Monday, 29 October 2012

Schools' souls

The number of exclusions from local schools has risen sharply, and it was reported last week that the local authority is sufficiently concerned about this to form a working party to look into it.

Although the working party may uncover something more subtle, this does appear to be the entirely predictable consequence of the conversion of almost all the local Secondary Schools into independent Academies - which are designed to compete openly for business in a world in which the percentage of children reaching five GCSEs including English and Maths at at least Grade C (or, now, the package of GCSEs which form the English Bac) is the one public headline league-tabled piece of information which potential parents and immanent inspectors will see and judge. Where previously a school might have worked hard to meet the needs all but the most disruptive of its pupils it is now almost essential for its survival that it excludes the most challenging and failing.

Meanwhile, in the week I also heard how our local FE College finds that it often has to deliver ‘functional skills’ (numeracy and literacy training) not only to those who come to it without a GCSE at at least Grade C in Maths and English but also to many of those who come to it with these.

This appears to be a consequence of the way many schools put pupils in for their essential GCSEs early and, where a good enough GCSE in one subject is achieved, shift their studies to the other subjects they need to have in the bank. This means that some of those coming to FE Colleges with, say, a good enough Maths GCSE, have not done any Maths or actively deployed any significant numeracy skills for, in some cases, as much as eighteen months.

These sorts of things have all been mentioned here before (especially on 31st August 2009 and 24th March 2011, but also on 2nd July 2010 and 23rd June 2011). Such posts might appear to be socialist myopia were it not for the third encounter with these things last week which was an interview with in the Tablet with John McIntosh ‘a long-standing member of the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies’ as well as the Blairs’ children’s Headteacher. He could not have expressed the damage being done by Gove compliance enforcement more clearly:

I think the league-table culture and the compliance culture which Ofsted has brought into the system has taken the soul out of schools… heads in particular have become very robotic. Ask most heads about the curriculum and their response will be in terms of five GCSEs, the EBac and league tables. Teachers have almost lost the vocabulary to discuss the curriculum and what it is about.

The Tablet summarises “a culture of targets and inspections caused a school to focus too heavily on ‘ticking boxes’ and climbing league tables, rather than on providing a balanced education for pupils.” One instinct might be to blame schools for capitulating to this cultural pressure were it not for the fact that the Headteacher’s job and the school’s recruitment (and thus finances) stand or fall on the boxes ticked.

The picture was taken near Europarc on the edge of the parish a few weeks ago.

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