Some views from the wings…ISANet Newsletter 12 Monday 5 December 2011

First things first – it’s been a funny old week in the news, as ever.  Increasingly, as the chickens come home to roost, it seems that plain old common sense is the way forward after all.  As one market maker in Chinese Stock market futures wrote on Saturday “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!”  Apparently Chinese corporate government is not so rigorous as that in the UK, so what appear to be amazing profit surges are no more than someone fiddling the books.  As if UK PLC is squeaky clean anyway.

Closer to home, there we were in the run up to strike day being promised Armageddon, what with the skies closing and all that Border guard stuff failing to hold-back the daily tide of illegal immigrants at our frontiers, and in reality it was a very quiet day (or so my son tells me who actually works for the BCA).

And I do get that same feel about the UK education scene too.  There were some humorous pictures in the paper of teachers making their point, in a thoroughly decent and middle class way; there was Clarkson going off the deep end too – and actually since that is his normal state of mind, then all was pretty much in order there!.  Like many Independent School leaders, I was thrilled that our staff did not see this as a fight with their own governing body (and whilst my Union, NAHT called me out, I too felt it inappropriate for the time and place), and so like many schools we were able to function pretty normally.  Surprisingly,  we were not actually back in the 1970s with bodies building up in the morgues (yet).

The funny old bit comes in the various bits of news leaking out from the research teams.  No sooner have we learned from DfE research that pushing bright pupils to early GCSE exams means lower grades, more resits, more teaching to the test and the subject Maths losing still further in the A level popularity stakes (read that here, than we then hear the following

  • The new OfSted chief has decided that teacher performance must be rigorously checked against incremental/cash promotions of various kinds –
  • Children in dilapidated schools do better than in brand new gin palaces – nice guardian chat piece from 18 months ago here – to juxtapose against more recent findings here – see TES 2 December and Professor Dylan William’s commentary on the BSF paradox – more money spent, less achieved in terms of teaching and learning.
  • Now that science is out of the state primary school SAT treadmill it gets less time in the classroom –
  • Armenia is to make Chess compulsory in its junior schools –

OK the last news item is actually a couple of weeks old, but in general terms it’s probably likely to improve academic attainment more than having performance related pay, let alone rigorously auditing it, or new building or bringing Science back into SATs.  Almost every thing you can see in Independent primary education are the things that make it great.  Small classes, a commitment to the curriculum beyond the textbook, meaning sports, and art and drama etc., making ends meet, great customer service, and (shared with all teachers if only there was time and space) a love of teaching and doing the job well for the parents.  Despite my best efforts this year so far, I have not been able to get those close to government to look at the amazing work we do in our smaller private schools, and bring what they do into the narrative.  Instead, it is once again building anew;  I am so angry that Manchester Grammar School with its sovereign wealth fund of umpteen hundred years is going to open a new free primary school, supported by Mr Gove’s magic pot of money.  What kind of signal does that send out for all the other independent schools in Manchester who don’t have access either to the pot or to MGS patronage, but who have done an amazing job for years.

So if it were to bring back anything, I would bring back assisted places at once, start them at age 7 but forbid them to be available to the post Year 8 cohort.  That way we would really make a difference in the UK.  But this government are as many before them,  simply not open to ‘common sense’ or indeed evidence based investigation and management – we know that now that Mr Gove has started filling all the discretionary posts in his education project with cronies – we know that because surprise, surprise the Daily Mail tells us so –

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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