Closing gaps in education
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Esther Tyson's article on the National Education Inspectorate report makes interesting reading but also raises a number of as yet unanswered questions.
Recalling an earlier discussion with a colleague about the WikiLeaks saga, the question of whether the report should be published hinges on the public right to know. Stakeholders, including parents, young adults and children, have an inalienable right to know about the quality of education they are receiving.
The Government's emphasis needs to extend beyond a commitment to making access to education free to an emphasis on quality of provision. The report should be predicated on careful analysis of performance data and subsequent action planning, including resourcing, and should be aimed at narrowing the gap in achievement where significant trends emerge. Where there are gaps in delivery, strategies need to be put in place to address this.
The issue of language is a more vexed question. Carolyn Cooper once referred to English as our 'stepmother language'. If we take this as given, different approaches to how we teach English, which is the foundation for most of the formal learning that takes place in school, are necessary.
Esther Tyson seems to suggest an either-or approach to language proficiency, whereas for some students, bilingualism is the norm. It is not unusual in some United Kingdom schools, particularly within inner cities, to have up to a dozen different languages spoken in a classroom of students, some of whom have limited English as a second language.
Strategies to improve students' grasp of academic English are imperative and specialist English-as-additional-language consultants are engaged. Research into bilingualism shows that strategies which benefit those who who have English as an additional language benefits equally those who have English as a mother tongue.
Tyson correctly focuses attention on what happens in teaching colleges and also on the individual's mastery of the (English) language. However, this last point brings us full circle to our initial question: how effectively is teaching and learning taking place in our schools.
It is this last point that will make the report worth publishing, as students whose future depends upon an effective education need to know the real worth of the education they are receiving and subsequent plans for improvement.
I am, etc.,