We are Top of the League

I want the ‘astute’ football pundit Paul Merson to be placed in charge of educational assessment.  His latest observation that West Brom, who are eighth, would be top if you took away the top seven teams, is genius.  If I lost my ten year 11 students from the school figures who are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and debilitating illness, my school would be top of the omnipresent league tables.  They are at present lost to the educational system and school is not their priority.  Nor should it be!

Assessment, or more crucially how we as a comprehensive school are assessed, is currently one of my worries, along with dwindling finance, staffing, a raft of portacabins and 1,500 students all with complex needs and few available support services.  Finance apart, just give me money, leave me alone and I can provide world class education, would be my daily plea.  The assessment of the students and the results they get is my biggest worry.  Assessment in the form of Progress 8 is an unfair, unequal judgement with huge ramifications for the inclusive school we should all desire.  My ten year 11 students who are doing fabulously well to cope with safe houses, an array of child protection core meetings and life threatening illnesses are likely to do two/three GCSEs and will be significantly minus in the progress league tables.  It will take 100 students being above target in their eight GCSEs to nullify the impact of these ten.  How is this fair or a correct way of measuring a school’s progress?  It puts the school under huge pressure to ‘sort them out’, not a long term life solution, but a paper qualification.

Therefore, my ten most vulnerable students are likely to significantly distort the average of the year group.  Sadly for me, and the school, seven of these students come from our high achieving primary school with SAT scores of 5A or 4A.  This school is one where SATs preparation starts early and I would claim that even without their awful family situations, the onset of the teenage years and horrific illness, their 4A is an inflated score.

Why does having ten students in chaos matter?  As a school we are tracking, supporting and providing a pathway for them.  Milly (name changed) will not leave the house due to the beatings her mum receives when she is at school.  Her attendance is 30%.  A safe house awaits if and when her mum makes the brave decision.  Chloe (name changed) is under medical tuition for severe anorexia.  Her last day in school was when she was in year 8.  She will count against her host school, us!  Tara (name changed) and her family live in a safe house.  The sexual abuse case that will come to court against five 20-somethings is due to start on the day of her first GCSE exam.  All the ten students are girls and all are coping with the impact of twenty first century life.  For them, equality is a theory, not a reality.  Students like these are in all our schools and need our support, not ‘mithering’ about their GCSEs.  Education for them will be something they hopefully return to.

However, this is a significant group.  Schools such as mine with significant free school meal students and a high proportion of special needs students will not recover from a group making below progress.  The fact that they are pupil premium and girls is likely to see Ofsted judgements that will have to be argued with, for example:

“White British girls are not making expected progress and in some cases are significantly below expected progress in terms of attainment and attendance.”

This could be a blindingly obvious statement akin to their other lazy judgement, “school marking is inconsistent”.  This could be a damning judgement and the ensuing arguments will be seen as excuses and a leadership team not managing.  Like the Sword of Damocles, Ofsted does matter.  A good judgement equals kudos, more students equals more finance, seven full year groups, better students and thereby excellent Progress 8 data scores, and so the never ending circle continues.

On the day following the January Census, we received twenty admission applications.  The majority were level 3 boys and I would predict they were being moved on by desperate headteachers seeking to ensure their data keeps them top of the league!  Perhaps my daily plea should change in Theresa’s new, fair world of meritocracy to ‘just give me a grammar school and free bus to fill this utopian school with free school meals students’.  However, that is another blog, another league in a land far, far away where league tables do not matter!

Improving Standards

Various news stories emerged during the half term week with:

  • Yorkshire Tea having to embarrassingly recall a batch of teapots that cracked when boiling God’s brew.
  • The RNA committee proposing that this year’s winners of the Royal Open Golf be paid in dollars not in pounds, due to the concern over the recent Brexit led fall in the pound.
  • President Trump’s latest dalliance with the truth being the incorrect denouncement of events in Sweden, based on his obsession with only Fox News, not factual news stories.

All of these depressing stories have a common epitaph, which has become the default position if any public figure is called to account.  They will predictably bluster the following phrase “improving standards”.  The common link with the above news stories was a variety of spokesmen stating that the recall of teapots, protection of multi millionaire golfers’ wallets and all things American, was underpinned by the need to protect the company and countries’ standards, whether it be tea, golfing prestige or American homeland security.  On journeys to rugby matches, my teacher friend and I play a game of ‘edutwaddle bingo’, whereby we read out or listen to recent educational news stories, analyse education secretaries’ statements and guess how many educational clichés they will reel out.  For example, ‘status of the teaching profession’, ‘educational investment’, ‘educational landscape’, ‘comparative targets’, ‘inspiration’, ‘motivation, ‘perspiration’  would bring seven points for seven clichés!  Then there is the gift that keeps giving, that reforming confessor, the ‘Dark Lord’ Gove, whose every utterance is edutwaddle and a cliché.  “I’m a decentraliser” and “I believe in trusting professionals” are two recent examples.  The amount of abuse depends on the stupidity of the comment and whether there is any credence to these ‘sound bites’ that ‘Trump like’ have replaced facts.  The England rugby team would be totally in the aggressive zone if they played this game, even if the rules changed mid-game.

Therefore, our cynically aware antennae were primed for the Department for Education’s response to the unsurprising, critical MP’s report into the crisis of teacher recruitment and retention.  The spokesman’s predictable comment cited Justine Greening’s ‘ambition to continue driving up standards through investment in professional development’.  Thereby ignoring the fact that teaching has major problems with standards falling to an all time low in:

  • How we measure our schools. Progress of the 8 best subjects in principle seems fair but already it is open to abuse with schools persuading weaker, vulnerable students to seek pastures new via exclusion or home education or playing the system by finding accredited subjects such as European Computer Driving Licence.  See excellent blog ‘Love Learning… A Broken System’.
  • How we examine our students. This year’s exams are tantamount to child cruelty with students expected to sit for an average of thirty two hours as opposed to last year’s 18!  An English paper of two and a quarter hours and geography afternoon papers with key papers in the morning are a test of endurance, not skill.
  • How we mark the key exams is in crisis; inconsistent, inaccurate and inaccessible and due to the expense of appealing likely to be flawed. GCSEs are being undertaken in twelve weeks time with 7,000 markers still needing to be recruited.  How can our young people trust this system?
  • How we pay our teachers who are falling further down the graduate rankings with secondary teachers ranked 9/12 and primary colleagues 11/12 for median gross earnings – Data Research.

These are the standards glibly talked about.  Shoddy investment in the infra structure, the mental well-being of the profession and their workload have not driven up standards and it is hypocritical to claim otherwise.  These are falling standards and as a school are we failing our young people?

Various educational secretaries cannot ‘Arsène Wenger like’ claim to not see ‘the looming crisis’ which cannot be masked by a whirly gig of educational reform.  These changes to GCSE grades, levels, subjects and Ofsted judgements cannot be hidden as improving standards.  This profession that is attempting to wear Emperor’s clothes yet is naked and vulnerable is sadly failing our fabulous staff and lovely young people.  The Ofsted judgements and exams taken are rushed, ill thought out and liable to be inaccurate.  This is not the way to recruit and retain professional people and is not a standardised approach to our educational system!