November 6, 1998

I have some sympathy with John France ("Ditch the dialogue of the daft", Letters, THES, October 30). When I was a young interviewer, I hated being inspected and assessed and convinced myself I was none the better for it. It was therefore disconcerting to see, when I became senior enough to inflict that torture on others, how often the most defensive people were also the worst at being assessed.

In other respects, I have no sympathy at all. I find France's view of schools pre and post Ofsted unrecognisable. It was back in my days as a pupil (the 1960s) that schools really taught to exams Now, there is a wider range of subjects from which to choose and more flexibility in the ways pupils are taught. The schools inspection process, too, has undoubtedly created some new problems in its attempt to solve old ones. Its one great success has been to give schools the incentive to assess and improve themselves.

As for universities, in my more uncharitable moments I doubt whether some would recognise good practice or quality if it slapped them in the face. As a postgraduate student I knew others who well into their first year had yet to meet their supervisors, or who had supervisors who knew nothing about the subject. As a teacher I hear of students complaining about one or two word comments at the end of essays; of teaching assessment and improvement being delegated to junior staff by heads of department who never sit in on tutorials and lectures themselves and (in The THES) of tutorial groups of 25-plus. If providing proper feedback, teaching in sensible-sized groups, and taking responsibility at an appropriate level for ensuring that tutors and lecturers are doing a decent job is spoon-feeding, let's have more of it.

Penny Tucker. Hartley Wintney, Hants

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