help others can’t?

If you’re a celebrity, rich or royalty this system will look after you. 

If you’re a vital worker depended on by millions you can be left to die.

Lin Froggett


Brutal reality about benefits

I’m puzzled. Can someone explain how Universal Credit and sick pay were judged to be completely adequate and fair until those who hated those on benefits found they had to make a claim?

Denis Jordan

South Tyneside

Let’s say no to neoliberalism

In Socialist Worker Alex Callinicos quotes The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, “Boris Johnson must embrace socialism immediately to save the liberal free market.”

That’s what the bosses want. Stuff that.

No going back to their neoliberalism.

Sasha Simic

On Twitter

  • Coronavirus may herald the death of neoliberalism.

But it might usher in fascism by the back door.

Jed Platts

On Facebook

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