Letter to Editor: Praise for three “titans of education” at Stewards Academy

Education: Secondary / Mon 17th Jul 2017 at 12:40pm

Stewards Academy 17

Dear Sir,

I would like to pay tribute to three exceptional community leaders. To many people their names may be of small significance or unheard of but in the Stewards community and the world of education their names are titan and don’t come any larger. At the end of this week Head teacher Ms Rhonda Murthar, Senior Deputy Head teacher Mrs Lynn Orwin and Deputy Head teacher Miss Terry O’Neill will retire, after nearly 30 years of loyal service, from their positions at Stewards Academy.

Like all teachers their job of educating the next generation has been made more challenging by the external forces created by repeated government interference and ideology from across the political spectrum. To give your readers a flavour of what I am talking about in the past 30 years here is a list of some of the qualifications that teachers have been preparing children for

A* grades introduced in 1994
GNVQ’s introduced in 1996 and then withdrawn in 2007
Key skills levels 1 & 2 introduced in 2000 and then withdrawn in 2013
Modular exams and then linear exams
Calculators allowed and the removed from GCSE’s on a number of occasions
Coursework serially relaxed, tightened, transformed
2015, the removal of controlled assessments (formally coursework) and the return to the 1 to 8 (and then 1 to 9) grading system last seen in the 1970’s.

Finland a country which is ranked at the top of international educational tables by comparison has seen its terminal exam for pupils, the Abitur, unchanged in any significant way for over 100 years.

The pressure of change does not confine itself to the title or style of examination, changes which one could in part attribute some element of rational thinking despite the changes themselves appearing irrational. Instead many of the changes and pressures appear whimsical and happen largely without consulting teachers as if professional experience were in itself a vested interest. An example of this came only this week when we learnt that primary children as part of their SATS tests were asked to insert punctuation in a pre-written sentence. Despite getting the answer correct, pupils failed to get a mark because their commas were not curved the right way or their semi-colon was too large or not in precisely the right place.

Pedantry or raising the standards in education? It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between the two nowadays.
Schools for a number of decades have operated in an atmosphere where testing regimes encourage some schools to attract only the most able and exclude those who have a particular learning need because league table success seems to be the only measure of a good education. It is against this grim back drop and pressure that the remarkable school leaders I write about today have worked hard to provide a decent comprehensive education for the children of this town. If anyone is in doubt as to what the ethos of a decent comprehensive education is, I share with you a quotation whose source is unknown but was shared with me by Rhonda Murthar:

“As the old man walked down the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Finally catching up with the youth, he asked him why he was doing this. The answer that came back was the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. The old man looked up across the beach. “But the beach goes on for miles and miles and there are millions of starfish. How can your efforts make any difference?”

The young man looked at the starfish that was in his hand and as he threw it into the safety of the waves he said to the old man, “It makes a difference to this one”. In other words, everyone counts.

These three women are true educationalists. They are teachers in every positive meaning of the word, dedicated to the craft of teaching for the purpose of improving the lives of the children they teach and for the betterment of our local community and society at large. They have been inspirational role models for thousands of children from Harlow and the surrounding environs for most of their professional lives. I, like everybody at Stewards will miss them greatly.

Cllr Russell Perrin

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