(Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 26.02.14)
I first took a closer than normal interest in education matters over two years ago partly due to coverage of our schools in the local media. I was particularly incensed about dreadful, hurtful and often anonymous nonsense from a small number of correspondents in the letters page of this newspaper, and on-line, running down provision in the town.
How refreshing it has been since then to see expanded, positive coverage of activities involving schools across the borough. An increase in positive community involvement and collaboration between our primaries and secondary schools are particularly pleasing to me.
Recent glowing coverage, including leader comment, of the recent Ofsted judgements of Brentwood County High School (BCHS) and St Martin’s showed how pleasant it is to celebrate rather than denigrate.
This was reflected in the tone of a recent “Soapbox” section. While agreeing with all five local councillors regarding the limited value of league tables, I was pleased to note that they were united in pointing out how fortunate we were to have such good schools in Brentwood.
In the current central government mania to increase competition, it is easy to forget that we all benefit from our young people being educated well, locally and nationally. I much prefer collaboration to fragmentation and the narrowing of curricula options for our students that this brings about. Indeed, if anything, we should be expanding vocational options to ensure as many of our young people are catered for as possible.
For the good of our schools and the wider community, insularity must be challenged too if we are going to maintain provision. Just because my children attend certain schools it does not prevent me from taking an interest in others.
I was thrilled to be invited to Larchwood Primary recently and enjoyed the atmosphere and commitment to inclusivity of its headteacher. I enjoy reading about our secondaries offering creative writing, drama sessions and the like to primary schools, for example the recent science visit of West Horndon Primary to BCHS covered in these pages.
I am proud that one of our schools, Shenfield High, was identified as one of the UK’s “Top 20 state schools for sport” in a recent national magazine.
We can also lose sight of the appeal of our schools to those living outside the borough. At a recent evening science briefing I got chatting to two fellow parents whose children were travelling daily from Seven Kings. The number of pupils that BCHS suggested should have been considered for “Young Citizen of the Year” in Ongar earlier this month was further evidence and this has been the case for many years.
I remember from my own school days asking new friends about the seemingly exotic locations they told me they were from. Langdon Hills might as well have been Beverley Hills as far as I was concerned but, having started with the vast majority of my primary school mates, it was great to mix with new faces that I sometimes had more in common with.
Of course, then as now, this has often been misconstrued. Some have viewed the presence of students from further away than the five villages with suspicion but they should instead be reassured. It is an indicator of the commitment some parents have to finding a school they are happy with for their child, even when Essex County Council try to make it more difficult with their school transport policy.
If this is a further sign of the quality of our schools then long may it continue.