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LETTER OF THE DAY - National self-deception continues

Published:Friday | April 30, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

First of all, let me congratulate you for producing the Education 20/20 supplement. However, with the exception of the articles by Maxine Henry-Wilson and Moses Peart, the publication continues to promote what I have previously called "an exercise in national self-deception".

There is nothing in the report done by Bill Johnson, that a teacher at Haile Selassie can take to a staff meeting and use to improve the level of the school's performance. There is nothing in the report that tells us that what is being done in math and English at Campion that is significantly different than what is done elsewhere. The truth is that those schools will continue to get improved results, as long as we continue to respond to the demand and send only the best students there.

Ranking schools in this way not only stigmatises some schools, as Mrs Henry-Wilson states, but also overrates others. We will never really know how effective the quality of pedagogy at these schools is, until we take them out of their comfort zones. If a ranking system cannot tell us what is done at Campion, that justifies ranking it over Wolmer's, and show us what is done at Wolmer's that causes it to be ranked above Norman Manley, then the ranking system is of no earthly use.

This is a point grasped by Moses Peart in his criticism of the approach to performance-based pay. If teachers are to be ranked below other teachers based on performance, we must be able to tell them what they need to do, or stop doing in the classroom to earn the same ranking as their colleagues. This is what we do when we grade students. We must be able to tell the one who earned 70 per cent what he needs to do to earn 80 per cent and also tell the one with 80 per cent why he did not earn 90 per cent. As I have said in previous articles, assessment is for learning.

Learn other things, Johnson

I think that Bill Johnson's time and talent would be better employed, trying to learn other things about the school system than which schools get the best pass rates. We all have a fairly good idea about that already. He could, for instance, carry out a survey among high achievers in a cross section of schools to find out what those students have in common with each other, and how their own experience differs from those of students in the same school, who fail to get any subjects at all. He would be able to find such a cross section at the CSEC awards ceremony where awardees come from between 50 and 60 schools, including some of those ranked below 50 in his CSEC Derby report.

Finally, I would suggest to Robert Wynter that the schools already have too much autonomy, and tend to see themselves as separate clubs competing for talented academics and athletes to win competitions. If students are to be at the centre of the system, then we ought to so organise it that it facilitates their education and encourages the full participation of parents. It means that we must stop holding up as models of excellence schools that build reputations by denying access to students in their geographical area and take the pedagogically lazy route of only teaching the brightest and the best.

I am, etc.,


Mandeville, Manchester