Breeding Contempt

They say there is nothing new in education.  Theresa May’s divisive comments about a return to selective education grammar school does not augur well for this equal society she purports to stand for.  Worcester city could be May’s educational model where two traditional private schools dominate this conservative, royalist city. They take a very small percentage of free scholarship students, dependent on correct aptitude, correct interview and you become one of the 7% of the country who attend private schools, likely then to be one of the 70% who get the top jobs.  The seductive allure of a bygone era with the ‘old tie network’ understandably appeals to some loving, misguided parents.  My good friends send their child to one of these schools to ensure their boy gets lots of cricket and mixes with the ‘right sort’.  This statement highlights the fear of the council house child, the Daily Mail stereotype that so many parents wrongly have.  Incidentally, their boy has had a miserable first year and they are looking at a return to state education.  I am secretly pleased at some of the stories that have been shared although I wonder why their child has had to go through this 1970s education.  Why would you allow your child to be miserable when his friends are happy and are, crucially, being challenged and making progress?

What can we in state education do with this very British attitude, politicians and public, that yearns for the return to their own elite school white British era?  I lose the top 10% of my year 6 catchment annually to the Worcester private and grammar schools yet my top ten year 11 students annually outperform these students in these so called ‘elite’ schools.  The Sunday Telegraph headline of 7th August trumpeting May’s hopes to ‘reverse the block on selective education to promote social mobility’ screamed out a depressing return to educational reality, as I holidayed in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.  This was in the week that the Chairman of Ofsted David Hoare let slip the real thoughts of the establishment describing the island place where this ex banker keeps a Cowes holiday home as a ‘ghetto’ where ‘there has been inbreeding’.  How do you pick your students and parents up from such demoralising, belittling comments?  His inevitable resignation does not mask the contempt some of those in the top echelons of education have for comprehensive education.

All my work is in trying to establish a positive growth mindset.  A return to this outdated education allows a three tier divided system to dominate and may push the top 7% on but will clearly set a limiting bar for some students and worryingly some employers and universities.  I enjoyed a fabulous alumni day with returning five year departees sharing their success and positive outlook with our year 10 students.  This event is better than any careers evening as ex students have sat in the hall and wondered what the future will bring.  Joe, Exeter University PhD in geography; Milly, Birmingham University first class honours; Adam currently performing at Stratford; Austin who has just played the big stage at Glastonbury; Julie now a qualified vet; Beth at Amsterdam University; Jodie a primary school teacher and Scott, Royal Engineer are just some who have achieved against the odds and like many in state education are successful, ‘grounded’ and advocates for my school and the system that helped make them successful.  Grammar schools are not needed.  Proper funding support of education is.  Comprehensive education should not be seen as a dirty phrase but as an opportunity to receive highly skilled comprehensive education that works for so many!

I am angrier than I have ever been.  Thirteen years as headteacher, nine separate education secretaries each with a new initiative, forty four since I became headteacher, chronic under funding that will once again see my Worcester school receive £800,000 less than my previous Birmingham school twenty one miles up the M5.  Same numbers, catchment, demography, additional needs cohort, equating to an unfair £16 million differential since the fairer funding disparity was introduced.  Yet this announcement and predictable media heralding of this initiative has made me more depressed and angry than any other idiotic educational initiative.  Partly because of the sly August timing which has meant my holiday tranquillity has been interrupted by having to once again defend the system I work in to non teachers.  This is a wearing, annual predicament that used to mean I always told new holiday makers I was a postman to stop debate about whether bring back the cane was a good idea!  However, I believe that what this retrograde, uninitiated suggestion highlights is how alone state schools really are, stripped of the buffer of local authority support, ‘battered’ by media criticism, financially castrated, unloved, unsupported and unworkable if this trend continues.  The bottom line is that many politicians do not think state schools are very good and that by having grammar schools some would be good.

Therefore, my resolve is to continue to produce excellent students and go back to my default position of ignoring politicians’ sounds bites and enjoy the many fabulous young people who proliferate all schools, whatever their status.  Maybe an education secretary whose roots are a northern comprehensive can ignore the traditional inbreeding of a Conservative party that is based on a private school system that for the majority of this country is out of reach, whatever the skills test or interview process.  Alternatively, the Isle of Wight must need postmen!