Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Gap between the best and worst schools

Last week in the Daily Telegraph the Prime Minister says there is a “shocking gap” between the best and worst schools and their teachers as many “coast” and “muddle through”.
He says the “secret failure” of comprehensive schools in wealthy shires and market towns is as significant as the problems facing schools in deprived, inner-city areas.
The shortcoming has been hidden from parents because league tables identify only problem schools rather than institutions achieving average results when their pupils have the potential to be top achievers.
In the article, David Cameron discloses that tackling the “coasting comprehensives” will be a top priority for the Government. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the new chief inspector of schools, is said to have them “in his sights”.
Mr Cameron writes: “Why should we put up with a school content to let a child sit at the back of the class, swapping Facebook updates? Or one where pupils and staff count down the hours to the end of term without ever asking why B grades can’t be turned into As. Britain can’t let weak schools smother children’s potential.”
“It is just as important to tackle those all over the country content to muddle through — places where respectable results and a decent local reputation mask a failure to meet potential,” he writes.
“Children who did well in primary school but who lose momentum. Early promise fades. This is the hidden crisis in our schools — in prosperous shires and market towns just as much as in the inner cities.”
In January, new league tables will be published that will show how low-, middle- and high-achieving children are performing in their schools.
In June, a new national pupil database will be introduced to show how pupils have progressed during their time in school. The data will not disclose any names but should allow parents to identify schools that are better at pushing certain pupils in different subjects.
Mr Cameron writes: “This challenge is one for all parts of the country — places where governors, parents and teachers might never guess things might be wrong. That’s why it is vital to shine a spotlight on secret failure by giving people the information they need to fight for change.
“The last government shied away from the problem. It kept huge amounts of data under wraps — focusing only on league tables which seemed to show things were getting better every year. It set a narrow definition of coasting schools which allowed many to slip through the net undetected. By contrast, this Government is going to widen it so that more average schools are pressed to do better.”
The Prime Minister says Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, one of the most deprived areas in Britain, is now achieving far higher marks than comprehensives in middle-class areas across the Home Counties.
“The point of education is to change lives — it’s not good enough for teachers in shire counties to be satisfied with half of children getting five good GCSEs, when Mossbourne Academy achieves 82 per cent in Hackney,” writes Mr Cameron.
“When people involved in education can see what needs to be done to get out of a rut — and are given the freedom to make their own choices rather than orders from above — dramatic improvement is possible. Goffs School in Cheshunt, for instance, went from barely half its pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths, to almost three quarters in a single year.”
It is understood that the Government has decided against sending “hit squads” into comprehensives identified as “coasting”. Ministers instead hope that by publicly identifying failing schools, parents and governors will put staff under intense pressure to improve standards.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the incoming head of Ofsted, previously warned that the watchdog needed to do more to tackle teachers who were coasting.
He said extra effort was needed to identify “the teacher … who year in, year out just comes up to the mark, but only just, and does the bare minimum”.
The Government is also giving permission for dozens of new free schools, effectively independent schools paid for by taxpayers within the state system, across the country. Mr Cameron says he wants these schools to be the “shock troops of innovation” who will “smash through complacency”.
The Coalition is also relaxing admissions and expansion rules for successful schools, which is expected to lead to an increase in grammar school places.
Yesterday, it emerged that some grammar schools are planning to take over schools in neighbouring towns — effectively leading to the creation of the first new grammar schools since the 1960s.
Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservatives’ backbench 1922 Committee, said it was a “small but important step”
Taken from Daily Telegraph Artilce at 
Reply from Brian Lightman on ACSL Blog here
The appalling comments by the Prime Minister in the Telegraph on Monday are evidence of one of two things: either they show how out of touch Number 10 is with what is happening on a day to day basis in schools, or they demonstrate that the Prime Minister is willing to sacrifice hardworking teachers and schools leaders to score political points. The cynic in me thinks that it’s easier to justify stripping pensions when the message is that teachers and support staff don’t deserve them in the first place.
The Government does not have a monopoly over high aspirations for our education service. School leaders are at the forefront of driving up standards and strive tirelessly to build upon the improvements that have been achieved to date. 

Don’t get me wrong, we know there are examples of ‘coasting’ schools where the catchment is less challenging, where students have more advantages, yet they do not make the progress that they could or should. But these schools are hardly endemic, and to assume the problem stems from complacent and uncaring teachers is frankly an insult.

Of course there is more to do, but that work requires the support, not the denigration, of our political leaders. It also requires an understanding of the fact that not only inner city schools face challenges – some of the most entrenched deprivation is in rural and coastal areas.

The coalition government proudly states that it believes in a high status teaching profession. Assertions by the Prime Minister, of all people, that schools are content to ‘muddle through’ and accept mediocrity make a mockery of teachers’ commitment and demoralises a hardworking profession which is battling to continue the trajectory of improvement in the context of falling budgets, worsening pay and conditions and stinging cuts in front line services.

The Prime Minister and his government need to work with, not against the profession

Brian Lightman

No comments:

Post a Comment